Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's Her Birthday!

Michelle, Michelle, Bo bell, banana fanna fo fell..... "wait, wait! No Michelle, I didn't mean that!"

Ahhh.... those words will forever remain in my memory, with Matt Olsen saying them to Michelle on a FREEZING February day in the early 90's, when we were at a ropes course. He was her "buddy" - encouraging her, and whatnot...

Michelle and I were roommates - and Gayla. And Michelle and I were co-leaders, with John Switzer in Albania in 1992. hmmm... that seems a little odd - a guy and TWO girls leading a team? Long story - but it seemed to fit right in to Albania. And honestly, it was one of the most wonderful months of my life... odd as it seems.

This post is in honor of my friend Michelle's 40th Birthday - which is TODAY. She lives in South Africa, so it's actually the end of her birthday by now (so SORRY, Michelle.)

A favorite memory of Michelle from when we were roommates. It was she, Gayla and I... ahhh yes. And Michelle was part of the break in to the boys' house routine. Because I think it was her fiance, Rich (now husband) who secured the big projector from Teen Mania. Anyhow - she had spent a year in St. Louis as a nanny/teacher for this family, and was back in Tulsa to date Rich and teach 4th grade at Broken Arrow. She and I shared a room, and I remember the first day she had to call in sick. She was BROKEN HEARTED... (as Gayla and I had been years earlier... and certainly were NO LONGER). She was crying, saying, "But, who will TEACH them? What will HAPPEN to my class?" I convinced her that she was not the be all, end all... (hopefully I wasn't too mean?...) And the other teacher story I remember from Michelle's first year, was when she was so upset about the chocolate chip cookies and the math project...

So - back to Albania. Here was the situation: We lived on the third floor of a building. (Which we later found out was actually a condemned building...) The water only worked on the bottom floor - now when I say worked, please don't get excited. It tricked out of four spouts from 4-5 am every day. Well, supposedly every day, but there was an 8 day span when there was nothing. So, we had 5 gallon collapse "Jugs" and 10 gallon big plastic containers. Every day, it would be the job of a group of kids to collect the water for the community for the day. (There were roughly 75 of us). If after all the water was collected it was still running, then we had about 30 buckets, and they would start filling those, and then people could share a bucket to take a shower. Or wash their clothes - but usually not both out of one bucket. Although sometimes.

We took dehydrated food with us, but really only enough for a week, because there was a Colonel Mineau who had arranged for Mike (a 22 year old guy) to go to Turkey and pick up a truck full of MRE's (Army meals ready to eat). That is a whole different story, but he did it... and that's what we ate.

The bathrooms were holes in the ground. Like Thailand. Only water wasn't plentiful. So... we had these large troughs in the bathrooms that we stopped up with plastic. When you brushed your teeth or washed your face, (you did that out of one of the big gallon containers for face, collapsible iodine treated jugs for teeth) you did it over the trough to save the water.

Then we recycled the water to flush the toilets... minty fresh!

We went on Village Trips for a week at a time. Scott (Boss, our Project Director) would pack us up in a bus with MRE's and say, "The bus driver knows some people in some towns... see you Saturday!)... I'm not kidding... We did a drama set to music.

Well, in the drama, there are some really fun character parts, but there are also MIMES. This role is for those for whom acting isn't a thrill. They also are the background of the drama... Palm trees, the boat, rocks... you get the picture. Well, in a fit of generosity and team spirit, Michelle and I decided to be mimes. Well, of course we were going to be mimes right next to each other. So, at one point, when we were the boat, we were the wheel. Together. And we would critique the drama to each other, without moving our lips really... and one day, Garo, the guy who played the Punk Rocker, said,"Could you guys please stop talking during the drama? You're really breaking my concentration,and I'm trying to focus on my part and doing it to the best of my ability to witness best towards the crowds..." "Uh... oops. Sorry, 17 year old Garo, (sweet, Jesus loving boy)

So, on one of our Village Trips, we decided we wanted to sleep "under the stars". So far on that trip we had slept on the stage of a town's Auditorium (With the lights on all night, because we couldn't figure out how to turn them off), in a house with so many flies I thought I was going to pass out, and so... on the top of a mountain with fresh air sounded like a nice option. In order to conserve space with our HUGE team and TINY bus, Michelle and I thought that one sleeping bag for padding and a sheet would be a good idea. Because it was hot in Albania, and there was NO AC...

except on top of a mountain in the fresh air... yes, that's us. So darn cold, we had to zip ourselves in...

