Save the Children in their 4X4 led the way as we moved in convoy up and over the Gira Castle Mountains and through several small villages. Children frequently ran onto the road calling "Chinese, Chinese".
To many of the locals in this remote region of Tigray, the only foreigners they see are the Chinese whose government is working on rebuilding old roads (ones built by the Italians during their occupation), and building new roads.
The smell of Acacia wood (introduced from Australia in the late 1800s) burning in breakfast fires filled the valleys and plains as we moved through the canyons.
Unlike Bahri Dar, Addis, Condar, and Lulibela, most of the dwellings in this region are made of stone, chiseled and laid to form houses where it's found.
Christian farmers dominate the highlands in the center north, while Muslim herders and traders occupy the lowlands in the east, where we are now.
We saw herds of camel and cattle and many small markets at crossroads all along our route.
Our convoy pulled off the main road around 8 am and drove the last part of our journey to Kalina on unpaved road.
The approach to the school was surrounded by large cacti 8 to 10 feet high on both sides of the road.
A light, grey dust billowed around and behind the cars as they made their way toward the school's main entrance.
As we approached children singing and chanting "welcome guests" streamed out of the school's front gate--the movement of their feet added to the clouds of dust already hanging in the air from our vehicles.
Popcorn was thrown in the air like confetti at a wedding. The boys carried long wooden rods as they marched and chanted; the girls danced, clapped and sang.
After the initial welcome and presentations the children lined up and filed into their classrooms.
We were then greeted by the village elders and parents. With the help of our translator we exchanged formal welcomes, introductions, and gifts. We explained the course of events over the past 6 years that led to this day and expressed our profound gratitude for such a warm welcome.
To conclude opening remarks and on behalf of the faculty and the school, I presented the Principal with a pair of books, both Saint David's publications that chronicle the history of Saint David's and the hymns and prayers important to the school. He was thrilled.
The Student Council presidents presented Saint David's hats and t-shirts to the Principal. He then put the hat on his head, with pride.
Saint David's parents presented sweets to the Kalina parents.
Our Save the Children rep Cheryl Anderson also presented a gift to the head of the PTA.
After the formal ceremonies, we moved into the classrooms for a tour and interactions with the children.
To conclude our visit, the Kalina teachers invited us in for a traditional coffee ceremony complete with incense. It was delicious. Best coffee ever. I was asked to cut the freshly made bread to begin the ceremony and we also all enjoyed popcorn and fresh goat's milk.
The Principal came to say a final goodbye and expressed his gratitude.