Monday, August 8, 2011

This Just In - Picton, Day 8

It was a grand day for submissions today! When I arrived at Books & Company early to get myself a cup of coffee at the café next door, there were a few people with letters waiting for me (proof that classifieds and word-of-mouth work equally well). And when I checked my inbox, as promised, an email from a woman I spoke with yesterday was also waiting. 

I spent the better part of my afternoon reading letters from the 'hatbox'. I still have a ways to go and I am no nearer to a definitive category title partly because my mind kept turning back to my most recent email.

A one-page group missive written in 2009, it recounts a bit of expat - NGO life in Cambodia alongside a lot of historically informed travelogue and is written in a way that places you right alongside the writer.

A paragraph that begins “ Parts of the ‘mountain’ reminded me of the Niagara Escarpment” made me feel remarkably at home, so much so that essence of the following paragraph cut even deeper.  For now, I’ve filed this letter under ”Travails,” it could fit just as as well under in “History” or “Hope.” I’d best sleep on it, but I'm leaning towards "Hope"!

Parts of the 'mountain' reminded me of the Niagara Escarpment.  There are huge caves and deep holes in the limestone cliffs along the trail up to the temples.  I knew the KR used this hill as a base when they ruled Cambodia from 75-79.  This is the location where they took peasants who were too weak to continue working in the fields to kill them.  The caves were once full of skeletons- one with adult remains, the other with children's remains.  They have set up Buddhist shrines in these caves and there are small piles of skulls and bones still there.

I was not prepared for how intensely I responded to the cave where children were killed.  The sadness of it all was a physical pain in my chest and I couldn't help shedding some tears.  It was all the more intense knowing the Cambodian staff who work with MJP here.  Many of them were children themselves at the time and lost parents and friends in these killing caves.  There is a tragically horrible streak in humankind that perpetrates these atrocities. I needed to remind myself of the flip side - the resiliency of Cambodian people, their ability to live through the horror, and their determination and optimism as they work to make it better for the next generation.”  

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