Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rotary Meetings in Asunción

Yesterday Catherine and I attended our first Rotary meeting for Rotary Club Asunción – Catedral (district 4840). It was held in Hotel Chaco from 7:30 to 8:30 am. Breakfast included a delicious mixed fruit bowl, fresh-squeezed juice (of which Cat and I are not entirely sure), coffee, and bread with assorted jams.

While we ate and waited for the meeting to begin, we talked as best we could with some members. We learned that one member was visiting from Miami (small world) and another has a sister who lives in Holland, Michigan (even smaller world considering Holland is not far from where I grew up). They both spoke English, which was nice, but Cat and I only resorted to it when it was absolutely necessary. For the most part we got along with our limited Spanish.

I observed several differences between this club and the Austin, Oak-Hill club. First, this club only has about 15 members compared to the 35 or more members I am used to seeing. Second, there was no guest speaker. Instead, the president would talk about a topic and when he finished other members would comment on it or add something relevant to the discussion. From what I could understand they talked a lot about past and upcoming events as well as various things going on with other Rotary clubs. Third, because of their jobs and, I imagine, the time of the meeting some of the members had to leave early. I do not recall this occurring in the States; however, I’ve only ever been to meetings during lunchtime, which, based on the U.S. work schedule, makes it easier to stay the entire hour. Fourth, there was no reciting of the four way test.* These are but mere small observational differences between Rotary clubs of the States and Paraguay. I believe that in no way do these differences undermine the common goal of each club to help others.

Although I observed differences I did notice some important similarities. First, the president rang the bell to begin and end the meeting. Second, and most importantly, despite the fact that I did not understand everything that was being talked about, what I did understand reinforced the idea that Rotary: no matter where it is in the world or what district it is, Rotary genuinely cares about helping others. I could identify that thread running through every discussion, every comment. Cat and I could feel willingness to help and the passion with which each member spoke. It was a great feeling.

I gave a short presentation on my thoughts about Paraguay and its people. I said that I admired the more relaxed attitude people had here. It is not like the States where time is money and if you’re not constantly going, going, going then you are somehow failing to ‘make it’ or achieve success. In the States, relaxing and taking the time to enjoy life’s little pleasures is not seen as a positive. Three-hour dinners and two-hour siestas are unthinkable. The prevailing thought is “who has the time?” If you make time then you will have the time. It sounds overly simplistic but it’s true. Where we place our priorities is where we devote the most time.

My comments sparked a little chuckle from a few members. One even said that Paraguayans might have more time but a lot less money. To which I replied that there is no point to having a ton of money if one cannot enjoy it because he or she is too busy. Additionally, I asked him, what is the point of money if you have no one to share it and enjoy it with? Money is an object that comes and goes, but true friends and family will be by your side forever. (Cat later told me that as I said this she looked around the room and could tell that everyone was very interested in what I had to say.)

I also mentioned how delicious the food is here, especially the only non-soup soup I have ever eaten, sopa Paraguaya (literally Paraguayan soup, which has the consistency of cornbread but is much tastier). Everyone laughed at that.

The Rotarians were impressed that I am attending classes at the Universidad del Norte (UniNorte). I told them that at first I was going to study Advertising but then switched to International Relations and Commerce. After reading over the description of each major and some of the classes, the latter major sounded much more interesting. And, as an unforeseen bonus, one of my first classes is Spanish Grammar. After seeing that, the choice was easy.

* Rotary's four-way test of things we think, say, or do:
1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

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