Tim and I went to a soiree last night. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Of course, the word “soiree” has a different meaning here – it’s not near as formal as it is in the States – but hopefully, it will compel you to keep reading. (I know, I know, no shame…)
The event was a meeting with our Rotary International District Governor (DG), Haresh Ramchandani. This year’s DG comes from Jamaica. Among his many responsibilities, he is required to visit every club in his district during his one-year term. That sounds like a simple task until you realize that his territory includes 84 clubs in 10 different countries/territories. Last night was our club’s turn.
We committed to the event two weeks ago and paid our $30 (US) per person for food and a gift. We had no idea who else was going, but given that DG Haresh speaks English and we speak English, our participation was expected and appreciated.
To say that we were pleasantly surprised by how the evening went is an understatement. It was such a joy meeting and chatting with DG Haresh. After all, it’s always refreshing to come across super down-to-earth people serving in super impactful positions. We were also pleasantly surprised that he was at the venue at the appointed hour. That seldom happens here.
This post could go in so many different directions. I could share about Rotary International, why we are members, the people in our club, or the weekly meetings which present an ongoing challenge for us for many reasons. But, what I really want to do is give you a glimpse of how similar events play out differently. It never ceases to amaze me.
I suspect that the same event in another part of the world might include ample notification… meeting announcements, emails, text messages, perhaps formal invitations. Date, location, time would be clearly advertised along with an RSVP date.
Here? On the day of the event, we still didn’t know the location or time. Thankfully, Tim ran into our club’s president and treasurer earlier in the day. We agreed to meet at an intersection at 5:30 pm and follow them to the venue. We showed up at the appointed spot 10 minutes late because, well, this is Haiti, and we know that 10 minutes late is still early. Much to our surprise, we only waited another 10 minutes for our contacts to arrive. Victory!
Most public venues in the US are well lit with parking, to include government required handicap accessible spots. Last night? It was already getting dark when we arrived which made navigation a bit tricky, especially since this was a new location for us. Initially, we parked in front of the building, but soon learned that there was a back parking lot. We followed our friends beyond the venue, around a bend, and into a “parking lot” that was pitch black. The truck slid on the rocks as Tim backed it in, careful not to hit the car on his side while avoiding the row of cacti on my side. When we got out of the truck, we were met by 8-10 partially clothed, shoeless children who were eager to walk with us back to the venue. I finally turned on my flashlight after inadvertently walking into a child I could not see in the darkness.
Once we got inside, we were shown to a seat and handed an agenda. In our experience, most business agendas stick to the business at hand. There may be entertainment at the beginning of the event, or to close it out; perhaps even a string quartet. Last night’s agenda had 14 points on it to include one song, a two-minute moment of silence (which was really about 20 seconds), three dance routines, and at least five different speeches. DG Haresh was so sweet when he said something about his speech being the only thing keeping participants from dinner (at 8:15pm). He didn’t realize that there were still four agenda items following his speech.
As is typical at evening events, the lighting was very poor. I didn’t use a flash to snap the accompanying picture because this is truly what we could see… sillhouettes.
People arrived late, which is normal anywhere, but one might think you would enter discreetly. Not so. Here, it’s acceptable to move furniture around so you can sit where you want.
A motorcycle entered the venue at one point. As in, it drove in to the dining area.
Tim noticed that there was a rat in the rafters above the speaker(s). At least it was up above and not on the floor. We’ve seen enough of them scurry across restaurant floors.
Four out of five speeches started out the Exact. Same. Way. When speaking in public, it is customary to list and identify every single distinguished guest as part of your speech, in a particular order. To miss this step is to not show respect.
Apparently, another way to show respect is to be dramatic in your speech. The theatrical delivery of the club president’s speech was akin to a Shakespearean performance. There is a time and place for that sort of thing; a business meeting just didn’t seem to be it.
And then there are the cell phones. Some things are universal, and people who do and don’t silence their cell phones exist everywhere. It was a little alarming to see the District Governor’s escort/translator take several calls during the event, which meant the DG had no one to translate for him in those times. He simply rolled with it.
When the speeches were done, and the buffet was opened up, so went the music’s volume. People here love music, and the louder the music, the better the event. I love music too, but loud music just isn’t conducive for conversation.
I hope you don’t read these differences as complaints because that is not my intent. On the contrary, I find some of the differences endearing. Maybe it’s because we’ve become more accustomed to them.
What strikes me most about the differences between your events and ours, and the thing that I will never find endearing, is the perpetual underlying danger. You see, the event was held in conjunction with a sister club located across the river, in the town of Petite Riviere de l’Artibonite.
Earlier in the day, a friend didn’t mince words when he told us that he didn’t want us to go to the meeting. The night before, a police officer had been killed and there was a great deal of unrest in Ti Rivye. As the locals say, people are obligated to “walk with fear” when going to there these days. It doesn’t help that the road connecting the two towns is well known for its dangers after dark. The route is bordered by the canal on one side and farm fields are on the other. There are a series of speed bumps which force vehicles to slow down. It is very easy for bandits to approach and block vehicles since there is no place to go. Safety was a major consideration when we opted to join the Rotary Club in Verrettes versus Ti Rivye.
Still, we went. And along the way, I prayed silently for safety as we sped down the road, dodging potholes, following our friends who had no working tail lights.
As we drove home in the dark, the same friend who didn’t want us to go called to check on us. He was concerned that we still weren’t back at 9:15pm. When we arrived safely at the compound (mesi bondye), the guard on duty chastised us for going, and then told me that if we ever have problems “anwo” (above where we live), we should tell them that he is our friend. This morning, I learned that two more people were killed in Ti Rivye last night.
People, these are things we simply don’t think about when we go to events in the U.S.
I’ll be honest, with the ongoing frustrations we sometimes face with the Rotary Club here, I often ask Tim if we should continue our membership. I never get a straight answer from him, but we know great things can happen in this community if we work together, and Tim and I are in a position to bring different people together to make it a reality. DG Haresh affirmed this last night as we shared thoughts and ideas.
As last night’s event came to a close and it was time to travel that dangerous road again, our Rotarian brothers and sisters insisted that we all leave together, and they went out of their way to make sure that Tim and I were with them. Though the night had gone so much better than we expected, a new reality set in. My fear on the road we were traveling had subsided. I felt safer because we were traveling the road together.
I love that we aren’t called to do things on our own. Even when there are frustrations and difficulties, God puts people in our path to help us along the way. They don’t always look like what or who we expect; often times, it’s even better than our expectations.
We just have to be willing to take the risk to see it.