Thursday, September 7, 2017

Mennonite girl problems

Continued from Still Mennonite

The day after the three holidays in a row was a major laundry day. It was the most dreaded day of the week. When I lived at home, I hated that day with a passion. Even worse than the regular Monday. It was exactly the same every time. Before last holiday ended, we would sort beans to cook the next day for lunch because there would be no time to make anything else.

Monday or the day after the three day holiday mornings, all the women in the colony got up earlier than any other day of the week. That was where the women had their chance to shine. It was a fierce competition to see who could get their laundry on the clothes line first. Not only that, but the woman who had the whitest whites on her clothes line first was the winner. She would be considered to be the best wife, mother, and housekeeper in the colony. 

I woke up to the sound of the pressure cooker on the stove and smell of beans cooking. I was excited about the day rather than being depressed like I always was when I lived there. I had no other clean clothes to wear except my jeans that I had brought to travel back to Canada in. I put on the jeans, pulled my hair up into a messy ponytail and went straight to mom to explain before she had a chance to give me a lecture about wearing jeans. Surprisingly she just said, “Okay”, and sat down beside me at the table. We bowed our heads, said our mealtime prayer, and enjoyed a nutritious knox-kuak and instant coffee before the laundry fiasco began.

Some people in the colony had an electric washing machine by then, but my parents still used a manual schtuk machine to do their laundry. When I went outside the sun was just peaking over the mountains and smoke was rising up past the windmills at most homesteads throughout the colony as people were heating water to wash their whites. The air was fresh, crisp, with a smokey smell to it. The cockerels of roosters and the sound of cows mooing echoed across the entire colony. I hadn't realized how much I had missed all of that until that moment.

The neighbor lady to the right worked hard to get ahead of me, and she beat me. She had half a line of whites up before I started hanging our whites. She stared at me a lot, but every time I looked over at her, she quickly looked down, so her hat covered her face. I had grown accustomed to saying hello or good morning to people in Canada. I had an incredible urge to yell ‘good morning’ across the fence. But I was able to control my urge and just carry on with the fierce competition. I was still ahead of the neighbor to our left.

I was exhausted by the time I had one load of whites on the clothes line. I went inside, poured myself a cup of water and sat down to drink it as I stared at the nine loads of laundry piled up on the dining room floor, waiting to be washed. My nostalgia suddenly took a turn in a different direction. Sara was busy making tweeback dough, so Agatha came out and helped keep us in second place with hanging the rest of the whites, but I threw in the towel when it came to the darks. I thought, “Let all the others shine. I give up.” 

When I went back inside again, it was very loud as all the kids were getting up and running around the house. I asked mom, “Do the neighbors have one of those fancy spinner washing machines?” Hoping that the answer would be yes so I felt better about losing.

“No, our neighbors on both sides are still using a schtuk machine,” answered mom.

My George influenced brain surfaced and thought “f#ck!” as I scratched my head where my ponytail was pulling my hair, giving me a headache.

I went back outside and continued to move forward with the laundry and imagined the end of that day when I would be able to lay down and go to sleep. But it got better as my brothers came and gave us a hand. My older brother John drove a car up closer to the front of the house that he was to fix that day and put the radio on. When a  Ramón Ayala song came on about being alone in the world and wanting to die, goose bumps rose all over my skin. Since I had learned enough Spanish to be able to understand the words of the song, I felt it deep in my bones as I remembered my Fula and my friend Richard. The song reminded me to enjoy the time there with my family as much as I could.

My brothers took turns washing while Agatha and I rinsed wrung and hung the clothes on the line. At that point, I had stopped caring about who was winning or losing. Occasionally we would take a break and sit down under a tree, listening to my brothers talk about what it was like being an extra in a movie with Tom Berenger.

Apparently one of the Mennonite men had decided to quit at the end of a long day of filming and just took off without telling anyone. “The next morning when the director found out, he was livid. He punched a tree, knocked everything over that was set up to film next seen, and cursed really bad words,” explained my brother Abram.

“Wow, so what happened?” I asked.

