The van stopped and we were there.
There was no big driveway, no large sign visible from far down the road (the usual trappings of a school in America). I was too busy looking at the tropical surroundings during the commute to realize we had gotten there - I felt more like I was going to be an extra on the set of Lost than going to a school - the stop of the van was my only warning that we had arrived.
The campus of the school consists of a 200 yard long (nearly 45 degree angled slope) hill with school house structures on both sides. There was a white and blue (the school colors) balloon arc at the school's entrance, with all 300+ school children lining the path up the middle of the school to the top of the hill. Each student was dressed in their school uniform - waving small flags and large smiles.
|The Welcome at Pope Paul II School (Sri Lanka)|
I'm not sure if that last line has the intention I want - I was struck by the gravity of the situation I had placed myself. I was wondering if I had out drove my headlights, bitten off more than I can chew, (insert a metaphor that illustrates an underestimation). I've always considered myself a "good" person but this was a venue for a "great" person. That's the feeling of a cautious rockstar, wondering if the venue booked was too large and would ultimately wreck a career.
The large scale of the welcome was thankfully overpowered by the small individual reinforcements that I noticed. The large crowd was generally stoic and at a distance when the nearby children were reaching out with individual greetings. I kept my focus on saying hello back and making eye contact with as many sincerely excited kids.
|International Language of Smiles (Sri Lanka)|
There was a formal welcome ceremony including a presentation of the school by the principal, speeches by both students and teachers, and a rite that I don't understand well enough to document. I did not take as many pictures as others on the team because I thankfully realized how much of "a moment" was occurring and I wanted to live and experience it as much as I could (which meant not looking at a 4 inch display of it on my camera).
Without a doubt, it was the International Language of Smiles that got me through that nerve wrecked initial moments and stamina challenging first day at the school.
|Students welcoming a teacher|