Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Sliver of Hope


Continued from I am Annana

“What’s going on, why is it so loud in here?” asked Uncle Jake.

“We can't find your nudel schnida,” I explained.

“Oh, I don’t have one.”

“What, oh no! What are we going to do?”

“Well, I have all kinds of noodles in the cupboard.”

“Okay, let me see what you have,” I answered.

Uncle Jake opened the cupboard and showed me all the spaghetti noodles he had in there.

Ha li kringel! (Oh twisty bun!)”

“What?”

“You think it's okay to put spaghetti noodles in nudel zup?”

“Sure, why not?”

Oba nienich!” (Never!)”

“I don’t think we have much of a choice at this point,” Said Izaak.

“You’re right Izaak, but this is not acceptable, and I'm not okay with it!” I said.

“I don’t know what the big deal is,” said Uncle Jake.

“Oh you will, when you take the first slurp,” I answered.

I showed Uncle Jake all the ingredients I put in the broth and boiled spaghetti noodles. Izaak set the table and answered a knock at the door.

“I didn’t know you were getting company.”

“Neither did I,” answered Uncle Jake.

“Okay.”

“Annana! Meet Feo and his brother Juan Pelos. These two have been friends with your brothers for a very long time,” explained Izaak.

They both reached out to shake my hand, Feo asked, “Así que eres la hermana de los hermanos Wall? (So you're the sister of the Wall brothers?)”

Asi es, (That’s right.)”

Pensé que tu nombre era Anna (I thought your name was Anna.)”

“You're right it is, Annana is a long story you don’t wanna know,” I explained.

What? But I want to know.”

I gave Izaak a ‘help me’ look.

“She's right it is a long story, and we'll explain it another time. How about we eat before the soup gets cold.”

We sat down around the table I bowed my head to say my mealtime prayer, Uncle Jake and Izaak followed.

I waited until everyone filled their bowl and watched.

Algo no está bien. ¿O debería decir que incluso la comida menonita sabe mejor en México? (Something is not right. Or should I say that even Mennonite food tastes better in Mexico?” Asked Juan Pelos.

I stared at Uncle Jake until he couldn’t take it anymore, so he got up and fetched a bag of tostadas, avocados, and salsa and explained to his guests why the nudel zup tasted so different.

“I think I have ruined nudel zup’s reputation forever!” I explained to Uncle Jake in Low German.

“It’s okay Annana it’s not that bad, the tostadas will be a nice compliment.”

¿Qué dijiste Anna? (What did you say, Anna?)” Asked Juan Pelos.

Ahhh who wants a tostada?” Uncle Jake asked, and everyone raised their hands.

Regardless, no one left the table feeling hungry. Uncle Jake, Feo, and Juan Pelos went outside for a smoke. Izaak and I cleared the table.

“Thanks for helping me.”

“Annana, I would never leave you to clean all this mess up on your own.”

“This is one of the reasons I like you the best Izaak!”

“Well, it’s all about spending as much time together as we can, no?”

“You got it,” I answered and threw the dish towel at him.

By the time Uncle Jake and his guests came back inside Izaak, and I were sitting at the table and looking at Uncle Jake’s photo albums.

“You know what we should do tonight?” asked Izaak.

“What?”

“We should go to this disco club in Dallas that I go to sometimes. I think you would like it, they play all kinds of different music tonight is norteña night, and there’s a popular band playing. What do you say, Annana, you wanna dress up, let your hair down and go dance the night away?”

Feo and Juan Pelos almost jumped through the roof with excitement.

“I think you would love it!” said Juan Pelos in a heavy Spanish accent.

I looked at Uncle Jake, and he said, “Knock yourselves out. I’m too old for that. I’m staying home.”

“Okay,” I said, and let my hair down, put on lip gloss, pulled together an outfit as best I could with what I had, and off we went to the club.

The club was jam-packed with impeccably dressed gorgeous, confident Mexican people. The atmosphere reminded me of El Guero’s parties. Again, I felt completely out of place and self-conscious, but the more vampiros I drank it helped enhanced my vocabulary, or so I thought, and I cared less about what I looked like in the clothing I was wearing.

I met many of Izaak’s friends and had deep conversations with him.

“So, what do you think?” Asked Izaak.

“This is awesome! I wanna live here.”

“I knew you would. I can help you find work.”

“It’s very tempting, but it’s a bad idea.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I would unintentionally become Uncle Jake’s maid and end up resenting both of you for that. It would probably ruin our relationship.”

“True.”

“You know, this trip has been very hard for me, and many times I thought that it was a huge mistake, but I have learned so much. Going back to the colony has helped me mature and accept many things. I think I have found my purpose.”

“Oh yeah? And what is that?”

