Thursday, August 17, 2017

Still Mennonite


Continued from A Mennonite basket case

The next day was the last holiday. My parents had nothing planned for the day, so mom suggested we take the horse and buggy and go have a picnic in the mountains behind the colony. Everyone loved that idea except my older brothers. They had other plans.

At that point, the horse and buggy had become somewhat of a lazy Sunday type of transportation.

My sisters decided to come along and spend the day with me instead of hanging out with their youth group again. We all pitched in, packed a lunch, and faspa for the picnic, and off we went on a two-hour buggy ride through the colony to the mountains.

The sun shone brightly on my face, and it made my eyes water as we passed the fence where I had fought off Aaron Newdorf with a mason jar many times. My heart began pounding inside my chest, and it got worse as we passed the Neudorf farm. Finally, I got brave enough and asked my sister, “Sara, do you know if Aaron Neudorf moved away?”

My heart sank when she answered, “He went to work in Chihuahua, but he came back for the holidays. He just doesn't stay in the colony much anymore. He mostly hangs out with Mexa. We see him come home once in a while.”

I tried to act neutral so she wouldn’t notice my growing anxiety when I asked, “Where does he go when he goes with the Mexa?

Potes (Nuevo Ideal) mostly, I think.”

“Okay.”

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, Aaron’s sister Agnes told me to say hi to you. She said that she would love to see you.”

“Okay, really, she wants to see me?”

“Yes.”

“Did she get baptized yet?”

“No, not yet, she was going to, but then all the ministers left, and there was no baptism this year. Anyone who wants to get baptized in the new year will have to go to La Honda, Zacatecas.

“Wow, yeah that’s going to be interesting how that will work.”

“Yeah.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?”

“Yes, but you don’t know him. He's from a colony far past Potes.”

“Oh okay.”

When we finally arrived at the mountains, it was lunch time. My sister spread a blanket out on the ground, while mom and I got the food out. We sat down in a circle, and when we all bowed our heads to say our mealtime prayer, aside from the echoing caw sounds of the crows soaring above us, it was quiet. It felt like we were the only people on the planet.  

The breathtaking view of the landscape and the crows gliding around in circles in the clear blue sky made it hard for me to continue to worry about having to face Aaron Neudorf at some point.


After packing up the leftover food, my sisters and I wandered around exploring the area. As I looked up at the gliding crows, I asked my sister, “Do you think anyone has ever climbed to the top of that mountain?”

“Our brothers have, but I'm not sure if they climbed all the way to the top, though.”

“Do you think we could climb all the way to the top?” I asked.

“Ahhh, I think we could, but it would be dangerous, there could be snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and… ah, more snakes.”

“I would love to climb all the way to the top, wouldn't you?” I asked.

“Ah, yeah, but…”

“Let's ask mom and see what she says,” I suggested.

I presented the idea to mom, and she said, “Okay, but only you, Sara, Agatha, and Jacob. The rest of the kids have to stay here with me. Just be careful--there could be snakes.”

“Okay, yes, we’ll be careful,” I answered, and off we went, climbing the mountain.


There were some steep areas that were difficult to climb. As we climbed further up, there were shrubs, bushes, and cactuses with extremely sharp thorns that were hard to climb past, especially in a dress.


When we finally reached the top, I turned around to look at the view. It was the most beautiful view I had ever seen. You could see the entire colony from up there. All those windmills looking back at me suddenly didn’t feel so intimidating anymore. They looked so tiny and insignificant from up there. Looking down at the horse in front of the buggy, the horse looked like an ant. I felt amazingly powerful up there. I thought, “Finally, I have done it. I have gone where no man has gone before.”

“Look, there’s a hole on the side of the mountain over there,” shouted Jacob. “Let's go see it,” he said as he began climbing the side of the mountain.

Sara, Agatha and I followed him. As we got closer to the whole, the view got even better. You could see Lake Santiaguillo from up there. It was breathtaking.

Upon approaching the cave, I was disappointed to discover that others had climbed that mountain before us. The evidence spoke for itself. There were a couple of beer bottles lying around a fire pit. Inside, in the middle of the cave, was a big rock that served as a table. Around the big rock were smaller rocks that had been used as chairs to sit on. 


As my siblings went exploring the cave, I stood there alone with my thoughts, looking down at the view from the cave, admiring the crows gliding so close above me, breathing in that fresh air, and feeling the warmth of the Mexican sun on my back. Words couldn’t explain the feeling. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience. I was standing on top of a mountain in the country where I was born, surrounded by my family, my colony, my childhood memories, and, of course, memories of Aaron. But up there, I didn’t feel trapped by any of that. I felt free. Free like the crows I admired soaring so effortlessly in the sky, superior to all the windmills that had haunted me for so long. It was like the crows were telling me that my Fula was as free as they were and that it was okay for me to let go. That’s when I knew that feeling that my new friend, Javier the cowboy, was trying to explain to me, about being reunited with your soul. I didn’t have the vocabulary to process that in my thoughts, but I felt it deep in my bones. And that’s when I knew that I could never say goodbye to Mexico forever, because that would mean that I, too, would be separated from my soul, as Javier described. I suddenly got the shivers and felt very cold.


I went to join my siblings in the cave and said, “This would be an awesome place to camp, don’t you think?”

