Thursday, March 29, 2018

Returning home

Photo By Nan Peters

Returning to the place I was born and living with only the very basic necessities has been the most incredible self-growth opportunity for me. Moving to Canada from Mexico when I was 8 was an amazing challenge for my family. My uncle Cornelius drove my parents and my seven siblings (mom was pregnant too) in his white pick up truck all the way to Canada.

We had no idea what kind of life we would be living. We soon grew accustomed to having two indoor washrooms, having light in every room, water in the kitchen and washrooms and we got to wear what we wanted to. We eventually all cut our hair, wore makeup, I was even planning on being a makeup artist, and then came my love affair with shoes. At one point I had more than 50 pairs. I lived for parties, nightclubs and my stilettos with the cutest outfits I could put together.

So soon we had completely changed our way of living and our way of thinking. I never realized how much until we returned last year for the first time since we had left. It was very emotional and so amazing. Now returning again for much longer and actually living with no water, lights, using a huge plastic container to bathe, sleeping on the floor has only made me more grateful. So much more grateful for everything in my life. I realized last year upon returning how much we live in a materialistic world. The past few years my desire to live very simply has really changed my way of thinking. I have let go of so many things, yes even my shoes.

Every trip I take, whether it's a road trip, an all-inclusive holiday, hiking adventure or camping trip, I mentally let go of so many material things I own. I realize that life is so short and the "American dream: is actually the furthest from my dream life. While I have always been so incredibly thankful for the people in my life but the "stuff" doesn't even matter. The dream I have is to live in a tiny house, with only the basic survival materials and to create a life of adventure and be surrounded by the most people. Chase your own dream!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Isabel Lopez

Continued from Hopeful Mennonite

It seemed like we were driving to the end of the earth as I watched the main highway fading farther and farther into in the dust trail behind us. Finally, we reached a locked gate with two armed men guarding it. They looked at us for a moment, unlocked the gate and said, “Pasale.”

The butterflies in my stomach began dancing themselves back to life as I admired the incredible maintain view driving up to an hacienda style ranch house. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The view was breathtaking. It made me forget about all the worries I had before arriving. I thought, “Wow! I could see myself belonging here.”

We were the first guests to arrive. El Guero came and greeted us. He looked different than the first time I had met him. The first time I met him, I may have been too occupied staring at his odd-looking footwear. I had never met anyone like him before. He was a lot taller than I was. His professionally groomed black hair, mustache, and his unique style made him look Mexican, but his blue eyes and only slightly darker skin tone than mine made him almost look Dietsch. He carried himself tall and confident.

He greeted me by reaching out his hand. I placed my hand in his, and he cupped it with his other hand and held it until I made eye contact. When he pulled my hand up, and I felt his mustache tickle my skin as his warm, soft lips kissed the top of my hand, I thought, “Ha li kringle! What am I getting myself into?” followed closely by, “Oba wuarom lat den so damaschen schmock? (Oh man, why does he have to be so fricken attractive?)”

He shook my brother’s hand and invited us inside to the kitchen where we met Paula and the chef. Paula dropped the tea towel she had in her hands and greeted me with a kiss on each cheek. She turned to shake my brother John’s hand said, “I am so happy that you brought your sister.”

“Anna, come with me. Let me show you around,” said El Guero.

I couldn’t get over how many bathrooms the place had, especially when compared to the one outhouse per property in the colony. When we got to what seemed like the end of the tour, he said, “Come, follow me this way.” I followed him up four flights of stairs, careful on my way up not to brush against the cactus plants deployed on one side of the stairs.

He guided me to a huge bedroom. I hesitated to walk across the shiny terracotta tile floor to go further.

“Come on,” said, El Guero. I continued to follow him through the room past a wood burning fireplace, toward a set of patio doors. The evening sun shone through the sheer curtains. The mild breeze blew the drapes, causing them to wave at me. I parted the drapes and stepped out onto the patio. The incredible view overlooking the mountains took my breath away. I walked past the patio table and chairs to the edge of the black, curved metal railing. I leaned against the edge beside El Guero and looked down at the horses.

