By timidly opening up to modernity, especially the internet, Mexican Mennonites incidentally discovered that the world was in the throes of a pandemic.
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Mennonites are a branch of the Anabaptist Christian movement, founded in the 16th century by the pacifist Menno Simons, from whom they took their name.
Dedicated to agriculture and breeding, these deeply religious ascetics make their own clothes, live without cars, without electricity, and without communication devices.
The contacts with the outside world of these ultraconservatives originally established in El Sabinal, in the Chihuahua desert (north), are limited to visits to neighboring communities to sell their crops.
In small steps
In small steps, however, some have opened up to the Internet and are connecting to it “sporadically”. This is how, they say, they learned of the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic that is raging in Mexico and the rest of the world.
Especially since, at the end of May, they noted “that ten people from different families fell ill, but not seriously”, tells AFP a Mennonite trader in El Sabinal.
“They initially thought it was the flu, but they went to the pharmacy and they were told it was COVID-19,” he adds.
Connected, the pharmacist, also a Mennonite, was aware of the existence of the epidemic and advised those infected to isolate themselves.
In El Sabinal, if the omnipresence of electricity and cars has already scared off half of the Mennonites in 2019, i.e. a hundred families, young people like Jean and Jacques have preferred to stay.
“I am not leaving because I have no money to leave and to buy land in Campeche,” in the south, Juan Jhonson, 21, told AFP.
The Chihuahua Desert, the gateway for Mennonites who arrived in Mexico in the 1920s, is no longer cut off enough from the world for the more conservative, who are now heading to Campeche, whose tropical climate contrasts with the aridity and the extreme temperatures of the north.
The tire is good
“I’m all for the use of tires,” admits Jhonson, a newlywed who works on land owned by another family.
“The elders consider it bad, that the tire brings bad things. I think it helps us to move, ”he adds, referring to the more traditionalists who only accept wooden wheels on their carts.
They settled in Valle Nuevo, a town some 3,000 kilometers from El Sabinal.
“I’m going to stay here, I really want to use tires. Electric light is more difficult, not everyone has it, it is very weak and in addition it often breaks down, ”says Jacobo, 28, father of three children.
Mennonites speak a dialect similar to German, although the men learn Spanish to trade in their products.
“Why would we want television? The television is bad. But the tire is different. It helps us to go fast, ”says a 20-year-old bachelor, also called Jacobo, owner of an old truck.
With ingenuity, in order to facilitate their agricultural work and their trade, the youngest were able to adapt new engines to the carcasses of old vans.
Thanks to the facilities offered by the Mexican government, eager to populate the north of the country, thousands of Mennonites of German origin arrived from Canada in 1922.
Mennonite communities are scattered across the country, including Mexico City, where you can sometimes see men in overalls selling cheese.