After 6 months of planning, fundraising, and 32 hours of traveling, I arrived in Cambodia late Saturday night. I was greeted by a humid, vibrant, busy city that won me over in the first ten minutes by its colors, sounds, smells, and its friendly people.
I got settled into my air conditioned hotel and got, surprisingly, a great and refreshing night’s sleep. Sunday morning, I got up and set out to explore the intriguing Phnom Penh. I managed to get a phone, SIM card, and lunch without speaking a word of Khmer. Most people speak at least some English, but those who speak none are still very nice and try to help. In the afternoon, I had a visitor at the hotel, Sophy, the GSC Cambodia In-country coordinator. She came to move me to the apartment where I will be staying during my time in Phnom Penh. Sophy is very sweet and smart. She has a degree in Food Technology and studied HIV mutation in a laboratory in Phnom Penh for 2 years before taking on this job with GSC. The apartment is a spacious 2 bedroom unit with a wonderful balcony.
Today, Monday, began my orientation week in Phnom Penh and was focused on Cambodian history, especially the Genocide. We first visited Tuol Sleng prison which was a secondary school converted into a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime. The classrooms had been converted into cells and torture chambers. We walked through the rooms that were covered in pictures of the victims, as well as actual photographs taken of the prison during its use. Anyone who is not familiar with the Cambodian Genocide of the 1970s should research it because it is really worth studying. Between 2-3 million Cambodians were killed during 4 years under Pol Pot. The devastation is being felt even today, and families are still grieving. Sophy’s parents both survived the Khmer Rouge, but her grandparents and all other family members were killed. We never learn about this in American schools, and while I understand there is a lot of world history to cover, I feel that this is too significant to skip over.