Sunday, December 27, 2015

Mennonite confusion

“You mean like vegetarians? I sure do. George has a friend that is a vegetarian,” I answered.

Christina laughed and said, “No, Anna, not like vegetarians. Well, actually, Josh is a vegetarian, but not all gay people are vegetarians.”

“Okay, so what do they eat then?”

“Well, it's not so much about what they eat, it's more about who they are. Did you notice anything different about Josh from other men you have met?”

“Well yes, he is a lot nicer than most men I have met, and he knows a lot about women’s clothes. I liked him right away, that has never happened to me before.” 

She laughed as she got up, picked up a picture frame, and showed it to me. She said, “Anna, this is Josh’s boyfriend. His name is Jose. He is from El Salvador, he speaks Spanish, I think. He is Josh’s boyfriend like Richard was my boyfriend, not like I am your friend... you know what I am saying?”

I looked at her sideways and said, “Ahhh… okay, what? No, I do not know about gay people.”

“Okay, now we are getting somewhere. You know the club Sins, the one Josh invited us to go to tonight? That is a gay club,” she said as the pizza man knocked on the door. Christina opened the door, took the pizza, paid for it, and closed the door.

She put the pizza on the coffee table, took the magazines off, and put some napkins down for us. We sat down, and quietly ate pizza, as I was eating I was processing the word “gay” and what that meant. Then I remembered the time my mom ate pizza and how funny it was, I giggled out loud.

“What’s so funny?” Christina asked.

“I was just remembering the word ‘pizza,’” I answered.

“Why is that so funny?”

“Well, we are not allowed to say pizza because in Low German pizza sounds very close to a man’s body part. When my mom visited me, we went to eat pizza, when the man yelled ¨sir, your pizza is ready,¨ my mom burst out laughing and she couldn’t stop. It was so funny. ”

“Wow! That is funny.”

After we finished eating, Christina put a movie on and we both laid down on the sofa. A few minutes into the movie she started snoring again. I began dozing off while thinking about gay people. “Anna, you have nerve problems because you are gay,” said the nurse at the walk-in clinic. Bree stood beside the nurse and said, “Anna, could it be that you are gay and you don’t even know it?”

“Wake up, sleeping beauties, it’s time to get dressed up and go wreak havoc on this town,” said Josh.

I jumped up and started laughing. Christina got up, looked at me asked, “What’s so funny Anna?”

 “The word Josh just said, ‘havoc,’” I answered.

“Well, Anna, what do you think? Do you want to go to Sins, the gay club?” asked Christina.

“Yes, I need to go. I am curious about the place, and I want to see it for myself.”

Josh clapped his hands together and said, “Okay then, you heard the lady, what are you waiting for? Let's get beautiful and go.”

 “Okay,” Christina answered.

“Anna, do you ever wear makeup? You have the most amazing eyes, can I put some makeup on you?”

“Ahhh… I put lipgloss on a few times.”

“Okay, come with me,” said Josh. I got up and followed him to his bedroom where he had a huge mirror. He got a chair for me and said, “Okay Anna, have a seat here and relax while I turn you into a beauty queen.”

I sat down and said, “Okay.”

“Just rest your head on the back of this chair and close your eyes.”


I began to feel strange about it. When I felt that first soft brush stroke across my eyelid it tickled all the way down to my toes. It tickled so much I couldn’t keep it in, I just had to giggle.

“What’s so funny, Anna?”

“It just feels weird, no one has ever touched my eyelid before.”

“So I am your first?”


“Awesome, thanks for letting me be your first. I won't let you down, I promise.”

It was so relaxing, I had to work so hard to stay awake while his soft hands were rubbing makeup all over my face.

I thought “Nooo!” when he said, “All done, you want to see?”


When I saw myself in the mirror I thought, “Ha li dietschjat, this doesn't even look like me!” 

“Wow, I love it. It's perfect, thank you,” I said.

I went to the living room and showed Christina. “Wow, Anna, you look amazing,” she said.

I felt like a brand new person because of the way I looked and the way I felt around Josh. I was fascinated by him. I had known him for a few hours and I already loved him. I loved the way he talked to me, I felt so comfortable around him. I just wanted to follow him around wherever he went.

“Well, I guess I will have to get all pretty too, then,” Christina said as she grabbed her dress and went to Josh’s bedroom. I took my black lace top, went to the bathroom and put it on very carefully so I wouldn't mess up my makeup.

Shortly after I sat down in the living room, Christina walked in wearing her new dress. She looked incredible, just like I remembered her before Richard died.

“Okay, let's get this party started,” said Christina.

“Yes! That’s my girl,” answered Josh. We grabbed our coats and walked over to the club.

