The morning shower did dampen my spirit as we traveled along Route 30. And the pour didn’t get any lighter when we turned into 340 (the Old Philadelphia Pike). I remember a guide book advising visitors to avoid this route for it is constantly congested and being, well, touristy. I guess at 8 am with the rain showing no sign of resentment, it didn’t really matter to us.
On my itinerary was a cruise along the Scenic Drive, a spot on the map that got my attention immediately. At Bird-In-Hand, we took a left turn into Harvest Road leading to Highway 772. The surrounding progressively transformed from rows of shops to fields of corn and wheat. A scattering of Amish houses, agricultural plants and towering power generators decorated the otherwise monochromatic plains.
I proceeded to turn off my GPS navigator (how fun) and drove aimlessly deep into the area, reminding myself to just observe and never trespass. It was still drizzling when I had my first encounter with an Amish on a buggy. Being the driver, I only managed to catch a glimpse of him. The man donning a black coat and a hat had a beard, a signature of every married Amish man.
The rain stopped for a while. We parked beside a river and walked about half a mile to observe a nearby farm. What I feared at this point was not the Amish but potential presence of Dobermanns and German Shepherds barking us off their property. Or worse, tearing us apart for breakfast. Then, it started to rain again and we’re forced to dash for the car.
Finally, the sky spared our humble lives and decided to open up that late morning. Shops started operation and we found ourselves at the Amish Village in Strasburg, a souvenir shop that doubled as a faux Amish house (complete with a guided tour). For only US$8, I must say that it’s worth every penny and that it’s cheaper than most of the other exhibitors around. The tour of the house by an informative elderly lady started at the living room, where most of the communal activities take place, followed by the bedrooms and kitchen. In between, we also learned about their history and traditions.
The Amish (and the Amish Mennonites) place great importance on family and the community, with God being the core of their very existence. They resist materialism, which basically cut them off from what modernity has to offer. A young adult decides if he/she wants to be baptized and will be accepted as part of the community, regardless of his/her decision.
Over the few weeks leading to this visit, I’ve been reading a bit on the Amish. As a visitor, there are certain etiquettes that I should note. For one, I shouldn’t be photographing the Amish. Nor do they want to be photographed as well. There are a few explanations (that I know of) to this. Some said that photographs are a symbol of vanity, a contradiction to their belief. As Christians, allowing themselves to be photographed is to disobey one of the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image. The most interesting that I’ve heard implies that it snatches the soul from the Amish.
In the kitchen, we were told that the Amish use portable fuel such as propane cartridges for cooking. Electricity is not used in any way. A fellow colleague asked if electricity is considered materialistic. I was dumbfounded. In the weeks to come, I came to understand that electricity indirectly connects the Amish to the ways of the material world via electrical appliances such as the television, hence the prohibition.
The fact that these few European descendants hold up to their belief until today is admirable, considering how dependent we are on technology, which in general does related to materialism in today’s capitalist world. They are a testament to what life is like without mobile phones, the internet, and computers, a question we perpetually ask ourselves. This was quite an experience, especially in a technology-driven country like America. An enriching one, no doubt.
A few hours later, we were on our way to a nearby Chinese buffet restaurant before a frenzy shopping spree at the factory outlets next to it. Yes, all peculiarly located not too far from the Amish neighbourhood. This is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.