the heart of darkness

i am in the middle of my week-long forced isolation due to radioactive therapy i received for my thyroid problem, and i am suffering more than i had imagined, not physically but emotionally. i am holding myself prisoner in my room in our house, which means that my loved ones are so near yet so far. i can hear the children laugh (or cry or scream or fight, as they’re wont to do within a prescribed schedule in a day) but i can’t go near them to enjoy their laughter or to embrace them or kiss their tears away. i am literally counting the days when i can go outside for my freedom and then i got ashamed of myself because i suddenly remembered two places where the counting would have been much longer, or where the freedom never ever came: tuol sleng and buchenwald.

as you know traveling does not only bring you to happy places. sure, most of the tourism sites are awesome (in terms of natural or man-made beauty and scale), there are also those that are serene and sacred (mostly religious sites, like temples and the vatican), but there are those that simply bear down on you with a heaviness you cannot explain, and make a tug in your heart.

tuol sleng genocide museum used to be a high school building (hell, even today, it still looks like one from the outside) in phnom penh, cambodia that was used as the “s-21” prison by polpot’s regime. it became the processing center for around 20,000 prisoners (ranging from professionals to pol pot’s own officials who were suspected of treachery) and served as an interrogation complex, torture central, and extermination camp rolled into one. now, the place serves to tell the terror of its history, with bloodstains on beds, floors and walls, thousands of skulls displayed in cases, torture devices, and hand-written calendars still eerily preserved. you walk through the complex and you feel like there’s a heavy cloud bearing on you. not surprisingly, it is said that the residents of the neighborhood where the prison is located (remember, this served as a school, so some houses are mere yards away from the compound) still hear screams of pain and cries of agony deep in the night.

however, the feeling is worse in buchenwald. this is a concentration camp (one of the first and one of the largest) near the town of weimar in germany where, as to accounts, almost a quarter of a million people (both jewish and non-jewish alike) were incarcerated and exterminated, with a total death toll of about fifty thousand. and boy, can you still feel the lingering sense of death and despair in that place! that was the first time when i truly believed in the negative energy that can be emitted by a place due to the things that have happened there. even as you enter the compound, there was this heaviness that you could certainly feel but could not explain — like someone hit you in the gut with a hammer. what’s weird was my friends felt it too, though we only talked about it when we were away from there, so i guess we didn’t contrive or imagine or hallucinate it. i guess the season (fall) and the weather (overcast, cold and gloomy) didn’t help much either. but it might as well have been the height of summer, with the sun at its highest, and yet you would still have felt like you were entering into the true heart of darkness.


9 Comments Add yours

  1. claire espina says:

    Travel expands the mind and the heart because it permits the formation of a sense of place and time and empathy for the inhabitants of that place and time. There are places which speak of horrors which should not forgotten. Thank you for this post Greg. It is beautifully written.


  2. Betis Boy says:

    thanks, achi. coming from you, i take that as a great compliment. from my present circumstances i truly believe that seclusion (or is it really despair?) is a writer's best friend 🙂


  3. Guagua Girl says:

    we read about these horrors in books and see them in photos and documentaries. but until we've been to the actual places — walked the same paths, prowled the same prisons — i don't think we'd fully grasp the depth of the indignities people have suffered.

    i was wondering if you were going to write about your forced isolation … take heart in the fact you'll be free to be with your loved ones soon 🙂


  4. Betis Boy says:

    thanks. i was actually thinking about doing a food post, but changed my mind because it didn't feel right.

    about the horrors, can you imagine driving through the killing fields in maguindanao, which are actually traversed by the highway? even if you pay me a million, i will not drive there alone at night.


  5. Guagua Girl says:

    this from atching claire “travel expands the mind and the heart because it permits the formation of a sense of place and time and empathy for the inhabitants of that place and time” reminded me of a scene in the movie “invictus.” matt damon's character, the captain of the south african rugby team, took his teammates to robben island, the prison where mandela spent almost 3 decades. the cell was small, barely big enough to fit a grown man comfortably and you could see him wondering how a man trapped in such a place for so long could be so forgiving.

    i wouldn't want to go near the killing fields you mentioned — not even in broad daylight.


  6. Rosario B. Reyes says:

    This is Auntie Anette's facebook.
    I have permission to open it.
    Take Care of Yourself and Health is Wealth.
    Help yourself and God will do the rest.
    We Love You and All our Family.
    God Bless You and Your Family.

    Uncle Rico, Auntie Cherry, Camille and Collin


  7. Betis Boy says:

    hi auntie cherry! thanks a lot! please give my kisses to lola and to everybody there! 😀 a big hug to collin too 😀 i love watching his videos 😀


  8. Betis Boy says:

    gg, i haven't watched invictus. is it worth the while? good thing i'll be well enough to go out when the social network opens here next week.


  9. Guagua Girl says:

    yep, definitely worth checking out. haven't seen “social network” yet. want to. maybe sometime this week. hope to see the “american idiot” musical this weekend or maybe the ballet “swan lake.” it's back in new york after more than a decade 🙂


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