The Journey to Survive

October 2, 2012
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Imagine being awoken by heavy gunfire and seeing blood pouring out of a civilian’s head. Think about the stench of rotten flesh from the millions of dead carcasses. And picture yourself running for your life, plummeting to the ground, and tasting the muddy soil of the burial pits. Over two million Cambodians, a third of the entire population, were killed by the heartless soldiers of the Khmer Rouge regime. Through the incredibly tough times of Pol Pot’s reign, one man risked his life to fight against one of the greatest atrocities of all time. His name is Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist who was a refugee and survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

It truly was a strange sensation that I felt while I was watching the film, "The Killing Fields". I was surprised seeing myself so moved and struck by the courage and bravery of Pran. It didn’t take much longer after finishing the film when I was able to affirm to myself that this man was my true role model. One of the many reasons that made me realize this was because of Pran’s desperate desire to save others. In one of the scenes in The Killing Fields, Pran’s jounalist partner, Sydney Schanberg and other foreign journalists were about to be taken away by the Khmer Rouge. Pran desperately persuaded the Khmer Rouge soldiers, who had no interest in taking him, to arrest him along with the foreign journalists. I thought that this was a true heroic act from Pran as not even the bravest souls could approach the deadly Khmer Rouge soldiers. Furtheremore, one of his goals was to not only survive himself, but to also help others survive.

When I was young, I had visited Cambodia and its wonderful array of temples. Of course, the Killing Fields was one of the places I had visited. I didn’t usually enjoy trips with a lot of sightseeing and travelling but this certainly was an exception. We visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. The site was a former high school but looked more like an old tropical motel, which helped to give a more realistic representation of the regime. The cement walls were plastered with the faces of the tortured victims. Some of the rooms I witnessed even had left over metal bed frames with rusted shackles on the blood stained concrete. The rusted metal and the blood combined as it formed an unpleasant smell. These beds were actually used just forty years ago and thinking about the innocent victims who were tortured on these beds made me shiver.

Leaving the genocide musuem, the scenery of Cambodia extended through the forest and we followed through the muddy dirt roads as we arrived upon the killing fields. Immediately, it felt like a different atmoshpere. It was so real that I could almost depict myself being part of the genocide. The mounds were seperated by the burial pits, in which thousands of bodies had been disclosed. The worst sight was seeing bits and pieces of bones and teeth that were visible under the trees and in the bushes covered with dirt. These were the lives of innocent Cambodian civilians and was the fate that Dith Pran escaped.

After returning from the shocking trip, even the simplest things in my everyday life felt so special. It was the first time I realized that I had taken so many things for granted. I felt as if I had been misunderstanding the importance of life. Dith Pran starved to a point where he almost thought about eating human flesh. For him, finding a hairy insect that had fallen from a broken water pipe was like his scrumptious piece of steak. Thinking about that, I felt so fortunate just from eating a plain grain of rice. I immediately began expressing gratitude towards all the things that I had undervalued.
Dith Pran is a hero to me in many ways. He risked his life to try to make the world a better place. Being a Cambodian himself, he did not tolerate the atrocity that his country was facing. Throughout his long and tough journey, Pran never gave up and had the determination to surive and to show the rest of the world that no matter the circumstances, nothing could stop him from achieving his dream. Pran’s life was like a fascinating monument, which extended human possibility. Not only did his life make a difference to the world, it also inspired millions as he chose to make his own survival into a method of protest against injustice. Pran’s story of determination and defiance was no less a memorial and no less and inspiration than the grand temples of Angkor Wat.

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