Sunday, July 19, 2015

BIMming, Part One

Building, Integrating, Motivating Through Service


A little over a month ago, I went to Barbados for a week. On four of the seven days, I participated in the 29th Annual Rotaract District 7030 Conference.

I admit that I was a bit skeptical about this year’s Conference given some last minute notices, impersonal and tardy email responses, and the non-existent vibes. I mean, that newsletter had, like, no personality! But, having spent time, energy and monies in preparation for the trip, I had to pull up my big-boy boxer-briefs and approach the entire experience with an open mind. My approach worked as I thoroughly enjoyed Conference and didn't allow any of the negative goings-on to affect me much.

Enough rambling. Read, enjoy, comment and come back again.

Training Sessions, an Assembly and PDG Elwin

This year's District Assembly wasn't a drawn out affair. Quick was the word from adopting the minutes to Director’s reports to paying District dues to voting. I didn't fall asleep this year and that’s a huge compliment.

Then, there were the actual training sessions. These were spread over a three-day period. My brain wasn't saturated with too much information at the end of any given day, which meant a less lethargic and more enthusiastic Garvin all around.

I loved that Rotaractors from those Clubs that were exemplar throughout the District facilitated most sessions. It gave a "if they could do it, so could my club" vibe to the proceedings, which was appreciated. And it was nice to learn about other clubs and the methods they employed to successfully plan and execute their projects.  

On the last day of training, my club turned facilitators. We were asked to present on planning the inaugural District Leadership Training 2014. (As it turns out, there’s a draft about DLT that I never got around to posting….) There was an ice-breaker activity that involved balloons, markers and the moniker, “Chocolate Thunder”. I was proud to stand together with my club and address our peers, and actually have them participate, ask questions and show genuine interest. Even the one guy nodding off at the 45-minute mark didn't faze us.
After his presentation on the very first day, I wanted nothing more than to shrink PDG Elwin and put him in my shirt pocket. Don't worry, it's totally normal, especially when I really admire someone. Anyway, he was able to put so much of his fun personality into his discussion on the relationship between Rotary and Rotaract without it devolving into a bad comedy show. He maintained the seriousness of the topic and his message. I left with a better understanding of the Rotary-Rotaract dynamic and the responsibility of both parties in sustaining the relationship. I tend to reference his points whenever the opportunity presents itself.

A Sprinkle of Sugar, Oistins by One, Otherworldly Harrison and The Jolly Roger

The Outings & Fellowship Limes are a staple at any Rotaract gathering, and this year didn't disappoint.

There was Sugar Ultra Lounge on Thursday night. We danced to every genre of music, and yours truly, spilled his drink on some girl in a denim jumpsuit. Oops! After apologizing and giving her my cutest of smiles, she stalked off, cursing my very existence. How rude!

We hit up the fishing village of Oistins on Friday; people, sheds and BBQ fish galore! I had the dolphin, which reminded me of the time I cried during Free Willy, a movie about a whale. And because Rotaractors train hard and party harder, they just had to take over de people dem pavement and stage, where they sang, among other ditties, ‘Like Ah Boss’ at the top of their lungs.

On Saturday afternoon, we went spelunking at Harrison’s Cave. We didn't actually crawl around a cave system on our knees with pick-axes and helmet lights. Instead, we were treated to a 30-minute tour in a tram. Although I fell asleep during the informational video (I had just eaten), I made sure to stay awake for the actual tour.

My God, inside the Caves were magical! The twisted limestone formations, stalagmites and stalactites, underground streams and waterfalls, eerie, unnatural lighting and drip-drop from the cavernous ceiling gave the Caves an otherworldly feel. I was reminded of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies. I whispered improvised tales of elves, dwarves and other mythical creatures. Thranduil rolling up on his reindeer would have been the only thing that would have made the experience better.
Saturday evening was reserved for the pirate-themed Theme Party. The Conference Committee had promised that their Theme Party would be different. And did they ever deliver on that promise! 

We were hosted on The Jolly Roger, a decent remake of an actual pirate ship. The boat rocked to and fro in tandem with the movement of the water and the music on board. We also had to buy our own food and drink. The latter created a rippling effect all over social media in the days leading up to Conference; the statuses and comments were both malicious and hilarious, some more than others. Sigh, Rotaractors and food. 

Neither stopped the revelry though. If anything, the alcohol flowed more freely. Or was it vibes? Either way, the jammin’ and winin' were too real considering that you had to hold on to ropes and banisters to avoid falling overboard or accidentally damaging somebody girl-chile from your pelvic thrusts. I mean, a private album was necessary. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!
A cross-section of the crowd. Those to the left holding on for dear life!
In Love with the Coco(a)

I've often questioned the necessity of having an early morning Community Service activity after the Theme Party. With this in mind, I turned up to this year’s activity, “Row for a Cause/Rotaract Village” dehydrated and with a pounding headache. Never being one who enjoys going to the beach, I settled for sitting under a tent, bottled water and good spirits in tow, to talk with visitors to our table about RC Sangre Grande and sell them some Sangre Grande-produced cocoa.

