Having actually lived in New York, I feel that I am someone who can legitimately wear the I heart NY t-shirt. I love New York so much that as I caught my first glimpse of the city I almost cried. I'm not sure why, exactly. There are so many different feelings and memories attached to that place. I was fortunate enough to serve in the best mission in the world. Other people might tell you there's was the best, but seriously, what can out do New York City?
I drove down to Philadelphia and caught the bus into New York. I was kind of hoping I'd be able to find someone to go with me, but who wants to go to NYC only to visit Harlem and the Bronx and spend time chatting with a bunch of Spanish people? No one living in PA really crosses my mind. So I was brave and headed in all by myself. The only part I was nervous about was actually getting into the city. I think the only intimidating thing about being in the actual city was being the only white person when I went up to Harlem and the Bronx. When you're a missionary with a companion it doesn't bother you that much, but when you're the only white girl on the entire bus or subway car you can feel people looking at you funny. I was just used to being looked at funny anywhere I went with the missionary tag.
It was so crazy to be in the city again, especially not as a missionary! I looked down at myself on the subway and realized I'd never worn jeans or been by myself the entire time I was in New York. I kept feeling like I should contact people. I would look around to see who I would have tried to contact.It was surprising to me the difference between being a missionary and being a "normal" person. For one thing, everything seemed dirtier than I even remembered. I think I must have just become desensitized. There seemed to be more graffiti and trash and just general filth in the Bronx than before. I found myself feeling very grateful for the blessed life I have. Seeing teenagers made me feel this way especially, because really, what kind of chance do they have at life when the grow up in that kind of environment? I also forgot just how hot it gets!
Ok, on to more interesting things like pictures. I could ramble on and on forever about the mission and my feelings being back in New York, but I will try to spare you, especially since I can't find an adequate way to put all my thoughts and emotions into words. I have to confess that I didn't take many pictures because I was slightly nervous about busting out my camera in the ghetto.
The first thing I did in New York was meet up with one of my greenies for lunch. It was really fun to see her again. She was my last companion and an amazing missionary. In some ways I feel like I was just with her, and in other ways it seems like a lifetime ago. She only has 4 months left on her mission! Time goes by so fast.
After the sisters had shared a "message" with me I headed up to Harlem. I didn't have time to visit anyone there (hopefully I can do that on another trip), but I really just wanted to see the area again. A few things had changed, but it was mostly just how I remembered it. It was so weird to be walking the same streets as I had before, especially because I think of it so much. There were some days I thought I couldn't go on (from hunger, heat, fatigue, discouragement etc.) so it was kind of neat being there and realizing I had made it through and I've lived to tell the tale. I also got free coco helado (coconut ice cream) from a vendor we had kind of made friends with. I'm not sure if she remembered me specifically or just figured I must be one of the old sisters since I was white and spoke Spanish.
I took a bus ride through Harlem and headed over to the Bronx where I met up with Ruben, my last convert in the Bronx (technically he got baptized a week after I left). He was kind enough to escort me around the Bronx so I didn't have to do it alone. I probably would have been fine, but I think people were less likely to mess with me with him there (although we probably looked funny since he's Mexican and a good 6 inches shorter than me).
We headed over to the Ramirez family, who are my favorite family from the mission. They were amazing! Even though they're not active now, for various reasons, they still love me and my old companion. It was really nice to see them. Hermana Ramirez cooked me my favorite Dominican food.
They are the kindest, most generous people. I love them with all my heart and hope they find their way back to church.
My last stop was Fernando. He was an awesome convert who called for a Book of Mormon. His family loved us, but he was the only one who joined the church. He's a Dominican giant (most Hispanics are short, but not Fernando). He's a very sweet man.
He would always give us McDonald's chicken nuggets and a vanilla milkshake and yesterday was no exception. It started out kind of as a joke- they teased us about how Dominican's have all this great food and Americans have McDondalds. I was stuffed from the Ramirez's but I ate it anyway. It made me feel like a true missionary. It's a miracle I didn't gain more weight as a missionary! People were constantly giving us food.
The trip went really smoothly. I never got lost, mugged or hit on! The only hitch was my bus home was an hour late (at least I didn't miss it!) I didn't get home until 2 am though! Luckily church didn't start until 1. Oh, and I survived my first time teaching primary.
I feel so blessed that I was able to serve a mission. It was the best experience of my life. It was definitely hard, but infinitely worth it. I miss it all the time. I am so lucky that I got to go back and visit.