Remember the water situation? So, in the mountain areas they have pipes coming out of the side of the mountain, streaming fresh water - really amazingly cold fresh water. After two months of iodine water... we LOVED this water. So, one day we saw one and we just said, "OK! Everyboy wash your hair and brush your teeth." I'm still wondering where we got the shampoo. Michelle, we must've borrowed from someone, huh? I can't imagine either one of us bringing something like shampoo in our backpack. (Oh -we shared a backpack for a week -considering we literally wore our costume the ENTIRE week - yes - for drama and sleeping - there are no showers, so does it really matter? we didn't need much space).


Medical Clinic - yes, that's Garo - the sweet Jesus loving boy who somehow tolerated us...

So the "upside" to wearing your costume for a week straight AND not having showers, is that ANYTIME or ANYWHERE there is fresh water (or semi-fresh)... you just go for it.

Communism had fallen in Albania in February of 1992, and we arrived in June. So, free enterprise and capitalism were amazing concepts that had actually been there 45 years earlier. So, the very oldest of people remembered it. Most didn't. But - they grew watermelons... lots and lots of watermelons. And, so we would stop on the side of the road, and buy enough for everyone to share one with a buddy.

Slice that thing open with your MRE spoon, and you are good to go.

There was one hotel in Albania, where we would go on a Free Day to order coffee and write postcards and feel "human"... (and I believe that is a shepherd or goatherd, as the case may be... you know I'm totally not kidding, right?)

Probably about ten American dollars...

I love this picture of Michelle, because it was and is still so her heart: To love children and share the love of Jesus with them.

Enver Hoxha - the former Communist Dicatator of Albania.

We did have a few days between months to have a mini-vacation. The 20+ of us went to Corfu - an island off of Greece. KUDOS to Cara Boss for doing that! So, we rented mopeds to tool around the island. For some reason, ours stopped working. On the other side of the island. Chris Abeyta saw us, and in an effort to "help" us, he flagged down a white van with a MASSIVE Greek man in it, and got us safely stowed away with our moped to go back to town. And then took off on HIS moped and waved us good-bye. As we rode to town by OURSELVES with a large Greek man... in a white van...

Oh yeah - Chris made sure to get a picture of us...

Considering our water supply situation, to put this kind of hair spray in your hair to entertain the teens (and it tells you how easily we were entertained that whatever we were doing here was considered hilarious), must mean we LOVED them... We probably just brushed through the entire tangled mess... (from left to right: Michelle, Jon, Sohailah, Amy, Chris, Kristin)

Now, I know this wasn't the BEST part of the trip (although it probably felt like it at the time...) but. for some reason, we had a three day lay-over in NYC (or Queens, as it were). We commandeered a city bus (what else can you call it when there are 75 of us, right?) and went into the City.

We are feeling fresh and sassy... (and strikingly 90's with our big hair back) and yes, VERY Chris's Angels.

The sad thing is I can't find any pictures of us where we look pretty and clean - and I was her Maid of Honor, so I know nice pictures of us exist. This time, however, was what brought us together, bonded us and created a foundation for the very dear friendship I have with her. Michelle, it's been so long since I've seen you, but I love you so much! You are a compassionate, intelligent, gentle and strong woman. Happy HAPPY Birthday!


  1. Oh my word...I look at the pics and then in the mirror and it is 2 diff. pictures forsure. :)

    Either you took a lot of pic in the same day or I wore that dress everyday. hee And I'm lovin' the bow...okay why didn't someone stop me?

    thanks friends for the fun laughs and, that trip was loaded with em'. My favorite and worst trip all rolled into one.

    Love you my special goofy friend!

  2. Happy Birthday Michelle!!! Woohoo!!! I loved the bow. HAHA. Hope your day was great and that it keeps on and on for a nice while.

    Sohailah, I am totally sure that I came to visit you when you were in that hotel in Queens. It is sooo interesting to hear the whole story of the Albania trip today. I don't think I ever really heard it before... maybe some things. John Switzer was on that trip?

  3. Michelle - so glad you liked it! We were young and fun and crazy, yes?

    Karen - you DID meet me - we went to the beach and Luke was right around 1.

    Yes - John was OUR co-leader...

  4. That was a fun trip down memory land as we PD'ed in Albania following. What great memories!