Category Archives: Introductions

Playing The Mennonite Game

I think you went to college with my son.  Aren’t you the girl that just got married to my good friend’s nephew? If I’m not mistaken you played volleyball with my cousin’s daughter. Isn’t your aunt the principal at the high school where my son is a teacher?

That’s a quick excerpt from a conversation I had last week when I went to a Winnipeg school to meet the university education students I am supervising there. As I chatted on the front steps with one of my students a female staff member came out the door. We introduced ourselves and within a minute found we had four or five connections with each other. My student teacher stood there with this quizzical look on her face. You could tell she was thinking, “You two women have never met each other before and in sixty seconds you’ve found all these connections?” 

 I tried to explain.  “As soon as we introduced ourselves we knew from one another’s last names we were both Mennonite and so we started trying to find people we might both know. It’s called playing The Mennonite Game

      The Mennonite Game must seem strange to those who aren’t part of the Mennonite milieu. It is much like the popular six degrees of separation theory. This is the idea that everyone is on average six personal connections away from any other person on earth either by acquaintance or kinship or some common experience.  In the past Mennonites have tended to live in fairly isolated communities and have often married within their own cultural circle. Many have studied at Mennonite private institutions of higher learning, gone to a Mennonite summer camp or done service with a Mennonite charitable organization. These commonalities mean people with Mennonite names usually have plenty of easy to find connections with one another.

 Traveling and living abroad for six years my husband Dave and I discovered even when we met Mennonites in places as far flung as Australia and Hong Kong we were still able to play The Mennonite Game and make connections.

Bruno Dyck in his paper Exploring Congregational Clans: Playing the Mennonite Game in Winnipeg explains it well.

The goal of this game is to see how quickly two Mennonites, meeting each other for the first time can get to know each other’s family ancestry and establish how many of each other’s relatives they know. While some participants may play this game reluctantly due to peer pressure, others seem to play for the sheer fun and challenge of it. In any case participants likely believe that knowing something of another person’s familial ancestry helps to understand that person better.

A You Tube singer named BLT has made a recording of a song called The Mennonite GameThe chorus goes like this……..

Isn’t your brother Cornie related to my brother-in-law Abe

And doesn’t your sister Stella have a nephew by the name of Toews

Come on everybody play the Mennonite Game, you’ll like it you will see

Just open up your mind and if you try real hard, you’ll discover you’re related to me.

The Mennonite Game is becoming harder to play since the majority of North American Mennonites now live in a variety of neighborhoods in urban multi-cultural settings. Most Mennonites are attending public high schools and universities, and many Mennonite young adults are marrying non-Mennonites and gaining last names that aren’t instantly recognizable as Mennonite.  The Mennonite church is expanding at the greatest rate in African countries so there are thousands of new Mennonites who don’t have traditional Mennonite names. It may be that in a generation or two it will be almost impossible to play The Mennonite Game.  Depending on your point of view that might not be such a bad thing. 

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Hong Kong Connections

judy and mike and daveToday we spent an interesting and enjoyable afternoon with Judy Kwan and Mike Ly. Although we had never met either of them before we had a great time visiting as if we were old friends. Judy is a former student at the international school  (ICS) where we taught in Hong Kong and although she had graduated by the time we arrived there , two of her sisters were Dave’s students in the high school.  Judy is doing her residency in family medicine here in Winnipeg and Mike, who she met while she was a student at the University of British Columbia is an accountant for Standard Aero.  They moved to Winnipeg in July just like we did. marylou judy mike

 

Judy was born in Canada but moved to Hong Kong when she was just starting high school. Her Dad enrolled Judy and her three sisters at ICS. I had all the old ICS yearbooks here because I was using them to write the ICS history book. Judy had fun finding her pictures in the old yearbooks and Mike certainly enjoyed seeing what she had looked like in her high school days.  We talked about the many teachers Judy knew from ICS who had also been colleagues and friends of ours. After Judy graduated from ICS she went to the University of British Columbia, and then on to medical school in England, the Caribbean and Chicago, before landing a residency appointment here in Winnipeg. 

Mike’s family is from Cambodia and his parents were sponsored by a church and came to Canada as refugees during the Pol Pot regime. Mike was born in Toronto but grew up in Los Angeles where his parents helped his uncle set up and manage a chain of donut shops. At age 16 he and a friend set off on a trip to explore Asia one summer. They didn’t tell their parents they were going  but called them once they had arrived in Asia and had a grand adventure in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.  It was worth the two months they were grounded once they returned home. Mike played football in high school and then headed off to Vancouver for university where he met Judy. 

 

dave and judyJudy and Mike are going to spend Christmas in Hong Kong. Mike has been there to visit Judy’s family several times before.  We had a good time talking with the two of them about Hong Kong places, foods and lifestyle and comparing it to life in Winnipeg.  Judy and Mike have been to many of the same Asian countries and cities we have visited so it was fun to exchange travel stories as well. Dave made the first round of mini-pizzas we had for lunch and Mike took care of round two. Before we finished our dessert and coffee four hours had sped by. 

We said good-bye to Mike and Judy exchanging e-mails and phone numbers and promising to get together again.  Even though we are no longer living in Hong Kong our connections with the city are still providing interesting experiences and the opportunity to meet new people. 

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What Next?

I started teaching in 1974.  I moved to Hong Kong in 2003.  Now I’m back in Canada and I’ve retired from teaching. What’s next? I have promised my husband Dave that for one year I won’t look for employment and we will have a year of what he calls ‘living aimlessly.’  I thought of calling this blog ‘A Year of Living Aimlessly’ but my daughter-in-law Karen, a very wise and discerning young woman discouraged me. She didn’t think my life could ever be aimless. I toyed with calling it ‘A Year of Living Spontaneously’ since I’m the kind of person who likes to plan ahead, make lists and keep to a schedule, and this year I want to be more open to being surprised by life and what might happen when I don’t always plot things out ahead of time.  I want to try lots of new things. It was Dave who suggested What Next? and I liked it immediately.    I don’t know what’s next in my life.  Will I start a new career?  Will I go back to university?   Will we settle into our new condo in Winnipeg and make that our permanent home? Will our six years of extensive travel have become such a way of life for us that we’ll have itchy feet in a few months and be back in the skies winging our way to a new country for a visit?   During our time in Hong Kong I kept an electronic journal to let friends and family know what we were doing. It evolved into a daily blog that was read thousands of times each month and when I did my last post just over a week ago I received many messages from readers asking me when my next blog would start.  

So here it is! I am going to try and feature things in this blog that surprise me in life, things that perhaps I didn’t expect or anticipate, whether they be ideas or events. I want to live this coming year in a ‘what next’ kind of way.

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