Before long, we were dared to sing, ‘we in love with the coco’ to everyone. The darer promised to buy a huge bar of cocoa. Always ready for ridiculousness, I stood up on a chair, and with my fellow members supporting me, sang the refrain, even adding, ‘no Milo’ at the end. Our audience was very appreciative.

Somehow, I eventually found myself on the beach, which I regretted after fending off seaweed and toppling over in a canoe. As with most things, the afternoon ended with music and a good, ole-fashioned lime on the beach.
Where’s my Wallet?

Everywhere I go I try to be myself. Sometimes that means dour silences, accidentally burning pants and shoes, and leaving half-eaten mints on my bed. Other times, it means marching to the beat of my own erratic, sassy, happy-go-lucky, inappropriate drum, which tends to get me in trouble. So, at every Closing Ceremony, in addition to the awards (My Club and President were both recognized) and food (Surprise! Macaroni pie is on the menu), I look forward to the reveal of the Sergeants-At-Arms and their charges.
Before the Sarges revealed themselves
This year, I was charged for drinking water from that waterfall in Harrison’s Cave. In my defense, the tour guide said that it was pure, natural, spring water and drinkable. Translation: “Go ahead, have a drink, Garvin!” Surprisingly, my club and I were charged for singing, ‘we in love with the coco(a)’ much to the amusement of the Rotarian that had dared us. I paid up again for ringing the bell on the bus after the Theme Party, and for posing in a photo with the hash-tags: #SupposedToBeInDistrictAssembly #ButNot with two other Rotaractors that appeared on Facebook.
Other Blog-worthy Moments

The journeys to and from our various destinations were memorable. On the one hand, the drivers tended to weave through traffic, swerve dangerously and approach roundabouts with wanton speed. Passengers cheered and screamed in the same breath. One girl was even reduced to tears. On the other hand, no trip was complete, unless you were on the “boring” bus, without singing, shouting, stamping, pounding, bell-ringing etc. Those buses were definitely an added bonus to the weekend’s proceedings.

Some members of the Conference committee and other Rotaractors from Barbados truly went above and beyond to make us feel welcomed and accommodated. I saw some familiar faces and met new ones. Your pleasant dispositions made up for the revolting attitudes of the Grumps and Rudeieshas that were moping around, watching you cut-eye. So, thank you.

For the Opening Ceremony, I wore a kurta top, which was borrowed, iridescent and fancy. Suriname’s cultural presentation was phenomenal. I’m still waiting to be named an honorary Surinamese. Also, I had no idea Absolut vodka came in so many different flavours. Now I do!
The training booklets, in addition to being austere, included common Bajan proverbs. I read through these riveted, drawing similarities and differences to common sayings I've heard in Trinidad and Colombia. Some of my favourites: ‘If blackbird fly wid pigeon he will get shoot’, ‘Common dog does bark in Church!’, ‘When yuh en get horse, ride cow’, ‘Two poor cow does make good dung’ and ‘Yuh can’ put mongoose tuh watch chicken’. There’s also a website. Thanks, Kavan.

Someone stole the bumper sticker I bought from Club FRESH at the Community Service activity. Whoever you are, may your car go down in a deep pothole.

Conference was four days well-spent. Thanks everyone for your hard-work.

That's all. Part Two will be posted in a week or so. Thanks for coming, and do come again. Chao.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Why I Write

"I write because I must. It's not a choice or a pastime, it's an unyielding passion and my calling"- Elizabeth Reyes

Hello and Happy Easter!

One day, I was enjoying a currants roll during a class break when a former classmate from my days as a Spanish undergrad came up to me. We exchanged pleasantries and got to talking. Eventually, she asked how I was doing, which is code for “ah want to mind yuh business”.

I said, “Living life.” She chuckled.

I said, “Working with Dr. Roberts as a Research Assistant.” She nodded, looking mildly impressed.

I said, “And doing my Masters’ in Creative Writing.” Her mouth opened slightly. Her eyebrows knotted in confusion. She looked from me to her hands, speechless.

Then, a look of dismay/shock/pity (disshockity?) crossed her face before she said, “Good luck with that.”

If I had a dollar for every time someone from the Spanish days, or most persons for that matter, reacted like that to my choice of degree, I’d have about ten to fifteen dollars.

Some part of me likes to think that they’re generally baffled and sincerely don’t know what to say or how to react. I mean, how dare I try to turn a hobby into a career? Someone with a degree in Spanish & History should become a teacher, do IR or work at a Ministry. No ifs, buts or maybes.

Another part- let’s call him Sassy Garvin- wants to respond with either: “Wham?” or “Is none ah yuh damn business” or “Is my money paying for half of it” or “Yuh name ain’t Emma or Dexter or Daphne, my decisions ain’t your concern”. Simply put: #ByeFelicia.

