Yesterday we traveled to Kampong Chhang to interview Muslim Cham people in their village. It was about a two hour drive north of Phnom Penh. Our first interview trip! We arrived in the morning and were instantly greeted by what seemed to be most of the village. It was so hot, but to be respectful we had to wear clothes that covered our shoulders and knees, so I wore my yoga pants and also brought along the scarf I bought at the silk village the other day in case it would be needed. We stepped off the bus and were herded to the village's mosque, which was open air with conrete floor and walls that came just above my head when I sat down. We took off our shoes and sat on mats they had placed on the ground.
For a while we just sat there. Who I assumed were the village elders (village leaders? religious leaders?) gathered around and discussed something with Professor Kosal and Kok Thay (who works for DC-Cam), probably a preamble to what exactly we were doing there, while the rest of the village sat around. The women and some kids sat just outside the mosque. After the deliberations they had us one by one and introduce ourselves to the large group of villagers. This was a Muslim village, so they knew a little Arabic. I stood up and said "Assalam alaykum, khnhom chhmous Ali", which means hello, my name is Ali. The first part is the Arabic, and they loved it! They all laughed and clapped their hands. Thanks to Fitily (who also works for DC-Cam and with us) who reassured me that I could use the Arabic!
Then came another long discussion on who was going to be interviewed by us. We had split into three groups, so we needed three interviewees. My group consisted of myself, Shoshana, and Camille. I was the interviewer, Camille was the camerawoman, and Shoshana held the audio recorder. We interviewed a woman who was about 10 years old at the time of the Khmer Rouge, so she's about 45 now. She told us about her and her family being forced to evacuate their village to another village, mixed with non-Muslims, and how they weren't allowed to practice their religion. They were even forced to eat pork, which is against Islam. She talked about how she was always scared, and how they had to work. Yet she was fairly lucky; she only lost one sister, the rest of her family survived. One thing that stood out to me that she said was that she did not feel she will ever be able to forgive the Khmer Rouge for what they put her and her family and her community through. She does not want to forgive them, because they caused so much harm.
We left the village and its lovely people and drove to a small area that once upon a time was the capital of Cambodia, in between when the capital was being moved from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. We visited a pagoda that was build in the 16th century. It is now kept by Buddhist nuns. Here I was reminded just how much I love temples; I felt so incredibly peaceful and at ease, and even though it was cloudy and a bit rainy, it felt perfect. I burned incense and prayed to whoever, Buddha, God, I don't know; I just know it felt good to do so. I don't think I can be more content than when I am in a temple. There is something about the serenity of the atmosphere and the awe and beauty of the statues and murals and colorful ornaments inside that just make my soul melt with happiness and peace. We walked around the grounds for a bit before getting back in our bus and setting off on the two hour drive back to the city.
Today was another day of meetings. First we met with the Center of Justice and Reconciliation, an NGO that reaches out to victims and perpetrators alike with the main goal of achieving reconciliation. The director had a lot of good things to say that very much pertained to my topic. Then we met with the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, another NGO that works closely with the ECCC courts and getting victims to apply as civil parties. Finally, we went to the US Embassy to meet with the charge d'affaires (the ambassador herself was out of the country). This meeting was fun and much more informal than the one at the French embassy. Also, the embassy it absolutely massive! It's like the size of a museum.
Tonight we took Karen and went to the second Friends restaurant, mostly with a specific purpose in mind. It was at this restaurant that I, along with Shoshana, Marilyn, and Jessica, ate fried tarantula AND tree ants. The tarantula was the reason we came to this particular Friends, and the tree ants were an added bonus that we found on the menu. The tarantula was surprisingly okay, mostly salty and crunchy. The legs were better tasting than the body, even if they were a little fuzzy! Luckily they were served with a delicious lime dipping sauce, so if I doused it enough in sauce I could mask the taste a little better. I'm not sure if I'd be up for eating it again though... but hey, how many people do you know who can say they've eaten tarantula??