“Well, for me to be okay, I need to stay part of my family in some way or another, and I need for the Bueckert girls not to hate me, I can’t let them go either I love them too much. It may take my lifetime to prove to them that we can still be some part of each other’s lives maybe even only in our thoughts for now in spite of us disagreeing about school and many other things. I think by me finishing my high school will be one way I can be a sliver of hope in the far future for them and many people from the colony who can’t read and write. I am going to stop trying to convince them and show them by doing it. I know that the hardest part for me will be keeping some kind of relationship with them while I do it.”

“I am proud of you. Most people who leave the colony become hateful, bitter, and cut all ties they have with the life they left behind. I see it here in Texas all the time; people end up putting all their energy into proving that they are not part of that. I have done it for years, it’s exhausting, and we just end up making fools of ourselves. No matter what we do, we can’t change who our parents are or where we came from. Good for you.”

“Thank you. I know that it might not even work, but I am going to do it anyway. I will just have to do what mom has always said, that if you want to get anywhere , you have to adjust my attitude accordingly. Ay caramba, Izaak, I said accordingly!”

“You sure did.”

Juan Pelos didn’t like how serious my conversation with Izaak was getting and asked me to dance. As always, I put up a big fight resisting, but in the end, gave in.

“Ahhh what the heck! I’ll go to the dancefloor with you, but I can guarantee you that I will be stepping on your tows. Are you okay with that?”

Claro, mis botas de avestruz pueden manejarlo. (Sure, my ostrich boots can handle it.)”

Juan Pelos did a really good job of not letting the fact that I was imposable to lead on the dance floor ruin his optimism. There was just no way I could even pretend to put out moves like the rest of the people in the club, so I thought I would talk to him to make it go by faster for his sake.

“So Izaak tells me that you guys are from Esfuerzos?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“You know, I think you grew up in the best little Ranchito in Mexico. That mountain with the cave is my favorite!”

“I couldn’t agree with you more.”

“You know that my friends and I used to run and hide when anyone from Esfuerzos past through our colony.”

“Yes, how could I forget?”

“That was very rude.”

“It did hurt a lot, but this makes it better.”

“I am so sorry.”

“That’s okay I understand why you did it. I’ll never hide from you when you go through my town to visit your favorite place.”

“I know you wouldn’t. Thank you for that. When we drive through any Mexican town, people do nothing but smile and wave at us.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Sooo how long have you known my brothers for?”

“About four years or so, how are they doing?”

“Good, really good actually. They are so easy going. I sure didn’t expect that I would get along with them as well as I did.”

“I know what you mean. Your brothers are awesome.”

“I know, I am going to miss them even more now that I spent so much time with them. You know that they lived in Cuernavaca, Morelos and worked as extras on a movie set?”

“What? No, I didn’t. That’s awesome!”

“Yeah, I know. I’m totally jealous.”

“Me too. Oh shit! Are they still going to talk to me now that they are actors?”

“Oh yes, they are all relaxed about it. I was the one that freaked out with excitement especially about the fact that they got to work with Joaquim de Almeida and Tom Berenger.”

“Wow good for them.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Come, I’ll buy you a drink,” suggested Juan Pelos when the song ended.

“What would you like?”

“I’ll have another vampiro.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to try something different?”

“No, not really, vampiros are my favorite.”

“Okay,” He replied. We went back to our table and met some more of Izaak’s friends.

I sat down and thought how nice I felt that I had a chance to apologize to at least one person for being so ignorant and rude to him just because he wasn't Dietsch. I got all worked up thinking to myself, “From now on I will decide for myself who I will be friends with how I will treat people.” And I felt unbearable guilt again about how I had judged George before I even knew him.

“You look sad what's wrong?” asked Izaak.

“Oh nothing, I just realized some important changes I have to work on.”

“Okay, whenever you want to go just let me know, okay.”

“Okay, I will. This is great, thanks for showing me what your life is like.”

“Your welcome.”

“Hey, does El Guero ever come here?”

“No, or at least I have never ran into him here.”

“Okay.”

“Why do you ask?”

“I just wondered.”

“Do you plan on staying in touch with him?”

“No, you know, as much as I would like too, I know that I am better off listening to my mother about this one. I am so glad that I got to experience what I did and that I met him before I knew what he does. I think I am better of leaving things as they are, and besides, I think I might have lost his phone number.”

“You are making a smart decision prima! Cheers to that.”

I chugged back my vampiro and told Izaak with more confidence than ever before, “I have made many stupid decisions, for many different reasons and I am sick of it. From here on out I am deciding for myself, who I talk to, who I am friends with, whether they have tattoos, wear plaid shirts or ostrich boot. The decision will be mine, and I'm not hiding and pretending anymore. And you know what else?”

“What?” Izaak asked with a scared look on his face.

“I’m gonna go shopping! I’m going to dress how I want to dress. Who care about what people think!”