“You mean, stay for the night and sleep here?” asked Agatha.

“Yes.”

“Ah… but there are snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas out here.”

“I haven't seen any. Have you?”

“No, but they would probably sneak up on you at night when you are sleeping.”

I envisioned waking up to a snake crawling on me, and that was the end of that idea. “Okay, let's make our way back down,” I suggested.

The way down was much faster and easier. When we got back down, dad had made a fire to heat water for coffee. We all sat quietly in the shade under a bush and had faspa before heading back to the colony.

It was the best day I had ever experienced in Mexico. In Canada, faspa had become a story I told someone who asked me about life in the colony. I hadn't realized how much I had missed it until that day, and I was able to figure out some more important things as I combined my experiences growing up with what I had learned while in Canada. I decided that for me, faspa was not about a cup of instant coffee, sugar cubes, tweeback, and pastries. It was about the people you shared it with, even if you didn’t see eye to eye on things with them. It was about just being able to set aside those difference and be still in each others’ presence while enjoying faspa.

On that long, quiet buggy ride back to the colony, with my new-found hope for life in Mexico, I imagined how I could combine more of my two worlds. I imagined how I could place my imaginary boyfriend George into the colony setting. I began imagining life in the colony during faspa with George by my side. My thoughts became very loud as I allowed them to go way too far. I thought, “If George would get a haircut, I could put a long sleeve plaid shirt on him, button it all the way up to hide his tattoos, and tuck it into his jeans, and if I could keep him from getting frustrated, it could work.”

I knew better than even to think up such an idea. Setting aside imagining my family's reactions to him as my partner, I envisioned it anyway, and this is how it went. We were all sitting in a circle having faspa at the mountains we were just at. My new favorite place in the world. I imagined it so beautifully: George would be smiling, enjoying a tweeback, and every time I looked at him he would wink at me, sending shivers down my spine as always. But suddenly in my imagination, things took a turn toward reality. George got up, ripped the plaid shirt open, buttons flying everywhere, landing in our instant coffees, on top of our pastries. He pulled his arms out of the sleeves, revealing all his tattoos, bunched the shirt up into a ball, threw it into the fire and said, “F#ck this shit! It’s way too f#cking hot to be dressed like this.” He walked toward his Harley, hopped on, turned to me and said, “Let's get the f#ck out of here, and go explore this beautiful country.”

I was sitting there frozen and torn between him and my family.

“Well, are you coming, babe?” asked George.

I just couldn’t resist. I dropped my coffee, hopped onto the back of his motorcycle, wrapping my arms around his bare waist, and we took off, leaving my family in the dust.

I was so deep in my head, imagining, that I didn’t even realize I was smiling ear to ear.

Woarum kiks du so shaftich? (Why are you smiling so much?)” asked Sara.

Oh nush, (oh nothing.) I just had a really good day with you guys. Thanks for climbing the mountain with me.”

Jo, me gink dot uk sea scheen. (Yeah, I also had a really good time.)”

“Are you sure that it isn't because of who is in that truck coming toward us?” asked Sara.

“Ah… who is that?”

“That truck that is coming toward us, that’s Aaron Neudorf,” she answered.

My surreal imagination and happy thoughts vanished into the dust trail behind us as I processed the words I heard Sara speak. 

When the truck came closer, I tried to pretend that I didn’t see him, and acted as if I couldn’t care less. But the closer the truck came the less control I had over my pounding heart.

When I caught a glimpse of Aaron’s face, it didn’t even look like him. He had aged about ten years since I had run into him at the club in Canada.

He was wearing a baseball cap and had his left elbow sticking out of the window. When the buggy slowly made its way past him, I noticed that the shirt he was wearing was very similar to the one that I had just imagined George in. He looked right at me as he passed us and waved. Seeing him that close made me want to jump out of my skin. I thought, “When we get back to the house, I will have to put a mason jar in my purse again.”

When we got back to my parents’ house, I helped unload the buggy. When I carried leftover food into the cuma, I grabbed a mason jar and put it into my purse. I suddenly felt incredibly weak. I couldn’t figure out if it were exhaustion from climbing the mountain or the Aaron Neudorf mason jar ordeal. I took a few deep breaths, drank a cup of cold well water and accompanied my siblings as they went to feed the animals. Again, when we were feeding the pigs, I thought about Aaron Neudorf. I couldn't get the image of him out of my mind. Especially after seeing him wearing a similar shirt that I had imagined on George. Incredible guilt washed over me, and I scolded myself, “Anna, how could you betray your friend George like that?” I told myself never to dress George in a plaid shirt again, not even in my imagination.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Mennonite basket case



“How long are you visiting?” he asked.

“Two weeks.”

“Yeah, I’m just visiting too. I’m going back to work in Texas, a couple of days after New Years. I don’t want to leave. Every time I leave Mi Ranchito, it's as if my body separates from my soul and we never reunite until I return, you know.”

I giggled awkwardly, I didn't fully understand the words he was saying, but I knew and felt exactly what he meant. But my conscience wouldn't fully allow me to enjoy that feeling of connecting with another human being. My mind kept wandering off, “I really hope no one sees this, if the wrong person sees me talking to him, the rumors will get to my mom.”

“How's your drink?” he asked.

“It’s great. Thank you.”

“Would you like another one?”

