Tuesday, 15 July 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!