“You go, prima!” Izaak replied.

“And I’m gonna wear my purple dress! But only when I'm sleeping. And you know what else?”

“No, tell me.”

“This is my last drink.”

“Okay, how about I’ll get you a water?”

“Thank you!”

When I sobered up, I apologized to Izaak for speaking so aggressively.

Prima! If you are going to practice what you preach never apologize for preaching it!”

Photo credit to Margaret Wall

Thursday, February 7, 2019

I am Annana


Continued from Seven Plautdietsch Words

As the sun began to rise over the mountains, looking out the window, I thought, “Stop being so sad, Anna! You’re going back to your life in Canada! A good life! Or at least better than the one you're leaving behind! Am I? Really? Should I talk to Uncle Jake? Maybe that will help.”

I looked over at him, and he seemed perfectly content with the silence. “I shouldn’t bother him! Just go back to being sad, Anna,” I thought.

I jumped when Uncle Jake finally spoke. “How about we have breakfast here in Durango City? I know a place that makes the best huevos divorciados.”

“Yes! I have no idea what that is, but I want some. How about you, Izaak? Are you up for some huevos divorciados?” I asked as I gave him an elbow poke.

“Yeah, yeah sounds good to me.”

The restaurant was bright, colorful and had cheerful music playing. It was hard to continue to be sad when the people who were serving us added to the cheerfulness of the atmosphere.

“This is what I am going to miss about Mexico,” I thought. I realized that I loved everything about Mexico except life in the colony. I looked around and imagined myself living in Durango City.

As soon as we hit the road again, it felt like an elephant of darkness sat down on my chest. Izaak went right back to sleep, and it didn’t seem like Uncle Jake was the person to talk to about what I was experiencing. So I did what I always did—I imagined George telling me to breathe through it, and before I knew it, I had fallen asleep and we had arrived at the border.

Now that I knew what my nationality was, crossing the border into the US was easy. They didn’t even seem to care. “Oh, sure!” I thought. “Now that I am with two guys, there are no problems! Or maybe the lesson I learned here is, ‘Don’t argue with immigration officers, and especially do not bring knives in your backpack ever again!’”

When I looked into the rear view mirror, and couldn’t see Mexico in the distance anymore, I felt what my cowboy friend Javier had told me about. I felt like I was leaving part of myself behind and thought, “This is what he meant by being separated from one’s soul.” I felt it too, and I thought, “How could I say that I would never go back to where my soul lives?”

My eyes became very itchy, and I did everything I could to hide it from Uncle Jake and Izaak. To distract myself from feeling what I was feeling, I opened my backpack and looked through the papers mom had given me. Among those papers was my original Mexican birth certificate. Now that I could read, I looked over it and noticed that I was not the only one confused about what nationality we Dietsch people were. On my original birth certificate, it said that the nationality of all four of my grandparents and my parents was menonita.

“I knew it!” I thought, “My nationality is not Canadian, it’s menonita!

Uncle Jake glanced over and said, “Those are all wrong.”

“What?” I asked.

“The birth certificates that were issued during that time are all wrong. Look at your name, it’s Annana Wol.”

I began laughing so hard that all the tears I had fought back so hard were pouring out.

“So next time I cross the border I can say, ‘My name is Annana Vol, and my nationality is menonita, and it'll be true, because look, it says right here.’”

Uncle Jake and Izaak both laughed with me. “We are so screwed,” said Izaak. I just kept laughing and waited for him to say more. “If the people that are in charge of registering us can't even spell our names or know that menonita is not a nationality, how are we as a group going to survive?”

“Who did this?” I asked.

“I have no idea.”

I looked at Uncle Jake, and he said, “Nope, all I can tell you is when your dad and I tried to apply for new ones, the person at the registro civil told us that it would take a long time and a lot of trips to Durango City to correct all the mistakes. He offered to type up new ones right there in exchange for some queso menonita. But you know what that means?”

“No, what?”

“The new birth certificates were never sent in.”

“Okay, so what does that mean?”

“As far as the Mexican government is concerned you are Annana Vol, and your nationality is menonita,” said Izaak, “That’s what that means.”

“So my name really is Annana Vol?” I asked.

“You got it!” said Uncle Jake, and we all burst out laughing.  

“No wonder I feel like I am two people being separated one from the other when I leave. It’s true: in Canada I am Anna Wall, and in Mexico, I am Annana Vol.”

When things got quiet again, I thought, “I am just going to keep talking, so I don’t get sad again.”

“How did you learn to read and write Dietsch, English, and Spanish? Did you go to school after you moved to the US?” I asked Uncle Jake.

“No, I never went to school in the US. I learned Dietsch in the Mennonite school. My father, your grandpa, taught me to read and write Spanish and English. It was pretty easy for me to learn.”

