#WCY2014: Day One – the opening ceremony

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can.

I can’t help but wonder if Tolkien ever made the journey from Colombo to Hambantota, because this is precisely what it feels like. Hambantota, for those who are unaware, is down at the southern end of Sri Lanka, quite near the edge of the island. It’s about 4 hours’ journey from Colombo, and it was where the WCY2014 Opening Ceremony was held.

On the road
On the road

It’s easy to diss the event. Popping up on my newsfeed are accusations that the whole event is a waste of taxpayers money. People have called it a marketing stunt. And I still have no idea what the heck that dance with the animals and the faux-Lion-King music was.

But whether anything quantifiable, implementable and worthwhile comes out of this or not, I can still appreciate the whole thing.  We’re presented on the world media as a third-world nation with a history of violence – pretty much the only real positive things about this country are on the tourism blogs. Regardless of our not-so-witty political satire, we’re still on a lot of bad lists.

WCY is changing this. You can see it happening, in the way people talk, the way they discuss being here. It’s a colossal engine for people from all over the world to actually connect with Sri Lanka on a personal level. There’s a huge amount of politics involved, as always, but this time it isn’t a couple of old dignitaries making the rounds – it’s a whole TON of young people from all over the world, people who will some day end up making or influencing the really big decisions.
Ever heard of the term “millenial?” If not, Google it. That’s what this conference is: a millenial forum. There’s a huge amount of people from all over tweeting, instagramming and sharing Sri Lanka all over the web – and in the process, kicking the world’s public opinion of us up a notch. Hey look: they’re actually NOT committing human rights violations. Phew. That’s epic.

So instead of dissing, let me sum it up (from a surface, attendee perspective): it was epic. 700-odd delegates. A massive, beautiful venue, crowned with a drummers, hornblowers, exquisite ladies in sarees, stilt-walkers – a greeting of such cultural splendour that a perehara would have been put to shame.  Indeed, as one Burmese delegate told me: “I’ve never seen such a rich culture: any country would be hard put to compete.”

And that’s just the first few steps in the picture

Inside, we were given a splendid address by Dr John W Ashe, President of the UN General Assembly, which has already been covered extensively and will probably be blogged about much later. The President, Mahinda Rajapakse, strode down the aisle to the collective flashing of a thousand phone cameras and hammered out an excellent speech. No surprises there – he’s a brilliant orator. Namal Rajapakse wasn’t there – apparently he was off in Japan on a rugby jaunt. Duty, the compere called it. Surely there are others who can take his place in the rugby team: I doubt, however, that he can be replaced in something like this. Opportunity: missed.

Of course, it turned into an #iPhoneparty when the President walked in. Apparently instagram is not just an affliction of Sri Lankan smartphone users.
Of course, it turned into an #iPhoneparty when the President walked in. Apparently instagram is not just an affliction of Sri Lankan smartphone users.

The true highlight of the show, though, was the people in it. A vast sea of delegates stretching from one end of the auditorium to the other. People from every country, race, color, religion, clustered together, each, in their own way,  an avatar of the land they hailed from. That was an amazing sight, not one I’m likely to forget. And interspersed with them, the gray T-shirts of the 500-odd volunteers running hither and thither to make things work, doing their magic from the shadows. Bravo. Onwards to the next three days.

Thankfully, the rest of the event’s to be held at the BMICH, a saner location.

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