I don’t have to justify my decisions to anyone. Much less, a random girl who had one class with me in 2009 and can’t begin to understand The Garvin. Those that matter support me.

But, I’m a Libra meaning the amount of figs given are a lot, but you’ll never know until we write about it. I started beating myself up. What was I thinking when I signed up to do a MFA? Why am I doing this? What am I going to do with this? Am I wasting my time? Why didn’t I go for the Masters in Cultural Studies? Ugh, why am I letting this girl get to me?

For all my apparent randomness, there are legit decision making processes behind almost everything I do, especially something as important as my Masters degree. I’m most certainly not wasting my time. And I can get a Masters in Cultural Studies whenever I want.

But, why am I doing this?

As an answer, I thought back to the beginning of the first class for my Writing course when the lecturer invited us to introduce ourselves. He wanted to know our names, our first degrees, and most importantly, Why We Write.

When it was my turn, I said something about not wanting to wake up at 40, regretful and unhappy with my life, and slit my wrists. No one got my morbid sense of humour, so I tried again.

I’m passionate about writing, and I figure now’s the time to pursue something that I’m passionate about. Aren’t we supposed to do what makes us happy? Writing makes me happy. There’s something about watching your thoughts turn into words on a page, about creating scenarios, about creating a character from the ground up, about expressing that part of yourself that wants to be heard. It’s exhilarating, it's therapeutic, it's my creative outlet. 

Yes, I want to be an author. I want people to read my books, to relate to my characters, to have heated discussions about the narrative. I want to win awards. The MFA is a step in that direction. But, the path can go anywhere. I could become an Editor, a Copy Editor, a Playwright, a Freelance Writer, or a Travel Writer. I can write screenplays, proofread documents, teach children to write creative essays, blog, critique books/movies/scholarly articles, and the list goes on.... It's really up to me to parlay the skills learned in this degree into money-making ventures. 

Ultimately, I want to write for television. Like, seriously! Those who know me know that I’m a self-described TV whore. I watch some 27 shows a week, sometimes putting off assignments and my already struggling social life for a TV show.

My queue on YouTube is full of Writers’ Roundtables interviews. I look forward to the Writers’ Room. I enjoy listening to the behind-the-scenes action. Think about it, what’s a TV show without the script? Writers are integral to a show; they are the magicians, developing characters and storylines. I want to be a part of that energy of creativity.  

Oh, that's why! I write because it makes me happy. I write because I envision a future for myself where it’s a part of my everyday life. I write because I must. 

Until the next post, chao. 

Blog Post After-Thoughts: 

1) The alternative title for this post was: The Illuminati Made Me Do A MFA in Creative Writing
2) Emma, Dexter and Daphne- Mummy, Daddy and Grandma
3) I respect teachers, and those doing IR and working at Ministries
4) I might have to migrate to write for television
5) I wonder if anyone clicked on "The Garvin Behind The World" 

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Letter To Rotaract

Reshma's collage makes another appearance

#21 Katwaroo Trace
Ojoe Road
Sangre Grande
Friday, March 13th, 2015
Dearest Rotaract,

Happy Birthday to you! 47 never looked so good. When I think of your humble beginnings in 1968 in North Carolina, and how much you’ve impacted the lives of your members and Communities around the world since, I smile.

I remember the exact moment you came into my life. I was suffering from abject boredom and lacking purpose. Jobless and without a social life, I had just returned from my 11-month sojourn to Colombia. The thrill of living-eating-speaking-dancing-breathing Latin American culture had dried out and morphed into a monotonous cycle of sleep-eat-surf Facebook-watch TV-repeat.

So, your intervention into my life on that rainy Wednesday afternoon was timely. I saw the Facebook post from The Rotaract Club of Sangre Grande Central, asking interested persons to attend a meeting, and I decided to attend with my awkward energy, barely concealed crazy and questionable sense of humour in tow.

There I found a group of young people. Some I already knew, like the girl that was in choir with me in Secondary School, the girl from Little Hardware, and the guy that was my best friend in Primary School. Everyone was very welcoming. It was clear that they were passionate about you. They were detailed in their description of what you’re all about.

So, although my introduction to the others made me seem like I was unaccustomed to being around people, I returned home excited about the future.

A year and some months later, the mission to end the boredom has become a Passion for You, Rotaract.

I look forward to all activities in your avenues of service. Visiting the Children’s July/August Vacation Camp in Sans Souci; Necessary Paperwork Sessions; distributing Christmas hampers; donating to the End Polio Fund; attending Conference, RYLA and other training seminars; random Friday night outings with my fellow members.

I would like to thank you.

Thank you for the camaraderie of your members. I have found new friends. Correction: an extended family. Sure, we have our disagreements and personality traits that irk each other, but the love and support is there. They have accepted me, and I, them. Our WhatsApp group is the best one out there. Outside of my club, I’ve met some great souls too.

