hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

michelle | adventures . cambodian war

it may be that peace has finally arrived in cambodia but to me there was a tangible undercurrent of anger in the city.  maybe i'm just over sensitive, maybe i read one too many books on the war experience of it's people but there were times when i felt i had to tread carefully.  

these people had survived the harrowing days of genocide.  while i was in the US complaining about traffic and enjoying popcorn at the movies they were at war.  we've all heard of war veterans who never recovered from the horrors of their experience; changed men and women whose families hardly recognize them.  imagine an entire society sharing these stories.  i can't even begin to contemplate the long term effects.  for some of these people the war only ended 10 years ago!  all the movies i've watched, the documentaries i've seen and the books i've read wouldn't be enough to tell of the hell they've been through.  yet, here they are, in a seemingly peaceful country.  the weapons now sit in a grove of mangoes rusting under the sun.  

until 10 years ago mines were being planted next to those mango trees, the fruit would lure people to them.  it has been said that there were at least 2 mines to every person planted throughout cambodia.  that's double the population (in the millions)!  here we are years later and still people are dying everyday as mines are accidentally discovered.  to till the soil is to risk your life in some areas.  the weapons that were used in their war are remnants of old wars, WW I, WW II and the korean war.  their accuracy and radius of destruction is astounding!  it gives me the shivers to think of how good we've gotten at killing people.  it will give me nightmares to think of how much better we've probably gotten with time and the advancement of technology.  visions of the middle east start crossing my mind.

we went to visit a war museum and the man conducting the tour belongs here. just like the rest of cambodia, he is a product of the war.  he carried these weapons, he survived his share of blasts.  he has shrapnel still buried under his skin.  despite suffering the seizures of tetanus, losing limbs and 60 percent of his vision this man walks with confidence and ease.  he tells us of his experiences of war in calm even tones.  i am mute with amazement.  pol pot and the khmer rouge , their mission was the stuff of nightmares.  i shake my head at the attrocities and hold back tears.  it's like hitler in asia.  millions of people died and the survivors all have stories of suffering to tell.  

i am left with these thoughts and so much more to ponder:

  • how do they do it?  how do the go on with life after the loss, after the suffering?  
  • what is the effect on the children born after the war?  are the parents that survived the war more protective?  or are they more demanding because of what they went through?
  • the children that lived through the war that are now in their teens, are they resentful of the people that didn't go through the hardship?  is there a sense of entitlement?  are they angry?  are they subservient?  are they greedy of their "new" freedom?  are they fearful? 
these questions come to me as i consider what i would be feeling had i been in their place.  again, i shake my head as i understand that deep down, my few moments of pondering could not come close to the lifetime of pain this country holds within itself.


handicapped survivors and children on the streets were selling books to support their families.  the books were various publications about the war in cambodia.  one book in particular really stays with me - First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (P.S.)


  1. Very powerful blog and photos.. You got me speechless. Be careful out there!