I know I’m not like everyone else — okay, no one is. Let me explain. I voluntarily quit a very good job to start my own business and make no money. Once the business started making money, I decreased my business activity and took on a new job — and had to move way up North, to a village of 1,000 people, over 1400 km (nearly 900 miles) from the nearest Starbucks. Oh, unless there’s one in Yellowknife — then it’s only 630 km (390 miles). Nevermind Starbucks — I am 430 km (270 miles) from the nearest clothing store, shoe store, or place where one could buy make-up (in Hay River, NWT).
But I don’t mind, because:
A: I don’t buy clothes unless I really need them, because I’ve worn out what I’ve got — it might be time for new skidoo boots this year, and
B: I’ll show you my shoe collection at right (not all of them, mind you… just the ones I wear 95% of the time), and
C: I don’t wear make-up. I mean I’ve worn mascara about 4 times in the last 4 years.
So, like I said, I’m not like everyone else. I am not a major hippie or tree-hugger — okay, ya, I hug trees — I just don’t like a lot of girlie things. I object to make-up primarily on the grounds that women are beautiful without it.
I may, however, be rethinking my views on make-up slightly. Here’s my thinking.
Everyone ages. You know who suffers the most, in some ways? Hollywood stars. I feel kind of sorry for them, in particular when it comes to aging. They are immortalized in their youth — 99% of them — when they are at their prime, young, beautiful, fit and lovely. Then, they age. But everyone who watches re-runs, or their favourite movies over and over again, is shocked to see them age. They don’t look anything like they should — like the young and pretty image we all have burned on our corneas! Admit it, you have images of the first James Kirk, ahem, William Shatner, burned on your corneas, don’t you? (Okay, maybe it’s just me.) But look at him now!? Gads.
So, it’s not easy being green, or being famous and getting older. But at least women have make-up to turn to. I mean, Nichelle Nichols has undergone the same time frame of aging, and look at her.
Okay, maybe it’s an unfair comparison! In any case, women, perhaps, have decided to take matters into their own hands and do what they can, using nature, originally, to enhance their beauty. I think some of the first make-up was invented by the ancient Egyptians, was it not? Certainly black eyeliner was!
So, I stumbled on a website, makeupgeek.com, because the geek part drew me in (that’s probably why I even stumbled on it, what with Google controlling what I see…). “What’s geeky about make-up?” I thought. Well, the girls who are featured (or perhaps own it, run it, whatever) are really into make-up — for effect (no major objections here), for artistic expression (which I approve of), and for the fun of it, too, (which I wholeheartedly approve of). So, hmm. Make-up might not be so bad after all. In particular when it uses natural, non-animal harming ingredients. I mean, putting make-up into bunnies’ eyes is horrible by anyone’s standards.
Maybe I’m not so different at all! I just had a phase of a make-up free life… maybe I’ll play around with it a little in the future. Now if only there was a store where I could buy some! 😛
P.S. Men, there are things you can do, too — that we can all do, I think. Try not to be chronically overtired. Drink plenty of water. Try not to rub your face unnecessarily. Eat living, non-processed food as much as possible. Get enough sleep (did I mention that already?) 🙂
In this part of Alberta, there are 3 main cultural groups, roughly in thirds: First Nations, Mennonite, and everyone else. I have several friends who are Native or Mennonite, but that doesn’t mean I know very much about their culture. I know a little, sure, but haven’t actually experienced or partaken in many cultural activities (that’s something I need to change). When my friend’s dad passed away a little while ago, I wanted to support her, so I got the opportunity to go to a Mennonite funeral. I thought I’d share a little here, as most of you won’t ever get to do this.
Another friend of mine had the presence of mind to warn us about a few things, which was good! I had forgotten that in the old colony Mennonite churches, women and men don’t sit together. In fact, the women have a separate entrance. We used the men’s entrance, but we clearly were not Mennonite (I was wearing PANTS!), so we knew we could get away with it, without offending anyone or ruffling too many feathers. Although they have very strict traditions, they don’t seem too offended if non-Mennonites don’t follow them. If you’re Mennonite, though, look out! Bending the rules is a no-no and will start a pretty feisty rumour mill, from what I hear. Some women wear long skirts all the time (yes, even in the middle of winter, or while doing farm chores…), small kerchiefs on their heads, and at a funeral as we were, black from head to toe. That is out of respect, and it makes sense. You wouldn’t go to a funeral wearing flowery/showy clothes or sequins! Their regular dresses are interesting — quite colourful and homemade, sometimes in, um, rather interesting (ugly) patterns. My friend told me that at home, many women do wear pants and “normal” clothes. The men, on the other hand, dress completely modern, carry cell phones, and you cannot tell by looking that they are Mennonite. Some women have cell phones too, and I guess overall there are many anachronisms — contrasts between the traditional and modern.