“Yes sure, I would love another one, thank you,” I answered as I thought, “Anna! You really shouldn’t.”

As he got up and walked to his truck, I thought, “So much has changed, maybe people don’t gossip as much anymore. Maybe I could allow myself to enjoy this experience. I’m not doing anything wrong. I'm just talking to a person.”

I stared at his cowboy boots as he walked back toward me with the drink, “Aquí está, enjoy,” he said as he handed me the drink.

Gracias.”

“You know Anita, there is going to be a dance in Nuevo Ideal on New Years Eav, and I would like nothing more than to take you to that dance.”

I giggled and said, “Oh no, I can't dance, and that would be even worse than going to a coliadera.”

“Don’t worry about that. I can I teach you.”

“I don’t think that is possible.”

“Tell me, Anita, why are the men of the colony allowed to go to a dance, but not the women?”

“Ahhh… good question. One that I've been asking for a very long time, and that no one will answer. Do you remember when there was a wedding reception at the barn on the apple orchard outside of the colony?”

“Yes, that was my cousin's wedding, I was there.”

“Really? You were there?”

“Yes.”

“My brothers and their friends went to the reception. I wanted to go so badly, but there was no way that I could convince my parents to allow me to go.”

“That would have been awesome. Did your parents give you a reason why you weren't allowed, and your brothers were?”

“Yes, it was the same as always, that Dietsch women don’t belong in places like that. And that was it. I remember sitting right there at the end of the driveway listening to the music and wondering what it would be like to be there.”

“But, it's not too late you can still experience it, on New Years Eav.”

“I don’t think that part has changed here.”

“We could dress you up in my sister's clothes to disguise you,” he said, and we both laughed as we sipped away at our drinks.

“Great idea, but I have tried that already, in Canada, and it didn’t work. People still recognized me. I think it’s my teeth that gave me away. Even if a disguise worked, I wouldn’t be able to laugh or smile, so what would be the point?” As I heard myself say that I laughed, but a tear snuck its way down my cheek.

I quickly changed the subject and asked if any of the men from the colony had danced at that wedding reception, so he wouldn’t notice me wiping the tears off my face.

Anita! You have a beautiful smile, and there is nothing wrong with your teeth. No, they all just watched from a distance. But they ate with us.”

“I remember, my brother, bringing home a jar of leftover Pico de Gallo from the reception. That’s when we learned the difference between cilantro and parsley. Most of my family didn’t like the salsa because of the cilantro in it. I remember thinking, “Yes, it's very different, but I like it.”

Eso no es justo, (That’s not fair.)”

“I know, we should have tried cilantro way before that.”

“No, no, not the cilantro. It's so unfair that the men are allowed to do so much more than the women.”

I said, “Yes, I know, and now they are even allowed to work in movies. I want to do that! Man, I wish I could do that,” I said as I started hopelessly across the desert.

“Well, maybe someday you will have that opportunity. I’ll bet you would be great at it. I think a movie about your life would make a muy fascinante, (very fascinating) one.”

I giggled as I tried to come up with a response and ended with nothing but a moment of awkward silence.

He got up and said, “Bueno, pues ya me tengo que ir. (Well, I have to go.)”

I was relieved and sad at the same time.

Gracias por las bebidas, (Thank you for the drinks.) I replied.

I watched him drive off across the desert, leaving a trail of dust behind him. When I couldn’t see him anymore, I finished the drink. Then I went to the outhouse and dumped the disposable cup in there, so there would be no evidence of it left behind for me to explain to my family.

When my sisters came home, I helped them feed the chickens and the pigs. While feeding the pigs, all I could think about was, “Where the heck is Aaron Neudorf?” But I didn’t want to ask about him because I wasn’t ready to answer the questions that would follow.

When my parent came home, we warmed up leftovers for supper, ate and quickly did the dishes, so my sisters could meet up with their youth group again. 

Mom said, “Susana and Isaac are coming over for lunch tomorrow, what should we make, caldillo, kumst borscht, or noodle soup?”

I yelled, “Komstborscht!” before mom was able to finish her sentence. Finally, I would be able to eat kumst borscht.

“Okay, we will make kumst borscht,” said mom.

The next day when I stood by the stove, stirring the borscht, I felt like I was living the dream I had when George came to pick me up with his Harly and took me to Mexico City. I couldn't help but wishfully listen for the sound of a Harly nearby. But there was no sound that was even close to that of a Harly. The only sounds surrounding us were the clip-clopping sounds of horses and buggies. One of the buggies was coming closer and closer. It was my sister and her family.

I followed mom out to the buggy to greet my sister. She handed mom her baby, got off the buggy and came to shake my hand. It was awkward, neither one of us made eye contact or knew what to say to the another. Her two boys sitting on the back of the buggy didn’t want to get off because they didn’t know me. My sister Maria came to the rescue and talked the boys into going with her to let the chickens out of the coop.

After I had eaten a couple of bowls of kumst borscht surrounded by my family, I felt like part of me was complete again. I could finally put to rest at least that one piece of guilt I had such a hard time letting go of. I realized for the first time that it was never about the half eaten bowl of kumst borscht I had had left behind that was hunting me, it was what it represented. It made perfect sense in my head.

My torn feelings became clearer yet more confusing at the same time, as my deja vu continued all day. Just like in my dream, we sat under a tree and knocked sut (ate sunflower seeds).