When I first walked into Sins, it wasn’t much different from the club we visited the night before.  Josh and Christina dragged me to the dance floor and I pretended to dance by moving side to side.

While I was on the dance floor pretending to dance I bumped into women with short black hair. I said sorry and continued, but she turned around and said, “Anna?” Then I saw her face. It was Bree.  

“Wow what a surprise to run into you here,” she said and looked around to see who I was with and if George was there.

“So you’ll come here with Christina but not me?” Bree asked.

“This is the club you invited me too?” I asked.

“Yes,” Bree replied, and I thought, Okay, now I get why George told me to ask Bree what club she goes to. Bree’s friend pulled her back to dance with her and I went back to pretending until Christina had enough and asked if I wanted to go sit down for a while.

We went and sat down at the table where Josh’s friends were sitting. Christina introduced me to all of them, they were all laughing and telling jokes that I didn’t get. I had a great time in spite of that. I was the one staring at people again, not the other way around.

I enjoyed myself, especially because at that club I could relax -- I didn’t have to worry the whole night about running into someone who would gossip about me in Mexico.

Christina decided that we would go home earlier than we did the night before. We got a hug from every single one of Josh's friends when she told them that we were leaving. We walked back to Josh’s apartment and collected our stuff, picked up a coffee, and drove home.

I had a hard time sleeping that night, wondering about the dream I had and how much more I would learn about life outside of my colony. I felt scared and confused about everything again.

When morning finally came, I called my aunt and uncle and asked if they could take the gifts to Mexico that I had bought for my family. My aunt said, “Okay, yes, we will pick them up on our way through town. You called just in time, we are leaving this afternoon.”

I packed everything neatly in a box that I had pre-wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper. When they got to my apartment, my aunt gave me the side stare about how I was dressed and said, “Anna, why don’t you just come along with us? We have room for you, that would make your mom so happy.”

“I know, and I would love to, but I can't leave school. I am going to grade nine soon, I need to do a lot of catching up before that.”

She shook her head, grabbed the box and said, “Well, I will tell your mom that that is the reason you didn’t want to come,” as she walked off with the box.

“Please tell her I said hi and that I miss everyone,” I shouted as she walked away shaking her head.

I tried to do my homework, but I couldn't concentrate. I felt awful about my encounter with my aunt and I thought of how I should have handled that differently. I was missing my mom so much. I decided that it was time for me to look through my box of books again that my mom had brought when she visited me.

I picked up the book into which I had copied many Bible verses and turned to the page that had ink smeared on it. I tried to read it, but I had no idea what I had written in it or what any of it meant. I was so frustrated all over again, remembering my Mennonite school days.

I decided right then and there that it was time to throw that book in the garbage. I took it outside to the big garbage bin and threw it in there as hard as I could.

The next day I couldn't stop thinking about my book and how much I regretted throwing it away. I decided that as soon as I got home I would climb into that garbage bin and get it back. But sadly, the garbage bin was empty by the time I got to it.

I still wish I had kept that book.

A couple of days before Christmas, while I was doing my homework, my cousin Susie Peters from Glencoe called and invited me to spend the Christmas holidays with them. She said they were coming to pick me up. I got so excited I throw my pencil down immediately and packed my bag.

Susie and I went to the Galleria Mall in London to do some Christmas shopping for her siblings. We decided that we would treat ourselves to a cup of coffee at a place called The Second Cup. Susie ordered a coffee for each of us, and when we heard the total amount for two coffees we looked at each other and I asked, “Ha li dietschjat, did we just buy this coffee shop?”

Susie laughed and said, “No, Anna, that is how much the coffee costs at a place like this.” We both took a sip, looked at each other, and shook our heads. We agreed that that was the last time we would treat ourselves to that kind of coffee and that it was way too strong for instant coffee drinkers anyway.

While we were forcing down our expensive coffees, we reminisced about a time we tried to impress a couple of Mennonite boys in the village where Susie lived. While proudly riding past the boys with grandma’s horse and buggy the horse decided to stop and take a dump right in front of the boys. If it was posable to die of shame Susie and I both would have never lived to experience Canada.

While I had Susie's full attention, I worked up the courage to ask her a very important question. I asked her if she knew about gay people and she said yes. I was so relieved and thought, “Okay, I can tell her anything, even that I went to a gay club.” I was so nervous my Low German and English got mixed up as I went for it.

“Susie, ah… I went to a gay club the other day, and I fit right in with those people. What if I am gay and I don’t even know it?” Click here to continue reading my story.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Low German Mennonite Christmas in Mexico

Preparing for the Christmas holidays in the Mennonite colonies in Mexico is similar to preparing for a wedding as described in this post. Starting around mid-November, the whole yard gets wrecked, and the bottom ten inches of the trees get painted white all around the property.