“You must not have been a hard learner.”

“Nope, I was a soft learner,” he answered, and I looked at him and waited for him to laugh, but he looked all serious; I couldn’t tell if that was supposed to be a joke or not. He continued, “But my English isn't that great. I speak Spanish mostly on a daily basis. About ninety percent of the people that I fix cars for are Mexicans who don’t speak English. The only time I speak English is when I do my banking and shopping.”

“What about Dietsch? Are there any Dietsch people where you live whom you can talk to?”

“There are two Dietsch people whom I hang out with sometimes. But I'll never forget Dietsch even if I don’t speak it for years. As soon as I step foot onto the colony, my brain just knows to speak Dietsch.”

“Wow, you are so lucky! It was hard for me.”

“It was harder for me the first few times too, but it gets easier each time you go back.”

“What about you, Izaak, was it hard for you?”

“No, I never even thought about it, it just happened naturally. But I think the difference is I was with my family the first ten times or so going back and forth. We spoke Dietsch to each other and English or Spanish to the public. I’ve been programmed this way, I guess. You don’t need to go to school to learn that. Experience is the best teacher in my books.”

The sun disappeared behind the mountains, and seven hours later we arrived at Uncle Jake's house in Duncanville, Texas. It was a small, two-bedroom house. It didn’t look like a house to me, it looked more like a garage. There were car parts, magazines or calendars with nakschitasch (half-naked women) on them everywhere.  

I didn’t know where to look, so I looked at Izaak.

“It’s a bachelor thing,” explained Izaak.

“What’s a bachelor?” I asked, while I awkwardly made eye contact with Uncle Jake.  It was like he hadn't heard anything that had been said in the room.

“I don’t know about you two, but I’m having a shower, and going to sleep,” said Uncle Jake.

“Okay, Annana and I will go get some groceries,” said Izaak.

“Great,” said Uncle Jake, and wrote down a few things he needed. He asked us to buy all the ingredients to make nudel zup.

“Annana, I would love it if you could teach me how to make nudel zup. Could we do that later today?”

“Sure,” I replied.

Izaak took me around and showed me the shop where he and Uncle Jake worked, and again, the shop was covered in calendars with nakschitasch on them. He took me to a Mexican restaurant and explained to me what a bachelor was.

“Okay, but why don’t you guys put up the calendars that you get from Mexico? You know, the ones with the horses and cute fluffy kitties on them.”

“Ahhh, no! Let’s go to the grocery store.”

Jee han hea mul june faschetna weln, nich?”

“You got it! It’s awesome. Uncle Jake doesn't seem to carry around guilt and shame like we do, and the good thing for me is, no one in my life here is constantly judging me. But I’m starting to feel like you are judging us, Annana.”

“You couldn’t be more wrong I'm not judging you, I am envious of you and Uncle Jake both. Uncle Jake seems perfectly comfortable with his lifestyle. I wish I could be more like that. You know, he just does what he wants to do and doesn't apologize for it, and his family welcomes him back with open arms every time he goes back to the colony.”

“He’s always been like that.”

“I know!” I said, and thought, “It’s because he's not a woman! But I'm not even going to say it anymore. I’m sick of this!”

“I know, I know, It’s because we're men!” Izaak said.

“You said it!”

“I’m truly sorry that it is that way. I appreciate you not judging me, and you can always count on me. I won't treat you differently just because you are a woman.”

“Thanks, Izaak! I am lucky to have you in my life, even if it is only once every two years or so,” I said, as I got up and hugged him.

We bought everything Uncle Jake needed, including beer, tequila, and cigarettes. Not one person spoke English to Izaak. Every person we encountered spoke Spanish. It felt like we were still in Mexico.

“I see why you prefer living here It’s like we're right in between the two worlds I’m torn about.”

“You’re right, Annana, that’s exactly what it is. Here we’re so much closer to Mexico, but far enough away from the colony not to be judged all the time, and best of all there are great Mexican restaurants everywhere. Most of the Mexican people that live here are our neighbors from Mexico, and here we earn even better dollars than in Canada. And the weather, oh Annana. don’t even get me started on the weather. It’s almost as if I were actually living in Mexico.  It never gets cold here like it does in Canada.”

“Wait! Who cares about the weather! Why are the dollars here better than Canadian dollars?”

“Because they are worth a heck of a lot more than the Canadian dollars.”

“What? Wow, I want to live here!”

“I knew you would! But you don’t, actually.”

“Okay Izaak, you are really confusing me.”

“It's not that easy; you see it’s very difficult to become a US citizen, and because of that most of us are very limited in the things we can do here, like owning a car or buying a house.”

“What?” I asked, and then he proceeded to explain that he, like many others, were ‘wetbacks’ (illegals).

