By Renée Riley-Adams, Rotary Club of Ashland, Oregon, USA
My husband and I recently traveled to Brazil on vacation to visit my brother. The one-hour Rotary meeting I went to while there remains one of my most treasured memories from the trip.
Though I understood perhaps only ten percent of what was being said, it was the welcome I received that made the experience so worthwhile. There is a magic in knowing that I share the same values as the people I met. The hearty handshakes I received and the kisses on my cheek spoke volumes of the shared fellowship that is Rotary around the world.
Ubatuba is three and a half hours by car from São Paulo, where Rotary’s International Convention will take place this June. In my broken Portuguese, I could make that connection, along with another question that brought smiles to their faces: “How long have you been in Rotary?” Whether the answer was one year or twenty, I could tell these people were dedicated.
With 14 members, the Ubatuba Club was much smaller than my Ashland Club of 110 and met in the evening, with members going out to dinner after the meeting. It felt quite intimate as we sat in a circle instead of in a big hall with a podium. I was touched by the sincere exchanges and desire to find a way forward together as they discussed how to get wheelchairs to senior citizens in need and how to best publicize an upcoming fundraiser to help eradicate polio.
Getting to the meeting was not an easy feat. As we drove our rental car, the warm rain bucketed down, making it a challenge to not hit people riding their bikes on the side of the road in the dark without reflectors, lights or helmets. The few people carrying surfboards and walking in their flip-flops were only marginally easier to avoid.
A week or so before, I’d sent messages via Facebook to see if I could make contact with someone at Rotary Ubatuba. My emails must have gone to a spambox however so we resorted to using the phone.
After several days leaving messages back and forth, we finally had a multi-way conversation involving me, my brother, a photographer friend who speaks fluent Portuguese, the secretary of the Ubatuba Club, and their Rotary exchange student.
Barbara, the 18-year-old Youth Exchange student from Mexico, adeptly fielded any word I threw her way in my attempt to communicate — Spanish, English, Portuguese and even the occasional French word. She was a star! I gave her the name of our Ashland Club exchange student from Spain; the ripples of connection continue to move outward.
I brought a small, red, banner from my town’s Rotary Club and everyone took pictures of me giving it to the Club President, Flavio Miranda. They like flags as they had six of them that they unfurled with some ceremony on an official Rotary stand. I was intrigued to see that instead of a pledge of allegiance, they clapped to honor the flags, Brazil and Rotary.
I tried to explain that this was only the second time I have attended Rotary out of my country. The first time was when I went to Scotland, where they gave me “a wee dram” of whiskey in a miniature bottle to take back to our Club’s President. Last night they gave me the words to a song Ciranda Da Bailarina by Brazilian musician Chico Buarque.
Though it will probably take me several more years of Portuguese lessons to truly understand the heart-felt sentiments of the song, the sweet essence of international connection clings to my skin along with the jungle humidity. Service Above Self translates into all cultures and languages.