Yesterday, the yentas went to the Yucatan State Fair. All we did was shop, talk and eat. It was disgraceful. I don’t think we saw a quarter of the fair and we were there for hours. We totally missed the horses and cattle, the original reason for the fair’s existence. The place was huge, like a city. We bought tickets to a show in a ridiculous/awful/adorable structure that looked like a pink turreted palace, but just as we walked up to it from the ticket booth across the lane, the doors closed and they wouldn’t let us in. We found humor in this.
We had a fair-to-middling baguette in the food court so we had to eat again later. We had gringas, which were great. The waitress was amused.
I bought clay dishes and pots and blue/white Mexican ceramic cups. And the most wonderful refrigerator magnets. The other yenta got some big, beautiful baskets. An adorable young gay guy carried everything to the car for us (he was dying to get away from his family at their stand), and we stopped on the way out and all had marquesitas.
But the most interesting thing that happened was that we had an extended conversation with a Mennonite woman from Belize. She made a comment about something we were buying and we got talking. She wasn’t wearing the usual grim outfit, and turns out she is from a progressive community where they drive cars, watch TV and all the awful things anyone else does. She was born in a conservative Mennonite community, also in Belize, and the rest of her birth family remained there.
Her name is Anna. She is married and has three nearly grown children. She seems like a happy, contented and very strong woman. We liked her tremendously. She drank a coke with us and we chatted for quite a while.
Anna says that Mennonites have been in Belize for about fifty years. She and her husband farm rice. Last year they sold millions of tons just in Belize. I read on a website that Mennonites produce 80% of the food in Belize. They also have two cattle ranches and were at Xmatquil, as they are every year, so her husband can buy bulls. She was having a great time shopping. She says trips to Merida are the only times she can see a mall. (Mennonites in a mall!) Anna and her family live in a progressive community of about 750 people, most of whom are farmers and cattle ranchers.
She was dressed casually, wearing pants, which woman aren’t allowed to do in the traditional communities. Her hair was long and free, with no head covering, and although she wore no make-up, she did have tiny earrings.
According to the web, a man named Menno Simons, originally a Roman Catholic priest, left Germany in the 16th century and became an anabaptist (a person who is baptized as an adult), an early movement of today’s disparate Baptists. He migrated to Russia and preached a strong, literal version of biblical Christianity. His followers were called Mennonites. Menonnites eventually migrated to Pennsylvania and then into eastern Canada. The Amish, actually Amish Mennonites, split from the traditional Mennonites in the late 1600s. Since then, there have been various divisions, most recently the Progressives, of which Anna is one.
From Saskatchewan and Ontario Canada, some of them moved to Mexico and Belize where they bought out-of-the-way, low-demand land and made huge farms from it. In fact, part of Anna’s community encompasses a fresh-water swamp, which is how they’ve been able to raise rice.
These are some hard-working people. How incredible that the traditionalists won’t use motorized machines or vehicles on their farms or for transportation when the technology is available to them and they can afford it. Their belief is that men should not use anything mechanized to help in his labors.
Anna believes that the newer thinking progressive communities are just as strong, if not stronger, in their Christianity, but feesl that they they don’t need to suffer by impeding their ability to take advantage of technology and being comfortable. They still bake their own breads and sew their own clothing and quilts. The communities have their own schools and churches and police their own people. But they don’t wear traditional dress, they use every machine they can to expedite production, and they occasionally do talk to outsiders (like us).
It is a closed society – the communities are self contained and there is not much interacting with other people except for business reasons. Adele asked Anna about marriage prospects for the younger generation and how they find mates who aren’t closely related to them. This is a substantial issue, according to Anna, and even more so as time goes by. For her children, there are only four families in their community that they may marry into. It is possible to visit other Mennonite settlements in Mexico or Canada, however.
Anna says she used to drive the combine, but has retired from direct farm labor now and does things like help people with documents. She has a computer and is on the internet.
Several of the younger people are in college and one is headed toward medical school. The young doctor plans to come back to the community to serve there. Now, when someone is injured or seriously ill, they go to Merida, the closest place for good medical treatment.
We were talking about religion and when I told her I was Jewish, she remarked that she’d never met or talked to a Jewish person before. I was equally delighted, because I’d never talked to a Mennonite before. None of the traditional Mennonites we see in Campeche or Yucatan will even exchange greetings.
Both Yucatan Yentas thoroughly enjoyed talking to Anna. She’s a highly principled, strong woman with a curious mind, secure in who she is and happy and satisfied with her life. I hope our paths cross again.