Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ill Informed Mennonite


Continued from Canadian Mennonite

I felt incredibly empowered like I could conquer the world because I had that little plastic card with my name on it in my possession. I thought, “Now I can just focus on finishing grade nine, then grade ten, then grade eleven and then grade twelve…” and sighed overwhelmingly. 

Suddenly it hit me, “I can even vote! Ay caramba! I can vote! Oh no… who am I going to vote for? Ah… I’ll figure that out later. Oh, Canada! Watch out, here I come.”

When I got home I changed into my work clothes and drove to work as fast as I could hoping that I could show George my citizenship card before he left. I parked close to the back door and he must have seen me through the window because when I got out of the car he was already standing in the doorway waiting for me.

I tried to keep a serious face to trick him into thinking that I didn’t pass the test, but I just couldn’t keep a straight face. I couldn't stop smiling.

When I got close enough he just put his arms out, hugged me tight and held me as he said, “Anna, I couldn't even sleep last night and this was the longest day of my life. I can tell by looking at you that you passed.”

He dropped his arms down, backed up, looked at me and said, “Hmmm… I wonder who told you that you would pass.”

“Hmmm… it's all coming back to me now, and I think it was this man that I know, who's teeth are way too nice to be real.”

He laughed and said, “Oh Anna, you are hilarious. I still can't believe you thought I had dentures.”

“Ah… I am an idiot for even telling you that. I should have kept that to myself,” I said in a low voice.

“No, Anna you are not an idiot. I am glad you told me.”

“NO George. I am an idiot!”

“Stop it! Anna, you didn’t think you would pass this test, even though I told you that you would, but you didn’t believe me, did you?”

“No, not really,” I answered in an even lower voice.

“This is killing me, it would make my day if I knew. How well did you do on that test Anna?”

I still couldn't believe my own words as I heard myself say, “I got 98 out of a 100” out loud.

“Holy shit! Anna, you are f#cking brilliant. I am so proud of you.”

I dropped my head down and said, “Ah… brilliant? I don’t know about that, maybe a brilliant idiot.”

“Stop it, Anna! Now I am being serious,” he said as he gently placed his index finger under my chin, lifted my head up and said, “Anna, please do me a favour and don’t drop your head down when I am complimenting you.”

I blushed as I looked up at him and made eye contact, “Okay, but I’m just not used to this.”

“Well, you should get used to it. I am astonished that you were able to pull that off in spite of everything that you had to deal with while you were studying and... ah… heck, I’m proud to call you a Canadian. You worked so f#cking hard for this and you deserve all the praise in the world for that. And Anna, this is the part where you lift your head up high and just simply say ‘thank you.’”

I just stared at him sideways as I asked, “Thank you, like this?”

“Oh no, Anna, not like that. Let me show you, watch this,” and he over exaggerated by looking way up as he said, “Thank you! Thank you,” and laughed.

“You mean like this?” I asked and lifted my head up enough so I had to look down a bit to see him and said, “Thank you! Thank you, George.”

He laughed, clapped his hands and said, “Atta girl, that’s good, but you will need more practice.”

“What are you practicing?” asked Sam as he came walking toward us, he shook George’s hand and said, “Hey man.”

“Hey, how are you doing man?” George asked as they shook hands.

“Great, what’s going on over here?” Sam asked.

“Anna is now officially a Canadian,” George answered.

“Wow, that’s awesome Anna, congratulations and welcome to your new home.”

I lifted my head, looked at George and said, “Thank you, Sam.”

George laughed, winked at me and gave me a thumbs up, but my head dropped back down when I saw all the day shift people came out.

“Okay I’ll talk to you later,” said George as Sam and I went to work.

That whole night at work I couldn’t stop smiling or thinking about Fatima and why she was so covered up. I had never seen anything like that before. I wondered what country she was from, where she lived, what kind of a job she had if she had one, and what it had been like for her to come to a new country as I regretted not asking her for her phone number all over again.

At lunch break, Sam brought me a cappuccino again and sat down on my sewing table.

“So how does it feel to be a Canadian?” he asked.

“Well, I have only been a Canadian for about seven hours now and I can't stop smiling. I feel so relieved especially now that I don’t have to study for that test anymore.” 

“What are you going to do now with all that free time?”

“Free time? No way. I am only half way through grade nine and I’m going to have to work a lot harder so I will actually pass and I still need to learn more Spanish for when I choose to go back to Mexico.”

“So what part of Mexico are you from?”

“Nuevo Ideal, Durango.”

“When do you think you will go back?”

“I have no idea. I think maybe when I am strong enough to stick up for myself which could take many years. Hopefully, by then I will know enough Spanish to be able to make my way around Mexico by myself.”

“Which parts of Mexico have you been too?” He asked.

“Not many, when I was nine I got to go to the city of Santiago once, and I have been to the City of Durango a few times.”

“Which places would you visit in Mexico then?”

“I’m not even sure.”

“Well, I think you are doing great. You are very determined to learn. Your English is getting better every time I talk to you. I can say hello and order a beer in Spanish, that’s about it.”

“Have you ever been to Mexico?” I asked.

“Yes, I have. Many times. I love the history and culture of Mexico. I especially like visiting the areas of the ruins,” he answered as Derek the supervisor walked by.

