DAY TWO: CLARKSDALE
by Storey Deerhake ’18
After pondering over yesterday’s first impressions, I woke up knowing that I wanted to ask questions, but most of all I wanted to get answers. After a breakfast of cheerios, peanut butter, and bananas (I have a feeling we are going to go through a lot of peanut butter and bananas this trip), Nat came over. He told us that he was new to Habitat and had only been here since July, but he gave us a warm introduction before the leader of the group, Ben, arrived. Ben presented himself as a real southern gentleman and gave us the lowdown of what the expectations were for the work we would be doing. I could tell right away that he was the man to ask all of my questions. After his introduction, we all piled in the cars, leaving the comfort of our blue bungalow behind us for the rest of the morning. Ben took us across the river (which I believe is called the Sunflower, but I will have to ask) and we arrived at the site of a house that we were going to be working on in the upcoming week. The house had beige vinyl sidings and we had to enter the house by first removing the plywood from one of the windows, and then by sending both Sophias through and having them remove the plywood on the front door. Ben explained later when he took us to the other site that although “the plywood method” did not keep people out, it cut down the number of unwanted visitors. Ben took us over to the house that Elvis and a previous group of George School students had worked on. A young boy greeted us, telling Ben that his mother was at work. Small interactions such as this one really gave me some perspective on the work we are doing here and the people who are benefiting directly from our work. Throughout the trip, I have kept with me the constant reminder of the privilege I have, especially when it comes to needs versus wants and the privilege I have of all the wants I have in my life.
On our way over to the site across the street, I asked Ben something that had been on my mind. Since the drive down route 61 from Memphis to Clarksdale, I had been seeing signs and art everywhere with the word Delta. I looked it up when we reached the house, supposing that it was just my ignorance getting in the way of my unknowing. Google gave me a map of Mississippi with a highlighted region of the Northeast part of the state. The answer I was looking for was more from the perspective of someone who was born and raised here. So I asked Ben “What makes the Delta different from the rest of Mississippi?” He answered with one word. “Blues.” Ben went on talking about how the Delta and Clarksdale specifically, was home to the likes of John Lee Hooker and Ike Turner and Muddy waters, and how once they made somebody of themselves they left without looking back. He said that the people of Clarksdale were a lot like that, but he did not care to elaborate more on what he meant by that. [In my journal, I included a pressed clover that I taped in, but if you are reading it online, you’ll just have to envision it or look up a Southern spotted clover] I noticed these clovers right away because the only clovers I have ever seen do not have spots or like these do. It turns out that these clovers are referred to as “spotted clovers” and the only thing I found out about them is that their spots are believed to be the drops of blood of Christ. I think this is a fitting narrative for our location.
This afternoon, after Ben gave us the lay of the land, we all walked from our part of town, Riverton is what Ben called it, to the more commercial side of town. The majority of town was full of tired and unsuccessful business, and you could tell that the shops that were open had been there forever. Despite the towns’ poverty, it was rich with personality. Friendly people and equally friendly dogs occupied the businesses. Something that I noticed, and something that Elvis noted earlier, was that the gentrifications of the town was slowly creeping in. The most prevalent example of this was the very nice coffee shop in the middle of town off second and Yahzoo Street. I wonder if I came back in 15 years if the town would be full of shops like this coffee shop, or if they would eventually be driven out of town.