I may as well just continue from where I left of last time, but this time it’ll be on a more positive note, and more about the adventures, but a warning in advance- there is a very high chance that I will repeat some things so bear with me please, and besides, they’re all good stories so who wouldn’t want to hear them again!
Trying to think of where to begin is always the hard part, and from now on I think I’ll give up on trying to tell everything in chronological order, so many things have happened in so little time that it’s easier to write it down as it comes to mind, so first on the agenda appears to be my first rotary encounter in Capilla. I was going to say Argentina but I think that was crossed off the list when I paraded through airports in all my glory wearing my badge covered blazer and bright blue New Zealand scarf, which definitely brought rotary to the front of my mind. Anyhow. That afternoon (that because I have no idea what day it was) Leo mentioned to me about going to a rotary meeting that night, but that was the last I heard of it and I assumed he must’ve meant another day because it got to about 9pm and he was still at a friends house and there had been no further mention of going anywhere. Until that is, when it got to about 9:15 and Chino came home saying where is Leo the meeting is at 10 and we really need to leave soon, and as though he had summoned him, Leo came running inside and straight into the shower. From then on it was a mad rush, me having to transform from being in the pool all day looking like a creature from the wild with messy hair and bare faced, to somewhat presentable, nicely dressed, hair tamed and face painted on, just as Leo was doing his hair, in perfect time to run to the car and only be a couple of minutes late. As it turned out this was no big deal as everyone was standing around talking when we arrived and Chino welcomed us in. Looking around the room I realised that this was the epitome of Rotary, a room full of older men, with me being the only girl in the room. To add to the situation I was of course, once again, the only one who spoke English, which was as fun as you can imagine when everyone came to greet and welcome me, my response being a polite smile and nod. It was relatively similar to a meeting in New Zealand, but one interesting thing I noticed was when everyone stood to raise the miniature mechanical flag in the corner of the room, clapping then returning to their wine and conversation until the president rang his bell and began to talk. I’m not sure what he was saying but he let Chino speak and occasionally I heard Leo or my name mentioned and everyone would turn and smile at us so I’m under the impression that he was telling our story, which was fine by me if it meant I didn’t have to try and do it myself, in a language I barely knew. Time flew by and before I knew it Leo was being presented with his club banners, we were having our photo taken, I presented my banner to the president and then it was home time! Leo and I said our goodbyes and jokes were made about my Spanish but the two of us left with a smile as everyone else began dinner. For a first experience it was definitely a good, if different, one and I’m sure it’s only going to get better from here as I get to know everyone and the language better and I’ll really be able to get into the swing of things, as well as going to the roteract meetings with Valen.
Looking at these photos now I can’t help but smiling as I’m reminded of the family I’ve been welcomed into, the arms of rotary reaching out and bringing me in as one of their own, and it makes me feel so incredibly happy and I know that it’s an absolute honour and privilege to be able to have this once in a lifetime experience. I think now is a very appropriate time to say a huge thank you to my sponsor club, Papakura Rotary, in New Zealand, for their generosity, support and trust in me, as without them I have no doubt that this exchange would not be possible. I can assure you that I am making the most of every single second here and I am, and always will be forever grateful to everyone who has supported me so far. I can whole heartedly say that I am trying my very best to be the best ambassador for New Zealand and the Papakura club, and whenever and where ever I can I represent the club to the best of my ability, because it is the least I can do to repay everyone. Hopefully everyone is able to keep up to date with what I’ve been doing, because I want to share every incredible moment with everyone, not just because living here is the best thing to ever have happened to me, but also as a way of saying thank you once again. When I first applied for an exchange I had no idea what I was getting into and I had some doubts about whether this was what I wanted to do, and if this was the right thing for me, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have filled out the papers and signed on dotted lines in the blink of an eye, because I would have known I was applying for the year of my life, and preparing for an experience that words simply cannot begin to explain, though try as I might. Another thing I underestimated was the sense of community and belonging that is so strong within rotary, even though I have never met most of these people in my life, and don’t speak the same language as a lot of them, everyone has welcomed me with open arms and it is truly humbling to be part of this organisation and I know I can confidently say that I will always have a place within rotary and knowing that makes me feel incredibly overcome with gratitude and appreciation.