Thank you for your motto, Service Above Self. It has changed my approach to life. It’s not always about me. Sometimes, I need to put my ego aside and do the good work without expecting anything in return.

Thank you for the opportunities for growth. I’m talking about Conference, hosting District Leadership Training 2014 and attending RYLA 2015.

Thank you for the much needed sense of belonging. I’ve come to appreciate two things about you: 1) anyone can be a Rotaractor, and 2) there is something to be said about being a part of something that’s so much bigger than yourself.

Thank you for the opportunities to network and share in cultures. 

Thank you for the epic theme parties and limes. There is no doubt in my mind that your members always go full 100.

Overall, thank you for giving me a Purpose.

Tomorrow, my club members and I will celebrate your birthday with a Health Clinic and Membership Drive in Sangre Grande. We hope to encourage others to join our mission to change lives and be exceptional.

Happy Birthday and love abounds.

Just a few moments captured in photos :)

Yours in Service,

Garvin Tafari Parsons
International Service Director
Vice President (Elect)
Rotaract Club of Sangre Grande Central

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I'm Baaack!

Hello! *waves emphatically*

I would say Happy New Year, but the novelty of 2015 has worn off, so...

According to my blog stats, the last time I posted an update was Sunday, July 20th, 2014, approximately 5 months and 29 days ago. Looking back a lot has happened in that time, and the phrase, time waits for no one has new meaning.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rotaract District 7030 Conference, Day Three

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced”- John Keats

This here’s the third and final instalment in my Rotaract District 7030 Conference series of blogs. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, who read until the very end. Your commitment and comments on Facebook and WhatsApp made my heart smile. Love abounds!

And that’s enough niceness from me. Below is a recap of Day Two.

I was sore from the night before. I did not want to get off my bed, but I had to. Today was District Assembly. It’s a glorified meeting of all the stakeholders in the Rotaract organization. I needed to be there. I complained about how poorly my blazer was made. I might have referred to the tailor as a colossal caca-hole. There were a lot of reports. These seemed to have lasted a decade. I was struck by how far-reaching the organization is. I compared myself to a tooth on a cog. I fell asleep a lot. We took a photo in the hot sun. I was very excited when the bus came to take us back to the hotel.

The theme of the 2014 Theme Party was Candy-Land: Colours of the Rainbow. My club and I went as Skittles. I was orange. I looked really cute and rotund. We made Skittles-flavoured rum in the 421 Distillery. We could not take it to the party. We were sad. At the party, there was a long line for food. I was annoyed by this line jumper, dressed in yellow. The food was worth the wait though. I drank Black Cat and danced the night away. I was drunk. I spoke Spanish non-stop for 45-minutes. I helped push a trolley.

If that recap spoke to you, you can read the entire account of Day Two right HERE.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rotaract District 7030 Conference, Day Two

“Nothing becomes real till it is experienced”- John Keats


Welcome to the second instalment in my three-part blog series that chronicles my experience at the Rotaract District 7030 Conference in Paramaribo, Suriname. Below is a summary of Day One:

The Rotaract District 7030 Conference started. I was late for the first event. That event was RETS, which stands for Rotaract Executive Training Seminar. It was a day-long exercise. We were to learn skills. We had four sessions that gave us lessons in emotional intelligence, leadership, ethics, and event planning. It was most instructive. I got a certificate. I was proud.

Later that evening, there was the Opening Ceremony. I was excited. I love culture. And culture was the running theme during the evening’s festivities. There was a Flag Ceremony. Then, a Surinamese drum ensemble took the stage. There was an Amerindian Chief as well, he looked like Powhatan. I was left mesmerized by the entire experience.

Finally, we went clubbing. The club was named 22 Yards. It actually measured 22 yards. There was no space. It was hot. I was annoyed. I bitched about it. But, a shot of tequila and an appearance by Queen Elsa put all that to bed. I managed to enjoy myself. I might have let out my inner jamette.

Day One was exhausting.

If reading that made you curious about the finer details of the day, you can satiate your curiosity right HERE. You might even have a laugh or two.

As to the happenings of Day Two, you can find them after this paragraph. You know the usual, do enjoy and please come again!

The date was Saturday, June 14th, 2014, the time was 7:15AM, and my muscles were sore. I figured that my wotless behaviour from the previous night’s clubbing experience had a lot to with it. We were to leave the hotel at eight to go to the venue for that year’s District Assembly, but I had no zeal to get off my bed.

What my body lacked in inactivity, my mind made up for with a running commentary: “Why should I even go? It’s probably going to be boring. And I might just fall asleep. I wonder if the hotel’s tuck shop sells 5-hour Energy. But no, if I take that, I’ll eventually crash and miss the Theme Party. I hope the omelette lady is there. Her eggs are heavenly.  I should get up. My team would look bad if one of its members doesn’t show up. Plus, I’m new at this Rotaract business; I just might learn something today. Good thing I ironed.”

