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Cambodia Summer Program.


Tiny patches of purple and white flowers stand. Species unknown, unimportant. They shiver in feathers of rainwater drizzling from the heavens and shudder in blades of wind (the breeze seems to be coming from deep in the heart of the olive-colored forest). Petals tremble.

The flowers grow on a grave. An unimpressive burial site in the middle of a forest, covered by pieces of scrap metal and guarded by wooden sticks driven into the dark drenched mud. A piece of blue metal, raised high above the ground on a thin and slanted metal pole, claims this is the grave of Pol Pot, leader of the Angkar, Brother No. 1.

A sea of flowers covers the feet of the raised marble platform. Scarlet, pearl, gold, violet, and turquoise. Species unidentifiable, unimportant. They shake, almost imperceptibly, in the brisk air gushing out of vents on the ceiling and occasionally twitch from the vibrations of another batch being added to the heaping pile. Petals tremble.

The flowers crowd on a grave. A massive mausoleum, constructed by tons of marbles – moved by ships, trains, trucks, and then hands – and guarded by tall young soldiers, wrapped in olive-colored uniforms, with stone-hard faces and stone-hard bullets. A ginormous plaque, etched in to the dark marble that made up the platform, claims this is the grave of Mao Zedong, first president of the People’s Republic of China, Supreme Leader.

Allegiance comes in many shapes and forms: school-converted torture prison to “eliminate the enemy”, cow sheds doubled as holding cells for the “rightists”, 20-foot-tall painting raised to the height where one must look up to, unfinished figureheads intended for propaganda left to rot in shadowy chambers after the unintended retreat.

And flowers.