Thursday, June 29, 2017

Dead butterflies in Mexico

Continued from Breaking Mennonite

I hadn't slept yet when it was time to get up and help mom put the Christmas gifts into the bowls for my siblings who were all sound asleep. I tiptoed my way to the kitchen in the dark. I turned up the flame of the oil lamp and went right to work helping mom disperse roasted peanuts, oranges, candy bars, and store bought cookies equally into each bowl.

My sisters all got a new pleated dress, and my brothers all got a pair of slobbaxen (overalls) that mom had sewn for them. My younger brothers got a small toy. Everyone got a box of sparklers, a coloring book, and crayons. My older sisters got a set of dishes, and my older brothers got a set of tools. I got material for a dress, a coloring book, and as many peanuts, candy bars, oranges as I wanted.

After we had finished, I said good night to mom and quietly made my way back to bed. It seemed like I had just fallen asleep when my little sister jumped up and shouted, “Wak opp wak oop de nikolaus es jekomen. (Wake up wake up, Santa came.)”

Before the kids were allowed into the kitchen, my sister, Sara made a fire in the wood stove and put the kettle on it to heat water for coffee. I sat by the wood fire stove and watched my sibling look at what they had gotten from Santa. Observing their excitement and the lingering smoky smell from the wood-burning in the stove in the kitchen, overwhelmed me with acute nostalgia for the time when that was me.

While it was still dark outside, I joined my siblings outside and watched them light their sparklers. When they ran out of sparklers, we all went back inside and sat around the stove to eat the peanuts, oranges, and cookies we got from Santa. My three older brothers slept through the whole thing. They didn’t care about Santa's gifts enough to get up at the crack of dawn to see what thy had received.

The neighbor's kids came to see what my siblings had gotten from Santa. Sara and I made our beds tidied up and swept the floors in the bedrooms. Mom left Agatha, Sara, and I in charge of our younger siblings, clearing the kitchen table and setting it for lunch while she and dad went to church to join other community members to sing even though there were no ministers to preach a sermon.

When my parents come home from church, I was surrounded by my whole family again except my oldest sister who was married. There wasn’t an empty spot at the table, Uncle Jake joined us and filled the empty spot that my sister Susan would have filled. It had been a long time since I sat around a table with 14 people. A thought crossed my mind, “This right here could be the very reason why I have eating problems.”

In the midst of all the noise, I had an oh no! moment, when I was able to connect some dots in my mind. I remembered George’s words from the New Years Eve party the year before, about my ‘sexy dress.’ “How can you simply change something that has been part of you your entire life, just like that?”

As much as I enjoyed the time with my family, remembering George made me miss him so much that the butterflies in my stomach a moment ago, suffocated. I began to wrap my head around the idea that I might be torn between two worlds, but I didn’t know what that meant or what I would do with that information. As the day went on, my torn feelings got worse as the grandfather clock loudly ticked away the seconds, minute and hours. 

My younger siblings went with my parents to a gathering on my mom's side of the family. My older brothers got picked up by their friends and went to the mountains, or at least that’s what they told us. My sisters, Agatha and Sara, went with their group of friends to sit under the same hopeless tree I sat under when I was young and part of a youth group. Only that tree didn’t seem as hopeless anymore. Now that the colony members were driving motorized vehicles, the tree was surrounded by many pickup trucks full of youth from colonies all around Nuevo Ideal. The tree itself looked happier than it did back when I was its company.

Mom tried as many ways to group Low German words together she could to convince me to come to the gathering with them, but for many reasons, I declined. Most of my cousins that were my age were married or lived in some other part of the world. Based on what I had heard and how I was treated by some of my aunts, I took it upon myself to decide that all of my aunts and uncles would object the idea of my company around their impressionable young daughters. I might corrupt their innocent minds with ideas that I had learned from that tattooed, long-haired shweenagel I had been hanging out with in
Canada. I thought to myself, “I know George. This too, I have no control over. Thanks for reminding me!”

And just like that, there I was in the same situation as I was in the first time I went to the job finding club. I sat on those stairs outside the library watching people rushing around as it seemed everyone else knew where they were going and what they were doing, except me.

I sat in the kitchen where a moment ago I had felt like I belonged, alone, because I didn’t belong. I was torn between two worlds, not fully belonging to, and the tick-tocking sound of the clock was pressuring me to figure it all out, to make up my mind about which world I wanted to be part of for the rest of my life. I felt like I had to make a decision, this or that. It couldn’t be both.

While I thought, “Should I stay here and do this for the rest of my life? Or say goodbye when I go back to Canada and never look back?” I felt my suffocated butterflies making their way up my throat. They had died because of this sickening feeling, and now they too had no place in my stomach anymore. I ran outside and threw up.

