Monday, July 4, 2011

The Mississippi National Guard

Dear Friends,

The sun arced up at 6am and barraged Cleveland, Mississippi with heat. At 8:30 when I set off on my run sweat poured immediately, as if I were wearing a big sunglasses and passing through customs. Cleveland’s cobbled sidewalks, coffee shop Mississippi grounds and a jamboree of kittens marked my progress. Stymied grass pulverized by the sun lined the way. Each car that past received a wave and my shoes slapped the pavement, a background instrument to the Radiolab Podcast. On my return a short and squat woman on a red cruiser bike, with a red hat to match, waved me down. My ear buds plopped down to my shirt in a patch of sweat. She smiled, and the muscle work pushed her cheek bones up. A row of tiny dark freckles bunched together and then relaxed as she said, “Are you in the National Guard?”
“No, I’m in Teach for America,” I said.
“Oh, ok good luck,” she said.

She rode away, perhaps to question other citizens on her big red bike.

Welcome to the Delta.

In the military context I imagine TFA with a big American flag behind it, and a multicultural children’s choir singing a song written by Francis Scott Key.


Yesterday I went a looked at houses in Greenwood, Mississippi. A Corps Member who is no longer teaching led us through some houses. He wore a camouflage hat, a wrinkled beige polo and cargo shorts. He reminded me of an outdoorsy football player I knew in my childhood. He explained that he was taking a break from teaching to apply to MFA programs for fiction and would be working at JC Penney come winter to get through the year. We followed him in his BMW to the various houses and apartments. Along the way he pointed out where not to live. The houses were of a various quality, much were starter homes from the 70s. Lot’s of gray siding, stained carpet and intermixed with hardwood floors. The feeling generated was akin to that you’d feel if a realtor was taking you to look at houses and said, “Just use your imagination!” Thankfully our leaders did not issue this command.

Here in the Delta finding a house has no script, it’s all improvised. This Corps member was kind enough to lead us through the process, send us spreadsheets with numbers and locations and give us advice.

After seeing each house the reality and gravitas of my decision to come to the Delta began to settle in. There’s no regret behind those words just the filling in of details. My work is cut out for me. Our Corps Realtor in the camouflage hat spoke of the violence in his school, the challenges with his administration—I’m not in Ypsilanti anymore.

This is all pretty fragmented, but let me add this: Yesterday I went to Lake Village, Arkansas. I met up with some TFA alum and second years - most importantly Caroline (the person who made the five week care package and has been truly helpful through this whole teacher boot camp). We had a barbecue and sat for a time in the 95 degree water of the largest oxbow lake in North America! The relaxation time was great once I forgot about snakes and what could be near my feet at any moment.




"Decisions determine destiny." – Federick Speakman

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