top of page

Trauma and a country: Cambodia

I am much more aware of how sensitive I am to energetic fields since I’ve started on my cranio sacral path. When travelling in Thailand I felt its softness, lightness and respect of life in all its forms. I felt very safe there. I also noticed how my heart was very open and resourcing in its own beautiful presence. I listened in and felt tears welling up a few times after meeting someone’s smile or being in lush nature or visiting some ancient vestiges of the Siam kingdom in Ayutthaya or Sukhothai. It would just come freely and it made me more aware of how blessed and grateful I was to be on this fabulous journey with being; with beings.

Arriving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the other hand, the energetic shift is enormous. I feel assaulted from the word go as taxi and tuk tuk drivers are asking where I am going and offering to give me a lift. In the end I hop onto a tuk tuk with two expats working for NGOs there. Although their presence help and we have an informative chat, riding in this tuk tuk at rush hour, along with motor bikes, cars and other tuk tuks zooming or pressing by, is quite a hellish experience.

I can barely breathe because of the fumes and I am told by the expats that one of the main landfills has caught fire and nothing has been done for over a week. I can feel my whole being beginning to tighten up and closing in after having been so open and free in Thailand.

Another sign of a shift: I am told straight off to be careful with my bag and make sure both handles are on my shoulders as motorbikes snatch bags from tourists.

So I arrive at the guesthouse and decide to go for a wander to look for some food. I’m told again to be careful and I roughly follow a plan that is handed to me. I am well resourced from my trip to Thailand so I can take on the walk at night but I do feel the energy is very different here: it is hard to put into words at first but it is there. It is more aggressive and more muffled at the same time. I do not feel safe here.

I walk to the market and see some street food and right beside and across the road are these massive piles of rubbish. This sorry eye sore recurs a few times, fanning out its pestilence along the way.

My senses feel assaulted once again and I contract, my sympathetic system is activated and I tend towards dissociation( I numb parts of my body and exit them). I decide to go back to the area where I’m staying for the night which turns out to be quite central and parallel to great food streets with many international eateries. I see Ethiopian food on one of the signs and am attracted by its unusual presence. There I feel my diaphragm relaxing and my breath lengthening again; the Ethiopian owner is very kind and the Cambodian waitress is very chatty and lovely.

I have travelled around Cambodia now for over two weeks and I do not presume to know the place by a long shot but I have been much more stared at, much more harassed for money and I have looked at people that are poor, disenfranchised and alienated by the regime that is supposed to look after them. I feel a deep sense of abandonment here, a profound lingering trauma following a colonisation by France, a bloody war of independence and almost seventy years of civil war including another foreign invasion. All the post colonial years featured tyrannical dictatorships royal or communist which used extreme violence, genocides, torture, public humiliations and forced displacements.

This colossal trauma was experienced by all in Cambodia. It would have been felt in urban and rural areas under the Red Khmer (les Khmers Rouges) who were in power from 1975 to 1979 as they applied ruralisation on a massive scale and forcibly evacuated the inhabitants of entire cities to make them work the land like slaves.

It is estimated that the Red Khmer killed 1.7 million or 20% of Cambodians according to a study done by the University of Yale.

However the ravages of civil war and dictatorship did not stop in 79 and did not begin in 75. The guerrilla struggle between the Khmers and the Sihanouk government began in the early 60s. In 79 the Vietnamese invaded the country and the civil war between the Vietnamese and the Red Khmer raged on till the 90s. Eventually UN sponsored elections were held in 1993 and a coalition government was formed.

Now the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is a former Red Khmer and the longest non royal ruler in South East Asia. Cambodia is said to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Its government is selling entire swathes of land, as well as its oil and mineral wealth to foreign investors. China for example owns 99 year leases to some of the most beautiful islands and coast lines of Cambodia.

It is terribly sad. How dispossessed the colonised are and how dispossessed they will remain if their mother land is milked dry by others while the ruling elite gets richer at their expense.

In my opinion, there is dissociation on a massive national scale here (isn't disenfranchisement another word for dissociation at the national level?) and what I feel as a mere tourist passing through is the tip of the iceberg compared to the depth of suffering that has been endured here.

Yes I have cried here too but not out of gratitude or as a song of many blessings.

I visited a killing cave in Battambang where the Red Khmer threw their victims after having tortured them. A Buddhist temple with a reclining Buddha (see images below) has been placed right beside a box containing skulls and bones (remains of the killings found in the cave). It is frightening still and chilling indeed. My whole spine froze up and my breathing tightened when I saw the cave and the skulls but the Buddha was there, the desire to heal and for some kind of redemption as well as the recognition of the suffering.

On another occasion I visited a typical traditional Khmer house near Battambang and the owner who has opened his doors and guides me tells me that his aunt used to own the house and showed people around before she stopped due to arthritis. He further explains that the house was requested by the Red Khmer to be used as a canteen. His aunt was forced out of her house at gun point and fled to the Thai border. The Red Khmers used buckets to distribute water to their cohorts and damaged the very nice timber railings and floor: indelible marks were left there in more ways than one. He tells me his aunt never speaks openly about it but every time she showed those water marks to tourists he remembers her shuddering, still and forever shaken by this trauma.

There is also hope and really beautiful and kind hearts here too. I have come across the most gorgeous smiles and the most helpful, friendly people. Cambodia is a country with an amazingly rich and fabulous medieval past. The golden era when Angkor and its many magnificent temples were built, when rulers like Jayavamarta VII showed compassion and love for its inhabitants.

So I have also felt deep spiritual awe here and saw lots of initiatives at grassroots level helped by the presence of many NGOs that spearhead awareness campaigns against plastic and help street kids, marginalised youths and their families ...

I would like to come back to Cambodia to see if I can somewhat help with my skills as a biodynamic cranio sacral therapist.

bottom of page