Mississippi Moments

Friday, June 30, 2006

Exciting news from Colleen, eh?!?!?!!! Must have been a lucky day because last night I was able to stay up late enough to see my first lightning bugs! The bug situation here is truly extraordinary and Brenin would be in awe at the abundance of unusual insects and Dad would be in awe of the abundance of unusual chemicals the folks down here use to eradicate themselves of these creatures. Hold in your auditory center the background noise of a constant, high-pitched electrical buzzing noise with intermittent power surges--these are the sounds of the night, the cicadas. The dawn patrol includes the lovely whoo-whipp-Ing songs of the red cardinals.

We went to Mexican dinner and I saw two things last night that stuck out...some REAL rednecks and guys smoking IN the restaurant. Either this group of men had been out playing baseball or they were working outside all day because they all had the same bright red, and I mean crawdad red, on their necks under their baseball caps (which they all wore through dinner with their sunglasses tipped onto the brims).

These SNJMs and the other sisters who are down here are a unique blend of deep spirituality, cut you to the bone honesty, stubborn will and 'don't tell me no', creativity, compassion, practicality, and chutz-pah (hope I spelled that right). This convinces me that God is large and in charge.... They were joking earlier about disaster preparedness...making sure they had enough red wine in their car trunks before heading to the Gulf Coast. They are always among the first on the scene with any and everything folks need. And Billy Ray DeDeaux (say Dee-doh)who was in charge at one of the worst spots near Biloxi liked these Irish nuns so much that he found them another private spot where they could go to "rest and pray" away from all the Baptists who might be disconcerted of their leisure activities...

To end today's entry, a little 4th grader named Earnest sat next to me on the bus yesterday on the way to swimming. He was quiet for awhile and then he started asking me questions. He asked "where you from?" I said Seattle. He wanted to know if I lived in a house or a trailer. I said a small house with 5 rooms. He counted all the rooms and named what they were for and then he got this look and said, "What you got 2 bedrooms for if you ain't got kids?" I said I used it for an office..he shook his head and was quiet. Then he lit up and he said, "Hey, you can use is for yo'gitss."
"Yeah, now you gots a place for yo' gitss". So, I am happy to know this...:) Earnest lives in a "big apartment with 4 bedrooms"... Jonestown...More later..enjoy your weekend. We will be having a carnival tomorrow for all the children in the town. I am in charge of horseshoes.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Wih livertee and just-h fer ahhl"...and this is how we begin our morning each day at the Learning Center after daily prayer and "Good Mornin'!" to everyone. I'm a bit groggy today...took a nap at lunchtime after swimming with the 4th and 5th graders. ALl of the children got into the "big pool" today for the first time. I think because I was in it and giving "lessons"...mostly I was just getting most of them to float and to kick!

Another thing I noticed on the drive back from Tunica-it is very disconcerting to see chain gangs of convicts waiting and working around the towns. Not all our chained,
but it still speaks to bye-gone times...off to soccer now! We played again yesterday with no injuries or major meltdowns. I'll describe the "dog situation" in town another time.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Some names to consider...
One of the blessings of coming to Jonestown is learning the culture and traditions around the naming of the children here. Now, it makes it quite a challenge in the pronunciation department, but that is well worth the practice. It is quite common for a name to be created out of name parts of the child's parents. It is also common for the girls to have endings of -avia, -isha, -ia, -uita.The boys--ius, -errick, Enjoy trying to wrap your brains around some of these..I will enjoy showing you photos of the children who wear these names...
Jameliyah, LeTravius, JaMarjay, Jaterrick, Cynara, Earnlisha, Marquita, Kentarvius, T'Keyah, Fredtaysha, T'Shiera, Quongsha, Anekia, Keelandra, Jalissa, DeShantai, Datriniquia, Deterrica, Kashayla...and yes, there are the Martins, Little Mikes, Jeromes, and of course, Columbus (he is six and has a smile that would split a watermelon...and an active mind and hands to go with it!)

We watched The Commitments last night over leftover potato salad and Harp with lime...bliss.
We walked the Jericho block this morning and now the Girls to Women (early teens) are starting to come out, too, with us...I'm thinking about going to the Baptist church tonight. The Baptists have church on Wednesdays and Sundays and often on other days of the week. Jesus is very big down here... I wonder what I would find if I googled the local Mississippi chapters of the pagans and shamans...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

And on the sixth day...THEY PLAYED SOCCER! Thanks to Miz Julie, the Sister Coach with just the right ideas for making the drills fun and short. They were also able to scrimmage in a manner that did NOT resemble amoeba soccer (although we don't have anything against the amoeba of the world)...they played 5 on 5 and we subbed in two at a time every two minutes. There were no broken bones, no blood, and only one "Bummer"...I inadvertently let one side have six on at a time for a bit until it was pointed out to me! And that took two translations because Jalissa was mad and was talking so fast... The Girls to Women are also working on dance team routines and some cheer stuff. I don't even try the moves this year, but I am appreciating the creative process although while they are engaged in it, it sounds to me like they are screaming at each other and about to rip each other's throats out...but not the case.