For those who are reading this and are not yet a part of rotary, or who are unaware of how incredible it is an organisation, I urge you to get out there and just find out a bit about your local club and what they do for your community because I guarantee you will be both surprised and amazed, because even if you didn’t realise it, the strength of rotary is everywhere, granted it is sometimes in the background but they take the sort of action that may not be recognised, but would be sorely missed if they were not part of a community. I am not asking that you give up all your time and dedicate yourself to rotary, although I’m sure they wouldn’t have a problem with that, but all it takes is a little knowledge, and some selflessness here and there to make a difference, and once you realise the difference that you can have in the lives of others, as well as the differences in your life thanks to rotary you will never look back, and if you’re like me, you will do everything in your power to give back to rotary when possible because there is nothing as rewarding as helping others and being part of something which changes lives around the world. I know that from my experience as a Rotary Exchange Student, Rotary has the power to make a difference in the world if we all do our part to help, whether that be donating a gold coin when you can’t, volunteering with projects in your community, or attending meetings and fully immersing yourself in Rotary so even if it’s something small, just go out and do something selfless for someone you think might need it, and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous do some research on your local Rotary club because when you do you’ll never look back, and your life will be changed for the better.
I’m getting off topic as this is about as far from Argentina as you can get but I may as well take this time to also quickly talk about the other experiences I’ve had the privilege to be a part of thanks to Rotary so you can get an idea of how incredible my journey was before it even started, beginning with a memory that will stay with me for as long as I live, getting to do the Karanga at the end of Marae weekend, where all the exchange students in Auckland got together to know each other and more about the Maori culture, heritage and customs. It began with a Powhiri, a traditional welcome onto the Marae, which was opened with a Karanga, a call. Every time I hear a Karanga it is a unique and indescribable experience and even for those who haven’t heard it before and may not understand the significance of it, can get an idea of the intense meaning behind it, and without fail the fund of the wavering call always causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand up and a shiver to run down my spine. As the weekend came to a close, we were presented the opportunity to put our hand up to do the Karanga when the parents returned for the last day, and immediately I knew I wanted to be the one to have the privilege. I spend the next day, most of the night and every spare second leading up to the final Powhiri rehearsing my part practicing with the other two girls who were doing the reply, practicing with Whaea and Koro until finally the time came to put everything into action. I took my place at the front of the Marae and let my voice ring out into the courtyard, putting everything I had into it, pouring my heart and soul into every word. As I was calling I felt something come over me, and it almost became like an out of body experience. I could feel the sound coursing through me, and hear the echo of the wail and waver of the words I was no longer concentrating on, my thoughts focusing on the meaning behind them, welcoming and warning our visitors, bringing them into the Marae and paying respect to those who had come before us. My first verse tapered off and somewhere in the background of the rush in my head I could hear the response, and again it was my turn, and again I felt overcome with emotion, the sense of pride coursing through my veins, my beating heart threatening to burst through my chest. I moved with the words as though it was a second nature and as we sat down I met the eyes of my mother and grandparents and I knew in that moment that if I never got the chance to do something like this again, I would be content in knowing that I gave everything I had into my call, and doing the incredibly sacred tradition justice once was enough to last me a lifetime.
Since then I have had countless other experiences through rotary, Auckland day for one, getting the chance to go to Auckland Central Fire Station, having a meeting in the council buildings and then exploring Auckland with the other exchange students. Even presenting at the Papakura Rotary club was an honour, as it was a way for me to give back to those who have supported me so much by sharing with them my passion and excitement about this year, and while I’m over here I also have the chance to share our culture with those who may not have the chance to learn about Maori culture and the true history otherwise. I mentioned talking to German, Maca and Valen and one of the topics that came up was Maori culture, after German asked about my Taonga. When I began talking about its importance and how special it was to me I felt again a sense of pride that I was able to wear something so special, as well as share the meaning behind it. Then we went on to talk about how prominent Te Reo is in New Zealand today, the influence Maori heritage has on our lives today, and the way that it’s almost sad that we don’t honour our roots as best we can, both in New Zealand and Argentina. I also talked to them about Papakura and what my own life was like at home and as I was talking I realised how privileged I am to be able to share this information and my life with others, who live on the other side of the world and have had a completely different up bringing, and the more I talked the better it felt to be able to share my knowledge and heritage.
What I have been trying to say throughout this post is that Rotary has opened up so many doors for me and my life has been so thoroughly enriched through their generosity and kindness, and it has also become a time for me to express my immense thanks and gratitude to the Rotary Youth Committee for making this experience something that is within reach for teenagers around the globe, Papakura Rotary in particular because without their ongoing and endless support, this year would still be a dream. Without out their trust in me and love they have shown me I would not be here writing this blog, and there is no way that I can think of to show how grateful I am, other than being the best ambassador I can, whether that be through my actions, the words I share with others and the pride with which I wear my Rotary uniform. Although I started this post with the intention of giving everyone another update about life in this amazing town I now call home, I feel as though that can wait for next time. I was considering rewriting the beginning of this post but then I thought maybe it is the best way to show the funny ways Rotary works and how it weaves it’s way into every aspect of life, and whether you intend for it to or not things always turn out better than they were before they started. I’ll leave it there for now, so once again, thank you, and I hope I’m doing the Rotary name, and my home justice.
Chau – Jacqui Philp