“Wow, this place is incredible,” I said as I looked up at El Guero.

He smiled and said, “Isn't it? This is my favorite place also.”

We both stood there admiring the clear evening sky.

El Guero walked over to the patio table, pulled out a chair for me and said in his heavy Spanish accent, “Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back. ”

As I watched him walk away, I noticed a shiny silver and black handgun grip sticking out on the side of his belt.

I was mature enough to be able to connect the dots. I remembered that we often heard about lions living in those mountains. I thought, “He must have that gun in case a lion comes and tries to eat us,” and just like that I was reassured that El Guero would shoot any lion that would try to eat me. No lion would stand a chance against him and the two armed men at the entrance gate.

El Guero came back with a beautifully designed one-of-a-kind bottle and two shot glasses. He sat down, opened the bottle, filled the glasses and handed me one. He held up his glass and said, “Salud.” I just stared at him.

“Anna, pick up the drink,” he said as he held his cup up close to mine. I picked it up, he tapped my cup with his and said, “Salud,” again. I watched him take a sip.

“Go ahead, Anna, try it. It's tequila. If you don’t like it, it's alright, you don’t have to drink it.”

“Okay,” I said and took a tiny sip of the tequila. It stung my taste buds, but it instantly warmed up, and it felt like it liquefied my insides. By the time El Guero asked, “Well, what do you think?” I was feeling a bit braver and more curious about him.

“It's different. Gooood different. I like it.”

He smiled and said, “I’m glad you like it.”

I didn’t know what to say. The experience was foreign, exciting, scary, fun, mysterious and awkward all at the same time. I wasn’t sure which of those feelings I should trust. I just continued to look at the incredible view. I slowly turned my head to look at him again. He looked back at me and simply smiled, sat back, and enjoyed sipping away at his tequila. Unlike me, he was very comfortable in his skin.

My inner voice grew louder as the silence continued, “Anna, you are way out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of Mexico right next to the bedroom of a complete stranger.” I peeked at him again, and my inner voice said, “Yeah, Anna, a very attractive man who has a gun on him, and you are drinking tequila with him!” I held my breath when that reality washed over me, and proceeded to talk myself out of being afraid, “My brother and Paula are downstairs, and more guests are coming--or are they? I’m sure they are. Breathe, Anna!” I inhaled a breath and peeked at him again.

“Are you enjoying your vacation?” he asked.

I cleared my throat and said, “I haven't thought of my trip as a vacation. I have read about vacations, and my trip has been nothing like it.”

“I imagine, this must be strange for you.”

“Well, it’s different. It’s so strange I feel like I am in a country that I didn’t know existed.”

“Have you ever been anywhere in Mexico besides Patos?”

“Yes, I have been to Durango city before, and on my way here I landed in Guadalajara to catch a connecting flight.”

“Do you have any friends here?”

“A few, but I am mostly spending time with my family in the colony. Hamburgo--do you know where that is?”

“Yes, I often drive through there when I go to Esfuerzos Unidos.”

“Okay,” I said and began telling him about the great day I had when I drove to Patos by myself.

After I heard myself say, “I drove to Patos all by myself,” my inner voice said, “He's going to think you are an idiot if that was the best thing about your trip, Anna!” So I quickly added, “And met up with my friend and spent the afternoon with her.”

I paused long enough for him to say, “Okay,” then quickly asked him a question before he could ask me another one.

“How about you? Are you enjoying your vacation?”

“Well, yes, especially after meeting you,” he answered as he made eye contact. And there was that warm liquid feeling in my stomach again. This time I wasn’t sure if it was the tequila. He seemed to get more attractive every time I looked at him.

“Are you Mexican?” I asked.