I must tell Miz Turi that I have discovered "Sweet Honey in the Rock", and I play it every morning in the Learning Center before anyone gets here when it's peaceful. That's some spirit-filling, heart-healing, goosebump-growin' kind of music!

This morning, it was more like "Olive Oil on the Bricks"...when we gathered with the Rev. Barry and other townsfolk this morning for the Jericho Jonestown walk, we brought oil to anoint all the buildings, esp. the ones in the hands of the Devil and the abandoned ones that are not so abandoned at night...we sang, prayed, and walked together. Tomorrow, we are bringing paint to paint out the gang tags and the bad words. The group tripled in size from Sunday, and who knows what tomorrow will bring.

I am enjoying going to the Fitness and Health Center after work each day. They have just started Kid Aerobics twice a week and yesterday, 15 kids came! It was full and they were Tai-Bo-ing their little Jonestown hearts out! I have been doing the stair-stepper and the Walk the Weight Off video with other women so that come this Yuletide, I won't have a heart attack if I happen to forget my nylons again and my sisters make me wear white socks with the Tara dress again...I always can hope for black tights, but even so, I am starting to discover muscles that have been hidden for the past year and a half.

A Sheltie puppy came to me in my dreams last night...it was the first morning I haven't woken up that my first thought was "My dear dogs are dead and my house is empty"...I'm back to "Thank you, GOd, for this most amazing day..."

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Jonestown Jericho experience...we meet at the corner by Benny Brown's store at 7am each morning and we pray. Then we walk around the long block, praying and greeting anyone still up or getting up at that time of day. Mr. Burnett, one of the pillars in the community was laughing this morning, saying that the last time he marched like this, he got "whupped" by the police and he was glad we didn't have to worry about that on such a fine day such as this! There was a bit of a bonfire on the sidewalk and Sr. Teresa said not to worry. Mr. Frank likes to clean up up the community and he burns garbage every morning, including Sundays. Tomorrow when we walk, we are to bring holy oil to anoint the buildings as we go by...

A lovely Sunday dinner at the yellow SNJM house with all the sisters. Some of the sisters and volunteers are moving on to other places and ministries. It was a touching, warm evening but with a hint of sadness. They have been together here in Jonestown for 24 years and that all changed today. Now it will be Sr. Teresa and Sr. Kay.

We took the little ones up to swim in Tunica to swim this morning but the pool was closed because someone had thrown up in it. Bummer! We ended up going to play at one of the parks in Tunica (N.B. There are lovely, clean parks and there are NO property taxes in Tunica or car tag fees either-brought to you courtesy of the casinos!)and havin g Miz Sr. Teresa treating the kids to MACdonalds. Had a quick Science lesson
with the older children when we came back to the Learning Center. Off to soccer, cheer, basketball, and adult fitness class later this evening. I can't quite get into the swing of today...maybe tomorrow...
Sunflowers and Myrtle Brown Shanks Day!
This was Saturday...on the way to Clarkesdale to do some shopping, Miz Sr. Teresa drove us by a huge field of sunflowers, bright and yellow, all turned toward the northeast. We did our shopping all over town and came back in time to join other folks from Jonestown in the honoring of one of their own.

It was held at the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church on the edge of town. The colors were purple and gold. These, I learned later, were the colors of her alma mater, Alcorn State University. Mrs. Shanks has lived in Jonestown her entire life and has been a teacher and advocate for children since she was old enough to know! It was a beautiful experience listening to her family, friends, neighbors, and local officials offer their accolades and congratulations. There were a couple of uncomfortable moments and it felt weird being one of two white women in the whole church. I ended up with a big hole in my new pair of pants because I was sitting on a nail the whole time (didn't notice it 'till we got up to leave) and when the local reporter from the Clarkesdale paper got up and started rambling on and on about how segregation was a good thing and he grew up thinking it was a bad thing and well, if the local folks wanted to segregate, well then, he was an honest man and he would just go along with what people wanted to do...and what that had to do with the celebration of the day, I still don't know?!? There were Holy Spirit Praise dancers and a chicken BBQ afterwards. We didn't stay for that. I ended up being in a bunch of photos because everybody thinks I am one of the nuns. I don't bother to correct them--it would take too much time.
The best part was when her best friend from first grade got up and said that from the first day they met in 1934 when they had to have school right there in that old church because their school had burned down, they were always getting into trouble and were like sisters!