“Oh no, Izaak! You just crushed my dreams! I’ll stay dry, thanks!” I said.

When we got back to Uncle Jake’s house with the groceries and started unpacking them, everywhere I tried to put things, there were either tools or spark plugs in the way.

“Okay, if I am making nudel zup in this kitchen, you're going to have to help me clean it and get all this crap out of here!”

“This is not crap, Annana! These spark plugs are going to make someone very happy one day,” said Izaak as he laughed. 

“Well, you better put them somewhere else then.”
After cleaning the kitchen, I prepped the chicken and put in on the stove to cook. I began looking for Uncle Jake’s pasta maker, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

Izaak! Witz du wua Um Jap seen nudel schnida haft faschtaken? (Izaak! Would you know where Uncle Jake is hiding his pasta maker?)”

“Ahhh, he doesn’t have one.”

“What? Oh no! We’re in so much trouble! I can't make nudel zup without a nudel schnida!” Click here to continue reading my story.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Seven Plautdietsch Words


Continued from A Mennonite “rom-geschwien”

“Next year Anna will host a party!” said Paula.

I smiled and thought, Dot bedua ekj (I doubt it)!  I wondered:  If I actually did host a party, what would it look like?  Would anyone even show up? 

As everyone got back to mingling, I wandered around the house looking for El Guero, but every time I spotted him, he was surrounded by a group of men I had never seen before. I felt out of place, and homesick. “I need to get out of here!” I concluded.

When I finally spotted Izaak again, I practically ran to him, “Hey Izaak! Let’s sneak out and go home,” I said.

“Sounds good to me,” he answered, and we successfully snuck out and left without saying goodbye to anyone. I regretted my decision to go home immediately after walking in at my parents’ house, when I overheard my aunt, who was visiting, letting Mom have it. She had strong opinions about what Mom should do with her rebellious daughter.

Woarum lots du di so munk de Mexa rumschween? Onn felt blus mul geschet dot lada full to heven!” (Why do you allow her to hang around with the Mexicans? Anna just needs a good old spanking!)¨

I felt bad for Mom and realized that my time to leave was long overdue. I ran across the yard to Uncle Jake’s house and was happy to find him packing his bags.

“Anna, are you ready to go? We're leaving at five a.m. tomorrow morning!”

“YES!” I replied, and proceeded to help him pack.

By the time I came back inside, my aunt had left.

Mom looked depressed and hopeless. I wanted to hug her and tell her that I was sorry, but instead, I told her that I was leaving the next morning. I sat down at the kitchen table and watched the relief wash over her. I felt her letting go of me when she told me that she was glad that I was leaving, that she couldn't carry the burden of my choices on her shoulders anymore, and that she had placed it into the hands of God.

I had dreamt of this very moment and thought that I would feel free, knowing that she had let me go. But I felt anything but free.

I helped my sisters tidy up and sweep the sunflower seed shells off the floor. While Maria was helping me pack my suitcase, my little brothers came running in, shouting, “Anna, someone is whistling and flashing a lighter on the street for you.  Die sed du sus rut koom (He said you are supposed to come outside).”

My heart dropped to the floor. “Who is it?” I asked in a shaky voice.

“I don’t know. I think he's a Mexa because he spoke Spanish, but I can't tell.”

I thought, “Oh no! It must be Aaron Neudorf, because only a Dietscha would flash his lighter to get a girl’s attention.”

“Okay, just stay inside—maybe he will go away,” I told my little brothers as I lifted the corner of the curtain and peeked out the window. I continued to pack my suitcase, hoping that whoever it was would take the hint and just leave. But no, every time I peeked out, the lighter was flashing. Finally, I just couldn’t take it anymore, and decided to go and see who it was before he came to the door. On my way through the kitchen, I was tempted to grab a mason jar. But I remembered that I had put those days behind me and continued to make my way to the street. My heart was pounding so much that it felt like I was going to collapse. When I got close enough to see that it was El Guero, I was shocked, “What the heck are you doing here?” I asked.

Por qué te fuiste sin decirme? (Why did you leave without telling me?)”

“Um… Ah, wait! How do you know about the lighter flashing thing?”

“Anna, I have been around menones long enough to learn a thing or two.”

“Okay, um… ah, where are the rest of them then?”

“It’s just me. No one knows I’m here. I walked a long way.¨

“You did?”

“Yes, okay, now it's my turn to ask the questions: Por qué te fuiste?”

“I suddenly felt like I had to go home, and you were busy, so I just left. I’m sorry.”

No, no, no te preocupes (No, no don't worry), he said as he took a step closer toward me. He put his arms around me and whispered, “Lo siento (I'm sorry),” into my ear.

“I’m leaving tomorrow morning,” I said.

No me digas eso! (Don’t say that!)”

