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Dear Friend,

As you know, I was in a bit of a panic before break, I had piles of things to do, and a multitude of things to think about. Spring Break became not only a literal removal of myself from the chaos, but a mental one as well. You see I purposefully did not bring any homework along with me, I left my computer locked away in my dorm room, and I took off on my trip with a bunch of people with a plan to focus on working with MDS, and nothing else.  (In case you don’t know, MDS stands for Mennonite Disaster Service and does relief work throughout the United States and Canada.) Originally, our group was planning on leaving Friday night at midnight, and driving through Saturday and into Sunday, towards Joplin Missouri for tornado clean-up. However, on Thursday, we learned the MDS had shut down the MDS sites in Missouri due to snow, warm days in the weather forecast, and the ensuing mud bath that would inevitably come along with that. So we were sent to Far Rockaway New York to work on Hurricane Sandy work instead. This change was quickly welcomed by us, especially since it meant a LOT less time in the car, and we were excited to be so close to New York City (Far Rockaway is on the eastern most island in the group of islands that make-up and surround NYC.

First of all, this was much better as far as my sleep schedule goes. I had given up several hours of sleep that week to finish homework, and leaving at midnight that Friday would not have, by any means, been very healthy for me. In fact, we didn’t leave until Sunday morning, which allowed for me to go to EMHS’ Soup and Arts Fest, which is this wonderful experience where you look at all of the students artwork (grades k-12), eat from the delicious soup buffet (all donated from various H-burg restaurants), listen to various music groups, and finish it off with a scrumptious piece of Mrs. Bender’s peanut butter pie (There are other dessert options, baklava, red velvet cake balls, key lime pie squares, etc. but none of them compare to the peanut butter pie) Then, after Soup and Arts Fest, my family headed out to Broadway’s Plan B to attend the concert of the best Tuvan Throat Singing group in the world, Alash. We love them, but I will admit, that while I love hearing them live, the cd I have just do them justice so I don’t really like it, that being said, you should stop by and take a listen sometime…

Anywhoo, so on Sunday morning we packed up into vans and headed off on our short (ok, 6 hour) drive up to the city. When we got there we had a quick orientation and pizza dinner before heading off to bed and settling into the week’s routine. Every morning we woke up at 6am (please note: I am a night owl… I hate mornings) and met up in the dining hall/food pantry/office by 6:30 to pack our lunch for the day and then, as soon as everyone was done with that, we would eat a breakfast of fruit (my favorite), toast, and other yummy delights. After breakfast, we would be led in a time of singing and devotions before heading out to our work sites (by 8am). My work site was in a basement apartment, about 50 ft from the boardwalk lining the Atlantic coast… it was beautiful. Throughout the week my group did some drywall finishing, sanding, priming, and painting (in fact, we finished all of that!!!) some of the “old folk” in our group also put in doors, trimmed windows, and put in kitchen cabinets! We would often take a break at 10:30ish, and then again at 2:30ish for snack and a moment of respite (arms feel much heavier when they’ve been above your head for several hours…). When it was warm enough Jon, Carissa and I would sit on the boardwalk to eat our lunch. The first time we did this, the seagulls attempted to lay siege and eat all of our food, but weren’t too bad later on in the week. On about Wednesday, construction workers began to tear up what was remaining of the boardwalk so that it could be redone (most of it was torn away in the storm)… so we would go around them to be on the beach. After our days work was completed, we would head back to camp (we’d always be back by 5pm). The crew leaders would have a meeting with the project director from 5-5:30 and supper was served at 6pm. After supper (always quite delicious) someone from each crew shared about their group’s activities for the day. After dinner we would play games and just hang out until we headed of to bed (often around 10pm).

Some irregularities in the week: On Wednesday, Jon and I went shopping at Lowe’s with the Project director, Harold, before meeting up with the rest of our crew, I then drove around with Rody (pronounced with an “oo” sound, the spelling confused me too), our crew leader, to retrieve a table saw, a shop vac, and nails for the nail gun. All in all, I didn’t get to help out at the house at all that morning. Then, on Thursday several things happened. First, we had a house owner eat dinner with us and then share his story. It was amazing to hear him tell us about how quickly the water rose, and yet how quickly it disappeared (leaving destruction in it’s wake)… A bit later in the evening, we held a variety show including almost everyone in camp. A bunch of the girls sang “cups”, my crew group whistled “Come Thou Fount”  while I sang, The boy’s cabin sang T-Swift’s “You Belong With Me”, Our house owner guest told us the story of how he met his late wife, we were indulged in a beautiful song about MDS from Harold, Sandra, and Lena Mae, we also heard animal noises from MDS director Kevin, watched the “Not-So-Newlywed Game” created by Bethany and Savanna, and ended as we had to watch as Andrew wiped Peanut Butter over all sorts of people in a mock-infomercial that ended in someone licking peanut butter out of another person’s armpit (names not mentioned, because that’s just too gross to go too public). Friday was much less disgusting, and ended with our home owner taking pictures with us and giving us all hugs, I didn’t have the opportunity to spend much time talking to her, but I could see just how grateful she was to have us there, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to do what I could to help. That night, we took off immediately after dinner to head on into the city. I didn’t realize it at first, but I was one of only 2-3 people who had actually been in NYC before, and this is out of the 11 of us who went! It runs out that this was beneficial for me because, despite having a buddy system going on, the group left me at M&M World. You see I wanted to get a bag of brown peanut M&M’s (because I prefer the brown ones) so I filled up my bag from the large bulk dispensers along the wall, and Jia saw that I had a bag of M&M’s and assumed that I had already paid for them, actually I was just passing the group on my way to pay for them, and as I waited in line… the group took off. They didn’t realize I wasn’t with them, but I knew they had left the second I turned around after paying for my brown peanut goodness, so I called/texted to check in and at first they didn’t respond… I decided to call once more, but wasn’t too worried because I knew 2 things (A) If I absolutely had to, I could get myself back on my own, this was the benefit of having been the NYC before, and just the pure fact that I’m really good at public transportation, directions, figuring out where I am, etc (B) I also knew that eventually, if I stayed there long enough, the group would figure out that I was missing, realize they hadn’t seen me since the M&M store and either come back, or call. So I made one more call and it was answered with “We are SO sorry…” now, I didn’t think it was all that bad, but that’s just me. Andrew, Jon, and Jia left the rest of the group to retrieve me, and then we walked to Central Park to meet up with the rest of the group… Central Park was beautiful, especially when we saw a white crane gliding over the pond. Then, Saturday morning before we headed home, we drove to the beach where a bunch of crazy people from our group ran and jumped into the water (I should point out that there was some SNOW on the ground).

There really is no way to explain how amazing the week was. I feel like I’ve known the people in the group so much longer than a week. We were like a little mini family that week, and it was so much fun. They’ve seen me at 6 in the morning, when I’m not even awake and am just sleep walking on autopilot! We’ve laid on the beach basking in the sun together, celebrated birthdays, and had a snowball fight…er fights. We played pranks on each other, told ridiculous bedtime stories, and sang distorted versions of “You Are My Sunshine” to each other. I wish it wouldn’t have ended…

To see a bit about the Far Rockaway MDS site visit: http://mds.mennonite.net/projects/farrockawayny/

Love, Mandi Jo