Mrs. Shanks' family owned the first black-owned Chevron station in the state of Mississippi here in Jonestown. She has spent her life trying to better the lives of the children and the community of Jonestwon. The Rev. Barry, the pastor of this congregation, had decided to go up against the drug dealers and the prostitutes in town. We have heard gunshots at night and sometimes I have to turn my CD player up at night for all the "activity" on the street outside my bedroom window... At the occasion, he announced that there would be some "Jericho" walking happening the following week-1 time around the main block of town every day at 7am for 7 days and then 7 times on the following Sunday to tak eback the town from the clutches of Satan. We started walking yesterday...

Friday, June 23, 2006

June 22, 2006
Well, they hate soccer and I love Tai-Bo!
It's finally the end of a activity-filled week!... got to unpack my box of bones this morning and had three classes of hands-on science and classifying, describing, and recording attributes/observations of my great collection of bones. Since I have mostly bones from animals of the Pacific Northwest (beaver, deer, harp seal, sea lion, walrus, Roosevelt elk,etc.), we also had a mini-geography lesson and habitat review. It was fun to listen to their experiences with bones and animals. We are looking forward to our trip to the Memphis Zoo in two weeks.

In the first part of the day, the first graders and I are working on poetry, creative writing, solid and plane geometry with clay, and math skills using buttons.
We do our skip counting and other math skills with bean bags. They love rhythm and singing!

There was a staff meeting today and Miz Sister Teresa bought lunch from one of the local restaurants that specializes in what-else? - barbeque! Yum! It smelled great! The state of Mississippi doesn't officially recognize vegetarians, so I had a lovely lump of fries with cheese and considered myself happy! The other interesting thing to note is that I could only understand one person at the meeting and that was Miz Sr. Teresa! There was a whole lot of laughing and talking...turns out they are having a carnival for the children on July 1st with games. food, and fun!

The girls in the Girls to Women program have decided that they don't like soccer and they don't want to do it. The resistance is making it tough for me not to be discouraged. I'm trying to mix it up, be creative, move things quickly, and to use the HNA highschool helpers--it's still tough. The other coaches are telling me to be more tough on the girls and to make them run. The girls apologized today at their class for their poor attitudes and arguing yesterday before we went down to the practice place, but their hearts weren't in it. We'll keep on keeping on because some of them are actually demonstrating some mastery of skills. And that's what I came to do...

When I came to Jonestown this summer, it was with open eyes. I knew what to expect in terms of the cultural and other differences (which seem to be extreme sometimes from what I know)...and still when a kid get glassy-eyed and sticks their chin out, I can see "stubborn" a mile away...I was one of those who invented it...and this is why I love Tai-Bo...I get to go down to the Jonestown Health Club and work it off before heading back to SNJM house for the evening... I'm enjoying my evenings there with Miz Sr. Teresa, Sister Anne Deneen and Kitty. I keep hoping Colleen will turn up on one of the detective shows they like to watch! I had to turn on the air conditioning for the first time last night in my room...gotta go...the girls are ready to roll...or something!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Solstice in the South-June 21st
...I learned what a "pocket shower" was yesterday. One minute the sky is blue and it is stickier than Scott at age three with what's left of a caramel apple; then the sky turns an unusual shade of blue/green/purple-kind of like a big bruise- and then the ground shakes and the sheet of rain pours out of the sky within a three block radius-ie. "the pocket".

My box of bones came yesterday and all of the books, blankets, and school supplies. Thank you to all who who gave generously. Things are busy around the Learning Center. Yesterday, we went to the library in Clarkesdale with the children to hear a naturalist and see some Mississippi critters. We learned some new words like "carrion" and that grey rat snakes are our friends...unless you want to wake up to the sound of little feet all over your bed in the form of Norwegian rats!

I got to ref my first basketball game yesterday but no one understood my calls for "offsides"---then I learned there are NO offsides in basketball! The girls had a coach from the local college come out to drill them for basketball and I have had helpers from HNA Seattle and Albany everyday to help with soccer! It is going better
but I have to adjust my lessons again and back things up. I did my first TAI-BO workout here at the new Jonestown Fitness and Health Club, known as the F & H. Until last month, it was the local hangout/club called the "G-Spot" so the locals think it is a crack-up as the F & H. They have kid aerobics now and lots of workout machines. I tried the elliptical trainer and the stair climber, too.

