We left our hotel room at 4:00a.m. By the time we landed at the Colombo airport it felt like we’d been awake for a week and a half.
Today is a struggle and it’s not even noon.
Our friend Priyan, native Sri Lankan and gracious host, meets us at the airport. He’s dressed in chic South Asian attire. His hair is perfectly styled.
My hair is matted to my forehead and I’m wearing crusty Lululemons.
We drive towards the capitol city and he educates us about his home. The longer we’re on the road the more I lose hope in the sugary-caffeinated beverage I’ve been dreaming about.
Two hours and two iced coffees later we arrive at our first destination. Priyan’s friend is running a school/shelter for Sri Lankan street kids and they’re anxiously awaiting a visit from the exotic American tourists.
We walk through the primitive playground into a small building. My tall travel partner is practically on his knees trying to squeeze himself through the doorway.
Inside, 50 skinny kids are crowded around short, metal tables. They are staring up at us, wide-eyed with anxious enthusiasm and wonder.
My first instinct is to drop low to them, smile and wave.
Immediately though, I’m paralyzed.
None of them speak English. Only a percentage speak the same language as Priyan and some barely speak at all. For the first time in my life, I’m in front of a group of kids with no idea how to act, what to say or how to keep their attention.
They crowd around me kneeling on the floor and we stare at each other. Still smiling.
For five or six minutes I struggle trying to translate through Priyan. I can feel their energy bubbling to the surface and I still have no idea what to do with them.
I look up at Priyan, “can we play?”
Before I get a response, I walk out onto the playground. A six year old boy jumps up behind me and touches my back.
“Thank goodness.” “I know this one.”
I start chasing the little boy around the tall metal slide. He climbs to the top delighted with his escape method. I pretend to be frustrated trying to jump up to tag him. He laughs hysterically at each of my failures.
“Yes, I can do this.”
Before long, twenty kids and I are playing a game I’ve played a million times with eight hundred kids in the United States. I run around. Freeze. Make a face. Do a dance. Strike a pose.
They mimic and follow me. I growl in their faces, start chasing them and they scatter. Screaming, giggling, screeching with delight.
I am winded. And sweaty and blissfully happy.
Thirty minutes later the sky erupts in a furious down pour. My new friends cling to my waist and drag me inside.
We dance and play keep-away. They show me their favorite toys.
I feel alive, invigorated, inspired, loved, connected, full.
I feel like the best version of myself.
When it’s all over I have tears in my eyes. I am flying.
My friends can’t believe what’s come over me.
I try to share my feelings with them but all I can come up with is “I’m high from all of it.”
The entire afternoon felt like a miracle.
I’ve been babysitting since I was eleven years old. I’ve been working with kids for over a decade. Again and again I’ve been humbled by how kids are so loving, so expressive, so honest and unconditional. But even in all my experience and wisdom, I feel overwhelmed. In disbelief.
On the other side of the world I walk into their lives a stranger. I don’t look like anyone they’ve ever seen. I don’t speak their language. They have been through all the trauma and heartache that would leave any human heart untrusting and closed off. And yet, they embrace me. With love and laughter. With hugs and smiles and boundless energy.
I am moved beyond expression.
How could I ever be a lawyer?