29 May, 2007

Awkward Is A Way Of Life

Part A:

Last night we all went to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3. It pretty much totally sucked. I was tired to begin with, and my hopes that Johnny Depp would be enough to carry me through the movie were unfortunately falsely optimistic. I tried very hard just to go to sleep, to no avail- I just couldn’t get comfortable. Another added challenge was that the sound quality in the theater was pretty low so we couldn’t really get a grip on what was going on a lot of the time. Anyway, we lived through it and shuffled out of the theater, looking and feeling drab and unkempt from squirming so much while trying to find a comfy dozing position.

While exiting I sort of did a double-take as I noticed a local jazz musician (and Orlando-Bloom-with-a-slight-Euro-mullet look alike) that all of us girls have moderate crushes on. As I fumbled to alert Sunny without being too obvious, she was simultaneously trying to let me know that this other guy we recently met at a café was coming over. Well, it turns out they were together. Café Guy introduced us to Bass Player Guy, as we stood there thinking Hey, didn’t we just watch you on screen for 2 ½ hours? and Huh. Sure glad I’m wearing my nasty rain-soaked jeans and sloppy sweatshirt right now.

Part B:

Tonight I was emailing this woman who performed at Kristfest last weekend just to say hi and that it was nice to meet her, and that we might see her in Amsterdam if we end up making it out there in August. It was a semi-formal, testing-the-waters kind of an email, and when I pressed ‘send’, Gmail alerted me to the fact that I had forgotten to type in a subject line. I quickly tapped out ‘hello’ to serve as a rather bland but functional subject line and hit ‘send’ again.

About 3 seconds later I looked at my sent messages and noticed with some horror that my subject line had evolved in an unexpected fashion. The thing is, Gmail fills in the fields predictive-text-style with previous email addresses or subject lines you’ve used in case you want to use the same one again. It saves time and valuable effort thinking of new ones every time, I suppose. This time it backfired, though, as a previous email I sent to Taylor labeled, “Hello my little honey bunches of oats…” came back to haunt me. Yep, that’s how my email went out to Dutch rocker chick. Dang. Had to quickly follow up with an apologetic explanation. Hope she doesn’t think I’m a complete psycho.

Over and out. My work here is done.

28 May, 2007

Friday - Part 2

We were on our way at last. Sunny and I sent the passenger manifest on its way around the bus for people to sign and started distributing snacks and drinks. It was pretty challenging- a lot like being stewardesses on a junior high school bus. Eventually we found homes for all the pastries and bananas and sat back to enjoy the ride, hoping to get a little sleep. Someone had brought ‘Wild Hogs’ on DVD and the bus driver put it on. Not much time passed before one of the guys from the back came up to hang out with us. Pretty soon after that there were some desperate calls for a pit stop, which afforded us the opportunity to buy some much-needed candy. Our new front seat companion appreciated this, as well. The rest of the trip was pretty smooth, with ‘Wild Hogs’ playing through on repeat about 2.5 times.

When we arrived at the hotel in Vukovar, things were a little hectic. As people were checking in, there were a host of questions to field, 90% of which we had no answers for. Everyone wanted to know how many people would be at the festival, what the schedule was, what was for dinner, etc. Your blind guess is as good as mine was at the time. One person requested – nay, demanded – that they switch his room to one with a bathtub. Because he hates to take showers.

Anyway, we were able to convince the hotel staff to move dinner so people didn’t have to wait until 9pm to eat. Then we started to figure out who wanted to go to the festival – the venue was about 30 minutes away – and how they would get there. One person decided to brave it alone and made his own arrangements (alienating the entire front desk staff in the process - impressive) while the rest of them were at our mercy. It ended up being more complicated than we anticipated, and while we sorted things out we were treated to some singing and dancing outside on the lighted staircase. One person nearly made me audition for the choir by imploring me to sing ‘Baa-Baa Black Sheep’ for her. She was really funny and nice so I wanted to please her but in the end declined, perhaps turning down a revolutionary career as a vocalist.

At any rate, we were able to arrange transportation for most of the people who wanted to go check out the festival that night, except for Sunny and me (the vans were full). We successfully drank away our sorrows, and emotionally prepared for the following day by watching the Grey’s Anatomy season finale.

I know this is a pretty lame picture, but it was the only one we took of our bus driver, and he deserves recognition. He drove a ton and put up with a lot over the course of the weekend. Thanks, Željko!

25 May, 2007

I’m Kind Of A Big Deal or Blame It On The Bus Driver

So as usual I’m coming back after a longish absence. We’re running at warp speed these days and the blogs are suffering the consequences (as are Allison, Taylor, Sunny and I…). Anyhow, this past weekend Taylor and Allison stayed in Rijeka with the newly-arrived summer project team – they are all awesome, by the way – while Sunny and I traveled to Osijek for KristFest, a Christian music festival.

Sunny has been helping Andrej, a friend from church, with some of the organization of the festival over the past few months. She was planning to help out a bit over the weekend, and I was tagging along, excited to attend the festival and happy to be of service in whatever ways I could. Between preparing and putting on many events and retreats over the past few months, and getting ready for and greeting and briefing the summer project, we were pretty tired, and I for one was really excited about the refreshing prospect of a change of pace and environment over the weekend.