I went back inside, grabbed my toothbrush and a cup of water, went back outside and brushed my teeth in hopes of washing away the bitter taste I had in my mouth. As I spat the water out, I felt the warmth of the sun on my back. It felt like the Mexican sun was hugging and comforting me during my time of lonely sorrow. When I brought my toothbrush back inside, I grabbed the magazine that I had tried to read in the dark the night before and went back outside.

My parents had an old buggy seat with a Mexican serape over it under a tree in front of their house. I slid the buggy seat into the sun, sat down on it and read all about Tom Berenger in an article about the film One Man’s Hero. I studied Tom’s face in the photo and thought, “Now he’s a good looking man, but I wish I could see his teeth in this photo.”

I decided to accept and embrace the warmth of the Mexican sun. I lay down on the buggy seat and placed the magazine over my face. And a warm, gentle wind hugged and lulled me while the calm water rocked me toward Posen Land again. The smell the geraniums drifted over me on the warm breeze while the crows glided in circles in the clear blue sky above, watching over me. Before I reached my destination, I heard a deep familiar voice saying words I had heard spoken to me not long ago, “Despierta Anita, despierta! (Wake up Anna, wake up!)”

“No dejes que el sol quema tu hermosa piel. (don't let the sun burn your beautiful skin.)”

I opened my eyes, and there he was, the same cowboy that was on the bus, on his knees waking me up again. I was confused about where I was and jumped up to a seating position.

Lo siento, no quise sorprenderte. (Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.)”

No, no, está bien. (No, no that's okay,)” I replied as I rubbed my eyes.

Vine a hablar con tu hermano Patas, ¿está en casa? (I came over to speak with your brother Patas, is he home?)”

No, no esta. (No, he’s not home.)”

Bueno, me alegro de haber venido porque creo que acabo de salvar tu piel de ser quemada por el sol. (Okay, I'm glad I came over because I think I just saved your skin from badly getting burnt by the sun.)”

I tilted my head and giggled as I searched through the language files of my memory for the right words. But I couldn’t find any appropriate words to say back to him. It was a familiar experience that I had lived through, many times before. An attractive man was being nice and saying nice words to me, but I couldn’t respond the way I wanted to because I didn’t speak his language fluently enough. And he too knew and handled the awkward situation perfectly by continuing the conversation with smaller words.

¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)”

I wasn’t going to say I was fine just because those words were easier to say in any language when I wasn’t fine, so I said what I always said to George, “No estoy seguro. (I'm not sure.)”

“Okay, Anita, it’s my turn to speak your language or one of then anyways. Please don’t laugh at me. I try to speak English to you,” he replied.


“Okay Anita, tell me, why are you here alone on Christmas day? But I think I know the answer to that question and knowing that que lastima me da (it hurts me,)” he said and made eye contact.

I quickly dropped my head down and looked at his shiny ostrich skin cowboy boots as I mumbled, “What? But why? Why does that hurt you?”

“Because I just so badly want to take you out and show you the many beautiful places in Mexico that I imagine you have never seen. But I know, I would get in big trouble and then you would get in big trouble.”

“You want to take me out?”

Muchísimo. (Yes very much.)”

Too embarrassed to make eye contact, I just stared at his perfectly smooth olive skin peeking through the color of his plaid shirt as I worked up the nerve to ask, “Where would you take me?”

“The coleadera (rodeo.)”

“That would be really nice, but you're right, that would cause nothing but problems for me.”

Entonces, ¿qué hacemos? (Then what do we do?)”

The left side of my brain where my human desires and dark vocabulary were neatly tucked away surfaced and thought, “F#ck this shit! I really want to experience going out with this incredibly handsome cowboy!” But the right side of my brain said, “Just fight that urge, Anna! And stay put to keep the peace in your family.”

To shut down that voice on the left side of my brain, I knew that I had to change the subject and answered, “I wish I knew.” Then I asked, “So, where did you learn to speak English?”

Pues en Los Estados Unidos. (Well, in the United States.)”

“How do you know my brother Patas?”

“Patas fixed my truck, and ever since, we have been friends.”

“Okay, I think my brothers and uncle Jake are at that coleadera you know. ”

“Yes, I kinda did.”

“You did?”

“Yes, okay Anita, I have a confession to make. I didn’t come here to see Patas. I came here to see you.”

I blushed and didn’t know what to say.

“Would you like a drink? I’m going to make us a drink,” he said and walked to his truck.

“Okay,” I answered as I felt a butterfly come back to life in my stomach.

“Have you ever had a Vampiro Desdentado?”


“A toothless vampire, it’s a drink without alcohol.”

“No, I have never had one of those, but okay, I’ll try one.”

He pulled out a cooler from the back seat of his pickup, brought it up to the buggy seat, sat down beside me and mixed drinks. He handed me the drink, turned to look at me, held his drink up and said, “Salud.”

