Biblioasis to publish Menno Moto

I’ve received many messages from people who want to know when they can read the story of my motorcycle trip across the Americas to research the Mennonite diaspora. Those messages encouraged me to keep editing, rewriting and reimagining what has become a very personal project. I’m pleased to finally have some good news to share. I’ve sold the manuscript to Biblioasis, and Menno Moto is slated for publication in Spring 2020.

Biblioasis is an independent bookstore and publishing company based in Windsor, Ontario. It was founded by Dan Wells as a bookstore in 1998, and in the early years it focused on poetry and short story collections. Biblioasis went on to become one of Canada’s most prestigious small press publishing houses and in 2015 they had three books nominated for the Giller Prize. You can read articles about them here and here.

Dan is known for taking a risk on new writers and books that other publishers won’t touch. In that case, I’m proud to have written something the publishing industry considers risky.

Menno Moto documents a culture of fair-haired, blue-eyed people who have created isolated colonies across Latin America. There, they have kept their doors and minds closed for nearly a century, viewing the rest of the world as sinful. These are my people, and they are my story.

In Menno Moto, farmers, teachers, missionaries, drug-mules and rapists force me to reconsider my assumptions about my Mennonite culture, which I find to be more varied than I had dared to hope. I find some of my people in prison for the infamous Bolivian “ghost rapes”, while others are educating the poor in Belize or growing rich in Patagonia. In each of these communities I encounter hospitality and suspicion, backward and progressive attitudes, corruption and idealism. I find the freedom of the road, the hell of loneliness, and am almost killed by accidents and exhaustion as I ride my motorcycle across two continents. I learn that there is more Mennonite in me than I expected, and in some cases wanted, to find. I find reasons to both love and loathe the identity I am searching for.

I hope you’ll buy Menno Moto when it’s published in Spring 2020.

Bye bye Belize

It’s time to cross another border…Belize to Guatemala. It’s raining out…touring the Mayan ruins of Tikal, in the middle of the jungle, will be very …. wet.

Belize is an interesting, odd little place. I spent the last few days in Blue Creek, with Ed Reimers, who did a splendid job of hosting me. I didn’t see much of Belize’s tourist features, but I’m in full sightseeing mode for the next few weeks, and countries. Vic has patiently been waiting in Belize for nearly 3 weeks…I think we’re done here.

And I have a camera lens once again, so expect more snaps.

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Spanish Lookout

Today I leave Spanish Lookout. It’s raining, and I have to drive across Belize. But Belize is pretty small, so no worries.

I arrived here on Monday, and one of my first stops was the home and farm of Klaas Friesen. They’re distant family, through a few different connections in the family tree, as is often the case with Mennonites. They offered me a bed in a sort of summer house that gives me plenty of space, and privacy, and I’ve been here ever since.

I’ve been pretty impressed with Spanish Lookout. When you’re driving through Belize this place stands out for it’s orderliness, nice homes, beautiful landscaping and obvious wealth. People have all been incredibly friendly, kind and welcoming. I’ve had some very interesting conversations that have helped me get a better picture of the place. Like Klaas’ story of being kidnapped and held for ransom by Belizian thugs. Safety is still a huge concern here, becoming worse every day, and the Mennonites have actually taken up arms against the thieves.

I spent a long evening with Clarence Dueck (also a relative? probably), who is one of three elected leaders in the community, in charge of roads, order, finances, making and upholding community rules, land purchases, etc. The colony runs like any small (2000 people) town, with its own taxes, highways, bank, stores, police, etc. It was also interesting to hear the leadership’s thoughts on issues such as racism, inclusion, financial planning, education and the future of Mennonite colonies such as his.

Spanish Lookout reminds me a lot of Manitoba Colony in northern Mexico. Large, rich, fairly progressive, independent, filled with very clever business people. I attended a meeting where they discussed the recent purchase and division of 29,000 acres of new land that needs to be broken. But it also has the same approach to education, which is to pull kids out of school at teens, or allow them to drop out. That’s worrying, as it results in the same thing in both colonies: racism, arrogance, narrow mindedness and a limited range of possibility.

I visited Barton Creek yesterday. It’s a nearby colony started in the 70s by a radical offshoot of Mennonites from Belize. No electricity, no paint on the houses, no phones, no engines of any sort, no glass windows, only farming and basic manufacturing allowed, everyone dressed the same in long shirts/dresses/beards. They allow no one to take pictures of them (they caught me trying to shoot video) One of the hot topics was whether using hydro power was a sin, just as electricity is to them. They won’t take a ride from a Mennonite from another colony (that would make that man sin) but they will accept a ride from a Belizian, as “they don’t know any better”. They are deeply ignorant, although they live a pretty good life. It reminded me of a poor village in Thailand or China, although these guys are not very poor. I find their theories a bit wacky, and their arrogance is only possible when combined with ignorance, but good for them if they’ve found a way to live that makes them happy.

Today I’ll take a break from the Mennonite story and meet up with Victoria again to ride to Belize City. We’ll leave our bikes there and take a ferry to Cay Caulker to go snorkeling. Then on Sunday I plan to go to the Blue Creek colony for a few days, and then we’re done with Belize. I broke my camera, and am waiting for replacement parts to arrive, so no photos.

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Belize

I arrived in Belize on Sat afternoon and went straight to Caprice and Joe’s home. They’re friends of my sister Connie’s, and moved from Vancouver late last year to homestead in N Belize, near the border. They,re carving a very nice little farm out for themselves…they’re almost as good at homesteading as the Mennos. Totally off-grid living, and doing most of the set-up work themselves. My contribution was to hold down a chair on the front porch all weekend, just in case the wind might blow it away. I spent the weekend with them, did some maintenance on my bike and finally arranged to have one of my other lenses shipped out from HK.

I set off this morning and drove to Spanish Lookout, near the Guatemala border. Stunning town, huge visual difference from the rest of the area. And now my food has just arrived at the Golden Corral…so time to eat. They were out of perogies, sadly. After lunch it’s time to go looking for relatives, and a place to sleep tonite.