“Why do you ask?” he asked with his head tilted.

“Ahhh,” I mumbled and scolded myself for asking him that.

“Just kidding, Anna. I get that a lot. Yes, I am one hundred percent Mexican. I just happen to have blue eyes and lighter skin than most around here. Believe it or not, there are many of us out there.”


He sat up straight, looked right into my eyes and said, “Ask me any questions you like, but then I am allowed to ask you any questions I like as well, right?”

“Okay, it’s a deal,” I said, and went for it. “What is your real name?” I asked as I turned red from head to toe.



“Yes. Why?”

“I have never met a person with that name before.”

“Okay, wow, that surprises me.”

“Not me.”

“Are you Mexican?” he asked out of the blue.


“Wow, you sound sure about that. I am curious to know the reason.”

I thought, “Oh shit! I should have said I don’t know, or yes, but I'm not, so now what do I say?”

He got tired of watching my brain produce smoke trying to figure out how to explain it to him.

“You and I have similar skin tone and eye color, and we were both born in Mexico. I am a Mexican, and you are not?”


“Or wait, let me see your eyes. Can you just look at me for a second?” he asked.

It felt like the bravest thing I had ever done when I just looked into his eyes and let him look into mine until he decided it was long enough.

“Your eyes aren't blue. You have the most beautiful green eyes I have ever seen.”

At that point, my toes were starting to melt, and my inner voice said, “Anna, turn it back to him! Don’t let him ask all the questions!”

I was too late. “I’m waiting,” he said.

“Well, I grew up being told I wasn’t Mexican. It was very clear that we were Dietsch and not Mexican. It was a permanent part of our vocabulary.”

“But your birth certificate says you are Mexican, right?”


“That means you are as Mexican as I am, don’t you think?”

“Ahhh…” I said, and thought long and hard about it before I answered. I remembered the trouble I had gotten into when I told the security guard at the airport that my nationality was German. I had no idea how to defend my answer, or how to explain it. I took a sip of my tequila to buy some more time to think up an answer.

He poured himself another tequila as he waited, and finally he said, “Let me make it easier for you, Anna. Today I declare you a Mexican!”

We both laughed for a while.

“Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself,” he explained.

“It’s okay, I have often wished that I was Mexican. Well, you know, one with different parents, a different name and all. I mean a Mexican that is free from the colony life. You know what I mean?”

“Yes I do, but I think Anna is a beautiful name. What do you wish your name was instead?”

“Isabel Lopez, or something like that. It has a much better ring to it than Anna Wall, don’t you think?”

“Why Isabel Lopez?”

“It’s a long story. It's quite stupid, you don’t want to know. Paula will probably need you downstairs before I am done explaining.”

“Let me tell you something, Anna. I am the boss, and Paula knows better than to interrupt me when I am up here. Especially when I am up here with a guest. We have as much time as you need. I want to know, so go ahead and tell me.”

“Okay, well, it started when things got really hard for me in Canada, and I thought that I was going to die. I began doubting my decision to leave my colony life behind and wished that I could come back to Mexico. I knew that I couldn't simply come back and live in the colony as I had before I left. During that time I watched a lot of Telenovelas, and one of them inspired my idea of coming back to Mexico and living with the Lopez family as Isabel Lopez. You know, the ones that own the groceries store in Nuevo Ideal? Because Mrs. Lopez looks Dietsch, I thought I could easily blend in with that family. I imagined I would have the best of both worlds. I could live in Mexico where things were familiar to me--close, but not in the colony. I would learn to speak Spanish with no accent. I would wear long skirts, big dangly earrings and my hair open while working in their store. The Dietsch people shopping there would have no idea that Isabel Lopez was once Anna Wall. Then maybe I would feel like I belonged.”

I held my breath and waited for him to start laughing at me. When I looked up at him, he was as comfortable as ever, leaning back in his chair, sipping tequila. His calm, relaxed demeanor gave me permission to take a deep breath and enjoy the smoky smell that lingered in the breeze while I took a sip of my tequila.