Half an hour later, I was praising Lipton Yellow Label Tea for its ability to wake me up as I boarded the bus. We arrived at the Surinamese Olympic Stadium after a short drive. The venue for the day’s activities had a nice interior, but the exterior and surrounding infrastructure left much to be desired. Ah well, you can’t have it all.

Presidents, Incoming Presidents or Representatives of the President of each Rotaract club in the District had their seats reserved for them at the front of the Assembly. I was elated, and promptly bade our President a hearty farewell and gravitated to the back. But, before I could be seated, a tiny photo-shoot to show off that day’s attire needed to be had.

Usually, I like having my photo taken. It not only feeds my vanity, but it’s a service to mankind. I mean, who am I to rob the world of my smile?  But, the prospect of taking a photo did not fill me with the same joy on that particular day. You know why? Two words: my blazer.

Flashback- WTF, Mr. Courtney!?!

Our club had always wanted to invest in a Rotaract blazer. So, when the Conference newsletter stated that it was part of the dress-code for District Assembly, we seized the opportunity to have them made.

One member found a reputable tailor in Sangre Grande, named Courtney to sew them for us. My Granny- a seamstress- spoke highly of his abilities, he seemed to know what he was doing while he was measuring me, and he charged $300. I saw no reason not to trust him.

The day before I was to leave sweet T&T for Suriname, I came home to find my blazer in my room. I immediately took it off its hanger and put it on. The sleeves were abnormally short, the stitching atrocious and the blazer itself looked dejected. It was a burgundy mess! Like, WTF, Mr. Courtney? I thought you were supposed to be good!

At first, I was nonplussed. Then, I got angry. My voice turned into a screech as I berated Mr. Courtney and his craftsmanship from afar. I called him a host of names like, a colossal caca-hole and an overrated anus of a tailor. I could not believe that I had paid $300 for a blazer that I wouldn’t even use as toilet paper. Steups!

End Flashback

Three days later, I was still seething. However, I was comforted by the fact that we all looked like well-packaged maroon boxes in our Bullshit Blazers made by Courtney. With the photos out of the way and my blazer hanging on the back of my seat, I was ready for the day’s events.

They don't look so bad, right?
The District Assembly brings together the District Committee, Rotary representatives, and Presidents and members of the thirty-five (35) Rotaract clubs in District 7030. I had been forewarned that it’s often a drawn out affair, but given the novelty of the entire experience, my mood was anticipatory.

It began with a prayer and the Four Way Test. Important persons were acknowledged. The minutes of last year’s Assembly had been reviewed in advance, and when no one had anything to say in terms of corrections, we moved on. There was an infomercial about the Rotaract District Committee (RDC). Reports from several District Committees followed.

A cross section of the Rotaractors gathered
When the District Rotaract Representative (DRR) began her report that listed the number of Rotaract clubs in the District, outlined the achievements of each club, and detailed her visits to the different clubs, I was struck by the enormity of the Rotaract organization.

Now, I had always known that my club could not have been the only one in the District, but I had never sat and thought about the big picture. Think about it, there are thirteen (13) countries that make up District 7030, from St. Kitts to Trinidad and Tobago to French Guiana to Guyana to Suriname. In total, there are thirty-five (35) Rotaract clubs with thousands of members.

The District Committee is just a bigger Rotaract club that represents all the clubs in the District. Well, that’s how I see it, anyway. Don’t even get me started on the fact that District 7030 is just one District, and that there are other Districts that encompass the Caribbean, and the world.

In essence, I am one tooth on a cog (my club) that is attached to other cogs (clubs) that turn the giant machine that is Rotaract District 7030. And in the grand scheme of things, District 7030 is yet another cog in the Rotaract machinery, and so on and so forth.

I sat there, thinking: “I am a part of something that’s so much bigger than me!”

The three to four hours I had been sitting there, listening to all those reports, had felt like a decade. Given my sleep deprived state and the heat of the room, I started nodding off on myself. I drank two cups of green tea, but I had apparently become immune to its restorative properties over the course of the past two days.

Trying to fight the sleep and failing miserably was so frustrating. Every time I thought that I was winning, I would jump awake, look around and register the sniggers of my peers. On several occasions, I could have sworn that a camera’s flashing light had startled me awake. Fighting was futile. My ending up on Facebook in the official album of Conference sleepers was inevitable. I gave in.

My nap did help, but I think having to stand under the blazing Surinamese sun in a sweat-box of a blazer, surrounded by a group of persons, posing for the official Conference photo, went a long way in keeping me firmly in the Land of the Awake.

Lunch quickly followed and we moved into the afternoon session, which comprised of a bid to host next year’s conference- Barbados won-, elections, more reports, and a small disagreement that went on forever. I wanted very much to go back to the hotel, and did not hesitate to jump in the bus when it arrived. There was more fun to be had later that evening; I needed a little rest.

The Theme Party is yet another part of the Conference experience. This year’s theme was CandyLand, and invited persons to dress up in colourful, candylicious outfits. My proclivity for bright colours, over-enthusiasm and eating candy meant that I was looking forward to dressing up and attending.  

