On Easter Sunday, three churches, three luxury hotels, and housing complexes in Sri Lanka were targets of suicide bombings. Aside from the traumatic grief caused by death and destruction of terroristic attacks, places where bombings occur often suffer significant challenges when tourism comes to a halt. Local owners of shops, private hotels, and restaurants endure immediate loss of business that can last for years.
A visit to Sri Lanka wasn’t in my plans, as I have been there before, and while I have a deep affection for the country, I didn’t plan a return right now. After the attacks, I remembered hearing other stories of how communities are impacted negatively, and, since I was going to be nearby, I thought I would visit as a show of support. Little did I know this would end up as my first transition back to classroom teaching.
A quest for inexpensive accommodations often puts me in the most interesting places in a city. My hotel is Sri Lanka was away from tourist locations and families were primarily Muslim. It felt purposeful as I had read that Muslim businesses were being irrationally targeted in response to the bombings with business boycotts and hateful responses to individuals who were not at all connected to these events. While this is not the norm for everyone, it’s clear terrorism can impact many.
While wandering, everyone – and I mean everyone I met – was kind to me. People greeted me warmly, they shared tea, we sat and chatted as best we could. The area around my hotel soon felt like my neighborhood with favorite food stalls serving daily portions of homemade roti better than I’ve ever tasted before.
After meeting my friend Sameera in front of my hotel, we decided to plan something fun for the nearby kids. With permission from the Hotel Opulence owner, we painted and hosted a Saturday afternoon party for 60+ kids. Shopping with Sameera was so much fun as she got us A LOT for our money – always knowing where to find the cheapest items and then negotiating additional discounts.
Painting was fun as always! The kids were great – and the hotel location offered a unique space in their parking area that is easily viewed by neighbors as they pass by.
After painting, we set up stations with activities like building blocks, drawing, origami, and clay. 60 kids yelling “teacher” at the same time and beaming as they showed their finished work was enough to get me ready to start the school year. I had to laugh at the universal language for “look at me” that kids easily convey.
Volunteers are the heart of every classroom and this party was no different! Parents jumped in to help with set-up, organization, and cleaning. We were a team in motion for the entire afternoon.
Leaving Sri Lanka was hard! Each place has been kind of hard and it always takes me a day or so to recover from missing the comforts established in my homes away from home.
Off to Bangladesh. Then, two more stops before home!