“Well, because he had an important part, they couldn’t just replace him half way through. Filming was put on hold until they could find him and make him come back or they would lose weeks worth of work,” explained Peter.

“Did he come back?” I asked.

“Yes, I came back here to the colonies with the director to convince him to come back. The director told me to explain to him that if he didn’t come back, he would have to pay the penalty for breaking a contract that he had signed,” said Peter.

“Do you think he even knew what a contract was when he signed it?” I asked.

“No, he didn’t know. After we had found him, I explained to him what he had signed and that he would have to pay if he didn’t follow through, he decided to come back and finish the job,” explained Peter.

I empathized with that man more than my brothers knew. I too had learned the hard way about signing a contract without fully understanding what I was signing and then having to pay the consequences for it after. Most people from the colonies would have never heard of such a concept. When I signed the rental agreement for my apartment, I had no idea what I was signing. When I got laid off from my job and couldn't pay my rent that’s when I learned that I had signed a twelve-month lease and I couldn't move out before the end of the twelve months. The hardest part was figuring out how to pay rent when I had no income. Luckily I had a neighbor, George, who always came to my rescue and helped me figure it out.

“I bet these film people were happy to have that many people willing to work on the movie set, but they probably had no idea how little the Mennonites knew about contracts and stuff like that,” I said.

“Yeah. The director often asked, ‘Who are you people and why are you living here in the Mexico desert?’”

“I bet,” I answered as we got up and continued with our laundry.

By lunchtime, we had two loads of laundry left to wash, rinse and hang. But then we still had to take all the laundry off the lines, bring it inside, fold it, iron the pleats back into our dresses and put it all away. I sat at the table and let out a big sigh just thinking about all the work we still had ahead of us.

Lunch was so good. Sara had baked fresh tweeback and made my favorite salsa to add to the beans. I missed George as the meal reminded me of the day that he came over while I was wearing my beautiful ‘purple dress’,  and I ended up serving him the same meal we were eating.

After lunch, Agatha stayed inside to help Maria do the dishes, while the rest of us went back outside to finish washing the rest of the laundry. We had one load left to hang on the line when Javier, my new cowboy friend came over to have his pickup serviced by my brothers. When he stepped out of his pickup he looked right at me, smiled, and greeted me by taking off his cowboy hat and bowing before me as he said, “Anita.”

I blushed and quickly continued working so no one would notice my flushed cheeks. I suddenly realized how hot the afternoon sun had gotten. I hung laundry on the line trying to act like a ‘good Dietsch girl’ who wasn’t bothered by that at all. My thoughts went to a place of anger again as I thought about the fact that a visit from someone like Aaron Neudorf would be perfectly acceptable, but not someone like George or Javier all because they were both not Dietsch. Thinking about George made me feel guilty for the attraction I was feeling for the tall, incredibly handsome, olive skinned cowboy. I allowed my mind to imagine dancing with him at the dance he had invited me to in Nuevo Ideal on New Year's Eve.

I tried to talk myself out of even considering going to the dance with Javier. When I thought only about myself, I had a really hard time coming up with a good enough reason not to go. But considering that the entire colony would be against it and that mom would never hear the end of it was almost enough to crush the idea. I knew George well enough to know what he would say if I were to ask him what to do, “Anna, go experience and live the shit out of life,” like he said when Sam asked me out on a date.

The idea of spending more time with Javier was growing on me especially after I experienced his company on my lonely holiday. After my visit to the mountain, I could tell him that I understood that feeling he told me about being separated from one's soul. I wanted him to know that telling me about it helped me put words to what I was experiencing. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated that he felt comfortable enough to tell me about that. I carefully considered how I would explain my version of that feeling to him. Even though it made perfect sense in my mind, I knew that I might not have the vocabulary to voice it. But since Javier spoke both English and Spanish I thought if I combined the two I just might be able to transfer it into words that only he would understand.

I decided right then and there that I would definitely never be able to express something like that in Dietsch. I knew that if I would even attempt to try and explain that to someone in Dietsch, that I would probably be put on the next bus to a special hospital in Durango city to deal with my nerve problems once in for all. Click here to continue reading my story.

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