Thursday, May 18, 2017

Returning Mennonite

Continued from A Complicated Mennonite

The bus stopped, the driver dug out my luggage, got back on the bus and drove off, leaving the cowboy and me alone at the side of the highway.

There I was, in a lifeless desert place with an endless stretch of mountains as a backdrop. And a long stretch of windmills looking over all the dead trees, bushes and cactuses, staring right at me. That was the place I had called home for sixteen years of my life. A host of unfamiliar emotions flooded me. Perhaps most surprising, and most unwelcome was the sickening sense of sadness I felt at that moment. I didn't remember it being like that because I was looking at it with a different set of eyes.  

“¿Estás bien, señorita? (Are you okay, miss?)” asked the cowboy.

“No,” I answered. Fighting back the tears.

Lo siento y perdóname por ser tan franco, pero conozco a tu familia y me di cuenta de quién eres. He escuchado un poco acerca de su historia. Eres Anna, ¿verdad? (I'm sorry and forgive me for being so frank, but I know your family, and I realized who you are. I have heard a bit about of your story. You are Anna, right?)"

As he spoke, I was afraid to make eye contact, and just stared at his plaid shirt, until it got awkward. “Si, y gracias por despertarme y cuidarme. (Yes, and thank you for waking me up and watching out for me.)” I said.

De nada, fue mi placer. (You're welcome, it was my pleasure.)”

Me gustaría continuar haciéndolo hasta que sepa que llegó a casa salvo y sano. (I would like to continue to do so until I know you arrived home safe and sound.)”

“Okay, gracias. Sólo necesito un momento aquí. (Okay, thank you. I just need a moment here.)”

Como desees. (As you wish,) he said and walked over to the other side of the road and sat down on his suitcase.

I looked around observing my surroundings. There was complete stillness. Everything looked so different from what I thought I remembered or how I had imagined it would be. I noticed my friend and neighbor Irma Heide’s house. It looked abandoned, and it was falling apart.

Other than the cowboy that was looking out for me, there was no sign of life anywhere. It seemed like we were the only two people left in the entire world.

I took a deep breath, pulled my thoughts back together, picked up my suitcase, waved to the cowboy and started walking.

It sure didn’t feel like the commercials I had seen on TV in Canada of people coming home for Christmas. They were always happy, smiling, bringing gifts, and hugging their loved ones upon arrival. Sure, I was bringing a gift. But it was so different from the way people gave gifts in Canada. I couldn’t help but feel torn, jealous and angry at the same time.

Walking past Irma’s house, I wondered what could have happened to her and her family. I realized how I had gotten used to the way life was in Canada and how I had grown to love getting hugs. I prepared myself for many disappointments especially when I imagined and longed for Irma to be running up to me and hugging me. That was one thing I knew for sure that was different about me since I had left. I preferred receiving a hug to know that the person hugging me had missed me. I began to mentally prepare myself that I wasn’t going to get hugged by anyone around there.

Memories of Aaron Neudorf crept into the front of my mind, and I looked back just to make sure he wasn’t sneaking up on me. The cowboy was still sitting there looking out for me. He waved, and I waved back. Remembering that it would get dark soon, I began walking faster, leaving a dust trail behind from pulling my luggage.

Suddenly things got a bit too familiar for my liking when the wind picked up, and I heard cows mooing, dogs barking and the windmills screeching. It felt like I was walking straight into one of my recurring dreams I had had the whole time that I had lived in Canada.

“Wake up Anna! It's time to go to school. Just wake up Anna!” I thought to myself, but when I heard a horse and buggy approaching from behind me, I knew that I wasn't going to wake up in my apartment in Canada. I thought, “Oh please don’t let that be Aaron Neudorf on that buggy.”

My heart began pounding out of my chest again. I didn’t dare turn around to look. I just walked as fast as I could. When the buggy finally caught up and past me, I looked up and saw six Mennonite men from the colony staring back at me. They didn’t blink, say or do anything. They just stared at me like they had never seen anything like it before. It was incredibly awkward. I didn’t know where to turn my face or how to act. I slowed down to allow a wider distance between them and me, but that didn’t stop them. They stared at me as long as they could see me.

I stopped and looked around expecting Aaron Neudorf to be jumping out of the bushes at any time. The cowboy was still sitting by the highway watching out for me. I picked up my speed walking as fast as I could until I approached my parent's driveway. I heard my little brothers running around outside, and when I got closer, I saw that my mom was outside raking leaves. One of my little brothers noticed me and yelled, “Mom! Someone is coming over.”

Mom stopped racking, and all my little brothers stopped running around to look at me, my heart was pounding out of my chest. When I got close enough so that my mom recognized me, she dropped the rake and froze.

One of my little brothers asked, “Waa es daut? (Who is that?)”

Daut es diena sesta, Onn. (That’s your sister, Anna,) Mom explained, and mom and I watched my little brothers argue about me not being their sister, for a while. Mom reached over, shook my hand and began asking many questions. I tried to answer her, but it was like I had forgotten to speak Low German. My head felt heavy and sleep deprived. I just couldn’t answer her questions in Low German. When I tried to say something all that came out was umm ahhh.