I sat there and listened to my family talk about how the drought in Mexico had led to the level of poverty people were living in. More and more men were jailed because of getting involved with the drug cartels. Those were some of the reasons why the Mennonites were pushing so hard for a change. That, and to make it easier to maintain their way of life in Mexico. But that had led to the decision that the leaders of the church had made. The leaders felt that they had to leave in order to maintain the lifestyle as they had when they first moved to Durango. They felt that they had no choice but to leave the land where they felt threatened and go to another where they could live separate from the influences of the world. Life for the people left behind in the colonies was hopeless. I could see the toll that it had taken on people, especially my sister, who was worried about the future for her children growing up in that. Her husband Isaac expressed his thoughts about moving to Canada, but my sister felt that it wouldn't be better and one of the reasons was her fear of sending her children to public school.

As the discussion continued, I thought to myself, “We are all in the same boat heading toward Posen Land, but we will never get there without an education.” At that moment I was so sure that I had made the right decision and was doing the right thing. I felt so good about the progress I had made, and I had the people in Canada to thank for pushing me to go to school.

I understood that hopelessness, and it frustrated the heck out of me that I had an answer to that, but I couldn't voice it. And even if I could I didn’t have the vocabulary to express it in a way that I could make people see what I saw. It took a long time for me to be convinced that school was the answer. I had my doubts, but at the same time, I had no one close by telling me all the reasons why I shouldn’t go to school. I was surrounded only by people that told me the reasons why it was the answer to a better future. That was one of the reasons I had been able to learn one word at a time and stick with it no matter how much hopelessness I carried around with me while I was doing it.  

In the midst of all the clutter floating around in my head, I was experiencing an epiphany… a feeling of knowing the answer to something bigger than all of us. It gave me the shivers. I didn’t understand it or know what to do with it. It was like I had been handed a basket with all of the puzzle pieces in it, which had the meaning of all the dreams behind my continuous journey to Posen Land. All the answers were on the puzzle pieces including the reason why I was born into that specific family, at that specific time. And all the guilt of feeling like I had screwed up to the point of no return, were lessons I was meant to learn for a reason. I had it all right there in my possession, all I had to do was put it all together. I freaked out. I dropped it and wrote it off like all of my nerve problems together in one basket, and at that moment I concluded that I really was a basket case.

Later that night, after a couple more of bowls of kumst borscht, I had some quiet time to look into my basket again, and I came up with a real mature idea. I thought to myself, “Anna, you know important stuff now, a lot of very important stuff, but if you can't use that stuff to help people, what's the point of knowing all this stuff?” and that feeling of having an epiphany slipped away from me as I headed back toward Posen Land again. Click here to continue reading my story.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Rising through Mennonite shame


Life is like a Kjrinjel: you never know how it's going to twist.


Reflections on Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Encounter Borders and Boundaries.

June 2017

A year ago, when I received an invitation from Abigail Carl-Klassen to participate in a panel at a conference at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I said YES! before I’d even finished reading the email. The panel would showcase creative work by and about women from Mennonite communities in Mexico, discussing transnational identities and issues.

As the date of the conference drew closer, I became overwhelmed with fear and self-doubt. I thought, Who am I kidding? I can't do this! So I did what I always do when that happens: drop everything and read a book, because now, I can. Luckily, my friend and co-worker Sidney Bater has a library full of books that are written just for me. I picked up one of the books whose title spoke to me: Rising Strong by Brené Brown. After reading this book, I thought, So what if I screw this up and fall flat on my face? I will rise strong and do it again.

That was easier said than done. But I was able to stay focused enough to go through with it. It began with a ten-hour drive to Virginia from Ontario in a black minivan with four amazing women. We came from different backgrounds, yet we all had so much in common.

Upon arriving at EMU campus, I was thrilled to learn that I was sharing a room with Laura Morlock, one of the women that I had just gotten to know during the ten-hour trip. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and the reason for her company was to keep me from letting self-doubt crush me.

What an overwhelmingly humbling experience it was as I remembered George’s words: “Life doesn't happen in the same order for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with that.”

I thought, Finally! Not only do I get to sleep in a dorm at a University, but at a Mennonite University. I giggled a little on the inside, because the butterflies in my stomach were going insane with excitement.

The next day, after walking around on campus in disbelief, and taking it all in, I met with Abigail Carl-Klassen and Veronica Enns, who were part of the panel. I immediately connected with both of them. The experience was deeply moving.

That evening, I sat beside my new friends Abby and Vero in the theater listening to women speak. I mostly spent the whole time fighting back the tears, because every word that was spoken touched me so deeply.

After successfully holding back my tears, I made my way to the art gallery. As I stood in front of an art piece, staring at it and trying to feel what it was telling me, a man joined me there. I glanced at him nervously, and it was none other than Canadian History Professor Royden Loewen. I recognized him because I had met him at a lecture and book signing I had attended at Conrad Grebel University a while before with my friend Shirley Redekop. As Shirley flipped through Royden’s book, Villages Among Nations, she pointed out a picture of a Rev. Johann P. Wall, and asked if I could be related to him. And that’s when I discovered that not only was Rev. Johann P. Wall my great-grandfather, but he was one of the leaders who took part in the decision to migrate to Mexico from Saskatchewan Canada in the 1920’s. 

