A comment by isavaldyr on Big Amish Brother. Life among the Amish.
I grew up in a very rural part of Ohio less than a mile from some Amish families. My parents, who were (and are) avid gardeners, had dealings with them related to seeds, produce and simple woodcraft–stakes for tomato plants, things like that. It’s not uncommon for the Amish to have small businesses. Sawmills (only gas-powered machines of course–being connected to an electrical grid is too worldly) and things like that. Less entrepreneurial Amish men often fall into the same niche that Mexican illegal immigrants do in many other places, providing cheap labor for things like home renovations, since Amish will work for less than an “English” roofer or sider and won’t sue you if they get hurt on the job.
Some Amish are fairly well-to-do and have pretty luxurious lives (by Amish standards–meaning they can afford battery-powered headlights and a plastic windscreen for their horse-drawn buggy), but the ones I grew up around lived in grinding poverty. Think subsistence agriculture. The father worked part-time picking fruit at an orchard, but no one else in the family had an income. And it was a BIG family. At least 12 kids–I wish I was exaggerating. Male children (often at really horrifyingly young ages) were expected to do the farm work, while female children did everything else. The family bathed once a week, all using the same tub of water and homemade soap made from animal tallow. The father and some of the older male children had shoes, but most of the family didn’t. A few years back, the mother died from cancer; she was younger than 50. A lot of Amish will go to chiropractors or veterinarians instead of medical doctors when they have health problems, or rely on folk remedies. I remember hearing about a man from another local Amish family who was badly burned in a workshop accident and rushed to the hospital by his English coworkers. He was bandaged and given instructions to come back for a follow-up appointment, but as soon as he got home he took his wound dressing off and went into the woods to gather herbs for a poultice. I wouldn’t believe that this kind of thing still went on in 21st century America if I hadn’t seen it myself.
Amish children go to special Amish schools whose curricula have little or no science and only go up to about 8th grade. They have inadequate nutrition, inadequate healthcare, and live in homes without running water or electricity, meaning no cooling in the summer and no heat in the winter that can’t be provided by a wood-burning stove. It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like for the women, especially, who have to work outdoors in the brutal heat and humidity of the Ohio summer wearing heavy, black or dark blue-colored dresses and tight-fitting bonnets. They can’t even count on having a glass of ice water to cool down when they’re done–no freezer. (We’ve let this family use our freezer to store their meats more than once.) It’s just an awful, awful life of deprivation that “English” people, even poor ones, can scarcely imagine. It’s also worth noting that Amish parents very much believe in corporal punishment.
The thing that pisses me off is that the way Amish people live would be considered abusive to their children if “English” people did it. But because they believe it’s mandated by their religion, they get a free pass. People I know don’t understand why I get so worked up about the Amish, but I’ve lived around them, talked to them, seen where they live, and it’s awful. One thing I will always remember: when I was younger, we used to have a trampoline in our front yard, and whenever the Amish kids would come down to ask a favor of my parents or barter on behalf of their father, they got to jump on it, and they were more thrilled with it than I’ve ever seen anyone be about anything. They’d also stand outside and look in our livingroom window at the TV, standing utterly still and transfixed in complete wonder. It makes me sick to think of how many other amazing things they’ll never get to experience simply because they had the misfortune of being born into a religion that rejects the whole world.