Today we have the morning lessons, then swimming. Afterwards, we will have soccer, basketball, cheer/dance, and then tennis.

We celebrated Solstice last night with yellow foods and Harp with lemons!
This is a good life!

Monday, June 19, 2006

June 18, 2006
Go Down, Moses...it's definitely Mississippi time...Today at church at Immaculate Conception in Clarkesdale, I heard the church choir sing "Go Down, Moses" ...and felt the connection and history that seeps into the soil and the hearts of the folks who live here. After Mass, another MS moment, when I couldn't understand half of the folks I was introduced to and the ones I could, turns out, were from Indiana doing Habitat work in Tutweiler! OH! OH! OH! And here's more news...there's a SUPER WAL+MART in Clarkesdale now...no need to go all the way over to Helena, Arkansas for the experience! Had a blast walking up and down the aisles watching Miz Sr. Teresa say "Hey" to just about everybody and then give me the story of their lives and connections to Jonestown. We spent the day working at the Learning Center, preparing lessons and materials for the week. My bag of teaching materials isn't here, so I spent my time recreating and modifying ideas for Hands-On Science, Literacy Arts, and Creative writing. I will be working with the first graders in the morning for basic skills, with all the children for Hands-On Science, and in the afternoon with the Girls to Women program. We swim twice a week and I'll be teaching soccer and helping with the other sports as needed. A lovely day!
Heron, Coyote, and ...Fried Green Tomatoes

Heaven does exist,and it isn't so far away that we can't touch it from time to time...the plane trip down was a delightful mix... a seat next to a Welsh terminologist who had been in Seattle for the gathering/conference of all interested in the preservation and continuation of Celtic languages-and a well-deserved nap! Arrived late to Memphis (I wasn't aware of this, but Miz Sister Teresa was) and Delta neglected to bring my bag with me, so off we went to the best of the day. It was doing a typical Mississippi thing, raining in sheets so hard the road was obscured and when it wasn't, cars were spun off the road and into the kudzu-filled ditches. South on 61 into the heart of the Delta, there was an amazingly huge, bright rainbow that seemed to touch in front and in back of us for miles. Add to that, a heron flying right over the car heading west...for all who care to know, Heron is the Celtic representation of transformation and healing. Miz Sr. Teresa then brought us to Ground Zero, Morgan Freeman's restaurant, in Clarkesdale across the street from the Delta Blues museum. We met up with another amazing sister, Miz Sister Maureen, from Tutweiler. Being a special guest, I was given the last Harp in the house with enough limes to last a month! And then,ambrosia---the best fried green tomatoes sandwich with that special GZ Gitback sauce! Definitely one of those 25 things one needs to eat before one dies...Sr. Maureen indulged in the catfish dinner plate with slaw and I don't know who was "hmmm-mmmming" more with pleasure...
On the way up 161 to Jonestown, the drive through cotton and soybean fields looked about the same as the last time.. just outside of town, a coyote sauntered across the road and stopped, turned and eyeballed us and we slowed on by. Sr. Teresa exclaimed that in 22 years, she had never seen a coyote in or around Jonestown! Coyote, in many traditions, can walk between worlds, between earth and heaven...me, I was not surprised. I'll take that as another of these signs, from the Noah-moment, Healing wheeling on overhead, and the Sheltie-esque Worlds-walker...that all is as it should be...

Friday, June 16, 2006

All finished today, or at least for now, at school. It's been a tough day. The writing workshop was excellent and provided an opportunity to write a story about the time Sister Ethna Marie O'Doherty, SNJM found the Farrah Fawcett in the famous swimsuit pose slurpy cup that I had purchased for big brother's birthday but accidentally left in the plain brown paper bag in the pew at St. James Cathedral where we had gone for the baccalaureate Mass. I remember having flaming cheeks as she said, "Miss Raney, don't you have better taste than---THIS!" I remember snatching the bag and walking the long marble mile out of the church as her eyes bored into my back. I was going to be damned if I let her keep the perfect present for my big brother...so it was a day of memories of all kinds...so the packing is happening as I'm trying to figure out if the Jonestown kids really want to see my echidna poster and the swordfish model. And is there room? The box of animal bones is already on its way with a truckload of warm blankets made with love(thanks, Val) and books (thank you, third graders). And what else am I hauling to the heart of the Delta blues? One Celtic lap harp, 3 bottles of Washington wine (requested by more Irish SNJMs), some smoked salmon, beanbags for juggling and junglejuice for the mosquitos that routinely carry off small children...oh, and a broken Heart that is going to mend and find joy(thank you Brenin, family and friends)...sleep well, y'all.