What Happened: The Russlaender 100 version

(Featured photo: Dave Toews was good enough to take this picture for me upon our arrival at the Ukrainian Heritage Village near Edmonton, and no this article is not about that at all. I’ll get to it yet!)

Wow. Okay. Well, here I sit, recovering from the Russlaender 100 tour.

I didn’t go on the whole thing. I cannot imagine what would’ve happened if I had.

As I explained previously, Andrew and I ended up on different legs of the journey, which was unintentional and strange, but in the end it was kind of neat because we could compare notes.

He was on leg 2, and I was on leg 3. However, because leg 2 of the journey was in Manitoba, I spent three days with the leg 2 Russlaender folk and by the time I left them (or, they left me), I had grown quite attached to them. However, there was also a problem: a Covid outbreak. The weird thing is, neither Andrew nor I caught it. Everyone around us sure seemed to. We are concerned we may have been accidental superspreaders. I also feel responsible because if you had read this post, you’d see that I was audacious enough to declare a post-Covid victorious return to form for the CTMS conference. (You know, even at the time, it felt like a huge mistake to dare to write and publish that… but I repressed that thought. Now look. Ugh.)

I don’t know if I’m even supposed to have told you that. What else am I not supposed to say? I think there were two trips — the official one, which journalist John Longhurst faithfully documented in this series of articles (if you want to read a professionally written record of the trip, check that out) — and the unofficial one, which is probably documented somewhere in the midst of the hours and hours and hours of footage videographer Kenji Dyck faithfully recorded.

You’ll notice evidence of both the Covid outbreak (masks) and the videography (cameras) in my pictures, so I might as well mention both at the outset.

There were so many aspects of the Mennonite world that were converging and colliding in unexpected ways, and we were unexpected within the experience as well.

A friend sent me a message asking how it went, and I replied, “It’s like the CTMS conference, but with a tremendous Planes, Trains and Automobiles element,” and I feel like I’ve never been so right.

In all my stalking of the leg 2 people during their time at the conference and then the MHV in Steinbach, I developed a strong affection for them and found I could not imagine doing the trip with a different group.

And then, I did.

At one point I reflected that each leg had a different tone. It seemed to me like leg 1 of the journey was the Fancy Leg, because they started a-fresh in Quebec City and had a gala event in Montreal, et cetera. Leg 2 was the Fun Leg, because things were well underway now, and there were a lot of younger folk alongside ages and personalities that naturally bridged generation gaps. And leg 3? I anticipated that it would be the Exhausted Professor Leg. I realized this at the MMHS AGM in Neubergthal, when both Jeremy Wiebe and Conrad Stoesz told me they were going to be on the third leg of the journey because the CTMS conference would be over at that point. This was how I gradually realized my leg would have a fair number of professors on it.

I don’t know. What do you want to know about the Russlaender 100 tour? And what do I want to tell? I’m still working that out.

I think I sensed I was in trouble from day one. Naturally, I was on a flight from Winnipeg to Saskatoon with some other Russlaender 100 travelers including John Longhurst, who was in the midst of typing furiously on his laptop, which made me feel I was failing. He then introduced himself to me by stating we seemed to be on this tour doing the same thing. “Not the same,” I remarked wistfully, knowing full well I was not doing anything very proper in terms of journalistic methods or even reliability.

I’m not yet ready for real life. I want to hang onto every bit of the Russlaender 100 experience, reflect, process, and remember what on earth I even wrote about.

Okay, let’s see what I wrote in my notebook.

July 19 — the airport.¬†Airports are liminal spaces. Turns out the train was, too. The whole thing, in fact. Throwing us together like this. No wonder I didn’t want to miss it!

I can see that I’ll be on a flight with author Armin Wiebe, archivist Conrad Stoesz, and journalist John Longhurst.

I am already acquainted with Armin and Conrad, and when I arrive at the gate they are sitting across from each other so I join them, assuming they sat near each other deliberately, and I begin talking to both simultaneously. This is how I discover that they do not (yet) know each other. John is on his laptop nearby, writing with great concentration. I repress the idea that I should be doing the same. I tell myself I do not need to do the same. I am doing this my way. (Whatever that is.)

It isn’t long before conductor Henry Engbrecht appears. We do not know each other (yet) and I am not inclined to introduce myself. I know this is not fair. I also know that it will be okay.

Armin told me when I arrived, that he likes to “travel incognito among Mennonites”. It made me laugh but also I understand. That’s kind of why I didn’t attempt to say who I am (“wife of the Daily Bonnet guy, TYVM!”) I do not want to ride on Andrew’s coattails.

I suppose the networking opportunities were very strong. Anyone with an agenda could perhaps have furthered it. I myself have no agenda. I simply exist to bear witness, then do the Erin-thing, which is just this: forget just a little, write down a few key things in the moment, the bones, and later attempt to give them flesh… inevitably creating something accidentally, perhaps offensively, new.

That, is this.

Here I am, home again, attempting to reconstitute myself (and my thoughts, and my notes) at the other end of my Mennonite adventure.

(Expect more.)