He slowly moved his hand up under my chin and pulled my face up and said, “Si no hago esto, lo lamentaré por el resto de mi vida. (If I don’t do this, I will regret it for the rest of my life),” and before I had a chance to respond, his lips were on mine. My Low German thought said, “Ran nu de dea oles waut du kos! (Run to the door as fast as you can!)” But my body said, “Don’t move!” and time stood still until seven Plautdietsch words echoed across the dark sky and yanked me back to reality.

Onn… mamme said du sus nen kum. (Anna, Mom says to come inside now.)”

El Guero stroked my cheek with his thumb, ran his fingers through the hair on the back of my head and pulled me in for a tight squeeze. “Will, I ever see you again?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but I don’t think that I am ever coming back here again.” 

Onn… mamme said du sus nen kum. (Anna, Mom says to come inside now.)”

Ekj woa mess bolt kum! (I will come in shortly!)” I replied.

“You are breaking my heart, Anna. But I understand. Here is my phone number,” he said, and handed me a piece of paper.

“I have to go inside now.”

“Okay, I am going to watch for your novela to come out.”

I giggled and said, “You'll have to wait for a very long time.”

“For the novela or to see you again?”

“Both,” I said.

He wrapped his arms around me and hugged me one more time and said, “Have a safe trip back to Canada.”

“Thank you,” I replied and ran to the door shaking from head to toe.

When I got back inside and made eye contact with Mom, she said, “I don’t even want to know who that was.”

“Na yo,” I replied and went right back to packing my suitcase.

I had one last argument with my little brothers about being their sister. I decided just to let it go because I knew if I hadn't won the argument by now I wasn’t going to. I hugged them all before they went off to bed. Being hugged by a strange woman who claimed to be their sister was awkward for all of them. I was okay with it because by that point I had accepted the fact that awkward was going to be my companion for life.

I lay awake all night staring at the twinkle of light on the ceiling caused by the dimmed oil lamp. I had so many mixed feelings, and my brain just wouldn’t shut down. I wondered if I would ever come back again, feeling frustrated and confused about everything. There I was, twenty years old, and I couldn't name the feeling I was experiencing when El Guero kissed me.

Thoughts raced through my head: I really need my friend Kristina back; she would be able to tell me. I am not asking George! Or maybe my friend Josh would be the right person to talk to about this. No! just get a book, Anna! No one can know about this!

As I lay there thinking about how amazing El Guero’s kiss was, guilt did everything in its power to destroy my pleasure. “I’ll probably never see El Guero again, so this will just be another memory that I will carry with me wherever I end up, and I am choosing to replace this memory with the one of Jake Dyck.” Guilt and shame laughed in my face when I thought that. I fought to hold on to the memory of the short-lived moment I had experienced with El Guero until I heard footsteps coming toward me.

Onn, bes ol upgewakt? Um Jap es rid tom farn. (Anna, are you awake? Uncle Jake is ready to go,)” said Mom.

Jo, ekj san mes rid. (Yes, I’ll be ready shortly,)” I replied. I got dressed and grabbed my suitcase. Dad was sitting in the rocking chair in the kitchen with his head down, and when he looked up, I saw tears on his cheeks. I controlled my desire to hug him, shook his hand and said goodbye. I fought back my tears as I thought, “I don’t even know this man.” It was very awkward, and I didn’t know what to say. He had been absent during most of my visit. We had exchanged few words, and I had never even gotten a chance to ask him about Posen Land, as I had planned.

Mom accompanied me to Uncle Jake’s truck. I threw my suitcase into the back of the pickup, hugged Mom quickly and got in as fast as I could. Izaak hardly had a chance to get out before I trampled over him to get to the middle of the seat. Izaak and uncle Jake both got out to shake Mom’s hand. Uncle Jake hopped back into the pickup, looked at me and said, “Listo?”

“Yes!” I replied and held my breath.

Mom waved and said, “Ekj wanch gunt ne glakelge rez. (I wish you a safe trip.)”

I made eye contact with her one final time before Uncle Jake drove off the property. I thought, “Finally!” That ordeal from the bed to the pickup felt like eternity, and there was an ocean ready to burst through my eyes.

My thoughts became so dark and depressing that it was hard to breathe. I felt like I was mourning the death of my entire family, because at that moment I was sure that I was never going to see any of them ever again. All I could do was listen to the kethomp, kethomp, kethomp sound that the tires made while Uncle Jake silently focused on driving, and Izaak slept. Click here to continue reading my story.

photo credit to Isaak Wall

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Mennonite “rom-geschwien”


Continued from Mennonites and Vampires

When I woke up the next morning, I was confused about where I was, because I felt like a different person. But when everything that had happened the night before came back to me, I recognized that I was feeling light because I had been carrying a heavy rock with  Aaron Newdorf’s name on it my whole life, and now it was gone. I had very little experience with such a feeling. The only thing I could compare it to was the feeling I experienced when I learned that I wasn’t a “hard learner” by receiving the “fastest learner award” in Canada.

