Whilst waiting in a long line to board onto the Chicago AmTrak train one afternoon, I couldn’t help but to study and enjoy the presence of a large Amish family nearby. The bearded man wearing suspenders was accompanied by three adult women and four absolutely adorable small children. They had suitcases of various vibrant colors and sipped from just-purchased plastic water containers. The line of travelers started to descend as everyone was loaded onto the train. To my surprise, I would be surrounded by the Amish family on the seats to the left and front of mine.
The little children would stare at me, and we would have smiling contests. I did not have much to share with the children or show them. Trying to respect the culture’s preference of a non-technological lifestyle and the choice to avoid excessive dress and style, I was somewhat nervous to show them things I had with me. My worries of what the children could be exposed to could somehow affect the rest of their lives. They were so innocent and sweet. I instead wanted them to show me their things, and learn more about their way of life.
They spoke in a language I could not decipher, but could only assume it to be of Dutch origin. They also spoke in English, but not as often. The women would read to the little children in their preferred language rather than in English, although the books were written in the latter. The books appeared to be youth primers for their religion, and they included songs, poems, stories, pictures, and coloring pages. One adult sat in a separate section and allowed the children to walk back and forth to the different seats and would all sit on the adults’ laps. I wondered if the family practiced polygamy because the man had so many adult women with him and all of the children were clinging to each adult, especially the man. However, the Amish do not practice polygamy, and these families were just working together like a small community.
Their dress is plain and simple, and they sew their own fashions. How do they acquire the dark blue, black, and brown materials? Rural markets and dry goods stores. The women do not cut their hair, and the men, once married, do not cut their beards. Bonnets cover the heads of the baptized women and little girls, while males sport a traditional hair cut fashion and are forbidden to have mustaches. Men are not allowed to wear mustaches in Amish communities because it is thought to resemble men in the military. The Amish do not partake in violence and therefore are not forced to join the military.
The woman sitting to my upper left seemed to be much more confident with the children. She looked to the man often to tell him a feeling or thought with her eyes, and also using their unique dialect. The woman sitting to my left, however, sparked my curiosity even more. She was quieter, younger, and wore glasses. She would cuddle the visiting children and would read to them. When she wasn’t taking care of the children, she would look at her surroundings and seemed to be philosophizing about what and why things were. She would stare out of the train window and take in all of the urban outside life. Was she wondering what life was like for the “modern folk”? Did she want to walk in the old abandoned buildings to investigate and dream up a place for the family’s sofa? Did she want to experience driving a car? Or was her faith so deeply rooted that none of things crossed her mind as they would mine? Perhaps she just loved and enjoyed the life she was blessed with and was content with what she already had. Either way, it somehow felt really special to witness that Amish woman looking out of her window.
A funnier experience was when one of the Amish women accidentally walked in on me using the train’s restroom. As the door opened and our eyes met, she looked almost horrified and said, “Oh! Sorry!” I really could only laugh about the situation.
The sweetest experience was noticing two sleeping children sprawled all over their father figure. I had just gotten up to leave as the train had reached its destination. I looked at the man and he gave me a smile and nod as I whispered, “They are so sweet.”
Since my experiences among the Amish family, I have become much more interested about the Amish and even Mennonite culture. What a beautiful and simplistic way to live.
I am a recent graduate from Grand Valley State University where I studied Film/Video and Anthropology. My goal is to serve the world with communication of and about other cultures; the many different practices, alternatives to cooking and medicine, and to enlighten those who may have suffered from xenophobia.
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