We settled on a Skittles inspired costume; each of us would choose a colour and wear a uniformed bottom- a skirt for the girls and pants for the boys. I chose the colour orange because it goes well with my complexion. An important part of our overall presentation was giving everyone shots of Skittles-flavoured rum. We needed a distillery.

Flashback- The Distillery in Room 421

The night before Conference officially began; the Grande massive took over Room 421 and turned it into a distillery for their Skittles-flavoured rum. The main ingredient was White Oak, which, in my mind, is one step above Hard Wine in the Ghetto Rum Classification, and Skittles.

First, we separated the Skittles by colour. In our case: red, green, blue, orange, yellow, and pink. Second, we divided the three bottles. Third, we dropped each colour into the rum. Fourth, we shook the concoction like our lives depended on it. Fifth, we named our creations: Red Light District, Horny Wheatgrass, Indian Tonic, Bup Bup Juice, Sunrise Venom, and Bubblegum Kotch.

The fumes from the White Oak, the vodka and orange juice we had been drinking, and the general vibes in the distillery had obviously influenced us. Ha!

End Flashback

Unfortunately, the venue for the party did not allow patrons to enter with alcohol. Oops! But, the show had to go on. We got dressed in our multi-coloured garments, and looked splendid and uniformed as we made our way through the hotel’s main lobby. Other Rotaractors had gone all out for the festivities, and I was giddy just from looking at them.

The mode of transport to the club made me very nostalgic. It reminded me of the chiva rumbera I had gone on when I was in Colombia back in 2010. This was an uncovered party bus that boasted a stripper pole, seating accommodations, and a number of railings. We were treated to sweet, Soca music, and given a small tour of Paramaribo before heading to the club.

#GrandeMassive #SkittlesCrew
Serving Skittle realness! 
Havana Club was much larger than the club we had gone to the previous night; a fact that I was very grateful for. The host Surinamese clubs had gone all out with the decorations. It was as though I had actually stepped into a Candy Land. I imagined a troupe of ballerinas alighting from the woodwork, outfitted with giant confetti cannons that shot out shining dust and candy and pies. 

In the food line, some persons were behaving as though the food would finish. I hate line jumpers, more so, when hunger is gnawing at my stomach. There was this one girl, who seemed to appear out of thin air (no easy feat given her bright yellow costume), and stood on the side of me, inching closer into the line, bold as brass. I was fuming, silently. I gave her pointed looks, but she paid me no mind. Heaven knows she tried my patience. (If you happen to read this and want to apologize, feel free to private message me on FB)

As it turns out, the food was worth the wait. I was fed. I was content. The music was pumping. There was ample room to dance. I needed to shake a leg, badly! Oh, there was an open bar. 

I decided to try the Surinamese rum, Black Cat. By itself the liquid wasn’t black, but that all changed when Coca-Cola was added as chaser. It was so good, and I committed myself to drinking it the rest of the night. The party was even better under the cat's influence. I unleashed my inner jamette for the second time in two days. I think my jamette level was pretty high, since I pulled a muscle in my leg after wining down low.

I didn't realize how drunk I was until I found myself dancing to and singing Rasta-people music out loud. It was all downhill from there, and I ended the night speaking Spanish to non-Spanish speakers. I always insist that one's proficiency in a second language improves under the influence of alcohol. Ha! 

I'm a helpful drunk :)
NB: Day Three debuts on Sunday. 

Until the next post. Toodles! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rotaract District 7030 Conference, Day One

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced” - John Keats


For three glorious days, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Rotaract District 7030 Conference in Paramaribo, Suriname. I had heard about the annual meeting of Rotaractors in the District two months into my probationary period with the Sangre Grande Central club, and I was eager to participate.

I figured that it would be an opportunity to understand Rotaract in its entirety, meet new people, and indulge in my love for travel and new cultures. Plus, the stories of almost sleepless nights, balcony jumping and other extracurricular activities that would make Carrie Bradshaw jealous, seemed too good to be true. I had to experience it for myself.

It’s been a month since Conference ended, and I can write, without a shadow of a doubt, that it far exceeded my expectations. The three days were filled with so much activity that it was a task to fit everything into one, nicely-written blog post. Sigh!

After much thought and scrapped writings, I decided to write a three-part blog series with each post relating the events of a day. In theory, it’s a good idea, since I can tell you about all the happenings without the post turning into my debut novel. And well, I’m just hoping that it works in practice.

OK, this introduction is becoming ridiculously long. I should get started with the blogging. Readers, I present an account of the first day of my Conference experience. Enjoy!

The date was Friday, June 13th, 2014, the time was 8:00AM, and I was late for RETS. The Rotaract Executive Training Seminar (RETS) is usually the first event during Conference. It involves training in a number of skills that are aimed at making us better Rotaractors, and by extension, functional human beings.

