Friday, April 17, 2009

WWHTT moments

I learned something the other day that would have never occurred to me without it having been mentioned. It wasn't anything earth-shattering, just one of those "huh, who would've thought that" moments. Oddly enough it concerned a community that I had only recently had another such moment about, and it got me thinking about those other societies we see around us but don't ever know much about.

I suppose a little background is necessary or else this won't make any sense. I live out in rural Pennsylvania at the moment, and we have neighbors who are Mennonite. That term may be less familiar, but one I'm sure everyone knows is Amish. They've made enough appearances in pop culture - Hollywood movies, Weird Al videos - that when you mention them to most people, certain images come to mind. The images aren't wrong, by the way, as we've encountered horse-drawn buggies on the road and seen men with beards and dark clothes laboring with hand tools alongside women in full length dresses and mob caps. (My spelling may be wrong on that last bit of clothing. That's how I've heard it said but I've not actively looked it up.)

The first WWHTT moment was when I learned that what I thought was the natural progression of things was actually the reverse. Mennonites are essentially Amish lite - they are to the Amish what the Anglicans are to the Catholics, in a sense. Recognizable as the same basic faith and close relatives of one another, but different enough to be distinct. The Mennonites dress similarly and hold similar values, but are in keeping with modern technology. They have cars, phones (though some rule dictates where this phone must be kept in relation to the house) and electric lights. I had always presumed the Amish came first, but in fact they splintered off to become stricter.

The second WWHTT moment came more recently, when it was mentioned that there are a lot of African-American Mennonites. I've never seen any in the Amish community, and perhaps saying that there are "a lot" in the Mennonite community is overstating it, but they aren't so rare that's it's unusual to meet one if you spend any amount of time among them. Now it mostly seems to be men, as anecdotal evidence suggests African American Mennonite women are few and far between, but they are there where I never would have thought to find them in the first place.

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