I was relieved when my sisters came running out yelling, “Daut es Onn! Onn es tus! (It’s Anna! Anna is home!)”

My sister Maria took my luggage and told me to come inside, I followed her to my sisters’ room. We sat there and stared at each other for a while. Maria was euphoric that I had come home. She sat across from me, looked at me and smiled.

When everybody came inside it was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think. I had forgotten just how loud our house got sometimes. I thought that I had gone completely crazy when it seemed I heard people speaking English amongst all that loud noise.

Maria got up and said, “Come, let's go in the kitchen. I think someone else is here.” I followed her to the kitchen and saw my aunt Katherina (mom’s younger sister) and uncle Henry sitting there. They were speaking English to each other while my mom was helping my sisters get supper ready.

Uncle Henry got up, shook my hand followed by my aunt who said, “Welcome home Anna,” and I had to think for a minute, wondering if she had spoken English or if I just imagined it.

“Don’t worry Anna, after a good night sleep. You will be speaking Dietsch again. The same thing happened to me the first time I came back.” Explained my uncle.

“Okay, I hope so,” I replied while my mom walked past us looking at me, she just smiled and knotted her head.

Uncle Henry asked, “When was the last time you spoke Dietsch to anyone?”

I thought about it for a minute, “It’s been a very long time. I have been going to school, learning English and then I learned a bit of Spanish to come home. Oh no! I have lost all my Low German!” 

“No, no Anna. It's still there, just tucked away. I’m sure by tomorrow it will come back, you’ll see.” Explained my uncle.

“I hope so.”

“Did you come here all by yourself?” asked my aunt.

“Yes, I did.”

Nah Oba, that is incredibly brave.”

“Well it wasn’t easy, it’s been a long day. I feel like I have been traveling for a week. Why didn’t Susana come?” I asked.

My aunt explained that they had gone Christmas shopping in Durango City and that my cousin Susana had to stay home to watch her siblings. Suddenly, everything went quiet when the front door opened and dad walked in. He stood in the doorway, looked at me for a moment then looked around, not knowing what to do. It seemed like my uncle had experienced many of those kinds of awkward moments before. He got up and greeted my dad with a handshake and said, “Pasale cuñado. (Come in brother in law.)”

My dad walked up to me, looked at me for a moment and shook my hand asking, “Onn?” I was shocked to hear myself say out loud in Low German, “Jo daut sen ekj. (Yes, it is me.)” And the rest of the night is a blur to me.

The next morning I woke up to loud noises and my sister Maria playing with my hair as she was telling me that we were all going to Nuevo Ideal aka Potes after we cleaned the house and all had baths. She was so excited she started jumping on the bed saying that our brothers John, Abe, and Peter were also coming home later.

I sat up and asked, "What, where are they?" Maria sat down and explained to me that they had been away for a while working on a pelicula (film) in Cuernavaca Mexico. And that’s when all three languages got so mixed up, and I spoke a kind of language that only a person who spoke English, Spanish and Low German would understand. For the next while, all we said to each other, “What did you say?”

Waout, mine brodars are shoffing on a Pelicula, wot fone, wo hit de?” (What, my brothers are working on a movie set, what kind or what is it called?)”

Jo, jo, jo! Daut heet One man's hero, (yes, yes, yes! It’s called One man’s hero,)” shouted Maria and followed me to the table to eat breakfast and everywhere else I went after that.

While sitting at the table, mom asked me the same questions that she had asked the night before. She wanted to know if I was a Canadian Citizen yet and if I had applied for it myself. My uncle was right I was able to speak Low German a bit better after I had slept. I explained it all to my mom including how I had missed my first appointment to go pick it up. She was amazed. She couldn't believe that I had done all that myself and traveled home to Mexico on my own. 

I noticed how overwhelmed mom was by her workload. It was Christmas Eve, and they were all going to Potes in the afternoon. I rolled up my sleeves, helped bake buns, clean the whole house with Pine Pol, and gave my little brothers baths.

When it was my turn to have a bath, I sat in the galvanized tub in the warm water debating whether or not to shave my legs. Feeling overwhelmed and strange upon realizing that that was probably going to be my only chance I would have to be by myself. I fought back the tears, lathered up my legs and shaved them anyway before the water got too cold. I dressed in one of my pleated dresses that I had left behind and wrapped my hair up in a towel before joining the rest of my family again.

Mom looked at me and proceeded to tell me that if I was going anywhere with them that I had to put my hair away. Meaning to clip it up and put a hairnet over it. Maria ran to get me one of her hairnets and brought it to me because she was afraid that I might not be able to come if I didn’t do what mom asked of me.

I combed my hair and put it up just like I had always worn it before I left. Mom looked at me again and said in Low German, “There, now I have my daughter back.”

Hearing her say those words out loud sent shivers up and down my spine. Click here to continue reading my story.

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