At the beginning of November, children start memorizing the Christmas wensch (short poem wish) and some songs at the Mennonite school. On the last Friday before Christmas, parents go and listen to the children say their wensch and sing songs at school. On this day, the children bring the teacher a gift, wrapped in newspaper. During my Mennonite school years, the most popular items to bring a teacher were grocery items such as cornflakes, instant coffee, sugar, and soap.
My wensch
In early December, women would often make new curtains, always wash the walls and do a major cleaning in every room of the house with pine sol water. Some Mennonites who could afford to buy decorations would decorate their house by hanging plain Christmas ornaments and tinsel on the walls. Others put string wall to wall and hung all the Christmas cards over the string that they had received and collected over the years from family members in Canada and the United States.

We don’t put up a Christmas tree, not because we don’t believe in having a Christmas tree, but because it isn't a big deal. Most people can’t afford to buy a fake one, and to kill a living tree for that reason, has never crossed our minds. It was hard enough to keep the few trees that we had alive due to the lack of rain and shortage of water. I believe it is because of that that the Christmas tree has never had a chance to become a tradition in my lifetime. Even for us Low German Mennonites living in Canada, it's not that we are against or for putting up a Christmas tree. It just has never been a big deal to us.

The Mennonites that could afford it would often team up and go Christmas shopping in Mazatlan, Sinaloa on a tour bus. They would be gone for three days or more because it took about eight hours to drive through la sierra madre to Mazatlan. They shopped for household items and items such as tools, baby dolls, toy dishes, crayons, toy tractors, sweets, and peanuts.

Others would shop in Nuevo Ideal and in the Mennonite stores in the colonies. Most kids got to go to Nuevo Ideal on Christmas Eve with their parents after the chores were done. The children would get a bit of money to buy treats for themselves and families would eat at a taco stand or sometimes even in a restaurant.

I remember the police officers standing in the middle of the streets of Nuevo Ideal directing traffic so we didn’t get run over by a massive number of vehicles that were visiting Nuevo Ideal from the US and Canada. They were also trying to park to do their shopping.

Some of the older youth would be allowed to take a bus to Durango city for a day to do some Christmas shopping as a group without the parents. I got to do this once, and it was the most exciting thing I experienced before I came to Canada, especially the two-hour bus ride through the most beautiful mountains. I remember it like it was yesterday.  I remember the song that was playing in the background by Marco Antonio Solis and Maricela while I walked down the aisle in the Soriana looking for the perfect bottle of perfume in my price range.

Every Christmas Eve just before the children go to sleep, they will each place a washing up bowl at their respective spot at the dinner table. After the children are in bed, the parents will proceed to put unwrapped presents inside the bowls to be discovered by the children in the morning.

Christmas morning (December 25) my brother Johan and I would make a fire in the wood fireplace before the rest of the siblings got up. We waited for everyone to get up before we looked in our bowls. We would find things such as peanuts, oranges, a few candy bars, store bought cookies, socks, fabric for a dress or overalls, crayons a coloring books, and depending on the family sometimes a toy in our bowls. The older kids would get a song book or a catechism.

Christmas day a few of us would go to a morning church service to honour the birth of Christ, and then spend the day with family at our grandparents’ house. After everyone had lunch, and the dishes were done, all the school-aged children would take turns in order from youngest to oldest and say their wensch in front of the parents and grandparents. Each child received a treat bag after they finish saying their wensch.

After the children all finish saying their wensch, they go out with their treat bags to play and then the adults receive gifts such as household items, tools, fabric for overalls and dresses.

On the mid-holiday, we would do the same with the other grandparents. On the third holiday, people would often go to the mountains and have a BBQ with friends and family while the ministers had their family gatherings.

Froeliche Weihnachten 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blissfully Ignorant Mennonite

Continued from Scheming Mennonite

Mennonite colony in Nuevo Ideal, Durango, Mexico where I grew up.

“Hey, Anna, how's it going?” asked George.

“Ahhh… alright, over here anyway.”

As he began talking, I sat down and thought, oh no, here we go. I got really nervous and began shaking again.

“Okay, I will cut to the chase and tell you what is going on. My friend called to tell me that the police just drove past Mark’s house slowly, and by the time the police officer made it around that block, the Low German cowboys were gone.”

“No way! Wow, George, it worked. I can't believe this, I can't believe I did that.”

“Yup, you did, and it worked.”

“Thank you, George, for letting me know right away.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie. Try and get some sleep now. How is Christina?”

“She’s still in the same place we put her and she’s snoring.”

He laughed and said, “Okay, Anna, have a good night.”

“You too.”

