NEXT MEETING: February 28, 2014

Consul General of India, Honorable N. Parthasarathi

The Honorable N. Parthasarathi is the Consul General of India and is based in San Francisco. He’s a career diplomat by day and fiction writer by night. Among other things, he will tell us about his written work and how it has been inspired by the many lands he has been assigned to.

MEETING OF February 21, 2014

Welcome

President Liliane called the meeting to order at the Richmond Country Club. Cheryl Vaughn led the pledge of allegiance and Stoney Stonework asked for a moment of silence for freedom, peace, and justice on earth. Sid Chauvin offered this thought for the day: Remember there’s room at the top but not enough to just sit down.

Visiting Rotarians and Guests

  • Jeff Mulvihill is a visiting Rotarian from the Redding Rotary Club.
  • Jim Young’s guests were Linda (his wife), John Iwawaki (Escape Club), and Menbere Aklilu (Club member candidate). John oversees the Escape Club, which was started over 10 years ago at Lovonja DeJean Middle School. There are about 60 students in the Club, which typically meets once per week to plan a monthly day trip that provides memorable experiences which many of the young people don’t otherwise have the chance to become involved in (hiking, trips to the ocean and to the snow, etc.). Richmond Rotary helps support the Escape Club and Jon Lawlis usually forwards John’s excellent photos of Escape Club field trips to Richmond Rotary members.
  • Alan Baer’s guest was Stephanie, his daughter.
  • Tom Butt’s guest was his wife, Shirley (his “fact checker” for the meeting’s program presentation).

Special Events

  • Club Secretary, Alan Baer, presided over the induction of Menbere Aklilu as a new member of Richmond Rotary. Congratulations and welcome, Menbere!
  • Although recognized at the last meeting, Josh Surowitz received another round of applause as he was belatedly presented with his pin for a Paul Harris Fellow (Plus One).

Announcements

  • President Liliane Koziol read some excerpts of a thank you note from Rotary 5160 District Governor, Steve Lack, who visited the Club on February 7. Steve applauded Richmond Rotary’s can-do attitude and obvious pride. He also congratulated the Club for having the largest number of new member inductions and Paul Harris Fellow recognitions that he’s ever seen at a single meeting.
  • As noted on the Club’s calendar, Richmond Rotary will host a speech contest during the speaker program period on March 7. Some students from the Interact Club at Salesian High School will each deliver a 5-7 minute speech applying the ideas and principles of the Rotary 4-Way Test to this year’s topic theme: “What’s Life Without Adventure?” The Club winner will compete in a BARSHEEP area run-off. The area winner will then participate in the District 5160 finals in Vallejo on May 3. Jon Lawlis added some comments about the importance of this activity and why the March 7 meeting is not to be missed.
  • On Friday, March 21, from 12-noon to 2:00pm, Chevron will host the Richmond Rotary Club for lunch and a facility tour. The Club will not meet at the Richmond Country Club that Friday. More specifics about the meet-up location at Chevron will follow shortly.
  • The Golden Gate Fields Dollar Days event is coming around again on Sunday, March 30. This is a great opportunity for fun-filled volunteer service (minimum ten volunteers required), for which the Club Treasury receives a payment of $1,000 from Golden Gate Fields. More details to follow.

Recognitions

Happy and Sad Dollars

Norm’s Nonsense

A priest and a lawyer died and went to heaven on the same day, and St. Peter showed them both to their rooms. The lawyer’s room was extremely large and lavish, but the priest’s room was a little ten-by-ten cell with one window and a cot. The priest said, “St. Peter, I have spent my entire life serving God. Why do I get a crummy room and the lawyer gets the best room?”

St. Peter replied, “Well, we get thousands of priests up here, but this is the first lawyer we’ve ever had.”

PROGRAM

Tom's Excellent Adventure: Cuba

President Liliane introduced Tom Butt, who provided an informative PowerPoint presentation about a 10-day trip that he and others from our local area made last December to Cuba, including a stop in Regla, the Cuban Sister City of Richmond (a relationship established in 1999).

Here are some presentation highlights.

  • These five words best describe Cuba: fascinating, friendly, safe, diverse, contrasts.
  • Located in the Caribbean less than 100 miles from Florida, Cuba is an island about 800 miles long with a population of about 11 million people, two million of whom are in the capital city of Havana.
  • Regla is actually a suburb, or perhaps more properly, a borough of Havana, and sits just across the harbor from the main city of Havana. Like Richmond, Regla has an industrial background, former shipyards, and a currently operating oil refinery, Cuba’s largest.
  • While in Havana, the Richmond group, which included Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, met with families of “The Cuban Five”, intelligence officers who were captured in Florida in the 1990’s, convicted of espionage and other crimes, and imprisoned. The Cuban Five are seen as heroes in Cuba.
  • A must-see in Havana is La Floridita, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar. There’s even a statue of Ernest just made for a Kodak moment.
  • The Bucanero Brewing Company makes the two top selling Cuban beer brands, Cristal and Bucanero.
  • There are a variety of rural and urban transportation options in Cuba, from horse-drawn mechanisms to jury-rigged military trucks turned into buses and, of course, walking. There are also the ubiquitous 1950s-era cars, many of them finely preserved and used as taxis. Hitch hiking is widespread.
  • History is taken seriously throughout Cuba. Lots of Cuban cities have been celebrating 500-year anniversaries of their founding. Various building restorations are planned and/or underway everywhere. Historical artifacts are proudly displayed, including Castro’s boat that he used to travel from Mexico to Cuba in the 1950s to start the Revolution and the bulldozer used by Che Guevara in December 1959 to disrupt a rail line and isolate government forces near the city of Santa Clara (the conclusive victory against Batista’s forces).
  • In a prominent museum in the City of Cienfuegos, south of Havana, there’s a Wall of Heroes. Located on the Wall next to a picture of Abraham Lincoln is a picture of Richmond Mayor McLaughlin, presumably due at least in part to her support for setting the imprisoned Cuban Five free.
  • The once vibrant Cuban sugar industry is almost gone. About 90% of the island’s labor force works for the government in some capacity while receiving free medical care and education. There’s apparently talk of trying to reduce the government workforce to about 50% of the total (with the rest perhaps going into some kind of a developing private sector?). There’s a growing shortage of doctors, teachers, and other occupations. Many Cubans try to get into tourism, becoming guides who can earn tips from 2 million annual tourists.
  • There are two currencies in use in Cuba. The “Peso” is the local currency, which is used for government worker wages, rent, buying groceries, etc. The “CUC” is the convertible currency, which foreigners can buy and sell. USA-bank credit cards or travelers checks are not accepted.

There’s a fair consensus that at least two significant happenings in Cuba’s current era have had lasting impacts (and they’re both still in effect): the Communist Revolution of 1959 and the American embargo of the early 1960s.

And there are no Rotary Clubs in Cuba.


Tom Waller, Rotating Scribe