I moved on to the coffee lineup, and there I spotted another familiar face. It was the one-and-only author, Saloma Miller Furlong. I had read her memoir, Bonnet Strings, a couple of months before, and afterwards had sought out information about her online.

After reading about Saloma, I dreamed of meeting her someday. I told myself that if I ever got to meet her, I would hug her, and she would know why, before we even exchanged any words. But when I stood in front of her, I froze, and shook her hand instead. I told her many things that I hadn't planned to say. But at the end of my ramble, she hugged me and said, “Find me tomorrow. I want to talk to you some more.”

It was hard to settle down and go to sleep after all that.

After Abigail Carl-Klassen had presented, I nervously walked up to the front to share my story. I began with the pivotal decision to cross cultural boundaries and two borders--leaving my colony in Mexico and coming to Canada. I shared that I was illiterate and didn’t speak English, and how I faced many barriers as I began my journey of finding my place in a whole new world, one that I had never been part of.

I talked about how I began attending an adult learning center, at which point I had only even written my name a handful of times, and how simply holding a pen in my hand was awkward. I shared how ashamed I was of my literary incompetence and how embarrassing it was, as I was nineteen years old and felt like I was starting kindergarten. I said that ever since then, reading and writing have been my obsession, and one of the main reasons I started blogging. At the beginning of my presentation, I stumbled over my words and said sort of what I had written, but in mixed-up order. I reminded myself of what I had read in the book, Rising Strong, that it was alright; I should leave my mistakes behind and just continue.

When I read a post from my blog titled Fashion Faux Pas, and people began laughing with me as I read, I knew that I was back on track. That moment was the first time I felt I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. That included speaking in front of an audience about my ridiculously embarrassing experiences that at one point I wouldn’t have wanted to remember, let alone tell the strangers about.

It was surreal—not only being there, but being in the presence of scholars I had only read about, and discussing an art piece in Plautdietsch with a Canadian history professor. Then there was sharing with Saloma Miller Furlong my dream of publishing a memoir, and comparing our similar experiences and our struggles over how to clothe our bodies after shunning our Mennonite dresses.

I left the conference with an abundance of knowledge, hope, and new relationships. The experience has inspired me to no end. Thanks to Abigail Carl-Klassen for opening the door, and to EMU for inviting me in.

Thank you.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Dead butterflies in Mexico


Continued from Breaking Mennonite

I hadn't slept yet when it was time to get up and help mom put the Christmas gifts into the bowls for my siblings who were all sound asleep. I tiptoed my way to the kitchen in the dark. I turned up the flame of the oil lamp and went right to work helping mom disperse roasted peanuts, oranges, candy bars, and store bought cookies equally into each bowl.

My sisters all got a new pleated dress, and my brothers all got a pair of slobbaxen (overalls) that mom had sewn for them. My younger brothers got a small toy. Everyone got a box of sparklers, a coloring book, and crayons. My older sisters got a set of dishes, and my older brothers got a set of tools. I got material for a dress, a coloring book, and as many peanuts, candy bars, oranges as I wanted.

After we had finished, I said good night to mom and quietly made my way back to bed. It seemed like I had just fallen asleep when my little sister jumped up and shouted, “Wak opp wak oop de nikolaus es jekomen. (Wake up wake up, Santa came.)”

Before the kids were allowed into the kitchen, my sister, Sara made a fire in the wood stove and put the kettle on it to heat water for coffee. I sat by the wood fire stove and watched my sibling look at what they had gotten from Santa. Observing their excitement and the lingering smoky smell from the wood-burning in the stove in the kitchen, overwhelmed me with acute nostalgia for the time when that was me.

While it was still dark outside, I joined my siblings outside and watched them light their sparklers. When they ran out of sparklers, we all went back inside and sat around the stove to eat the peanuts, oranges, and cookies we got from Santa. My three older brothers slept through the whole thing. They didn’t care about Santa's gifts enough to get up at the crack of dawn to see what thy had received.

The neighbor's kids came to see what my siblings had gotten from Santa. Sara and I made our beds tidied up and swept the floors in the bedrooms. Mom left Agatha, Sara, and I in charge of our younger siblings, clearing the kitchen table and setting it for lunch while she and dad went to church to join other community members to sing even though there were no ministers to preach a sermon.

When my parents come home from church, I was surrounded by my whole family again except my oldest sister who was married. There wasn’t an empty spot at the table, Uncle Jake joined us and filled the empty spot that my sister Susan would have filled. It had been a long time since I sat around a table with 14 people. A thought crossed my mind, “This right here could be the very reason why I have eating problems.”

In the midst of all the noise, I had an oh no! moment, when I was able to connect some dots in my mind. I remembered George’s words from the New Years Eve party the year before, about my ‘sexy dress.’ “How can you simply change something that has been part of you your entire life, just like that?”

As much as I enjoyed the time with my family, remembering George made me miss him so much that the butterflies in my stomach a moment ago, suffocated. I began to wrap my head around the idea that I might be torn between two worlds, but I didn’t know what that meant or what I would do with that information. As the day went on, my torn feelings got worse as the grandfather clock loudly ticked away the seconds, minute and hours. 