I hung up the phone, went and got myself a blanket, lay down beside Christina, and said every single prayer I knew. Once for saying a bad word, once for thinking about kissing George, once for tricking the cowboys.

I opened my eyes and stared at Christina’s face for a while as she was snoring, and thought how glad I was that out of all the friends she could have stayed with, she asked to stay with me. That made me feel so much better about all the times I felt like I was a useless friend.

The next thing I knew, I woke up to the sound of the shower and I had to think really hard to figure out what had happened and what was going on. When I realized that Christina wasn't there I knew that it was her in the shower.

I lay back down, remembered my award, and just stared at it with a smile on my face. But that smile turned to a frown as soon as I remembered Aaron.  Christina came out of the shower with her hair wrapped up in a towel.

“Good morning, Anna.”

“Hey, good morning. How are you feeling?”

“Really shitty. I have a nasty headache and I don’t remember how I got into your apartment.”

“George and I dragged you up the stairs.”

“Oh no! I’m sorry.”

“No, don't be sorry. I was glad you asked to stay here with me because I didn’t want to be alone, either.”

“It’s all coming back to me now. What happened with those cowboys that you were talking to?”

I explained the whole thing to her and she said, “Holy shit, Anna, I can't believe it. How did you come up with that idea?”

“I’m not even sure, it just came to me.”

“Wow, Anna, what a night.”

“I know! I am still really tired.”

“We need a Tim Hortons coffee. Do you have any plans for today? Would you like to come shopping with me? I haven't done any Christmas shopping yet.”

I got so excited and shouted, “YES! I do, I just have to shower first.” I showered, put my favorite jeans and t-shirt and some lip gloss on and I was ready to go.

While I was in the shower Christina had called her mom to pick us up and drive us to her car.

When we got to Christina’s car, the snowplow had taken away most of the snow. While Christina went to start her car, her mom got out, walked around to me, gave me a hug, and said, “Thank you, Anna -- thank you for keeping my daughter company. She gets really tired of me telling her that she shouldn’t be alone.”

I didn’t know what else to say so I just said, “You’re welcome. She is a good friend.”

“Well, I’m glad that she has a friend like you. Have fun shopping, you too,” her mom shouted as I got in her car.

We drove to Tim Hortons, bought ourselves large coffees, and drove to White Oaks Mall in London, the biggest mall I had ever seen.  We walked in, and the first thing I saw was this huge Christmas tree. I couldn't help myself, I just stopped and stared at it in awe for a while.

We had to be so careful and watch where we walked, the mall was as crowded as the club that we went to the night before. Seeing all those people reminded me of everything that happened the night before. I wondered how pissed off those Low German cowboys could be at me after what I did.

I still felt very anxious about that whole ordeal while walking through the crowded mall. Thinking about going to grade nine, and feeling terrified and butterflies about it at the same time. I tried to just keep remembering that I wasn’t a hard learner anymore.

But I couldn't stop thinking about the cowboys. “I don’t care if they are mad at me, I hope I never run into them again. Oh no! What have I done? I shouldn’t have done that, I am in big trouble, what would I do if I ran into them again?”

Then I had a lightbulb moment when I spotted a giant man that looked like a policeman but was actually a security guard at the mall. I thought, “I should just call that giant policeman that worked on my stalker case. He would know what to do with those cowboys if they bothered me again.”

I had a hard time enjoying myself walking around in that mall. Not even the Christmas music playing in the background was helping to distract my thoughts.

That was until we went into one of Christina’s favorite stores. Suddenly a man jumped up, ran to her, hugged her, and said, “Oh, darling, how are you? It’s so good to see you.”

He turned to me and said, “Oh my God, Christina, who is this sweet girl you brought with you today? Wow, look at those eyelashes, you are so gorgeous.”

I just smiled and looked down, I had no idea what to say to that. Other than Bree no one had ever even noticed my eyelashes before, let alone been that excited about them, especially a man.

I gave Christina a confused, what the heck is going on here look. She didn’t make eye contact while she introduced me to him: “Josh, this is Anna. She is from Mexico. Anna, this is my friend, Josh.

He took my left hand with his right hand, rubbed it with his right hand, then slowly moved my hand to his lips, softly kissed my hand, and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Anna. Welcome to Canada.”

I just stared at him. He was wearing dark blue jeans, a white button-up long sleeve shirt, a black vest with light pink polka dots on it, and a bright pink tie.

“Wait, you are Mexican? Aren't you a bit too white to be Mexican?”

Christina looked at him with her eyebrows raised and said, “Behave, Josh.”

“I know, I know, I am just stating a fact. I’m sorry, Anna, but I am a bit confused.”

