Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Complicated Mennonite

Continued from Mennonite in Mexico

I began to panic, thinking that I wouldn’t have enough time to change into my dress before the bus left for the colony. I held my breath as the man wrote out my bus ticket. He handed it to me and explained that the bus would leave in about an hour.  

I thought, “Okay, I need to find a bathroom.”

I went to the waiting area, sat down for a moment and observed my surroundings. I spotted a sign that read baño, walked toward it and reminded myself that the woman’s washroom sign has to read damas.

An elderly woman was in the washroom combing her hair. I smiled at her as I quickly walked past her and locked myself in the tiny stall. While changing into my dress I hit my head on the door several times making a noticeably loud noise.

Oh, señor, ¿qué podría estar pasando allí? (Oh, lord what could be happening in there?)” Said the elderly woman.

When she saw me come out in my pleated dress, she said, “Es mucho trabajo poner ese vestido, no? (It's a lot of work putting that dress on, no?)”

I just smiled, nodded my head, and quickly walked past her to wash my hands. I had no time for small talk. I went right back to the waiting area to sit down and try to figure out what time, I might make it the colony. After I had figured out a rough timeframe I inhaled a deep breath, leaned back, closed my eyes and wished with all my heart that it wouldn’t be dark when I got off the bus at the colony. I remembered that there were no street lights lighting the way from the main highway to my parent's property. But I did remember that when daylight left the colony it was pitch black out.

I opened my eyes, looked around and suddenly it was like I had landed on a different planet. It seemed as though all eyes in the bus station were on me.

I got scared as memories surfaced of often being told while growing up, “De Mexa woaren de met näme (The Mexicans will kidnap you.)” But my new perspective on life now had me doubting many things I had been told and I knew that if I could get past my fear, chances were that the “Mexa” might treat me better than the people in my own colony. But that thought didn’t comfort me much at that moment as I felt all eyes on me. I reminded myself that people were staring at me because of my dress. I realized how differently people saw me when, on the outside, I looked like Mennonite.

I remembered a time when my friend Chung and I had a discussion at school about where we felt most at home. He told me that Canada was a great place to live and go to school but it wasn’t his home. His home was and would always be China. The country where he was born. I was envious of his serenity. I told him that I had no idea about where I felt at home and that I needed to learn a lot more about myself and my people before I could answer that question honestly. I hadn't really thought about it again until that moment when I was in my birth country and felt like a foreigner. I felt like a complete stranger, more so than I did coming to Canada. As a Mennonite woman traveling on her own, I was in a foreign country. I had never left my colony, traveled anywhere on my own, or really spoken to a native Mexican before. Sure, I had exchanged a few words with people that were familiar with us and lived in the villages around the Mennonite colonies, but when there was any kind of interaction between “us” and “them” there was always a man that spoke for me – my father, my brothers, male cousins or uncles.

I tried to act normal and pretended like I was exactly where I belonged. But on the inside, I didn’t feel it at all. I felt like a stranger. I imagined that people could see my heart pounding out of my chest. So I got up and walked over to the store in the bus station pretending that I was going to buy something in hopes that I would appear as though I was confidently traveling. There I spotted spicy chili powder coated mango candies. Boy, had I missed those. I didn’t have to pretend anymore, so I bought a few of them, a bag of chips, and a soft drink for the bus ride.

After I paid for the items, I looked around again and it seemed to have worked as fewer eyes were staring at me at that moment. I made my way back to the waiting area and noticed the man that sold me the bus ticket waving me over. First, I turned to look behind me thinking that he may have meant someone else but he pointed at me again and waved me over. I picked up all my things, walked over to the ticket counter, and he asked me if I was traveling alone.

I said yes, and the look that formed on his face scared me. He proceeded to tell me that he was worried about that and asked where I was getting off the bus. I explained it to him and he said, “Eso podría ser muy peligroso, debes tener mucho cuidado. (That could very dangerous, you should be very careful.)”

He seemed to be extremely worried about me traveling alone. He waved over two men who worked at that bus station and explained to me that they would escort me to the bus at that time. I got worried that perhaps there were reasons beyond my comprehension behind that phrase that I had heard so often, “De Mexa woaren de met näme. (The Mexicans will kidnap you.)”

I was beginning to be afraid of a phrase that I had thought about a lot while I lived in Canada, “De Diesche woaren de met jevolt en darp holen. (The Dietsche Mennonites are going to force you to stay in the colony.)” But now that I was faced with both of these phrases, I wasn’t sure, which one of the two I should be afraid of more.

Vamonos güerita,” one of the men said. It felt like they couldn’t get me out of there fast enough.

The men took my luggage, put it in the side luggage compartment of the bus and gestured that I go on the bus, “Adelante güerita. (Go ahead).”  