I groaned inwardly when I entered the Conference Room a few minutes later. Everyone was assembled in groups of five or six, and as a rule, I detest working in groups. I always end up holding the shitty end of the stick. The fact that these were Rotaractors did nothing to soothe my initial misgivings. I needed to be with people I trusted, so I joined the group that consisted of members from my club.

Once settled, I turned my attention to the facilitator of that morning’s session, Emotional Intelligence. His name was RY Jong and he was a Rotarian from Suriname. He was a spritely, middle aged man of short stature. He spoke animatedly, made jokes, bounced on the balls of his feet whenever he had to stand still, and seemed fit to burst with optimism... and rainbows and butterflies.

In short (no pun intended), he was a ball of energy with an infectious personality. I imagined stealing him away in the still of the night, shrinking him with my home-made shrink ray and making a little house for him in my pocket. That way, he could whisper/shout words of encouragement whenever I feel down. Is that weird?

Anyway, the first order of business was introducing ourselves to the other members of the group in a matter of seconds. Before the intros could get under way, The Jong-Man swooped down on my group, and spirited me away to another one.

There, I met Syffra and Giovanni from Suriname, Nikeisha and Christon from Trinidad, and Jamila from Guyana. With the introductions completed, we were to create a poster that: 1) outlined what we hoped to achieve during Conference, and 2) depicted the emotions we felt as a result of being involved with Rotaract. Ours looked something like this:

Sometime during the poster activity, I grasped the point of the session. It wasn't going to be like an episode of Dr. Phil as I had expected, but rather, it was about learning to express and control your own emotions as well as assessing and responding to the emotions of others.

Every member of my group had a different emotional response to the poster-creating process. Some were over-zealous and euphoric, whilst others were indifferent and exasperated. But, instead of becoming frustrated with one another, we were able to pool our resources and create an almost beautiful poster. I mean, let’s face it, our poster lacked colour and pizzazz.

But, we looked pleased.
Next on the agenda, were a number of active exercises. We began with aggressive karate chops. We moved on to pulling an imaginary rope, a few persons managed to look seductive, whereas the majority looked downright constipated. Then, we leaped through the air gracefully, which became affectionately known as “The Picking Mango One”. We ended the activity by aiming mini karate chops between other people’s hands.

Afterwards, I felt like Blaxx during a Soca Monarch performance. For those who don’t get the reference, I was out of breath, and possibly, on the brink of death. As I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth in a valiant attempt to slow my racing heart, I had to ask myself: “What was the point of all this?”

We were asked which of the four exercises we appealed to the most. Since that week’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance had rekindled my desire to learn contemporary dance or ballet, I chose, “The Picking Mango One”. My choice meant that my personality was more aligned to the Air Element. Behold, the point! *begins a rousing rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus”*

In the PowerPoint presentation that followed, Mr. Jong explained that each element had a number of strengths and weaknesses attributed to it. For example, my strength lies in being thoughtful and wanting to be informed, but my weaknesses are being indecisive and judgmental. It was yet another way of understanding who you are, which can go a long way in predicting and controlling your emotional responses.

I found Session One very eventful and instructive. Plus, I had even exercised for the first time in months. So, it was easy for me to give the Session a perfect score in the anonymous evaluation sheet. Admittedly, the other sessions were not as eventful and flew by in a blur. In the spirit of keeping things concise, I’ll give a brief summary of the remaining three sessions:

Session Two: "You Can’t Lead If No One Follows"

Facilitator: Rotarian Larry a.k.i.g.w.a. (also known in Garvin’s World as) The Rotaractor That Became a Rotarian *insert dramatic thunder and lightning*

About: The five P’s of leadership as previously outlined by John C. Maxwell. Click HERE for more info.

Thoughts: I enjoyed Larry’s sense of humour, and the references to A Game of Thrones in the presentation. And I learned that everyone has the potential to become a leader.

Session Three: "Applying the Four Way Test"

Facilitator: PDRR Vishi Beharry 

About: Using the Four Way Test (click HERE to read) to find solutions to real life and Rotaract-related situations.

Thoughts: The Four Way Test might only have four questions, but applying them to situations is easier said than done. Informative, nonetheless.

Session Four: "Plan It! Execute It!"

Facilitator: PDRR Julian Skeete. Sidebar- I think him a good example of who a Rotaractor should be. We didn’t interact much, but he struck me as very intelligent, professional, purposeful and humble.

About: How to successfully plan and execute events. Also, emphasized the importance of follow up.

Thoughts: The ice-breaker activity was unsettling. I had to stare in this girl’s eyes and have her stare back into mine, after a few minutes of interaction. I felt all exposed. Other than that, the session was very interactive. I appreciated that he didn’t tell us WHAT to think, but rather HOW to think.

After eight hours of listening, talking and being friendly, I was exhausted. I was, therefore, happy when I received my first-ever RETS certificate. I felt all accomplished and what not. A nap was in order before the evening’s festivities.

