From Ashland to Ubatuba: Service Above Self

My brother and I with the Rotary Club of Ubatuba, SP, Brazil.
The one-hour Rotary meeting I went to last night will be a treasured memory of my three week vacation in Brazil. 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 who attended the meeting last night. The hearty handshakes I received and the kisses on my cheek spoke volumes of the shared fellowship that is Rotary around the world.

Ubatuba, the town I went to last night, is only four hours 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. Instead of a lunchtime program with a speaker and a buffet, this club met at 8:30pm and went out to pizza after the meeting. It was 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 my husband is the only one who is registered to drive our stick-shift rental car, I enlisted his aid. My brother, who speaks Portugues quite well, agreed to navigate and translate. As we drove, the rain bucketed down, making it a challenge to not hit the throngs of 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 in the Ubatuba Club. My emails must have gone to a spambox somewhere so unfortunately, we had to resort to the phone. My brother wasn’t comfortable talking on the phone (definitely an advanced language skill) so I enlisted his friend, a surf photographer who shares a one-room house in the jungle with several bats when he isn’t doing advertising shoots for agencies in the big city.

The one-room house in the jungle where the photographer stays. 
After several days after leaving messages back and forth, we had a multi-way conversation involving me, my brother, the photographer, the secretary of the Ubatuba Club, and their Rotary exchange student from Mexico.

Thank God for Barbara, the 18-year-old Mexican exchange student, who could field any word I happened to throw her way in my attempt to communicate—Spanish, English, Portuguese and even the occasional French word. She was a star. I have invited her to come surf at our beach this weekend and gave her the name of our Ashland Club exchange student from Spain. The ripples of connection continue to move outward into the world.

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 Henrique Miranda. They like flags as they had six of them that they unfurled at the beginning of the meeting on an official Rotary stand. Instead of a pledge of allegiance, they clapped to honor the flags at the beginning and the end of the meeting.

Flavio Henrique Miranda receives the Ashland, OR banner. 

I tried to explain that this was only the second time I had 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 two famous Brazilian musicians named Chico Buarque and Edu Lobo.

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.

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