My younger siblings went with my parents to a gathering on my mom's side of the family. My older brothers got picked up by their friends and went to the mountains, or at least that’s what they told us. My sisters, Agatha and Sara, went with their group of friends to sit under the same hopeless tree I sat under when I was young and part of a youth group. Only that tree didn’t seem as hopeless anymore. Now that the colony members were driving motorized vehicles, the tree was surrounded by many pickup trucks full of youth from colonies all around Nuevo Ideal. The tree itself looked happier than it did back when I was its company.

Mom tried as many ways to group Low German words together she could to convince me to come to the gathering with them, but for many reasons, I declined. Most of my cousins that were my age were married or lived in some other part of the world. Based on what I had heard and how I was treated by some of my aunts, I took it upon myself to decide that all of my aunts and uncles would object the idea of my company around their impressionable young daughters. I might corrupt their innocent minds with ideas that I had learned from that tattooed, long-haired shweenagel I had been hanging out with in
Canada. I thought to myself, “I know George. This too, I have no control over. Thanks for reminding me!”

And just like that, there I was in the same situation as I was in the first time I went to the job finding club. I sat on those stairs outside the library watching people rushing around as it seemed everyone else knew where they were going and what they were doing, except me.

I sat in the kitchen where a moment ago I had felt like I belonged, alone, because I didn’t belong. I was torn between two worlds, not fully belonging to, and the tick-tocking sound of the clock was pressuring me to figure it all out, to make up my mind about which world I wanted to be part of for the rest of my life. I felt like I had to make a decision, this or that. It couldn’t be both.

While I thought, “Should I stay here and do this for the rest of my life? Or say goodbye when I go back to Canada and never look back?” I felt my suffocated butterflies making their way up my throat. They had died because of this sickening feeling, and now they too had no place in my stomach anymore. I ran outside and threw up.

I went back inside, grabbed my toothbrush and a cup of water, went back outside and brushed my teeth in hopes of washing away the bitter taste I had in my mouth. As I spat the water out, I felt the warmth of the sun on my back. It felt like the Mexican sun was hugging and comforting me during my time of lonely sorrow. When I brought my toothbrush back inside, I grabbed the magazine that I had tried to read in the dark the night before and went back outside.

My parents had an old buggy seat with a Mexican serape over it under a tree in front of their house. I slid the buggy seat into the sun, sat down on it and read all about Tom Berenger in an article about the film One Man’s Hero. I studied Tom’s face in the photo and thought, “Now he’s a good looking man, but I wish I could see his teeth in this photo.”

I decided to accept and embrace the warmth of the Mexican sun. I lay down on the buggy seat and placed the magazine over my face. And a warm, gentle wind hugged and lulled me while the calm water rocked me toward Posen Land again. The smell the geraniums drifted over me on the warm breeze while the crows glided in circles in the clear blue sky above, watching over me. Before I reached my destination, I heard a deep familiar voice saying words I had heard spoken to me not long ago, “Despierta Anita, despierta! (Wake up Anna, wake up!)”

“No dejes que el sol quema tu hermosa piel. (don't let the sun burn your beautiful skin.)”

I opened my eyes, and there he was, the same cowboy that was on the bus, on his knees waking me up again. I was confused about where I was and jumped up to a seating position.

Lo siento, no quise sorprenderte. (Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.)”

No, no, está bien. (No, no that's okay,)” I replied as I rubbed my eyes.

Vine a hablar con tu hermano Patas, ¿está en casa? (I came over to speak with your brother Patas, is he home?)”

No, no esta. (No, he’s not home.)”

Bueno, me alegro de haber venido porque creo que acabo de salvar tu piel de ser quemada por el sol. (Okay, I'm glad I came over because I think I just saved your skin from badly getting burnt by the sun.)”

I tilted my head and giggled as I searched through the language files of my memory for the right words. But I couldn’t find any appropriate words to say back to him. It was a familiar experience that I had lived through, many times before. An attractive man was being nice and saying nice words to me, but I couldn’t respond the way I wanted to because I didn’t speak his language fluently enough. And he too knew and handled the awkward situation perfectly by continuing the conversation with smaller words.

¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)”

I wasn’t going to say I was fine just because those words were easier to say in any language when I wasn’t fine, so I said what I always said to George, “No estoy seguro. (I'm not sure.)”

“Okay, Anita, it’s my turn to speak your language or one of then anyways. Please don’t laugh at me. I try to speak English to you,” he replied.

“Okay.”

“Okay Anita, tell me, why are you here alone on Christmas day? But I think I know the answer to that question and knowing that que lastima me da (it hurts me,)” he said and made eye contact.

I quickly dropped my head down and looked at his shiny ostrich skin cowboy boots as I mumbled, “What? But why? Why does that hurt you?”

“Because I just so badly want to take you out and show you the many beautiful places in Mexico that I imagine you have never seen. But I know, I would get in big trouble and then you would get in big trouble.”

“You want to take me out?”

Muchísimo. (Yes very much.)”

Too embarrassed to make eye contact, I just stared at his perfectly smooth olive skin peeking through the color of his plaid shirt as I worked up the nerve to ask, “Where would you take me?”

“The coleadera (rodeo.)”

“That would be really nice, but you're right, that would cause nothing but problems for me.”

Entonces, ¿qué hacemos? (Then what do we do?)”

The left side of my brain where my human desires and dark vocabulary were neatly tucked away surfaced and thought, “F#ck this shit! I really want to experience going out with this incredibly handsome cowboy!” But the right side of my brain said, “Just fight that urge, Anna! And stay put to keep the peace in your family.”