Unfortunately, I failed at napping since, in the time it took me to leave the Conference Room, get to the hotel room and change out of my clothes, my excitement about the Opening Ceremony had reached new heights. Given the theme of this year’s Conference, “Learn, See, and Accept the Different Cultures”, and my love for all things cultural, I had every right to be. 

In our cultural wear for the Opening Ceremony. Aren't cheesy photos the best?
A man, beating a drum, welcomed us to the venue, The Suriname Rumhuis. He wasn’t the only one; more drummers dressed in pangis and indigenous wear heralded our arrival as we made our way to the reception area.

All smiles...
We were to gather in the compound’s backyard, which had been covered with tents and boasted simple yet effective decorations. I was literally bouncing in my seat as I took in everything from the colourful clusters of Chinese lanterns on the roof of the tent to the Band setting up on stage to the arrival of other Rotaractors dressed in traditional regalia.

The formal part of the evening began with the Flag Ceremony. Basically, members of the Interact Club marched in with the flags from the thirteen (13) countries that make up Rotaract District 7030. As abridged versions of the National Anthems of each territory were played by the Band, the Interactors placed their flag in a holder of sorts. 

The Ceremony was followed by speeches, and many rounds of applause. Waiters passed rum and fruit cocktails to the guests. And for a hot minute, there was even a young lady distributing tokens of appreciation. It’s worth mentioning that while all this was happening, a number of persons, including the four drummers I had seen when I entered, were on stage with their instruments. You know when you know that something is going to happen? Well, I knew!

That something was the Ala Kondre Dron, a multi-ethnic, Surinamese drum ensemble. A hush fell over the audience as a powerful chant rose to the heavens. The chanter was an Amerindian Chief, who reminded me of Powhatan (Pocahontas’ daddy) and exuded otherworldliness. Goose pimples erupted all over my arms and face. I was wholly captivated.

Le Chief!
He was the Head of a procession, comprised of Rotaractors from Suriname, bedecked in traditional garb, which made its way to the stage. Chief Powhatan went on stage to pass on the ceremonial baton, whilst the procession made two parallel lines to the front. Then, the Ala Kondre Dron began their performance.

Simple words cannot describe what I heard that night. Drums from Africa and Asia were being beaten in unison. The sound was transcendental and melodious. The pulsating rhythms reverberated in my soul as a world of colour and tiny stick figures seemingly exploded before my eyes.

Although each drum group had its time in the spotlight, together they were more impactful. The Ala Kondre Dron perfectly captured the cultural diversity and harmony that exists in Suriname.

Eventually, many of us found ourselves in front of the stage. The tassa was infectious and invited persons to show off their best Bhangra moves. The Surinamese demonstrated a wide array of dances. We cheered. We laughed. We joined hands in unity as a Mother closed off the performance with a stirring vocal. I was left mesmerized, y’all!

Showing us how it's done!
Unity, and my big head...
Deserving of all this and more. Bravo!
Soca, Dancehall, Zouk, and other musical genres from the Caribbean blared from the speakers as we engaged in food and fellowship. What an evening! I was pumped to go clubbing. I mean, I did pay $10US for the experience.  

A soak in the rain, two bus rides, an “Oh my God, my belly is huge!” crisis, an elevator usfie, and a cat nap later, I arrived at 22 Yards. It was the clubbing venue and I was not impressed.

Elevator usfie- the only photo of that night's fun.
The club must have gotten its name from its measurements; I swear there was no room by the time we arrived. To add insult to injury, all the nice drinks were done, and there was a lot of sweating and bouncing and wining interruptions. Not long after, my nose was assaulted by the acrid smell of bad perspiration. I was so annoyed! I needed to get out like, ya mismo.

I stormed out of the club- in my head, I did- and sat on a bench outside, pouting like a spoiled brat, and bemoaned my very existence. I was sleepy. I wasn’t having fun. My throat was parched. I wanted to go back to my air-conditioned hotel room. I did not come this far and pay so much for a heat stroke!

Fifteen (15) minutes into my existential crisis, a shot of tequila in an orange flask found its way into my hand. I looked at it, and wondered where the salt and lime were. The bar must have run out. This pissed me off even more.

After some coaxing from my friends, I took the shot, and Elsa, one of my many voices of reason, made an appearance. She implored me to "Let It Go" because I didn’t know when I would be in Suriname again. She did have a point. Right then and there, I made up my mind to carpe diem the shit out of the party!

My friends and I formed a circle, creating a small albeit well-ventilated dance space. The bar had lots of water on sale, which kept me hydrated. And I danced. I gyrated. I yelled. I jumped. I fist pumped. I fired off an imaginary gun in the air, screaming: “Bup bup bup bup!” I ended up having an amazing time.

I was running on empty by the time I made it back to the hotel. I was dreading the early start to the day tomorrow. Ah well, you know what they say: "No rest for the handsome".

Until the next post on Thursday, God spare life! Toodles!