“It’s okay, Josh, you're not the only one. I’m confused about it myself. I’m some kind of Low German Mennonite that happened to be born in Mexico,” I said.

“Wow! That is fascinating, you’ll have to tell me all about what that is like.”

“Sure, but it will take a long time.”
“I have all the time in the world, I would love to hear all about it.”

“Did you get the new clothes that you were so excited about?” Christina asked.

“Yes, and you have to try on a few pieces that we just got in today. You are going to look fabulous in these clothes.”

“No, I won't. I look terrible. If you put those new clothes on me you would ruin them. Anna should try them on.” And she started crying again.

Josh put his arms around her and said, “Oh, honey, I know this sucks for you. I am so sorry. What can I do?”

“Nothing! Nobody can do anything for me. I should just die, too.”

“Don’t be talking such nonsense, Christina. Then I would have to die, because I can't live without you. You stuck by me when no one else did. I need you in my life, please don’t talk like that. I am going to Sins tonight, you guys should come with me.”

As Christina wiped the tears off her cheeks she said, “Geez, Josh, we are still exhausted from clubbing last night. I don’t think we can handle another night of that.” 

“Wait, you go to a club called Sins? Do you need a SIN card to get in? Because if you do I have one, I even brought it with me.”

“What?” Josh asked.

“Wait, Anna, would you actually want to go there?” Christina asked.

“Yes, I would love too.”

“Anna, I have to tell you, ahhh…” Christina started, but Josh interrupted her.

“Wait, why don’t you guys pick out an outfit, do your shopping, go to my place, put on a movie, and relax for the afternoon. Then you will have a chance to explain all of this to Anna. Or we could just bring her to Sins and she can see for herself.”

“We’ll go with: shopping, going to your place, and I will explain things to Anna. Is that okay with you, Anna?” explained Christina.

“Okay,” I answered with a big smile on my face and followed Josh while he picked out some outfits for us to try on. I picked a black lace top that had a solid tank top under it that I thought would look nice with my jeans. Josh talked Christina into buying a short green dress that looked amazing on her.  

“What do you need, Anna? What else do you want to buy?” Christina asked as we walked out of the store that Josh worked in.

“I would like to buy some things for my family and send it to them for Christmas. My cousin Izaak's parents usually go to Mexico around this time. I want to call them and see if they would take a box of things for me.”

“That’s a great idea, Anna, I'll help you.”

We went to Walmart and she helped me pick out a toy for each of my siblings, a couple of boxes of chocolate, a big jar of peanut butter, a black sweater for my mom, a plaid button-up shirt for my dad, and a diaper bag for my married sister.

When we walked out of the mall it was snowing heavily. The parking lot was covered in fluffy white snow. We put all the bags of stuff in the trunk of her car and drove to Josh’s apartment in downtown London.

We took our new clothes and ran up the stairs to his apartment. I was amazed when we walked through the door -- his apartment was so clean and neat. Everything was black and white and it smelled like lavender. It was so cozy. The carpet was fluffy and white. His black sofa had white fluffy pillows lined up neatly against the back of it. There were a couple of fuzzy white blankets folded on each end of the sofa. I was especially excited about the big stack of magazines on the glass coffee table in front of the sofa.

Christina and I sat down on the sofa, looked at each other, both let out a big sigh, and snuggled up with the pillows. We just sat there and stared in a daze for a while until Christina got up and ordered pizza.

After she hung up the phone she took a deep breath, sat down beside me, and asked, “Anna, do you know about gay people?”

“What?” Click here to continue reading my story.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mennonite Farmers Prepare to Leave Mexico, and Competition for Water

RIVA PALACIO, Mexico — On the edge of a high plain fringed by craggy sandstone hills, Johan Friesen’s small farm is a testament to the rural providence of his Mennonite people.

Neat fields of onion, soybean and yellow corn stretch behind his concrete and adobe house. In the farmyard, a few dozen cows stand in a corral, ready for milking, and a canary-colored reaper awaits repair. But beneath this valley of orderly farms in the center of Chihuahua State, the picture is less than serene, officials and farmers say.

Underground reservoirs have been drained by thirsty crops, like corn, that are the mainstay of the Mennonites’ success, they say. Competition for groundwater — which officials have warned could run out in 20 years — has strained relations between the pacifist, Low German-speaking Mennonites and other farmers and, on occasion, incited violence.

As California guzzles groundwater and Saudi Arabia rents land in Arizona because its own aquifers are depleted, Chihuahua is a study in the costs of overusing a resource and the tensions that flare as it becomes scarce.
Sara and Gertruda Friesen made a dress at their family home in Santa Rita, in Chihuahua State, Mexico. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Mexico will go to the global climate change conference, which begins on Nov. 30 in Paris, with one of the world’s most ambitious laws for curbing emissions and a keen sense of the effects of a changing climate: severe droughts, erratic rains, floods and hailstorms.