We had no idea what was coming. This is how it all went down:

Thursday night we had a pancake party with students that rocked on* past midnight. Sometime that evening we found out that our ride was meeting us at 6:30 the next morning, so when we left the apartment on Friday we were armed with tea, toothbrushes, 2-3 hours of sleep, and little else. The 2 hours spent driving to Zagreb were uneventful, then we were dropped off at the airport. We had been asked to meet a few bands there and ride with them on the bus to Osijek. No problem, we thought.

*I’m really sorry. I honestly don’t know why I use phrases like that. It doesn’t further my cause as a respectable human being or as a writer, but I just can’t seem to help it.

Once we got to the airport Sunny called and got a few more details about what we were doing there: i.e. a list of the groups we were supposed to meet and the times we were supposed to meet them.

The first group we met was the largest – a full-blown gospel choir. They wanted to go downtown and walk around and they showed us the email they had received telling them they could, but the bus driver said it was not possible in the amount of time we had, so we headed to another small town nearby. Already we noticed that most of the artists were very kind and gracious, while a few would have done well to have VIP emblazoned on their foreheads, lest anyone, anywhere, anytime make the mistake of thinking otherwise.

Our guests wandered the small park and marketplace while Sunny and I assessed the situation and realized we needed to get some food for these people. They were tired, a bit cranky, had no kuna, and were facing another 4+ hour bus ride. And there were still more passengers to pick up. We got 5 or 6 bunches of bananas, a small buttload of pastries, and 4 liters of juice and water and a pack of small plastic cups. Not world class, but it would have to do. We loaded up the bus again and headed back to the airport.

We checked the flight arrival times of the next 3 bands and realized we might have a problem. The choir group hadn’t been too hard to spot, because, let’s face it, 21 gospel singers with British accents and lots of bling tend to stand out at the Zagreb airport. This time, however, we only had band names, flight times, and knew we were looking for 3 groups of 5-7 people, all European. The arrival area was small and, by this point, crowded. I didn’t even know what language I should listen for or what countries they were flying in from. One of the groups needed to get on a van that was waiting for them and immediately book it to the festival since they were performing that night, while the other two bands would join us on the bus.

We constructed woefully inadequate signs by scribbling band names on random pieces of paper, and awkwardly tried to hold them all up at once while scouring the crowd for anything resembling an instrument case. For some reason it was taking everyone a really long time to get through customs so the flight arrival times ceased to be useful. Eventually Sunny and I separated and the sign holding was only complicated by simultaneous cell phone conversations and purse-digging/schedule reviewing sessions.

Somehow, in the end, we met all the people we were supposed to and got them into the proper vehicles. One of the new arrivals really wanted a bottle of cold water, so I ran back in and bought one, and almost got left behind by the bus. As I handed it to her, someone asked why I had gotten one for her but not for them. I don’t think they believed me when I said that I only had money for one. But it was the literal truth.

To be continued…

02 May, 2007

On Beauty and Excellence and Praiseworthy Things

I thought that this was fascinating, sad, and not all that surprising.

01 May, 2007

Down Time

Today, after a staff meeting, a 2+ hour student appointment, a coffee appointment with a teammate, a team-leader powwow by phone, several emails, numerous text messages back and forth arranging ticket delivery for our banquet on Wednesday, as well as various other work-related odds and ends, it was time for some normal-life non-work work. I went to the grocery store, dropped off a movie at the video rental place, and bought some toilet paper and paper towels at another small market.

About a minute after arriving home, the phone rang. This was the Vonage line from the states, and it was Sunny’s Uncle Ted calling from Minneapolis. I’ve never met Ted, but we ended up having a good, solid half-hour conversation during his lunch break. We covered many topics: where I grew up, the relative benefits of volunteering to help others learn English in Seattle or Minneapolis, European coffee, and whether or not Sunny has been to Greece. Unfortunately he ran out of time and didn’t get to talk to her himself, but at least we bonded.

A bit later it was time for our weekly apartment cleaning extravaganza. I was on floor duty, mopping and vacuuming away, when Taylor called me in for a consult.

*Graphic, unnecessary details to follow*

Taylor was cleaning the bathroom, but when she got to the toilet she ran into an obstacle – literally. There was a stubborn log of poo at the bottom of the toilet basin that refused to be flushed. Believe me, we tried. Many times. And it just sat there, swaying a little in the flow, but never leaving.

We entered the experimental phase and employed copious amounts of baking soda and vinegar hoping the reactionary activity would break things down, so to speak. Still no dice.

*End bathroom-oriented content*

I left her alone and went back to the floors. It was almost 10pm at this point, but swimsuit season is basically here, so no slacking with the exercise can be tolerated. Sunny and I donned our smelly workout gear and headed out. While running around a nearby soccer field, Sunny was targeted by a high-powered and frighteningly accurate laser pointer. We dodged and hid behind a large tree- partly laughing and partly terrified that she was about to be annihilated by a sniper. A few minutes later a random old guy started running around the same track so we felt a little safer and resumed our activities.

We arrived home and were greeted by Josip, a student we just met last Wednesday. He was stopping by to get a ticket to the banquet and decided to hang out for a while. Once we got there he probably felt a little outnumbered, because he invited two more friends to join us. The seven of us talked for quite a while and covered an impressive array of conversational subjects over apple juice and cookies. I think they are some of our new favorite friends.

Around 12:30 Sunny and I looked at one another and gave up on the remaining business we had planned to cover tonight. There’s always tomorrow, right?

Seriously, though. People ask us what a typical day is like. There is no typical day. Random stuff happens all the time. All the time. And it’s great, it just takes getting used to. And I will miss it.