Friday, December 13, 2013

The secret life of a Low German Mennonite Teenager


Sundays we were allowed to visit with other youth, either at someone’s home or out on the streets of our colony (darp).  At the age of thirteen, we no longer required adult supervision.  Most of the time we sat around eating sunflower seeds, wishing boys from a different darp would come and visit us.  Sometimes we drank coke, but not everyone could afford it.

The conference Mennonite teens would play volleyball or go on trips to the mountains or have movie days. They drove cars.  We Old Colony Mennos didn't drive cars at the time, or dare to join in with their sinful activities. 

In our darp, there were two Conference Mennonite families; we got along fine with them.  I remember being jealous, though; it seemed like they had a much better life than we did.

Occasionally we would go to their house on a Sunday to watch movies.  The first time I went we watched Home Alone; it was so much fun I had butterflies in my stomach, but it was kind of scary, too, because I felt like I was doing something wrong.  I always felt uneasy butterflies in my stomach for enjoying myself.


At the age of fourteen, most of us would start smoking.  We smoked in secret because if our parents found out, they would be furious. 

I remember feeling so sick after smoking but I continued to do so because it was “cool” and the boys our age smoked and drank beer and mezcal with coke (mezcal is Mexican liquor distilled from the fermented juice of certain species of agave – you could buy a whole gallon of it for a couple of pesos).

The conference Mennonite youth didn't drink or smoke.  They went to a different school that taught about health and things that were bad for you like drinking and smoking. 

We didn't learn any of that in our school.  We thought we weren't supposed to do it because it was a sin not because it was bad for our health.  We learned from a Bible written in High German, but we couldn't even speak High German.  We were not to question any of this because we were Old Colony not Conference Mennonite.

We didn’t play ball because girls were not supposed to jump or get on the ground since that would cause our skirts to go up and boys might see our underwear.  And besides, what business did girls have playing around like that?  That was shameful behavior.  The Conference Mennonite girls would wear pants under their dresses. But, to us, that was a sin.

There was a man-made lake at the end of our darp; it had a huge dam around it.  One Sunday afternoon my friend Agnes and I were so bored, we decided to go to the lake.  We took off our dresses and went in just wearing our white under dress and we used our düaks (kerchiefs) to do some fishing. 

We both didn't know how to swim.  Suddenly a Mexican man appeared and took our dresses and put them up on a tree far down the dam.  We were very scared.

The water was very muddy.  Our dresses and düaks got all gray from the mud.  We caught some little fish; the düaks were really good fishing nets.  We put the fish in our shoes with some water. 

I held the fish while Agnes claimed the tree to get our dresses back.  We put the dresses on and walked bear foot back to her house, which was not too far from the lake.  We put the fish in water trough at Agnes’s farm. 

When I went home that Sunday afternoon I felt butterflies in my stomach again, and I never worked up the courage to tell my mother what we had done.  Monday morning, while doing laundry, my mom couldn't figure out why my underdress was so gray.  I’m sure she had some idea but she never asked what happened.

By the time I was fifteen my mom realized that letting us go to an evening program with the Conference Mennonites youth was actually a good idea.  From then on we were allowed to go to a Spanish class once a week, my brothers and sisters were not that into it.  I loved it. I went every chance I had.

I loved learning new things, things I had never known of.  I will be forever grateful to my mom for letting me go. It made a huge difference in my ability to learn English when I came to Canada. 

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