The church itself is spartan, to say the least. I heard that their belief in humility is what influences their design. Mennonite churches are plain buildings — Sommerfelder churches are white and old colony are blue — with wooden siding. Churches in most denominations have at least a simple sign to say what church it is; not so with Mennonite churches — no signs at all. There is no power, so the funeral was performed simply by sunlight coming in the plain windows. There were hooks in the ceiling for lanterns. There is no heat, but there was a small stove on the men’s side. The walls are plain white, no signs or artwork anywhere. The floor is plain plywood. Most of the seating is benches; they aren’t pews — there is no back on them. They truly are plain wooden benches, painted white, placed quite close together, and you have to rely on your back muscles to keep you upright! A little uncomfortable to say the least! There were a few chairs with a little padding and backs, and these were used by the elderly. Other smart people got there early and sat at the back, so they could lean against the back wall. We were early, but not smart enough to get a wall-spot!
Speaking of getting there early… we were about 30 minutes early when we walked into the completely silent church, already about one-fifth full. We sat. We whispered a little, but mainly just sat. The family walked in just before the start time, all together, and sat near the front. There were benches and a row of chairs facing inward, at right angles to the rest of us; those were for family. The plain wooden casket was placed in the center. This time it was a closed casket, but they are sometimes open — it’s the family’s choice. A procession of about seven men walked in and sat at the front; my friend told me they were the song leaders. Another procession came in, about 12 men, who were the pastors. The song leaders announced the song number, and there was much rustling to get song books people had brought. Oh, have I mentioned yet that the entire service was in German? The official parts were a mix of High and Low German (it’s the pastor’s choice what language to use, or to mix them together), and a tiny section at the end that discussed going to the cemetery was in Low German, what everyday Mennonites speak. So I understood nothing. Not a word. The song leaders started the singing, which was unlike any other church music I’d ever heard. There were no instruments to accompany this very sad-sounding singing (probably in a minor key), with minimal annunciation; it sounded quite similar to middle-eastern music, except with no instruments. At times, everyone’s voices were so strong, it was hauntingly beautiful… singing in perfect unison to a rhythm and melody that I couldn’t even get a slippery grip on.
The preaching began, and I had no idea what to expect. Despite having no expectations, I still didn’t think the pastor would talk that long. One of the 12 pastors did all the speaking, every phrase in a liturgical lilt, somewhat similar to Catholic ceremonies — evidence of Mennonites’ origins. He talked and talked. Of what, I don’t know. I think at one point near the end I heard names, so he was probably listing surviving family members. I wish I knew what he had talked about… if I did, this blog post would be even longer! My friend said that to sum it u, his sermon title would be “clean up your house,” your body being your house (God’s house). He said to clean up your spiritual house because life here on earth is short, and he encouraged everybody to be ready in case God calls you home suddenly… and to mind your own house and not somebody else’s.
At the end, the pall-bearers carried the coffin into a vestibule in the men’s entrance. Then, an usher told what rows to start and we all filed out the men’s entrance, past the coffin, leaving the family behind. They had a short time of special comforting from the ministers, and then came outside. The coffin was loaded into a pick-up truck (with a truck topper on it) and started toward the cemetery. An usher again, seemed to indicate that certain people needed to wait and others go first, although we could not determine the logic. Our friend, who we car-pooled with to the cemetery, knew the people in basically every vehicle and was baffled as to why certain people needed to go first — a tradition that we were unaware of, perhaps. At the cemetery, the deceased man’s brother spoke for awhile, in Low German, telling stories about him and sharing how much his brother had meant to him. While I didn’t really understand what he was saying — a few words here and there, and the few English words mixed in — I understood very clearly the emotion in his words, and could empathically hear his message. After that, there was a prayer by a pastor and the pall bearers moved the casket to the hole in the ground. They put straps under it, and manually lowered it down (which makes sense; if they don’t have powered conveniences, why would they have an electric motor to lower the box?). Then, any men who had attended the funeral grabbed shovels and started moving dirt from the pile to fill the hole. I liked that — simple, and genuine. A job that needed to be done, and the community pitching in to make it happen. My friend and her family cried a little; so did I. But somehow we felt surrounded by people who cared, who were there in a time of need.
