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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