In Chihuahua, nearly a century after the Anabaptist Mennonites migrated from Canada and transformed this valley into a lush carpet of crops, hundreds are trading the land they call home for one where land is cheaper and water is more plentiful.

“People say the water is going to run out,” said Mr. Friesen, 44, who in the spring will join 25 Mennonite families who have begun a new colony in central Argentina. “Without water you can’t grow anything.”

Santa Rita, in Mexico’s Mennonite heartland, is a colony of one-story, pitched-roofed homes, clipped lawns and straight roads — a world away from a typical Mexican village.

On a recent Saturday, perhaps the loudest noise was that of a lawn mower, steered by a young woman wearing a long dress and a straw hat.

For all their good husbandry, though, Mennonite farmers have been prodigal consumers of groundwater, experts said.

“Water has been a source of wealth in Chihuahua, and while that wealth lasts, people are not thinking about how much they are using,” said Arturo Puente González, an agricultural economist.

Still, it was “very unfair” to blame the region’s water problems on the Mennonites, said Kamel Athié Flores, the head of the Chihuahua branch of the National Water Commission, known as Conagua, which regulates supply. He pointed to city dwellers and big non-Mennonite farms that produce apples and pecans — also thirsty crops.

Cornelius Banman, a farmer from the Manitoba colony, about 50 miles south of Santa Rita, said nobody complained about the pecan farmers because they were of Mexican descent and, unlike Mennonites, who do not vote, had political clout.

Children attended a Mennonite school in Capulín, Mexico. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

“They look on us as foreigners,” he said.

The Mennonites live apart in their colonies and rarely marry outside, though they pay workers above-average wages. The most conservative eschew electricity and other devices that would link them to the outside world.

Others use WhatsApp, a messaging application, and research land prices on the Internet, but they discourage distractions like Facebook.

The women speak little Spanish, and children are raised for a “wholesome” rural life, attending Mennonite schools until eighth grade.

The Mennonites began digging wells for irrigation in the 1980s, said Víctor Quintana Silveyra, a sociologist and politician in Chihuahua City who has studied local water use. As their population grew — they estimate their number at 60,000 — they used credit from Mennonite banks to buy land in the desert and to install irrigation systems. Since 2000, irrigated land in Chihuahua has doubled, to about 1.3 million acres, and farmers are pumping water at an “exploitative” rate, Mr. Quintana said.

Farmers said wells had to be dug three times deeper today than they were 20 years ago, a process some cannot afford. To slow extraction, the government in 2013 ruled that all new wells require a permit.

“I can see a point, in my lifetime, when the water here is finished,” said Luís Armando Portillo, a farmer who is the president of the Technical Committee of Groundwater in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc.

A group of activists known as El Barzón has campaigned to shut down illegal wells and break dams on Mennonite land. Joaquín Solorio, a Barzón activist whose parents had to sell their cattle after their well, next to a Mennonite farm, dried up, said the group had lodged complaints about illegal water use. “It’s not just Mennonites,” he said.

Defending water rights can be deadly in Chihuahua, where links between organized crime, mining and farming are murky. Alberto Almeida Fernández, a former politician who protested against illegal wells and against a Canadian mining project, died after he was shot in February. Two other activists, Mr. Solorio’s brother and sister-in-law, were killed in 2012. The police have yet to solve the crimes, and members of Barzón — three of whom have state police escorts — discard a Mennonite connection. But the deaths have added to tensions.

Source: Wikimapia 
By The New York Times

“You think about buying land, and then you think, ‘I don’t want problems,’ ” said Johan Rempel, a leader of the Manitoba colony who is looking for land overseas for about 100 families.

In some ways, the Mennonites’ migration is another turn of history. Those who moved to Mexico from Canada had fled persecution in Russia. Over the years, some settled in other parts of Mexico, and conservative groups broke from the Mexican colonies and moved to Bolivia, Paraguay and Belize.

But with younger farmers facing new pressures — difficulty getting permits for wells, and soaring costs for irrigated land — some predict that they will look to find land elsewhere.

About 50 of the 300 families in Mr. Friesen’s colony, Santa Rita, will move to San Luis Province in Argentina, said Abraham Wiebe Klassen, the head of the colony. Other colonies have looked at land in Russia and Colombia.

The perception that Mennonites are more attached to their culture than to their country irks other farmers.

“Their world is everywhere,” Mr. Portillo said. “They arrive, they work the earth and when they need more, they move on.”

“This is my land,” he added. “My dead lie here. I won’t leave.”

