First day, first time meeting each other in person, we already had stories to share about our first experiences. The streets filled with Vespa motorbikes driving in the opposite direction, carrying two, three and at times four people on one bike. The intricate and lavish details carved on the palace and temple walls. The extreme heat and humidity in the air. Masses of tangled, exposed electrical cords lining the air above the sidewalks, just to name a few.
After breakfast, we were taught the history and social aspects of the country, and how Save the Children has worked to help educate people in the rural provinces, with the help of IKEA’s programmes and contribution. All this while, we heard the clapping of thunder and rain in the background. Such strong forces of nature only separated from us by the walls. We met the head managers who invited us for an incredible meal. The employees serving always had a smile on their face and it just reconfirmed our perception that everyone here is so welcoming, warm and kind, with a positive attitude, despite the fact that we saw so much poverty among the people.
After lunch we went to see an old children’s school that was converted into a prison in the 1970s. It was a sad moment to feel the suffering and torture that people endured at the time. We had to shake it off as we started our journey up to one of the rural provinces, three hours away from the centre.
As we drove deeper into the countryside we passed many beautiful temples, like the ones that stunned each of us as we arrived. These temples stood up proud, their gold and intricate carving glowing with the light. Each temple was so different yet had the same grandeur, planted in between rundown shacks made of metal sheets, planks of wood with car parts and tools guarding the entryways.
Every home had a beautifully carved altar in front, where incense is burned to bring about good luck. Some homes had buffalo grazing in front of the houses and, where they could, the buffalo were lying in the small swimming pools of water that the rain had created earlier in the day, their chins resting on the water. It was so strange to see four or five buffalos, side by side, not an inch between them as they all tried to cool off in the long-awaited rain.
Those three hours of driving were like being in a rollercoaster ride, roads full of cracks and bumps, the car swerving from left to right in order to pass traffic and avoid oncoming cars. As dusk fell, we saw fires being burned, the only light available to those living there.
After three hours we arrived at a beautiful hotel, right out of a movie. How could a hotel like this be in the middle of a small rural village? We found out that this town is a pit-stop for people travelling between tourist sites. We made our way for dinner to a local outdoor restaurant, where we ordered a traditional meal with chicken, rice and veggies. As we were eating, there was a blackout. Generators eventually gave us light again. The insects that had been buzzing around had made their way in some of our glasses and plates. Quite an experience! Needless to say, none of us felt like we needed the extra protein.
Today we were able to fill our senses with the cultural, social and economic aspects of the country. Now I am ready to have a great night’s sleep before a new day full of inspiration tomorrow. We will be introduced to the children and parents who are being given the opportunity to have an education and, hopefully, live a better life.