Please don’t step on me…

These were the last words of a dying girl as her younger brother helplessly watched her get crushed to death. The siblings are just but two of the hundreds of victims of the stampede that happened on Monday, the last night of the Water Festival here in Phnom Penh.

In memory of those who perished at Koh Pich. 11/22/10.

As I light candles tonight, these words kept buzzing in my head. Up to now, the whole country is trying to grasp how hundreds of people died in such a short time; government officials are struggling to cope the aftermath. No one could also explain the cause of this horrible accident. The whole world stood still as people watched the event unfold on television, read news updates online or in newspapers.

When I opened my Facebook and email accounts this morning, there were already several messages from friends and family all concerned about us. Truth is, we purposedly avoided the Water Festival crowd by staying in the house and buying provisions earlier good for three days. I guess when you’re older and lived long enough in Phnom Penh, the fun of Water Festival sort of doesn’t excite you anymore. I mean, our definition of fun has changed and it doesn’t include scuttling about through throngs of people. We were sitting comfortably in our living room, watching a movie, while the tragedy was unfolding. And for that, I felt guilty for not knowing. I am struck with great sadness.

It is a terrible tragedy and an awful, awful news to wake up to in the morning. It was difficult look at the pictures and in my head images of those who were trapped, particularly old women and children, hovers in my head. I think Phnom Penh will be quiet for a while, even long after Thursday’s National Mourning Day, and I don’t feel like going out for the meantime while most are grieving. As we await the results of the investigation ordered by the Prime Minister, I condole with the victims’ families and friends and pray that nothing like this happens ever again.

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