One of the men told me to take a seat right behind the bus driver, the seat that was usually reserved for a second bus driver. I did as I was told and sat down on that seat. When the man handed me my backpack, I spotted a tattoo on his arm and that’s when I remembered George! My stomach began to tighten up while the men explained to me to stay on the bus and that the bus was going to head out soon.

When the men had left and I was left alone with my thoughts, I began to feel the full effects of the reality of many of the things I hadn't considered before deciding to go to Mexico. And my thoughts just went places that I had no control over. “I don’t even have a flashlight with me. What if Aaron Neudorf knows that I am coming on this bus and decides to wait for me in the bushes?”

At that moment I regretted my decision to leave behind the whistle that my friend Josh had given me, but only until I remembered why. I decided to not bring it to Mexico after imagining what would happen if I actually blew that whistle in the colony. I imagined it happening while most people in the colony were milking their cows. They would hear the sound, stop milking for a moment and ask each other, “Wot es dot gebral? (What is that screaming noise?)” and then continue milking. That’s how much good that whistle would do me in the colony and for that reason, I decided to not even bother to bring it.

I tried to comfort myself by thinking about the box of silverware I had in my backpack. I really didn’t want to open my mom's gift. I wanted her to know that it was new. But if Aaron Neudorf showed up, he would leave me no other choice but to open it and use one of the forks to defend myself with.

I couldn't stop my thoughts. I had so much to think about besides Aaron Neudorf: the Mexican wolves, vicious dogs and my family’s reaction to my unexpected visit. Suddenly there was no room in my stomach for any of that comfort I had felt when I walked off the airplane. I felt it all came up. I ran out of the bus and threw up.

The men who had escorted me to the bus were still guarding the area around the bus and saw me throwing up. I was so embarrassed that they had seen me that I turned away from them. They took turns asking me if I was okay.

I kept spitting to try and get rid of the bad taste in my mouth as I told them that I just realized that I had made a big mistake, that I shouldn’t have come to Mexico.

One of the men handed me a bottle of water and asked, “¿Por qué dices eso? (why do you say that?)”

I knew that I couldn’t explain it in Spanish, English or even in Low German. “I'm not sure,” I answered and quickly went back on the bus. I sat down, closed my eyes and remembered the time at the nightclub when George jumped over the chairs to go tell the bodyguard to call the cops on Aaron. When I realized just how far away I was from him I began to feel a kind of pain that I hadn’t felt before.

My thoughts got sidetracked as the bus began to fill up with passengers. I leaned against my backpack toward the window away from the aisle, closed my eyes and pretended that I was sleeping. When the bus pulled out of the station I opened my eyes, looked around and accidently made eye contact with the bus driver when he looked at me through the mirror. He smiled and I quickly looked away.

I decided to just go back to pretending that I was sleeping. And off I went to Posen Land again. I jumped awake when I dreamt that the bus was just about to tip over off a cliff into the waters of Posen Land. I sat up straight and looked out the window desperately looking for a sign that would tell me how far the bus had gone while I was in Posen Land. I finally spotted a sign that read Colonia Hidalgo with an arrow pointing to the right. I recognized the area from the time I had gone to Durango City with my aunt and uncle, the time that we had been stopped by a Federale. That’s how I figured out that the bus was just on the outskirts of Durango city.

I noticed a young man sitting in the seat across the aisle to my right. He was wearing a cowboy hat. He looked at me smiled nodded his head and said, “Güerita.”

I quickly looked away and went back to pretend that I was sleeping but off I went to Posen Land again. This time the bus tipped and slid right into the water. I jumped awake again and it was like deja vu all over again as I desperately looked for signs that would tell me how close to the colony I might be.

The cowboy noticed the panicked look on my face and said that we had just passed La Granja and we were a few kilometers away from Canatlan. “Okay, gracias” I said and went back to pretending that I was going to sleep.

I was exhausted. I just couldn’t stay awake. The next time I jumped up in a panic because I dreamt that the bus was sinking into the waters of Posen Land. The cowboy just couldn’t take it anymore. He said, “No te preocupes tanto Güerita, duerme y yo te avisaré cuando lleguemos a Nuevo Porvenir. (Don't worry so much. Just sleep and I will let you know when we arrive at Nuevo Porvenir.)”

My first thought was, “Okay, how does he know that I am getting off at the Nuevo Porvenir stop?” And then I figured it out, my dress told him and everyone else where I was getting off the bus. Anyone that could see could figure that one out. All that came to my mind was, Pendeja! (Stupid!)

I fought with all the strength I had left in me to stay awake until I heard, “Güerita! Güerita! Güerita!” I opened my eyes and saw the cowboy kneeling down in the aisle by my seat trying to wake me up.

Estamos en Guatimape. Llegaremos a Nuevo Porvenir en unos cinco minutos. (We are in Guatimape now. We will arrive at Nuevo Porvenir in about five minutes.)”

I collected all my stuff, sat up straight, looked out the window and saw that the sun was about to set behind the mountains of the Mennonite colonies. Click here to continue reading my story.

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