Advice on ‘Be Careful what you ask for’ (Bogotá mountain) January has been far too political for me to comment on events such as Forrest Trump and his inauguration, Vladimir the Impalor and his views on Russian prostitutes and Mother Theresa 2 defining the future direction of the UK. Otherwise it was a quiet month so I have gone back into the archives of my experiences for this week’s advice session. I learnt this gem of wisdom when I first went to live in Latin America. Here is the context. My office was on the 15th floor of the World Trade Center in Bogotá. Out of the window was a mountain top at about 3500 metres above sea level. I had only been in Colombia for a couple of weeks. On the summit, I could see a bunch of telecommunications kit including aerials and antennae. My job was IT Director for BP Latin America. In Colombia we were licenced to operate a private telecommunications service (there was no ubiquitous BT equivalent at that time). My IT Operations Manager told me that the equipment on top of the mountain was under my accountability linking BP Colombia to the rest of world via satellite link to Houston and across Colombia by microwave transmitters placed on strategic line-of-site hilltops to make the data and voice connections. In three days’ time I had visitors arriving from San Diego, California. I asked my IT Operations Manager to arrange a visit to the hilltop to inspect the installation and arrange a barbeque on the summit. Sounded straightforward. The day arrived, the visitors and I went down to street level and a motorcade of 4 wheel drive vehicles was waiting. We had security vehicles in front and behind. We made our way out of the city northwards. Beyond the housing the road turned to a gravel track. As we started to climb the mountain I noticed the whole hillside was occupied by military style armed security guards. The mountain was guarded for the duration of my visit. We reached the summit and the modest barbeque I had envisaged had become Cinderella-like a magnificent feast under tented canopies served by waiters in bow ties and smart uniforms. We had a lovely afternoon overlooking the whole of the city. However I had no idea what was involved to fulfil my simple request and I learnt that day to make sure any agreement between two parties is understood by both. This is especially true when culture and language are involved. The word barbeque can have a variety of connotations. So the advice this week is ‘Be careful what you ask for’ if you don’t fully understand the situation’.
Closing Advice: Don’t give up hope I am just back from Cape Town so I shall offer some advice based on a previous South Africa experience. It seems nothing much has improved here since we went away. My Council tax is increasing by 17.5% and Donald Trump is still issuing executive orders. Democracy does not always give great results but at least in a country with an independent judiciary there are checks and balances. I shall not mention Brexit. Incidentally, I started to speculate about Rotary Presidents being able to issue executive orders. I could decide to build a wall between Callander and Dunblane (just past the antique centre outside Doune). It would keep the Callanderonians out and what’s more we could get them to pay for it with a Foundation Grant. Just kidding! So to tonight’s advice. I lived in Cape Town in the 90’s just after Nelson Mandela was elected President in the first democratic elections with universal suffrage. It was a time when the overthrow of Apartheid could have led to a backlash against the white minority. It is a measure of the statesmanship of this major leader that he embraced forgiveness and set South Africa on a new course of evolution into a rainbow nation. This is still evidenced today some 20 plus years after. One iconic moment epitomises his wisdom and understanding. Rugby football was a white sport and seen by many as the sport of white supremacy. In 1994 the black supporters had cheered the British Lions against their own team. At a major test match at the 1995 Rugby World Cup at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, Mandela donned a Springbok shirt and walked onto the pitch to a mainly white crowd who were astonished and inspired when their new president visibly supported the national team. A friend of mine (White) was in the crowd and he cried that day. So my advice tonight is this. When the world seems to becoming uncaring and inward looking try to have faith in humankind and keep working for a better world. The darkness will pass and dawn will arrive again. Final toast : Nelson Mandela, Rotary International and Rotarians world-wide.