"Whatever you are, be the best you can be."

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Living with the Amish

I've just finished watching the first episode of the new Channel 4 series, Living with the Amish. I loved it. I expected it to be an interesting insight to how the Amish live, with perhaps a little amusement at how the teenagers manage to live without their mobile phones and personal music players (MP3's and iPods). It had all this and more, and I was so surprised by how emotional and moving it became.

On first sight, when meeting James, one of the British teenagers trying living with the Amish for six weeks, I found out he was 17, unemployed and a college dropout. I thought lazy bum, can't be bothered to work or study. But then I got a surprise. I learnt about how his mum was arrested for arson when he was 14, his younger sibling went to live with his nan, and he went into foster care. After that, he went into a hostel. He now misses living in foster care because it was nice living with people, now he lives on his own in a tiny, dingy looking hostel, with nothing but a tv and video games console for company. He actually appears lonely. And after he got to know Jonathan, the kind young Amish man he was staying with, he actually seemed to wish he was his father.

All the teenagers were moved by the people they met, even Urma, an older Amish woman who had been brought up in the Amish community, and later spent 18 years living "in the world" (away from the Amish community), got married and had children. She now lives back with the Amish community after realising she missed the community and the feeling that if anything happened to her, the Amish community as a group would all come to help her.

Urma was speaking with Siana, the young girl originally born in Sierra Leone and moved to England when she was 2, and runs a Fashion Blog, amongst many others. Siana seemed to find the Amish clothing to be the hardest lifestyle changes so far, as she felt she was losing her identity. And this made me think, I often believe the clothes I wear express my personality, almost without different and striking clothes, I wouldn't be me. Now I think the Amish lesson here is that clothes do not make who you are inside. Change your clothes, you are still the same person. The Amish accept you for who you are, and Charlotte said to Jonathan's wife (Maryetta I think her name was), that she wished her own community was more accepting like that.

In British society, we make so many judgments of other people based on what they wear. So we feel we have to dress a certain way, either to meet expectations, or to stand out from the crowd. We cannot accept ourselves and have peace with ourselves in plainer clothes.

Charlotte freely admitted that back home in England, she would sit outside sunning herself, while her mother painted her nails and brought her cups of tea and coffee. She had never done washing up in her life, her parents never nagged her, and it seems she doesn't do any housework at all. So it was quite a shock to her to learn to tidy her room, do the laundry and washing up. Yet surprisingly, she loved it! She got on very well with Jonathan's wife, and in the short space of a week, they grew very close. As did James with Jonathan. It became a very emotional farewell at the end of the week, with a eat-out, and the British teenagers tearfully giving heartfelt thanks to Jonathan and his wife, with not a dry eye amogst them. It was beautiful.

I think the Amish have a lot to teach us, and I am looking forward to the next three episodes of this series.

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