Abraham Wiebe Wiebe, who was preparing to leave for Argentina with his wife and children, disagreed. “I’m 100 percent Mexican,” he said.

Sitting in his kitchen as his wife rolled out cookies, Mr. Wiebe, 49, said he had “lost a lot of sleep” over leaving. “But our children have no future here,” he said.
A boy played in front of his home in a Mennonite community in Sabinal, Mexico. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Several Mennonite farmers said they were skeptical that Chihuahua would run dry. Water was God-given, one farmer said, and only God could take it away.

“Doesn’t water go in a cycle?” Mr. Wiebe asked. “You pull it from the ground, and then it rains from the sky.”

Others are less sanguine. Nicolas Wall, a Mennonite who farms 700 acres of corn with his brother, worries that there will not be enough water for his children to farm.

“I think there’ll be an end to it sometime,” Mr. Wall said. “But when?”

The real problem lies with the government, farmers and experts said. The water commission is a “den of corruption,” Mr. Klassen said, a place where officials take years to process paperwork and sell well permits for thousands of dollars.

Mr. Athié did not deny corruption, but said the problem was “older than Christ.”

Mr. Puente said Mexico needed to start a national conversation. People are turning to other energy sources, he said, adding: “But there is no alternative to water. Water is water.”

Mr. Friesen will trade such worries for the challenge of starting a new life on the 250 acres he bought in Argentina. Those already there have built some houses and bought cattle, he said. Three babies have been born.

Hard as it would be to leave “the homeland,” Mr. Friesen said, his five children would “put down roots” in a new place. Standing in the dairy barn as his wife, Gertruda, milked cows, he smiled.

“We’re going to create exactly the same world there that we built here,” he said.


A version of this article appears in print on November 17, 2015, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Mennonite Farmers Are Leaving Mexico, and Competition for Water.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Scheming Mennonite

Continued from Angry Mennonite

“Diedrich, so you want to talk to me alone, do you?” I asked.


“Okay, why don’t you all meet me at 8 Cross Street in an about an hour, there you and I will have a chance to talk alone.”

Diedrich said in Spanish, “Orale, nos vemos allí (great, see you there).”

I was absolutely terrified, my heart was pounding out of my chest as I turned around and thought “Dios Mio I really hope this will work,” as I walked away. I just focused on breathing and George’s face as I walked back to our table and sat down beside him again.

“What is going on Anna?” George asked.

I was afraid that if he knew the whole truth about what was really going on, he might go over there and beat the crap out of the Mexican cowboy that wanted to ‘talk to me’ alone. I thought I would just tell him what he needed to know at that moment and maybe someday I would be brave enough to explain the whole story to him.

There was no way I could explain something that complicated to him in one night, and besides, I was getting tired and sleepy. 

“Sorry, but I can’t explain this to you right now. I think I would need a whole week for that.”

“Okay, I’m available this week… next week… and the week after that. Which week works for you?”

I gave him an, “I'm not sure what to do with that” look, we both laughed and I drank from my virgin piña colada that was half-melted already. I told George part of what was going on. 

“You see that cowboy on the left, the one with the blue shirt?” 

“Yea, that one that just stood there and stared at you the whole time your friend was talking to you?”

“Yes, that’s the one. Well, my cowboy friend actually isn’t my friend at all and right now I can’t even put a name to what exactly he is to me. He told me that the other cowboy, the one in the blue shirt wants to talk to me alone. But I can’t tell you what exactly that means in Low German right now either. That’s part of what I will explain to you when I have a week. I gave them the address to the house where Mark lived before he got arrested for stalking me and told them that I would meet them there in about an hour.”

I just watched George’s eyes growing bigger and bigger as I continued explaining my plan. 

“But I won’t show up of course. The other part of my plan is, I’m going to ask Christina to ask her friend that works here to call the police and say that there is something weird going on at Mark’s old house so that they will go over there and check it out. My hope is that when they see the police, they will get out of town because the cowboy in the blue shirt just got out of jail.” 


“Mmmhmm, exactly” I answered.

After I heard myself say all that out loud, I got so nervous I started shaking again.

“Holy crap, Anna you are shaking.”

“I think I am going to pass out.”

“Oh no you’re not, here, drink some cold water,” he said.

I took the water and drank from it, he got a napkin and poured some cold water on it and put it on my forehead.

“Anna you are not going to pass out. You have to finish what you started and telling Christina all of this so she can ask her friend is an awesome idea, but I think that will take way too long. I know someone who can make that phone call, I will be right back. Do not even think about passing out Anna! Just keep breathing and sipping water.”

As I watched him walk away, I thought, “Oh no, what am I getting myself into?”

I began having second thoughts about my brilliant plan to trick the cowboys. I looked over at them and they got up headed toward the door.

