October 25, 2011

From Middlesex to Intercourse!

It was a journey of learning and unlearning. Comforting though, to realize that I wasn't alone in that journey.

From gas spewing highways to narrow, but neatly maintained roads with horse buggies for company.
From multiple car owned townships to multiple horse buggy owned homes.
From Edison, Middlesex County to Intercourse, Amish County was to say the least, refreshing.

When I read about the Amish, I dismissed much of the hoopla for hype. I spoke to a few friends who had been there and none of them raved or ranted. But when I saw the Amish ways of life right before my eyes, I felt wow!

When I read the 'Intercourse' sign, it simply perplexed me. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. How could people not know what that word means? Or rather, not know what it has come to stand for. I dug deeper and unearthed many theories around the name. (arrived at by like-minded inquisitive souls ). This is what I go for: ' comes from the "old English" language which was in use in the early 1800's. It refers to the "fellowship" or social interaction and friendship which was so much a part of an agricultural village and culture at that time. These roots mark the community of faith to this day, and the many evidences of it are experienced by those who care to dig a bit more deeply while visiting this area.'

The Amish are a lot that care for their brethren and the Planet. Love for the Planet is not so explicit in dealings with them. Their lifestyle exemplifies care for the Planet, but they don't harp about that in conversations. (if  at all you manage to get into one) Well, they don't like to be treated as some exotic specimen. After all, for them, they are just normal, ordinary folks. But, for us, who lead such complicated lives, they seem to be totally out-of- this world!

Pennsylvania Amish don't use electricity in their homes. They instead make use of Methane- Gobar Gas, a by-product from their organic farms. There are non-Amish staying with the Amish in Lancaster County. If you find an electric line or pole in a home, you can easily take them for non-Amish.

Contradicting as it may sound, the Amish for whom dismissing technology is second nature is now embracing Solar Energy in Ohio. They say, its clean and they can continue to stay off the grid!

Amish use horse-buggies and Amish Scooters for commute. Children use wooden strollers. I found small kids pulled in one by an older girl after a day at the fields or at School.

If you find a car garage in a Lancaster home, it has be non-Amish

Amish Scooter is actually a cycle, just that you got to push it with your legs and not pedal away like the other cycles. Moving around on the Amish cycle can be more strenuous than the ordinary cycles. 

Our buggy owner, with whom I managed to have a long conversation said that there are five horse buggies at home. What if all the five in the family need to go to five different places at the same time? Also, buggy rides have opened a new form of income for the Amish.So, more the merrier.

There is no internet, no computer, and no mobile phones even! Just a few years ago, some Amish began using land phones. Very few of them use mobile phones too.

Amish marry within their own communities. Divorce? What is it?

One room schools are very popular amongst the Amish. When life gets so simple, at that level, what more do you need? Than a teacher and four walls? 

What surprises me more is that the Amish study only up to the eight grade! You got me right, yes, only till the 8th Grade. After which, boys embrace a trade, and start working and earning right away. Girls undergo lessons in house keeping, child rearing and helping out at the farms.
Amish speak Dutch, called Pennsylvania Dutch (a German dialect). But, they are originally from Switzerland and Germany.

Amish and flamboyance don't go together. In fact, they are not 'supposed to' wear any colourful or printed clothes. Men are not allowed to wear the ubiquitous Jeans! Imagine a life without the Jean! Men wear dark, plain trousers with plain suspenders. They encourage black/ dark suspenders. 

During the buggy ride, I spotted a few women working in the fields. Hair covered with a plain scarf and body covered with plain, dark loose dress, white apron and cape. I realized the advantage is you don't need to own many. Just two or three will do. They don't even know what Malls are. Forget shopping! In a world where Consumerism and Carbon emissions go hand-in-glove, there is certainly something to learn from the Amish. (I can almost hear that 'how boring' sigh!)

There are rules that govern even the hairstyle. Men aren't supposed to sport a moustache. Married men sport just a beard. Women aren't supposed to cut their hair!

Humility and submission are values that they uphold. 
Mennonite church guides their life and lifestyle. They follow the Bible- in very literal terms according to some critics. Individualism, materialism and self- reliance are like anathema. The church encourages 'community living' in its true spirit. They don't hire resources or labor from outside, rather, they all pitch in for almost everything- even for building a house for a neighbour! 

The Amish don't have insurance. What if an emergency arises? They look within the community and come together to support the needy. The Amish care for their elderly at home and not send them to the Care homes run by the government. 

I didn't find a single over-weight person amongst the Amish. In fact, I asked our guide who said there aren't many, thanks to their active lifestyle. They have no idea what lifestyle diseases are, then!

But, are they suffocated by the Church laws? Do they die to come out and lead a normal life? Some of them do. There are many books authored by Amish women who have come out. And, therefore shunned from the Community.

But, guess what? At the end of the long conversation, I asked our young buggy driver. 'You have just about heard about the Computer. You are not supposed to go on the internet or even watch TV. But, by any chance, are you on FB?' ' Oh, yes, am, but my parents shouldn't know!' 

Our buggy driver may be an odd man out. Has to be. In spite of the advent of epoch-making telephones, television or even the internet, majority of  the Amish stay true to their beliefs and tradition. Amidst the sweeping changes that redefined America, they survived near-intact even after 300 years of being here. 'They strive in all things to give glory to God, their workmanship is well above par and a lasting testament to their faith.'

The names of places in Lancaster speak loud. Paradise, Bird-in-hand, Intercourse. They connote something spiritual, something natural. For me, it was a day lost in a tranquil ocean of peace, never-ending green fields and hard working people who go about doing their duties without remorse or whining. I don't endorse all what they believe or follow. But, some of them certainly hold water, at least for the ailing Planet!