“Now that’s a Telenovela I might even watch,” he said.

I thought, “Okay, he's just being nice. He would never watch Telenovelas.”

“Did your Telenovela have an ending?”

“Oh, it sure did.”

“Don’t leave me hanging like this. How did it end?”

“Eventually, the Dietsch people learned that Isabel Lopez really was Anna Wall. When the gossip spread like wildfire, they stopped shopping at the Lopez store, and it went bankrupt. The Lopez family blamed Anna Wall for ruining their family business and disowned her. Anna Wall ended up homeless on the streets of Mexico and in the end, got eaten by the Mexican Lobos.”

“Noooo…,” screamed El Guero. Click here to continue reading my story.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hopeful Mennonite

Continued from Vamonos Mennonite

Arms linked, Irma walked me to the nearest Farmacia. It was foreign and awkward to be so close to a friend that I felt the warmth of her body on mine. Hunched over and holding my breath, I thought, “Oh this is so weird, what are people going to think? Oh no, everybody is staring at us.”

During the entire walk, I had to force all my energy into allowing myself to enjoy the experience as much as I actually was. Knowing that I wasn’t strong enough push my awkward thoughts out of my head before the experience was over, I dug into my memory of George and the many times told me, “Anna, just give yourself some slack. Relax and enjoy this. And Anna, breathe already—you are turning blue.”

When we got to the Farmacia, I was exhausted. I just focused on breathing and trying to relax my tense body. Irma hugged the pharmacist and explained what medication I wanted to buy. The pharmacist wasn’t interested in Irma’s instructions; he just wanted to know about me and how Irma knew me. I stood there and smiled as Irma explained that we had been neighbors growing up, and how long I had been away.

Es un placer conocerte, Anna. Qué bueno que pasen tiempo juntos otra vez. (It's so nice to meet you, Anna. How nice that you get to spend time together again),” said the pharmacist as he handed me the medication.

I smiled nodded my head and said, “Gracias.”

Irma hooked her arm through mine again and off we went to the Paleteria La Michoacana. I thought, “Ekj se blos met. I guess I'm just going with.”

We walked across the street to the park, sat down in the sunshine and enjoyed our paletas before they melted.

We reminisced in an interesting mix of sign language and words about the good old days of our childhood as neighbors.

After I got back to the colony, I made my delivery to Uncle Jake, who was thrilled that I had brought him everything on his list.

I felt much better about being in Mexico. I had reconnected with a dear friend, pleased a family member and proved that I could drive to Nuevo Ideal and back all by myself.

It turned out to be a great day, and it was only getting better when my little sister Maria came running toward me shouting, “Anna! Anna! Justina and Helena Bueckert are here to see you!”

I had decided that the Bueckert girls would never speak to me again after hearing all those rumors that were going around the colony about me.

I had missed those two girls so much. I spent many sleepless nights regretting not having listened to them when they tried to convince me that I was making a big mistake leaving the colony.  At that moment I was doubting my decision again, as I did every time I felt like I didn’t belong in the new places I went to. It seemed like my life had been nothing but awkward and uncomfortable since leaving; even coming back was awkward and uncomfortable. I certainly didn’t feel like I belonged in the colony anymore. 

I was thrilled that they had come to visit me, but at the same time nervous about facing them. At that moment I was glad that Mom had made me put on a dress. It would have been even more awkward having to face them wearing jeans.

“Are you coming? They are waiting for you,” said Maria.

“Okay, okay yes, I'm coming.”

My heart was pounding as I walked over to receive them. I fought back my tears as I saw them standing there so close to me. I had an incredible urge to hug them, but I controlled myself and reached out to shake their hands instead. 

Maria guided us into her room and told us to sit down. We sat down and just stared awkwardly at each other for a while.