As I watched them walk out of the club. I started wishing that I could undo everything, but it was too late. I saw George talking to the tall man dressed in black. The same man who threw out the men that started a fight on the dance floor earlier.

George hurried back to the table and put his arms around my shaking body, rocked me back and forth, and said, “I have no idea what exactly is going on here, but this is kind of exciting.”

“I am not that excited anymore. I think I have had enough now, I need to go home,” I answered.

Christina came over and said, “I think it’s time to go, I want to leave now. I have had enough of this place. Who’s going to drive?”

“Nobody is driving, I’m calling a cab” George answered.

I pushed myself up, away from George, and just as I was going to say “but my…” he said, “Anna, I will get your award and the papers from Christin’s car before we go.” He winked at me and said, “I know how important they are to you.”

Christina heard what he said and threw her car keys at George.

Ah… dietschjat, thank you, George, what would I do without you?”

Ah deetshit right back at you Anna. Don’t mention it, you don’t have to,” he answered as he went to call a cab.

One of Christina’s friends wanted to be dropped off on the way to the apartment building. We waited by the front door, the streets were all white covered in snow. The snowplow had left a big snow mountain around Christina’s car.

We stood at the front door and watched as George climbed over the snow mountain to get to the door of Christina’s car. He managed to get in and grabbed my award and papers. The cab pulled up by Christina’s car, the driver recognized George and stopped so he could get in.

The cab pulled up to the front door, George got out and opened the door for us. We all got in and off we went. After the cab dropped Christina’s friend off, Christina started crying and asked if she could spend the night with me at my place “I really can’t be alone tonight” she said. 

“Yes sure, you can stay with me” I answered.

She was so tipsy, she struggled to get up the stairs and almost fell while walking up. George took her one arm, placed it around his neck, I placed her other arm around me and we managed to pull her up the stairs and into my apartment. We placed her on my blanket chair thing I had made myself for reading.

I took one of her boots off while George struggled to get the other one off. She was half crying and just kept saying, “Where is Richard? Why isn’t Richard here? I want Richard.” 

As I followed George to the door he said, “If you don’t know what to do with Christina when she wakes up you can call me if you want to.”

“Okay, I will.”

He told me that his friend the bouncer from the club would find out and call him to let him know what happened to the cowboys.

“Anna, I so wish I could understand all that gibberish you guys spoke tonight. I am going to die of curiosity you know,” he answered and we laughed.

“That was exactly what I thought when I heard you guys talking before I understood a word.”

“Yea that must have really sucked.”

“It sure did. You were saying that the man from the club can find out if the police find those cowboys at Mark’s abandoned place or what happened?

“Yes he can find out pretty much everything the police do in this town, he’s got some good connections and I will call you as soon as I hear anything from him.”

“What a night, this is way too much for one night. Thank you for always being such a good friend.”

“No shit! Anna and it’s my pleasure, sweetie, really, I mean it. Tonight actually flew by way too fast, that has never happened to me at a club before,” he said.

He wrapped his arms around me, hugged me, and said, “I will call you soon.”


I watched him walk away for a moment before locking the door. I went back into the living room and Christina was snoring on the pile of blankets. I picked up the paper with the speech on it that my teacher had written and sat down on the floor by my phone. I took a deep breath and thought about what a night I had experienced. I couldn’t believe how the night turned out.

I just sat there and stared at Christina and thought, “She is not sleeping peacefully. She is broken and passed out so she doesn’t have to deal with her thoughts about why Richard hung himself.

I put my head up against the wall, closed my eyes, and thought about how sad I felt for her. I tried to imagine how the night would have ended if Arron hadn’t shown up. The only thing that did was take me back to my colony. 

I opened my eyes, unfolded the paper with the speech on it that I had in my hand, and started reading it. I remembered how far I had come and thought, “This is amazing, I can read this! I can understand this! And these words were written just for me,” and the waterworks started. This time, there was no stopping them.

I just let it all out. I was glad that I was all by myself and that Christina was passed out so she didn’t have to see that. My shirt was completely soaked when I was done. I felt so much lighter after that. I got up and changed my clothes.

I walked back over to my bookshelf and picked up my award and took the back of the frame off. I placed the paper with the speech on it neatly behind the certificate and pinned it back together. I hung it on the nail George put in the wall for me and walked back a few steps. I just stood there and stared at it with much pride for the longest time.

I thought to myself, “I really don’t like weekends. I wish there was a weekend school. I just need to keep learning! I am going to learn so much more. This is just the beginning and every time I think I can’t do something I will read that speech to myself and know that I can.”

I stood there in deep thoughts about all the things I wanted to learn about before jumping at the sound of my phone ringing. Click here to continue reading my story.

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