As hard as it had been, I felt free and accomplished knowing that I had done the right thing accepting Aaron Newdorf’s apology. It would have been nice if I could have shared it with someone at the time, but I had figured out a way as I had with many other situations when I desperately needed affirmation, reassurance and a hug. I closed my eyes and pictured George wrapping his arms around me, hugging me and telling me, “You did the right thing, Anna. I am so proud of you.”

I hugged the blanket and thought, “Because of you, I am going to be okay. Thank you, George,” and when my little sister sat down beside me and said, “Ekj sen nich George, ekj sen Marijke.” I realized that I had said it out loud. But before I was able to explain myself, mom yelled, “It’s time to get up—we have a long day ahead of us!”

She sounded mad; I knew that it was because of my actions in the past few days, and just like that my feelings of accomplishment dropped back to feeling that I was nothing but a disappointment. And that’s how that particular laundry day began.

We all sat around the table and ate breakfast. No words were exchanged; the only sounds around the table were those of the clinking utensils. I kept a close eye on my brothers. As soon as they bowed their heads to say their end-of-meal prayer, I bowed my head, and my prayer was, “Please do not allow an opportunity to be alone with Mom today.” I got up and followed my brothers outside. I helped them pull water from the well and carry it over to the mea grupen to heat it for washing the whites.

My brother John went and drove the pickup that he was working on closer to the house and put on the radio. My heart sank to the ground when he turned the dial to the La Tremenda Santiago radio station, and we heard breaking news about a shooting that had happened in Nuevo Ideal the night before. I couldn't understand everything, but enough to know that there were a few confirmed deaths, many wounded, that it was related to a man named El Chapo and something about drug wars that had been going on for quite some time.

It turned out that everyone in the entire Durango colony was familiar with the name El Chapo except me. The names that were familiar to me were El Guero and Aaron, and that’s when I woke up, and all the strange behavior that had happened the night before came back to me.

The news scared me to death. I didn’t know what to do or say. It was a very long day indeed. The hours passed slower than they ever had before. We worked our way through the piles of laundry, and I found myself alone with Mom in the kitchen while preparing lunch. She let me have it about going to El Guero’s New Year’s Eve party.

I was in so much trouble at that point. My mixed feeling and guilt were eating me alive, and I regretted my decision to sneak around like I had. I felt that I had been very selfish, and I wanted nothing more than for things to be right between Mom and me. I was ready, and needed to hear what she had to say about it.

As I stood at the stove with my head hanging down, stirring the noodles, Mom let me have it. “Soan rom geschwien aus dot Heljeowent to Niejoa haft passiet sol dot hea nich nach imol passieren! (That kind of “pigging around” that happened on New Year’s Eve is not to happen here again!)” she said. It was understood that it was directed at me, not my brothers.

Dot wuat uke nich! (It won't!)” I answered, never making eye contact with her as I continued stirring the noodles.

As the day went on and the colony gossip grew at a rapid rate, I found myself caught in the middle of two worlds. When word went around that Aaron Neudorf was missing, I stood back and observed how the whole community was concerned only about Aaron’s safe return to his family. That was when I saw how others might see us, because in this situation I was “the other” looking in, as I watched and heard the language that shaped the stories in the community. That’s when I saw a clear picture of how and who we were. It became undeniably clear to me that no other person involved in this was worth our thoughts and prayers.   

I considered myself “the other” because I was worried about El Guero. It didn’t matter what the news said, or that I didn’t know or understand much of what was said on the news about him. To me, he was a good person, and I needed him to be alive and well just as the entire Mennonite community needed Aaron to be alive and well. I didn’t see any difference there.

As “the other” looking in, I asked myself the question so many people had asked me, “Who are these people?” followed by, “And who the heck are you, Anna?” A dark cloud followed me around for a very long time after that, especially after Aaron Newdorf came home a couple of days later and the incident wasn’t spoken about again, because that was the only ending the community seemed cared about.

As the days faded to dusk time and again, people in the colony moved on. I struggled with not knowing whether El Guero was alive, just as I would have had it been my friend George, Josh, or any other person I had known. That’s when I recognized that I needed to leave, and I began mentally preparing myself for the twenty-four-hour road trip to Texas with my Uncle Jake and cousin Izaak. I went through my stack of pleated dresses and gave one to each of my younger sisters, explaining to Mom that they were too small, and that I could make myself more in Canada. Mom agreed with me, and she had stopped trying to talk me into staying in the colony. She didn’t tell me why, but I know it was because she knew that she had lost me, and that she couldn’t have me living there if she couldn’t convince me to behave in the way she saw fit. I concluded in my mind that if I was far away, then at least she wouldn’t have to witness my sinful behavior. I accepted the fact that if I was going to be “rom geschwieng met mexa (pigging around with Mexicans),” I had no business living in the colony.