I smiled and said, “Salud,” back and took a sip of the drink. It was satisfyingly cold bubbly and refreshing. It was a perfect savory-sweet blend with the hint of spice in the salty rim around the cup. It was perfect.

“How is it, do you like it?” he asked.

“It's perfect. Thank you.” Click here to continue reading my story.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Breaking Mennonite

Continued from Returning Mennonite

On the bus ride to Nuevo Ideal, I sat and stared out the window at the endless mountains as the trees and windmills swished past. Deep in thought, missing George, I decided that I would take the advice he had often given me and not worry so much about the things that I couldn't control. Things like what my mom meant by saying, “There, now I have my daughter back,” when she saw me dressed in my old clothes and my hair put away (put up).

When we arrived in Nuevo Ideal it was just like I remembered except everyone in my family was older now. The smell of exhaust fumes mixed with the smell of chicharrones frying on the sidewalks of Nuevo Ideal. The sound of Spanish music playing in the background and people speaking Spanish. It was like I had never left.

We made our way to Centro Valle, the store where all the Mennonites did their shopping. The store was packed. There wasn’t a single hitching post spot empty at the front of the store. There were buggies parked as far as the storefront stretched across the block.

Mom pushed a cart and told me to grab another one and to follow her. She filled them up with peanuts, oranges, candy, cookies and other groceries items. When mom had filled both carts to the top, I got worried and asked, “How are we going to take all of this home on the bus?”

“We’re not, someone is coming to pick us up.”

“Okay, do you know who?”

“A Mexa (Mexican) from Nuevo Porvenir.”

“Okay,” I answered and continued following her around in the store.

After we had finished shopping, we placed all our bags of groceries on the sidewalk against the wall at the corner of the store. Mom bought us all an ice cream from the same man that had been selling ice cream at the corner of Centro Valle ever since I could remember. As we were standing in front of Centro Valle enjoying the ice cream, my aunt came walking up to us, the same aunt that had told mom that I just needed a good old spanking to set me straight. She shook mom's hand, then mine. She looked me right in the eyes and asked in Low German, “Is this really you Anna? I am so glad that you have finally come to your senses and decided to come back home where you belong.”

I couldn't find the right words to say to her, so I just looked down and said nothing. I kept an eye on my little brothers as mom continued to speak to my aunt. Occasionally I looked around scanning the crowds of people for any sign of Aaron Neudorf, knowing that sooner or later he would show up and surprise me. I wanted to be ready for that moment, but every time he crossed my mind I felt like throwing up.

A pickup truck pulled up to a parking space close to where we were standing. The men getting off the pickup all looked so familiar, including the driver who was Mexican. As they came closer, I saw that they were my brothers. I was so excited to see them and started walking toward them. I wanted to hug them so badly, but I held back and shook their hands instead. The driver of the pickup reached over to shake my hand too. He held onto my hand and put his other hand on top of mine and said in Spanish, “Ay caramba! Anita, apenas te reconocí. Qué diferencia hace un día. No pareces como hiciste ayer. (I hardly recognized you. What a difference a day makes. You don’t look at all like you did yesterday.)”

I looked up at him and realized that he was the cowboy who kept an eye on me during the bus ride from Durango City to the Mennonite colonies. I blushed and mumbled a few words that weren't Spanish, English nor Low German. He ignored my awkwardness and officially introduced himself as Javier. He told me that he would be driving us back to the colony. He let go of my hand and started loading our groceries onto the back of his pickup truck.

While Javier sat in the pickup truck waiting for us, mom chatted with my brothers who had just gotten back from working on a movie in Cuernavaca. My brothers decided to stay and do some shopping while the rest of us went home.

My siblings argued about who was sitting in the back and who was sitting in the front. Mom decided for them and put my sisters, Agatha and Sara, in charge of looking after my little brothers on the back of the pickup. And I got to sit in the front with her. I got to sit in the middle between my mom who was holding my youngest brother and the driver, Javier.

The ride home got awkward as I felt deep emotions I didn’t know where to place when a Javier put on the song BENDITO CIELO by GRUPO LIBRA. The song is about being far away during Christmas, far from the person you love. I had heard the song many times before I had left the colony and it made me want to cry every time I heard it even when I didn’t understand the words.

After arriving home mom carried my little brother inside and Javier helped me unload our groceries. I thanked him for the ride home and for helping with our groceries.

No hay problema, espero verte pronto. Feliz noche buena. (No problem, I hope to see you again soon. Merry Christmas Eve.”
Igualmente”, I responded. (Likewise.)”

