Thursday, September 1, 2011

How were we welcomed?

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)
As we walked up the hill, I realized that there were more than just school children welcoming us. The kids were in the front bordering our path, but behind them were their parents and others from the surrounding community. They were all there to welcome us, I never felt more like a rockstar in my entire life. But my rockstar feeling wasn't so much a yeah, we're here - let's rock, as rather a feeling of you all are hear for us? really? I better produce what you want.

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

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