Maria came back with a bowl of oranges, peanuts, and chocolates.

“It's so good to see you, Anna.  I'm so glad that you came home,”  said Justina.

“It’s good to see you too. How are you, girls?” I asked, and it was like no time had passed as we conversed about all of the Sunday afternoons we had spent together.

“We are still doing the same thing,” said Helena with a sad look on her face.

“We are still waiting for men from other darpa (villages) to come and visit us, but hardly any come to Hamburg, even though they drive cars now. We’re never going to be able to get married,” said Justina. Helena agreed.

Oba, nea! Are you saying that Sunday afternoons are still as hopeless as when I was part of the group?” I asked.

Ha li dietschjat! Anna, you have no idea. They are worse now. Especially since you left.”


“Yes, not even Aaron Neudorf spends time with us here in the colony since you left.”

My heart started racing when they brought up Aaron. I figured, “This is perfect! I can fish for information without being too obvious.”

“Ahhh, that’s a good thing, right?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean because he is a schwien noagel and you don’t want him around.”

“Well, he doesn’t even like us. We heard that he is dating a Mexa mijal (Mexican girl).”

“What? I had no idea.”

“Yeah, you see how hopeless it is? Aaron would rather date a Mexa mejal then either one of us.”

Oba!” I said and reminded myself that they might not know Aaron the way that I did.

That’s when I had to really bite my tongue, because I realized again just how separated we were from the people of the world in the way we thought about things. My experience in Canada had allowed me the freedom to think that it would be okay to go out with someone who wasn’t Dietsch. But in the colony, it was still ‘them’ and ‘us’--the thought of dating someone non-Dietsch was incomprehensible. I thought to myself, “Crap! Am I ever in big trouble.”

“I don’t know how you have done it. I mean live alone in Canada,” said Justina.

“Weren't you ever scared?” asked Helena.

“Well, it hasn’t been easy, but since I have been going to school, it's getting easier, because I am able to do so much more on my own. Sometimes it's still scary, but now that I can speak enough English to get by, it’s easier to figure things out. Since learning how to read and write I can learn how to take care of myself so much better.”

When they looked at each other with confusion on their faces, I realized that I had lost them. What I had just shared with them would have never crossed their minds, or mine before I had experienced it.

In the colony, you go to school until you are the age that you are done school, and that’s it. Whether you know more than when you started school is beside the point.

“I mean, it’s scary and hard for us here too sometimes, right?” I said.

“YES!” They both said.

Just as I took a big bite of my orange, Helena said, “We heard that you are not going back to Canada, that you are going to stay home.”

I almost choked on my orange as I asked, “What? Who is saying that?”

“Well, everybody.”


“We have to get going now,” said Justina.

“Okay,” I answered, and followed them out the door. I walked with them to the gate of our property line.

Dan lot scheengon,” they both said.

Junt uk. (You too.)”

At the end of the day, when everyone had gone to bed, I lay there wide awake, staring at the flickering light of the oil lamp on the ceiling and wondering who was spreading rumors that I was there to stay.  The next day was New Year’s Eve, and I had a decision to make. Was I going to the dance with the tall, dark and handsome cowboy, or was I going to El Guero’s ranch in the mountains?

I imagined the conversation with my mom in my head: “Ahhh, Mom, I am going to a dance with a Mexa jung (Mexican man) tonight.”

Oba nienich! (Never!)”

“Mom, a strangely dressed, light-skinned, tall, attractive, blue-eyed Mexican man nicknamed El Guero invited me to his New Year’s Eve party at his ranch in the mountains tonight. What should I wear?”

Oba waut dreement die nicht noch aules? (Oh no! What else could you dream up?)”

“Hey Mom, eena Mexa mejal (a Mexican woman) invited me to a dinner at a ranch tonight. John is going too, and I would really like to go with him.”

Nah jo, mool seen. (Okay, we’ll see.)”