To shut down that voice on the left side of my brain, I knew that I had to change the subject and answered, “I wish I knew.” Then I asked, “So, where did you learn to speak English?”

Pues en Los Estados Unidos. (Well, in the United States.)”

“How do you know my brother Patas?”

“Patas fixed my truck, and ever since, we have been friends.”

“Okay, I think my brothers and uncle Jake are at that coleadera you know. ”

“Yes, I kinda did.”

“You did?”

“Yes, okay Anita, I have a confession to make. I didn’t come here to see Patas. I came here to see you.”

I blushed and didn’t know what to say.

“Would you like a drink? I’m going to make us a drink,” he said and walked to his truck.

“Okay,” I answered as I felt a butterfly come back to life in my stomach.

“Have you ever had a Vampiro Desdentado?”

“What?”

“A toothless vampire, it’s a drink without alcohol.”

“No, I have never had one of those, but okay, I’ll try one.”

He pulled out a cooler from the back seat of his pickup, brought it up to the buggy seat, sat down beside me and mixed drinks. He handed me the drink, turned to look at me, held his drink up and said, “Salud.”

I smiled and said, “Salud,” back and took a sip of the drink. It was satisfyingly cold bubbly and refreshing. It was a perfect savory-sweet blend with the hint of spice in the salty rim around the cup. It was perfect.

“How is it, do you like it?” he asked.

“It's perfect. Thank you.” Click here to continue reading my story.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Breaking Mennonite


Continued from Returning Mennonite

On the bus ride to Nuevo Ideal, I sat and stared out the window at the endless mountains as the trees and windmills swished past. Deep in thought, missing George, I decided that I would take the advice he had often given me and not worry so much about the things that I couldn't control. Things like what my mom meant by saying, “There, now I have my daughter back,” when she saw me dressed in my old clothes and my hair put away (put up).

When we arrived in Nuevo Ideal it was just like I remembered except everyone in my family was older now. The smell of exhaust fumes mixed with the smell of chicharrones frying on the sidewalks of Nuevo Ideal. The sound of Spanish music playing in the background and people speaking Spanish. It was like I had never left.

We made our way to Centro Valle, the store where all the Mennonites did their shopping. The store was packed. There wasn’t a single hitching post spot empty at the front of the store. There were buggies parked as far as the storefront stretched across the block.

Mom pushed a cart and told me to grab another one and to follow her. She filled them up with peanuts, oranges, candy, cookies and other groceries items. When mom had filled both carts to the top, I got worried and asked, “How are we going to take all of this home on the bus?”

“We’re not, someone is coming to pick us up.”

“Okay, do you know who?”

“A Mexa (Mexican) from Nuevo Porvenir.”

“Okay,” I answered and continued following her around in the store.

After we had finished shopping, we placed all our bags of groceries on the sidewalk against the wall at the corner of the store. Mom bought us all an ice cream from the same man that had been selling ice cream at the corner of Centro Valle ever since I could remember. As we were standing in front of Centro Valle enjoying the ice cream, my aunt came walking up to us, the same aunt that had told mom that I just needed a good old spanking to set me straight. She shook mom's hand, then mine. She looked me right in the eyes and asked in Low German, “Is this really you Anna? I am so glad that you have finally come to your senses and decided to come back home where you belong.”

I couldn't find the right words to say to her, so I just looked down and said nothing. I kept an eye on my little brothers as mom continued to speak to my aunt. Occasionally I looked around scanning the crowds of people for any sign of Aaron Neudorf, knowing that sooner or later he would show up and surprise me. I wanted to be ready for that moment, but every time he crossed my mind I felt like throwing up.

A pickup truck pulled up to a parking space close to where we were standing. The men getting off the pickup all looked so familiar, including the driver who was Mexican. As they came closer, I saw that they were my brothers. I was so excited to see them and started walking toward them. I wanted to hug them so badly, but I held back and shook their hands instead. The driver of the pickup reached over to shake my hand too. He held onto my hand and put his other hand on top of mine and said in Spanish, “Ay caramba! Anita, apenas te reconocí. Qué diferencia hace un día. No pareces como hiciste ayer. (I hardly recognized you. What a difference a day makes. You don’t look at all like you did yesterday.)”

I looked up at him and realized that he was the cowboy who kept an eye on me during the bus ride from Durango City to the Mennonite colonies. I blushed and mumbled a few words that weren't Spanish, English nor Low German. He ignored my awkwardness and officially introduced himself as Javier. He told me that he would be driving us back to the colony. He let go of my hand and started loading our groceries onto the back of his pickup truck.

While Javier sat in the pickup truck waiting for us, mom chatted with my brothers who had just gotten back from working on a movie in Cuernavaca. My brothers decided to stay and do some shopping while the rest of us went home.

My siblings argued about who was sitting in the back and who was sitting in the front. Mom decided for them and put my sisters, Agatha and Sara, in charge of looking after my little brothers on the back of the pickup. And I got to sit in the front with her. I got to sit in the middle between my mom who was holding my youngest brother and the driver, Javier.

The ride home got awkward as I felt deep emotions I didn’t know where to place when a Javier put on the song BENDITO CIELO by GRUPO LIBRA. The song is about being far away during Christmas, far from the person you love. I had heard the song many times before I had left the colony and it made me want to cry every time I heard it even when I didn’t understand the words.