After I’d successfully gotten rid of a bunch of my Mennonite dresses, Mom, my sisters and I sat at the kitchen table during faspa and discussed how the dresses had changed since I had left, but only in the color choices. As I was disagreeing with my little sister about what color looked best on her, Izaak walked in, looking more frazzled than normal, and asked to speak with me. My first thought was, “Oh no! He's going to tell me that El Guero is dead.” Or “Are you ready, because we are leaving at five a.m. sharp tomorrow morning,” because I had no idea when exactly we were leaving. I just knew to be ready, and that it could happen any day at that point. Instead, he said, “I need you to come to Potes with me; we need to take care of some things before our trip back to Texas.”

I turned to Mom. She nodded her head, gesturing that it was okay with her, and out the door I went, leaving my half-eaten banana cream pie behind. The thought crossed my mind that I should have just brought my half-eaten pie with me, because the last time I left before finishing what I was eating, it had haunted me for years after. I thought to myself, “You can handle this now, you are stronger now, you can leave a piece of pie behind and not be traumatized by it for years to come. Or can I?”

As Izaak sped through the colony, leaving it behind in a cloud of dust, I asked, “Okay Izaak, what is going on?”

“A few of us are having a little Dia de Los Reyes celebration by sharing a Rosca de Reyes before we leave, and there is someone there who wants you to cut the Rosca.”

My heart began pounding out of my chest as the thought hit me that it could be El Guero.

When we got to a house in the outskirts of Nuevo Ideal, there were a couple of armed men guarding the entrance. When we went inside, I recognized many people that I had met at El Guero’s ranch, but El Guero was nowhere to be seen. El Guero’s cousin Paula greeted me at the door and walked me to the bar, where the bartender had already mixed my favorite drink, the Vampiro, and handed it to me. I was uptight and uneasy until the salty, tangy sweet taste hit my palate, and the red liquid washed all of it away, leaving me with a feeling of ease and weightlessness. I drank the whole thing in one shot; it reminded me of a time I had once watched a calf drink an entire bucket of vaudikj (whey) without stopping to take a breath. When I put the cup down, the bartender handed me another one, winked at me and asked, “Long day?”

“YES!” I shouted, and then regretted it immediately after. I thought to myself, “Okay, I have no idea how to act or behave right now.” I held my breath and desperately searched for a familiar face. Then I saw Paula walking toward a table with a large cake that looked like an oval-shaped ring, which I assumed was the cake called Rosca that I was supposed to cut. Sure enough, she gestured to me to come closer. So I took my drink and walked toward her, with everyone gathered around the table.  Paula handed me a knife and explained to me that the Rosca had a little plastic doll in it, and whoever got the piece of cake with the doll in it had to throw a party and serve Rosca the next year.

“Okay,” I said and scanned the crowd to figure out how many pieces I needed to cut so that everyone would get a piece. I was just about to slice into the cake when Paula said, “But wait! Before you cut it, we’re waiting for one more person.” I looked up and saw El Guero walking toward me. He didn’t have a scratch on him. He was as calm, tall, confident and perfectly groomed as I remembered him. I wasn’t sure if I could trust my ability to control my emotions if I were to make eye contact with him, so I just stared at his shiny shoes as he walked toward me.  

With the knife in my hand, I began shaking as he greeted me with a soft, warm kiss on each of my cheeks, and took the knife from my hand. My emotions became a monster, eager to burst out of me and wreak havoc, but in this case, my years of experience hiding them was beneficial. It helped me tame the monster for the time being.

El Guero said some things in Spanish, handed me back the knife and asked if I would cut the Rosca.

“Okay,” I answered, took the knife and began cutting the cake with my shaking hand. El Guero took the pieces that I cut, placed them on plates, and handed them to the guests. He served me a piece before he took one for himself.

He said a few things again before everyone began eating the cake. I just waited until I saw others take a bite and did the same. As I watched the others, including El Guero, eating, I remember comparing the Rosca to the banana cream pie I had eaten shortly before and thinking, “This cake doesn’t have room in my stomach with this monster still in it! It’s really dry, and it doesn't taste that good. I don’t get what all the fuss is about.”  I was tempted to give up and put my half-eaten piece down, but then my George-influenced mind said, “Just eat the f#cking cake, Anna!” I forced down each bite, and then I bit into something hard. I took it out of my mouth, and sure enough, I had the piece of cake with the doll in it. Paula shouted something out loudly, and everyone put their plates down and clapped for me. I smiled, but all I could think was, “I just want to hug El Guero and cry!” Click here to continue reading my story.

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