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Dinner with the United Nations

Breaking bread daily with women from around the world

Created date

February 20th, 2014
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 Celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain once remarked, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

Nine women at Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., couldn’t agree more. Meeting one-by-one as they moved to the community, the women, six of whom have international roots, dine together each night in the community’s Blue Sky Restaurant.

“We are like a mini United Nations,” says Lois MacKay, who was born in Great Crosby, England, and was the first of the group to move to Ashby Ponds.  

“It’s a wonderful stroke of good luck that we met each other,” says German-born Lieselotte Michak. “I think that if you are from another country, you attract others who were also born outside the U.S. It’s amazing how well we all get along. It makes you wonder why the countries of the world can’t all do the same.”

Issuing the invitations

The dinner party began late in 2008 shortly after Ashby Ponds opened. Mitzi Chirite invited Lois to join her for dinner.

“I know how important it is to establish friendships soon after moving to a new place,” says Mitzi, who was born in Takuota, on Kyushu Island, Japan. “Prior to moving to Ashby Ponds, I lived at Fox Run, an Erickson Living community in Michigan. I moved here to be closer to my son.”

Like Mitzi, Lois also moved to Ashby Ponds from another Erickson Living community—Riderwood, in Silver Spring, Md. She too moved to be closer to her daughter.

“Mitzi adopted me, and I’m grateful,” says Lois. 

Before long, the duo became a trio when Mitzi invited her neighbor Irene Minnick, a native Virginian, to join the women for dinner.

“At that time, I was the lone American-born diner at the table. I enjoyed listening to the stories my friends shared, especially those about how they ended up in the U.S.,” says Irene. 

Mitzi met her husband in 1957 while working at an Air Force base in Japan. The couple traveled the world. Upon their return to the U.S., they lived in both California and Michigan.

Lois met her husband in England, and, in the 1950s, the two moved to New York, where her husband found a job at IBM.

More seats at the table

As Ashby Ponds grew in size, so did the women’s dinner party. 

“I liked Ashby Ponds the first time I came to visit,” says Lieselotte, who was born and raised in Munich, Germany. “However, I was nervous about the unknown and what moving here would really be like. Ashby Ponds’ marketing department offered to have a resident call me and answer my questions. Lucky for me, that person was Lois. I knew as soon as I got off the phone that I would move to Ashby Ponds.”

Shortly after Lieselotte moved to Ashby Ponds in 2009, Lois invited her to join her and her friends for dinner. Before long, Lieselotte was sharing stories with her new friends about her 1952 emigration to the U.S., marrying her American husband, and traveling the world in support of her husband’s career with the U.S. Air Force.

Another seat at the table was soon given to Vicki Gardella, born to Greek parents while living in Palestine. 

“Soon after moving to Ashby Ponds, I received a phone call from Lois inviting me to an international tea she was hosting in her home,” says Vicki. “I accepted and quickly became friends with all these women.”

Vicki’s road to the U.S. was a long and windy one. Soon after she completed high school, the Israelis arrived in Palestine, and Vicki moved to Libya where her brother was working as a physician for the U.S. Embassy. There, she met her American husband who worked for the U.S. Department of State. Upon his retirement, the couple settled in McLean, Va.

Indian-born Raziya Clouser joined the group quite serendipitously. 

“I first moved to the United States in 1979,” says Raziya. “I met my husband a few years later while working in China. After his death, I moved back to India. It was at this time that my brother signed me up for the Ashby Ponds priority list. When I moved back to the U.S., I attended an Ashby Ponds informational lunch and first met Lois. When I moved in six months later, I ran into Lois again while riding on the campus shuttle bus. It was then that she invited me to dinner, and we’ve been dining together ever since.”

Rounding out the internationally born diners is Carol Bradley, who was born in Puerto Rico to American parents. She moved to Ashby Ponds to be closer to her two children and six grandchildren.

“Almost as soon as I moved in, there was a knock on the door, and there stood Mitzi saying, ‘I’d love to take you to dinner.’”

American contingent

Rounding out the dinner party, American-born Pauline Slater and Leila Odum are grateful to be invited to the table. 

“Mitzi is my neighbor,” says Pauline. “One day I knocked on her door asking to borrow a pen, and soon after we were doing everything together.”

Leila, too, met Mitzi soon after moving to Ashby Ponds.

“Over the last few years, I’ve grown close to these women,” says Leila. “I consider myself blessed to have them all in my life. 

“I was a young child during the Great Depression and a young bride during World War II,” she adds. “At that time, our major enemies were the Germans and Japanese. Now two of my closest friends are women who lived in those countries during that awful time. It really makes you wonder why any of that happened.”

A toast to the future

As for the future, the women plan to continue meeting daily, as their busy schedules allow. 

“No matter what our individual experiences have been, I think our coming together as friends happened quite naturally,” says Vicki. 

“I agree,” says Lois. “These are all beautiful, remarkable women, and I am honored to call each one of them my friend.”

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