Thursday, February 1, 2018

Vamonos Mennonite

It was no secret that Abram, who is a year and six months younger than me, had some hostile feelings toward me and my situation. 

“Why shouldn’t I go to this party?” I asked him.

“Because then people in the colony will spread rumors about you.”

“What kind of rumors?”

“Oh, you know, that you are a schtruntz (slut)!” he shouted.

“Oh really? I thought that was old news. I have been a schtruntz ever since the first time someone saw me talking to a long-haired schwein noagel in Canada.”

“Exactly! You need to behave in a way that proves otherwise. Mom and Dad should have never let you go in the first place!!!” he yelled.

“You’re right, they shouldn't have, but they did, and I can’t turn back time. Sometimes I wish I could! What am I supposed to do now, live like this forever?”

“Live like how?”

“Letting others tell me what I am, what I can and can’t do when they haven't got a clue about what is really going on?”

“You asked for it the day you left all of us!”

“I asked for this?”


“NO! I didn’t!”

“YES, you did!”

“NO, I didn’t!”

“YES!!!!! You did!!!!”

“NOOOOOOOO!!! I didn’t!!!!!”

John couldn’t stand it anymore, and he intervened, “Okay, stop it you two! Caray (wow),  you two sound like a couple of kids. “

I walked away and went to the outhouse. That seemed to be the only place I could be by myself. The outhouse on my parent's property was located right beside the barbed wire fence that separated uncle Jake’s property from my parents’ property. Occasionally I peeked through the space on the side of the outhouse where the wood panels met, to make sure no one needed to use it. I sat in there wishing that I could make myself disappear. I imagined living by myself at the mountain where a short time ago I had discovered a slice of the feeling of belonging, feeling connected to the universe and the nonliving at the same time. I imagined myself living without people at the mountain, alongside the crows and donkeys.

“Oh George, where are you right now? I miss you so much. I could really use your company right now. When I leave this time, I am never coming back!” I thought to myself.

I opened the door, and the brightness of the Mexican sun blinded me. I wiped the tears off my face, pretending that the sun had caused my tears.

Uncle Jake saw me and waved me over. I climbed through the barbed wire fence and went to see to him.

“Hey Anna, how’s your visit so far?”

“I think I'm going bonkers. How about you? Are you almost ready to go home?”

“What do you mean, go home?  We are home, aren't we?”


“I think I have the flu. I feel very ill. Could you do me a favor?” asked Uncle Jake.

“Oh no, that’s too bad. Sure, what can I do?”

“Could you go to Patos and pick up these items for me?”

“Ahhh, me, driving your pickup in Mexico?” I asked.

“Well, yes, we are in Mexico, right?”

“Yes, but...”

“Anna, believe it or not, driving in Mexico is the same as anywhere else.”

“Okay, I will just go and talk to mom first.”

“Okay,” he said, and handed me a list, money, and the keys to his pickup.

I explained to mom what Uncle Jake had asked me to do and she said, “Okay, can you bring a bag of pink icing and a jar of coffee?”

“Sure,” I answered. I got so excited about the idea of being able to drive to Potes myself that I felt warm and tingly on the inside and my heart began racing. I loved driving by myself. I had learned that sitting behind the wheel and driving was the best form of therapy for my torn, frustrated, and lonely feelings. Not only was it was the best form of independence I had ever experienced, but I did my best thinking while behind the wheel. My thoughts spoke clearly, and they made sense in whatever mixed up language they were. I often thought, If only I could voice my thoughts the way they are in my head while I am driving.

My glimpse of new-found hope turned to despair when mom said, “But, one of the boys should go with you.”

“I knew it!” I thought.

“Mom, would it be okay if I went by myself?” I asked.

“You want to go all by yourself?” she asked.

“Yes, I do. I would love to go all by myself.”

She looked at me like I had just landed a spaceship from outer space right there in front of her with no apology for the disturbance I had caused while doing so.

“Mom, I traveled all the way from Canada to Mexico by myself. Please just let me drive to Potes by myself.  I will be fine.”

When she said, “Nah jo (Okay),” My George-influenced brain thought, “F#ck it!” as I lost all control, and hugged her. She stiffened up so much that it felt like I was hugging a concrete statue. I was a bit embarrassed for her, but I was okay with my decision. The one thing I was sure of was that for a hug to be effective, both parties had to be willing participants. I compared the experience to my relationship with Aaron Neudorf.

On my way to a slice of freedom, the distance between me and Uncle Jake’s pickup seemed too far. My feet felt extremely heavy as I made my way to the pickup. I never looked back. It felt like I was climbing my way out of a dark hole before I got sucked back in. It was like the sort of dream where you are running toward something you so badly want, but you’re standing still in one spot. You gain new hope when it feels so real, but when you almost get there, you wake up. This was really happening—I was awake and fully aware. I put the key in the ignition, placed my foot on the brake pedal, and turned the key. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I slowly lifted my shaking foot off the brake pedal and placed it on the gas. “Anna, eyes straight ahead!” I thought as I left my entire family in a cloud of dust.