After arriving home mom carried my little brother inside and Javier helped me unload our groceries. I thanked him for the ride home and for helping with our groceries.

No hay problema, espero verte pronto. Feliz noche buena. (No problem, I hope to see you again soon. Merry Christmas Eve.”
           
Igualmente”, I responded. (Likewise.)”

After my sisters and I had put away the groceries we went to gather wood for the stove from the back of the property. While we gathered the wood, a pickup truck with Texas plates drove onto the property. It was Uncle Jake and cousin Izaak. Izaak got out of the pickup, walked up to me and before we exchanged words, he put his arms around me giving me that much-needed hug I had longed for.

Uncle Jake shook my hand and spoke English to me, asking me how I was doing.

“I’m doing alright, but I will be better when I know that I still have a ride back to Texas with you.”

He stood there just like I remembered him, hunched over with his left hand in his pocket, a beer in his right hand and a toothpick sticking out of his teeth.

Relieved to know that my ride to Texas was confirmed, I went back inside the house and helped mom with supper. By the time I was done setting the table my brothers and my dad had come home. Uncle Jake and Izaak joined us for supper.

After supper, my sisters and I cleared the table and did the dishes while Uncle Jake, Izaak, dad, and my brothers sat around the wood stove discussing Uncle Jake’s mechanic shop life in Texas.

I sat down beside Izaak while my siblings did their cum-upstalen, (setting out the bowls) for Santa to put their gifts into in the morning.

After the younger siblings had gone to bed and Uncle Jake and Izaak left, I had a chance to ask my brothers about working on the movie set. I couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous of them. I loved watching movies and felt guilty about it, and they were working as extras in movies. I couldn’t believe it.

“Have you met any famous people?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Who? Do you know their names?”

“Well, yes. Daniela Romo, Joaquim de Almeida, Tom Berenger, and Mark Moses.”

“Hmmm, none of those names sound familiar. I don’t think I have seen any of them in a movie,” I said.

My brother Peter gave me a magazine with an article about the film and pictures of the actors in it.

“Can I keep this? I'd like to read it later,” I asked.

“Sure, and you know, the only reason we get to do this work is that it is a way we can make some extra money.”

“How did you find out about these jobs?” I asked.

“Well, these people came here to the colonies looking people like us.”

“What do you mean people like us?”

“White people. Well white men, to dress up like soldiers. All we have to do is stand around and once in awhile run with a big crowd of soldiers.”

“Wow, I can't believe that’s the kind of work you get to do, and they sure came to the right place. There's a lot of white people here.” I said, and we all laughed about it.

“But I thought we weren't allowed to do this kind of work,” I wondered out loud.

“Well, we weren't. All the married men who worked on the movie set got an utschluss (excommunicated,) and they stopped until things changed. Some came back to work, and others believe that it is wrong for us to do this kind of work. A lot of things have changed since you left,” explained my brothers.

“Yes, so much has changed since I left. I thought you would have electric lighting by now since you are allowed to have electricity in the colony.”

“It costs a lot of money to bring it into the homes, that’s why so many still don’t have it. We borrow electricity from the neighbors sometimes. For important things like our little water pump and the radio.”

Mom came and joined in on the conversation, adding that allowing motorized vehicles and bringing in electricity into the colonies had brought nothing but problems and oneenichkjeit (disagreements) to the colonies causing many of the Mennonites, including all the ministers to leave.

“What! There are no ministers here in the colonies?” I asked.

“No, they all left,” explained my mom.

“But, what about church?”

“ Yes, exactly. We don’t even have a church anymore.”

“I can’t believe it!”

“Believe it or not, that’s what's happened here.”

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had no idea just how much things had changed. I began asking many questions, but mom didn’t want to talk about it anymore. To change the subject she asked if I would get up around 1 am to help her with the ‘Santa’ duties (placing gifts into the bowls that my siblings had set out.) I was thrilled that she asked me to do that.

While getting ready for bed, the butterflies in my stomach came back to life again. I thought that they had died during my trip home. But there they were again, dancing around in my stomach as I began thinking about reading the magazine. I settled into bed beside my little sister, but there was just one problem. The oil lamp wasn’t a bright enough light for me to be able to see the words in the magazine and read them. So just like old times, I sat there and just looked at the pictures in the magazine instead of reading the words. That reminded me again of how ecstatic I was that I had learned how to read.

I put the magazine down, turned the oil lamp down, and said my memorized prayer quietly, so my sister wouldn't wake up. I lay there looking up at the ceiling and watching the patterns changing that the flickering light of the oil lamp was causing. I inhaled a deep breath and remembered the smoky smell of the burning oil lamp, but I couldn’t remember if I had ever thought that the smell was pleasant like I did at that moment.

I couldn't fall asleep. I felt goosebumps rising all over my skin when the reality of how far away I was from my life in Canada, washed over me. It scared me because I felt like I had just dreamt it and not lived it. My thoughts went to Canada, wondering what George was doing and if it was snowing. I tried desperately to will myself into a state of being with George’s arms wrapped around me. But the tick-tocking sound of the grandfather clock brought me back to my present, and wouldn't let my thoughts go any other place. Click here to continue reading my story.



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