We drove back to the church property, where we went into the hall beside the church. Did I mention that there were no washrooms? Four of the cleanest outhouses you’ve ever seen did the trick (that must be cold in winter)! The hall was very similar to the church, except they had propane lanterns installed in the ceiling, which led me to think that they aren’t necessarily against innovation, just technology. They want to be “off the grid” and independent, and live very humble lives. We had buns, butter, coffee and sugar cubes, the traditional funeral lunch. Some people cut the bun open, butter it, and smoosh a coffee-dunked sugar cube inside. I skipped the sugar cube part, but I think sometime I’ll try it.
The people we interacted with were very nice to us. At the ceremony, the few people my friends whisper-chatted to were exactly as I would expect someone to be — respectful, and quiet, but not overly morbid. At the lunch, the same — friendly, pleasant, humble. The woman beside me had a job outside the home, so she was not as traditional as others. She had 5 kids, which seems pretty common. We talked about laundry, work, farm stuff (I grew up on one, so I could talk about that!) and pets.
So, that is a small glimpse into the Mennonite culture. It’s always difficult and risky to make assumptions or observations as an outsider, but I just had to share with you. While their stance against technology is quite contrary to most of Canada, they are resourceful and some of the hardest working people out there. Although they have strict rules for behaviour, I think some people like that and are happy living in that way. They have very well-defined roles, which is confining but also comforting in a way. Women are not valued as much as men, yet I don’t think they are mistreated, as a rule. I wonder why this inequality remains… I have heard of the judgment that people who don’t conform or measure up are subjected to, and it only seems to be directed within; outsiders are not as harshly judged, as far as I can tell. I wish I understood more; maybe this will open up a dialog with some of my Mennonite friends (yes, many of them have computers, especially my generation and younger)!
I feel so priviledged to see more of the real Mexico than the average person who goes there for a week! For example, while standing in line ups at the airport, waiting to leave that paradise, I heard many people complain or comment about how there were beans on everything! I hardly saw a bean the whole time I was there! It was an ingredient in an enchilada I had, I think (which was great). I miss the food! Anyways, I have a theory about beans now, that there are a lot of them in Mexico, but the Mexicans are not overly fond of them (no more than anyone else) so they feed them to tourists! This could be part of a cruel joke, or maybe just due to their surplus! 🙂 Mexicans don’t seem particularly cruel, although when dealing with tourists day in and day out, anyone could get grumpy! 🙂 I had tamales for breakfast most mornings (I think I mentioned that already)… here is a picture of what they look like (half-eaten)! They’re made of corn, sometimes with pineapple added (yum).
Other observations of Mexico… the women seem quite concerned with their appearance. It is for this reason I say that if you’re a missionary who likes manicures and mascara, Mexico is the place for you. You’d fit right in! I never saw anyone in a regular, plain shirt, baggy pants, or without their black eyeliner (I must have looked not only very fair but also very plain to them)! There’s an awful lot of make up in Mazatlan! And sparkles, and tight pants… you get the picture. Christian ladies were more modest, but still seemed to care what they looked like. This point was driven home recently on my way back to High Level, when I stopped at a Tim Horton’s and observed what the women there were wearing! Dressed like Mexican bag ladies, mostly! 🙂 A lot of solid colours, baggy/comfy stuff and not much make up or fancy hair. Aaaah, I’m home! So, I am forced to wonder why the Mexican women are this way… are the men overly concerned with women’s appearance too, or do the women dress this way out of competition? I have no answer for that! Theories, anyone? The men, by the way, sometimes wear very flashy shirts… rivalling any rhinestone cowboy! In fact, there are lots of Mexican cowboys, and it seems at least somewhat fashionable for ordinary people (non-cow-folk) to dress this way. But I saw lots of average men dressed for work, or in grubby clothes.
So many times I was wishing I spoke more Spanish! I managed to learn about 50 words and a few phrases before I went, and I picked up more while I was there! But the time I wished I knew more Spanish the most was when I was helping Mary at the sewing class. She goes twice a week to a very seedy neighbourhood (“colonia” in Spanish) and helps a lady from Saskatchewan teach a sewing class! Pretty cool! But, the ladies there speak virtually no English, so I was feeling kinda useless. But, the Saskatchewanian woman managed with gestures and hand motions, and most people were able to figure out what she meant! (The pastor’s wife was there also and would translate if we got really stuck.) The second day I went, I started substituting French a bit, or forms of French, since it struck me that the languages really were quite similar! It helped a bit! 🙂 See the pic at the bottom of Mary and Irma presenting a new sewing machine to the spanish ladies… The machines they had were very old and I spent quite a bit of time just trying to get them to work right!
That’s all for now, I guess! Stay tuned for more blogs about Mexico! It’s the most exciting thing I’ve done in a while! Hopefully, you won’t get tired of it!