Yes… I hoped it would be just like I imagined it.

The next day it was the usual madness of cleaning the whole house from top to bottom with Pine Sol, baking tweeback, and butchering chickens for noodle soup the next day.

I assisted John in catching a few chickens, and held them down while he chopped their heads off. I figured there was no better opportunity than that to run my plan by him. He agreed that I should tell Mom that a “Mexa mijal” invited me to a dinner, and that he was going anyways, so I could tag along with him.

It had been a long time since I had butchered chickens, so while Mom demonstrated how to rip the guts out of a chicken properly, I told her my plans for the evening.

My heart was pounding out of my chest. “Mom, a Mexa mijal invited me to a dinner tonight. John is going too. Can I go with him?”

I held my breath and thought, “Please don’t say ‘We’ll see what dad says’.”

Dad hadn't said much to me at all. It was clear as mud where I stood with him, and I imagined his answer to my request would be clear as mud too.

Nah ekj glive me es dot endont. Blose nich to loot wach bleven (Well, I think I’m okay with that, just don’t stay out too late),” said Mom.

In spite of the chicken-gut stink, my stomach began to feel warm and tingly as relief washed over me after Mom’s answer had sunk in. But my warm and tingly feelings immediately turned to guilt, knowing that we weren't going to be too late. Instead, we would come home really early the next morning.

At the end of the day, everyone had had their baths and all the chores were done. Everyone was busy doing their own thing. My parents took my youngest brothers to Schoendarp to visit my older, married sister. My younger sisters went to visit their friends.

The house was quiet and the smell of Pine Sol still lingered in the air. I got emotional as I recalled the many happy memories I had of my childhood in that house. I realized that most of my happy memories were associated with the smell of Pine Sol. At that moment I felt included, instead of pushed aside because I had plans of my own. I was being allowed to do something that I wanted to do. At that moment I felt like I was home and I belonged there.

I put on my dad’s radio and listened to Santiago’s radio station La Tremeda while I had my bath. I went through my suitcase looking for an outfit to put together for the party, something that was not a pleated Mennonite dress. I had no idea what would be appropriate to wear. I chuckled as I remembered my purple dress experience with George, and how dressing struggles seemed to follow me wherever I went. Finally, I just put on my jeans.

I didn’t have any makeup, so the all-natural look was my only choice. I combed my hair, grabbed the magazine my brothers had brought from Cuernavaca, went outside, and sat in the sun to let my hair dry.

While I was enjoying the peace and quiet, flipping through the magazine and attempting to read about actor Joaquim de Almeida’s role in the film One Man's Hero, Javier pulled into the driveway.

All dressed up and smelling amazing, Javier gave me his usual cowboy greeting of a hat nod and said, “Hola Anita, como estas?”

“Oh no!” I thought, “Now I have to tell him that I'm not going to the dance with him.”

“So tell me, Anita, are you ready to dance with me all night and until next year?”

I turned red like a tomato, and my heart sank when I made eye contact with him.

“I’m sorry, but I am going to a party with my brother tonight instead.” I held my breath.

“Don’t worry, Anita, I understand. It was wishful thinking on my part, but I will see you later at El Guero’s ranch then,” he said.  He did his hat nod again as he turned and went to see my brother John in the garage.

All I could do was inhale a breath, or I would be sure to pass out.

Javier left, and John went inside to get ready. He came outside dressed in his best cowboy clothes, matching ostrich skin boots, and hat. “Ready?” he asked.

“I think so.”

“Okay, vamonos pues. (Let's go then.)”

I followed him to the pickup.

“I spoke to Javier yesterday, and I told him about our plans. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Ahhh…no, no, that’s okay, I guess. I was wondering how he knew.”

When John said, “You know we're not coming home until next year, right?” my heart sank to the dusty ground. I thought, “I really hope this will be worth the trouble I will get into tomorrow.” Click here to continue reading my story.

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