Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mennonites Don’t Cry


Continued from Tattoo-woman & Menno-girl

I just couldn’t go back to sleep. It was 4:00 a.m. so I decided to get up and have some instant coffee.  Before I got laid off, if I wasn’t busy working, I would to go to the mall and walk around for hours and fantasize about which outfit I would buy once I had saved enough money.

That morning, for the first time, I realized how quiet it was. As I was sitting there drinking my coffee, I realized how much I missed my family that I left behind in Mexico.  It was always so loud in the house back home.  I felt really guilty for leaving my mom and, especially, my little brothers. 

I wondered who was doing all my chores or if mom had to do everything by herself.  I felt so bad for always telling my little brothers to go away when I was cleaning the house or making tweeback (buns). I wished I would have been nicer to them.

I looked through the window of my apartment that didn’t even have curtains yet.  It was starting to get light out as the sun was coming up.  I decided to just get ready to go to this group Bree had told me to go to.  I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t go and I ran into her at the coffee shop again.  I pictured in my mind what would happen.

She would say, “How was the job finding club?” 

“Ahhh, I didn’t go,” I answered.

And what I imagined happening next was NOT pretty! So, no matter what, I was going! I brushed my teeth, got dressed and put my long brown hair that had been in braids or a bun my whole life into a ponytail.  I put on my white socks and sandals. It was cold that morning and I had to walk all the way uptown.  I thought I would just take the socks off later when it warmed up. I figured that’s what anyone would do in my situation.
   
When I got there I had the scary butterfly feeling in my stomach. I was so nervous.  It was at a local library and hardly any people were there yet since it was still really early.  

I walked around the building and there were two guys and a woman standing behind the building smoking. When they saw me, they couldn’t stop staring at my socks and sandals. That made me even more nervous.

I wanted to turn around and go back to my apartment but then I remembered Bree and walked right up to these people and asked, “The job finding club?” 

They looked at each other with a strange grin on their faces and one of the guys said, “Yup, it’s here, downstairs, but the door is still locked.” 

It didn’t open until nine and it was only eight.

I sat down on the steps because I was so tired from the long walk.  About half an hour later, all kinds of people were showing up with books and backpacks.  Some of them were beautifully dressed and smiling. They looked like they were so happy and knew exactly where they were going and what they were doing. 

I was so aufjenstijch (jealous) of them.  I wanted that, all of it! Knowing where I was going and what I was doing, the earrings and the open toe shoes some of the women were wearing with the polished toenails peeking through – and, of course, no socks! One of these beautifully dressed women went down the steps to open the door where I was going so I followed her.

After she opened the door she turned around and asked, “Are you here for the job finding club?” 

I said, “Yes.” 

She smiled, shook my hand and said, “My name is Kim and I will be running this group today. You’re the first one here so you get to pick where you want to sit.”

I thought this was awesome. She was super nice so whatever was coming next, at least, she would be the one helping me.  It didn’t take long for the room to be filled with people: men and women of all kinds of backgrounds and some of them spoke less English than I did.  One man had a family member with him to translate.  I didn’t have one of those so I had no choice but to figure this out myself.

As I was looking around, a man with curly salt and pepper hair, dressed in a white t-shirt, jeans, and running shoes, came in.  He looked normal to me but what did I know about people and what was normal?  Where I came from, everybody looks the same. 

He came and sat down beside me. I thought, “Oh, crap!” I was hoping women would sit next to me. I wasn’t used to men and women sitting all mixed up together.  Back home in the colonies men and women were always separated. 

It was making me more nervous but, before I could have another thought, Kim said, “Welcome to the job finding club. We will start by going around and introducing ourselves and I will pass this paper around. I want you all to write down your name and phone number. At the end of the day, I will give you all a copy of it.”

Everybody said their name. The man next to me was Mark. Kim said, “I expect you all to help each other out with finding work.  After we leave here today, if you hear of a place that is hiring, call each other and let everyone know.” 

Everyone said "okay."

“Today we are going to focus on resume writing, let’s start by writing down your work skills,” Kim said. 

Everybody started but me writing. I wondered, skills? What does that even mean? 

Kim saw me looking all confused and came right over to help.  I asked her what skills meant and she explained it to me.  She was going to get up and leave, but I asked her how to spell sewing? I could feel her thinking, “Oh crap, this is going to be a long day!”

Kim asked where I was from and how I ended up there.  I explained the shortest version of my story to her to the best of my ability. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her face looked so puzzled and then she said, “You are Mexican and you speak German? I think this is not the place for you. You should be in school, not looking for a job.”

“Ahhh, I can’t! I just got an apartment and I am on welfare and that doesn’t even pay my rent. I really need to find a job.”  I replied.

“I’m really sorry to tell you this but it will be imposable to find you a job. Your English is not good. You don’t know what skills means and you can’t spell sewing! Wow, Anna, this is tough!” Kim said.

During that whole day, Kim couldn’t help anyone else because she had to spell everything for me.

Mark, sitting next to me, heard everything. He tried to help but he had his own stuff to write down.  I got a nasty headache from all the frustrations, not eating, and not sleeping the night before.  At the end of the day, Kim said, “You can come back tomorrow and maybe we can figure something out.”

I never had time to take off my socks like I had planned and just walked home in them.  The weather didn’t even faze me anymore. I just cried my face off the whole way walking back to my apartment. 

I thought there was an upside to that. At least, I could cry as much and as long as I wanted to. No one was telling me not to cry. In the colonies back home people would keep crying a big secret.  You would never see anyone cry like I did that day.  You just had to sweep whatever problem you had, no matter how big it was, under the fluadakj (rug) and carry on.

If anyone was ever seen crying, they were told, "schäm de (shame on you) and stop it!" 

I think it was understood that, if you didn’t cry and acted as if nothing was wrong, then the problem didn’t exist.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I was going to need a big rug because I wanted to sweep myself under it!

I knew this was just the beginning and how big and real my problems were.  I wanted to do the work to figure it out. I never expected it to be easy or wanted someone to do it for me; I just needed a lot of guidance. 

I was exhausted when I finally got home. I didn’t even eat, I just went to sleep.  I think that was the first night I didn’t have nightmares and I slept through the whole night. Click here to continue reading my story.

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