When I turned onto the highway and drove away from the colony, I let out a scream I still had inside me from my earlier frustrations. After I listened to my thoughts say, “Anna, you sound like an idiot,” I got busy becoming one with my thoughts while miles of desert land whooshed past me. The feeling was unlike any I had experienced up to that point. I was collecting and storing my experiences to keep with me forever and ever. Every time I experienced something that made me feel like I just might be okay, I reminded myself that it might be short-lived. 

When I drove into Potes and passed a few buggies, I told myself, “Do not make eye contact!”

I decided not to go to Centro Valle, where I was guaranteed to run into Mennonite people who would recognize me. I drove to the new purple grocery store that had opened since I left.

I successfully parked Uncle Jake’s pickup in front of the purple store while a large group of Mexican men watched me. They could very well just have been admiring Uncle Jake’s ‘fancy Texas pickup,’ but my bad attitude decided that they were waiting for me to hit someone or something, proving that I wasn’t cut out for this.

When I stepped out of the pickup, a few of the men whistled at me and yelled, “Guerita Preciosa!

I pretended I didn’t even notice them while I enjoyed a bit of new-found confidence about my successful parking job. I thought to myself, “You didn’t think I could do it, did you? Bunch of cabrones!” And just like that, my confidence fled the scene and left me stranded and vulnerable.

With uncle Jake’s list in hand, I walked into the grocery store. Before I began shopping, I stopped to look at the list:

ü Pork chops
ü Tequila (El Jimador)
ü Auguameneral (sparkling mineral water)
ü Coke
ü Lemon
ü Panque de nuez (Nut bread)
ü Salsa Valentina
ü Saladitas (soda crackers)
ü Caldo de Camaron (shrimp Mr. Noodle cups)
ü Nescafé

And, medication I couldn't pronounce.

When I looked up, every eye in the store was on me. I slowly made my way to a cart and grabbed it. I began looking for the items on the list, pretending that being stared at didn’t bother me one bit. When I turned into the salsa aisle, there was a Mexican woman looking at me and whispering to a man. It was obvious they were talking about me. I thought, great! This is just great! And my already bad attitude got worse. “I thought at least the natives would be on my side, but noooo!”  The woman began to smile as she made her way toward me. I quickly looked away and began looking for Salsa Valentina.

Anna! Anna! Eres tu?” she shouted.

“How the heck does she know my name?” I thought.

When she got closer, she looked so familiar, but I couldn’t figure out who she was.

Anna! Soy yo, Irma. (Anna! It's me, Irma.)”

“Irma Heide?”

Sí, sí, soy yo. (Yes, yes it's me.)”

“Irmaaaaa!” I yelled, and she leaned in and hugged me.

I was overjoyed. Irma had been on my mind since the moment I got off the bus at the colony. When I saw that the house where she grew up was abandoned, I thought that I would never see her again. We had a lot of history. I believed that because she taught me the Spanish alphabet, I was able to learn English the way I did, and find all those words in the English-Spanish dictionary, and learn them. She had no idea how much she had helped me by doing that, or how much I loved her for that. The fact that I was standing in that store at that moment, I owed to her.

At first, I was speechless. Then I began babbling on in a mix of Low German and English, while Irma stood there and stared at me. She didn’t understand a single phrase that was falling out of my mouth. It seemed to me that she wasn’t even trying to understand me. Not even the word “okay.” It was hopeless. I had no choice but to dig deep for my Spanish words, if I was going to communicate with her.

I asked her if she was shopping too, and she explained that she was the owner of the store and the man that I saw her whispering to was her husband. And that’s when my half-ass Spanish language began to confuse her. Just like so many other times, I couldn't explain myself in a way that the other person understood.

She asked what I was looking for. I looked at the first item on Uncle Jake’s list and said, “Chuletas de cuerpo (body chops)” but I meant to say, “Chuletas de puerco (pork chops).”

When I realized my mistake, we both laughed, and she said, “Quieres comprar chuletas de cuerpo de puerco? (You want to buy pork chops from the body of a pig?)”

I thought, “Oh man, this sucks! Why am I always on this end of the language barrier? Why can't others learn Plautdietsch for a change?”

Caramba! Irma! You should have learned Plautdietsch—you grew up in a Mennonite colony, after all. Yes, that’s what I want to buy,” I said.

She stood there with a blank stare on her face again, until I said, “Sí, sí, así es (Yes, yes, so it is).”

We both awkwardly laughed for a moment, then she reached out her hand and asked, “¿Puedo? (May I?)” I handed her the list. She looked at it and said, “Por favor sígame. (Please follow me).”

I followed her around the store while she placed everything I needed into my cart. It took a whole five minutes.

Que tal esto? (What about this?) I asked and pointed to the name of the medication on my list.

Deberá ir a la farmacia para eso (You will have to go to the pharmacy for that),” she explained.

“Okay. Thanks,” I said.

Pero espera, no te vayas todavía (But wait, don’t leave yet),” she said.


I stood there with my arms stiffly crossed. Irma yelled something to her husband about putting the chuletas de cuerpo de puerco back into the freezer, as she grabbed her purse. She slid her hand through my stiffly crossed arm, firmly tucked me close to her side and said, “Vamonos amiga (Let's go).” Click here to continue reading my story.

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