After my sisters and I had put away the groceries we went to gather wood for the stove from the back of the property. While we gathered the wood, a pickup truck with Texas plates drove onto the property. It was Uncle Jake and cousin Izaak. Izaak got out of the pickup, walked up to me and before we exchanged words, he put his arms around me giving me that much-needed hug I had longed for.

Uncle Jake shook my hand and spoke English to me, asking me how I was doing.

“I’m doing alright, but I will be better when I know that I still have a ride back to Texas with you.”

He stood there just like I remembered him, hunched over with his left hand in his pocket, a beer in his right hand and a toothpick sticking out of his teeth.

Relieved to know that my ride to Texas was confirmed, I went back inside the house and helped mom with supper. By the time I was done setting the table my brothers and my dad had come home. Uncle Jake and Izaak joined us for supper.

After supper, my sisters and I cleared the table and did the dishes while Uncle Jake, Izaak, dad, and my brothers sat around the wood stove discussing Uncle Jake’s mechanic shop life in Texas.

I sat down beside Izaak while my siblings did their cum-upstalen, (setting out the bowls) for Santa to put their gifts into in the morning.

After the younger siblings had gone to bed and Uncle Jake and Izaak left, I had a chance to ask my brothers about working on the movie set. I couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous of them. I loved watching movies and felt guilty about it, and they were working as extras in movies. I couldn’t believe it.

“Have you met any famous people?” I asked.


“Who? Do you know their names?”

“Well, yes. Daniela Romo, Joaquim de Almeida, Tom Berenger, and Mark Moses.”

“Hmmm, none of those names sound familiar. I don’t think I have seen any of them in a movie,” I said.

My brother Peter gave me a magazine with an article about the film and pictures of the actors in it.

“Can I keep this? I'd like to read it later,” I asked.

“Sure, and you know, the only reason we get to do this work is that it is a way we can make some extra money.”

“How did you find out about these jobs?” I asked.

“Well, these people came here to the colonies looking people like us.”

“What do you mean people like us?”

“White people. Well white men, to dress up like soldiers. All we have to do is stand around and once in awhile run with a big crowd of soldiers.”

“Wow, I can't believe that’s the kind of work you get to do, and they sure came to the right place. There's a lot of white people here.” I said, and we all laughed about it.

“But I thought we weren't allowed to do this kind of work,” I wondered out loud.

“Well, we weren't. All the married men who worked on the movie set got an utschluss (excommunicated,) and they stopped until things changed. Some came back to work, and others believe that it is wrong for us to do this kind of work. A lot of things have changed since you left,” explained my brothers.

“Yes, so much has changed since I left. I thought you would have electric lighting by now since you are allowed to have electricity in the colony.”

“It costs a lot of money to bring it into the homes, that’s why so many still don’t have it. We borrow electricity from the neighbors sometimes. For important things like our little water pump and the radio.”

Mom came and joined in on the conversation, adding that allowing motorized vehicles and bringing in electricity into the colonies had brought nothing but problems and oneenichkjeit (disagreements) to the colonies causing many of the Mennonites, including all the ministers to leave.

“What! There are no ministers here in the colonies?” I asked.

“No, they all left,” explained my mom.

“But, what about church?”

“ Yes, exactly. We don’t even have a church anymore.”

“I can’t believe it!”

“Believe it or not, that’s what's happened here.”

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had no idea just how much things had changed. I began asking many questions, but mom didn’t want to talk about it anymore. To change the subject she asked if I would get up around 1 am to help her with the ‘Santa’ duties (placing gifts into the bowls that my siblings had set out.) I was thrilled that she asked me to do that.

While getting ready for bed, the butterflies in my stomach came back to life again. I thought that they had died during my trip home. But there they were again, dancing around in my stomach as I began thinking about reading the magazine. I settled into bed beside my little sister, but there was just one problem. The oil lamp wasn’t a bright enough light for me to be able to see the words in the magazine and read them. So just like old times, I sat there and just looked at the pictures in the magazine instead of reading the words. That reminded me again of how ecstatic I was that I had learned how to read.

I put the magazine down, turned the oil lamp down, and said my memorized prayer quietly, so my sister wouldn't wake up. I lay there looking up at the ceiling and watching the patterns changing that the flickering light of the oil lamp was causing. I inhaled a deep breath and remembered the smoky smell of the burning oil lamp, but I couldn’t remember if I had ever thought that the smell was pleasant like I did at that moment.

I couldn't fall asleep. I felt goosebumps rising all over my skin when the reality of how far away I was from my life in Canada, washed over me. It scared me because I felt like I had just dreamt it and not lived it. My thoughts went to Canada, wondering what George was doing and if it was snowing. I tried desperately to will myself into a state of being with George’s arms wrapped around me. But the tick-tocking sound of the grandfather clock brought me back to my present, and wouldn't let my thoughts go any other place. Click here to continue reading my story.

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