“Okay, I better let you go back to work before Derek comes over here and gives us shit for slacking. I don’t want to get you in trouble. It was nice talking to you, Anna.”

“You too, Sam. Thanks for the cappuccino.”

As I continued working I thought about how nice it felt that everyone was so proud of me and how many hugs I had gotten in that one day. I loved getting hugged by the people that were proud of me. Even though I grew up in a place where hugging didn’t happen at all.

I felt like a brand new person when I walked into the school for the first time as a Canadian. The hugs and praises continued at school as I proudly told my teachers, Steve, and Chung that I was officially a Canadian citizen.

I gloated in the fact that so many people were proud of me. I felt empowered to know all that I had learned about Canada. It just made me love school and my new country that much more.

During the second half of grade nine, I was beginning to figure out ways that I learned. I figured out that I remembered what I had learned by writing my notes in different colours. It was easier for me to remember it if I thought back to what color I had written it down in.

I learned to force myself to be more present and stay focused while I was reading so I would remember what I read. Whenever I didn’t understand something I met with my teacher to work on it during lunch hour right away before I got too far behind and that made all the difference.

I was loving life, finally, things were going my way and I was making progress in most areas. Except in my dreams, I was still haunted by talking windmills, and my deceased fula. I was still floating on the water toward Posen Land but I always woke up before I got there. Though the water wasn’t black anymore and the Mexican Lobos were no longer trying to eat me.

As I thought about everything, I began to feel disappointed again and thought “how the heck does Fatima, a person that was so completely foreign to me, know about ‘the Mennonites?’’”” I wondered how much she knew and where she learned about ‘the Mennonites?’

I was really bothered by the fact that Sam knew more about Mexico than I did. I was born and grew up there, I thought “this just isn’t right, and what the heck are ruins anyways?”

As the time passed, It began to bother me more and more that I knew absolutely nothing about my people and the country that I called home before I came to Canada or any others for that matter. Just about every person I met, knew about ‘the Mennonites’ and I didn’t know anything about anything. All I knew was that us, the ‘dietsche people’ lived in Mexico but we weren't Mexicans.

While I was growing up, I remember being confused and curious about that. I often thought, “then why do we live here if we are not Mexicans?” But that question never got answered.

I decided that it was time to start learning about that and thought maybe I should start with Posen Land. I remembered that my teacher told me that you could learn about anything you wanted too, on the World Wide Web. I decided that I would begin by looking into ‘Posen Land’ in hopes to find out why I was dreaming so much about it.

One day during my regular school lunch break with my buddy Steve, I asked him if he could search the words ‘Posen Land’ on the World Wide Web.

“Yea, I sure can,” he said and we went to the computer lab right away. Steve typed in the words Posen Land and just like that, up popped a lot of information.

“Here you go, Anna, here you can read all about Posen Land.”

“Okay, thank you, Steve,” I said and sat down at the computer and began reading bits at a time.

The Province of Posen was a province of Prussia from 1848 and as such part of the German Empire from 1871 until 1918. For more than a century, it was part of the Prussian Partition, with a brief exception during the Napoleonic Wars…

Incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Posen after the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the territory was administered as a Prussian province upon the Greater Poland Uprising of 1848. In 1919 according to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had to cede the bulk of the province to the newly established Second Polish Republic…

The land is mostly flat, drained by two major watershed systems; the Noteć (German: Netze) in the north and the Warta (Warthe) in the center. Ice Age glaciers left moraine deposits and the land is speckled with hundreds of "finger lakes", streams flowing in and out on their way to one of the two rivers…

In many places, windmills dotted the landscape, reminding one of the earliest settlers, the Dutch, who began the process of turning unproductive river marshes into fields…

I was amazed that a place called ‘Posen’ actually existed, that it was a real place. There was so much information that I got lost and confused in it. I stopped reading and I wondered why my father always said that we were going to Posen Land when we went to sleep. What did he know about Posen? Were our people somehow connected to this place?

I still didn’t understand why Posen Land, in particular, and I wondered why I dreamt so much about water and windmills when I knew nothing about this place. Was I just overthinking it again? and one had nothing to do with the other?

Reading about Posen made me wonder about so many other things I didn’t understand. I remembered that I had heard many stories about a place called Russlaunt (Russia). My grandmother often told stories about the Russlander people. I just assumed that she had read stories about them that weren't real.

My thoughts, what I had read and how much information I saw on the World Wide Web. It all left me feeling overwhelmingly ill-informed. I decided that I should ask my father about it if I ever went home for a visit. Maybe he could tell me more about what he knew, now that I wasn’t a kid anymore, just asking questions about nonsense, things that were none of my business.

I drove to work feeling hopelessly disappointed and overwhelmed again. I realized that I had merely scratched the surface. I remembered jokingly telling Sam that I was going to have to learn the whole world at that New Years Eve party while I felt embarrassed about being half naked in that dress that I wore that night.

I felt like it was true, now that I knew that I was able to learn if I worked hard at it. I really did still have to learn the whole world. Knowing that, made me feel like a capable idiot. Click here to continue reading my story.


Windmill image courtesy of Susie Peters Van Hoeve

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