Archive for October 2008

In Light of Current Events

October 28, 2008

Sadly, it seems that my poem White Flour refuses to be outdated. There is more sad news on the topic from Tennessee yesterday. People at shows have been asking where they can get a copy, so I’ve decided to add a permanent page with the text.  Feel free to distribute as you see fit.


Guate trip I

October 20, 2008
Da Guate

It’s always good to be here, and renewing, even at a time like this when my heart is pulled strongly toward the US. With my dad in the hospital and my baby boy getting ready to make his grand appearance, there’s a lot to feel and think about these days. Hugs and songs from Guatemalan children, though, go a long way toward reminding me why I’m here.

Thanks, by the way, for the good wishes regarding Dad. He’s scheduled for bypass surgery on Tuesday, so this is a time of waiting, mostly.

The main purpose of this trip to Guatemala is to introduce my friend John Smith to the work we’re doing here. John’s one of the few people I know who actually does more shows in a given year than I do, and I think he’ll do a great job spreading the word about PEG while I head off on my fellowship.

Da Guate

John and some children in Chacaya

John spends a lot of time in Ireland but hasn’t really need anywhere like Guatemala before. We’ve spent the first couple of days checking in on two projects where PEG has made some contributions, and buying some school supplies for a third project where PEG has been integral.

We touched down a half-hour late in Guatemala and were greeted by a Mayan man named Nicolas in a Chinese-built mini-mini-van with a spider web crack in the windshield. Nicolas navigated the darkness, the potholes, the perros and late night middle-of-the-street soccer games for four hours, talking US politics for most of the way (he’s excited about the idea of a US president who knows something first-hand about poverty and how most of the world lives, and seems to really care about it).

A little after 11 (1AM on the east coast) Nicolas and his micro-van delivered us to the Posada de Santiago at Lago Atítlan, where we’ll base for the next four nights. The folks at the Posada had left some food to be heated up when we arrived, so we ate ravenously and gratefully fell into our beds, listening to the rain and an occasional avocado landing on the roof.

Da Guate

We headed down to the dock on Friday morning and caught a boat across the inlet to Chacaya, where PEG recently helped build a new school. Our original intent last summer was to build the building, but as it turned out a larger organization with deeper pockets showed up and built a gorgeous facility while we were still chewing on plans and gathering funds.

Da Guate

The folks from Chacaya got in touch with some concern to let us know they had this opportunity, and I was happy to reassure them that we weren’t the least bit worried about turf and were thrilled that the kids were going to have a good school building.

The land they had bought with assistance from Sharing the Dream is very steep, though, and as it turned out they needed to build a strong retaining wall to make sure their beautiful new school didn’t wash down into the lake. We agreed to take on the retaining wall, and after gathering a few bids and talking through the details, it was built this summer with money from PEG.

More specifically, that money was raised for PEG by Jason Haney and Eric Keen, who cycled all the way across Canada last summer as a fundraiser. They covered 4000 miles in 37 days and raised $12,000 in the process. The retaining wall required about two-thirds of that, so along with celebrating the new wall and the new building, John and I met with two men from the parents’ committee that runs the school to talk about what their current needs are and how best to spend the rest of the money that the cyclists raised.

The parents’ committee is going to talk it over and gather some information, then be in touch with us to present ideas. It looks like one likely scenario is to buy some desks, of which they are certainly in need (kids are sitting on the floor in some classes because there aren’t enough seats). Another possibility is to work on erosion problems on the side of the school where the road comes up (using the term ‘road’ rather loosely).

Da Guate

I shot this picture of a girl in the village. It centers me to think that with an education she may be able to expand her options beyond this kind of work.

Da Guate

This was John’s first glimpse of a project we’re working on, and he found it deeply moving and encouraging. The parents’ committee has worked with three different organizations to make this school a reality, and it is powerful to see the result.

That was day one, and a solid start. More adventures tomorrow.

Da Guate

Fathers and Sons and Guatemala

October 16, 2008

US Airways Flight 1831, Charlotte to Miami

Da Guate 081016

Touching down in Miami

It’s extraordinary to realize that I woke up in Missouri yesterday, in Black Mountain, North Carolina today, and will wake up in Santiago, Atitlan, Guatemala tomorrow, after spending brief moments in Asheville, Charlotte, Miami and Guatemala City. Even for me, that’s a pretty dense forty-eight hours, especially given that there were twelve hours of driving included.

I’m just glad I don’t have to fly the plane.

I feel like I’m covering about that much emotional ground, too. I’ll be in Guatemala for just six days, but this is my last trip away for more than a weekend before I hang up my mic cables. Deanna is due in five weeks, and though there’s no reason to imagine that Thumper will join us before he’s expected (Nov. 20), it’s a little scary to be away.

Still, I love being in Guatemala— the children, the avocados, the schools and the sense that we really are making a difference— and this will be my last trip there for some time since we’re moving to Australia in January.

Then there’s the fun of introducing my friend John Smith to Guatemala. John’s a good buddy and someone I really admire, both as a songwriter and as a human being. His songs go right to my heart, and the hearts of many other people, for that matter. He’s kind of like a human multi-vitamin; I find that spending time with him makes me feel better in all sorts of ways, and makes me generally healthier.

A few (maybe ten?) years back, John, Chris Rosser and I did a run of shows together up through New England. We called it the Bad Boy Tour, given that all three of have reputations for being kind of mean, nasty, rude people.

OK, not really. But we couldn’t call it the Nice Guy Tour. The eleventh and twelfth shots here are of John, me and Chris on the Bad Boy Tour. Chris is the tall one, and we eventually figured out that the shot would work best if he was on the bottom step.

As we trekked north toward Boston in Dan the Tan Van, we started giving each other points for anything ‘bad’ we did— yelling at other cars in traffic, salty vocabulary, etc. I was firmly in the lead by the end of the trip. Or maybe I lost. I’m not sure we ever decided whether it was like golf or like basketball — were we trying to get more points or fewer?

At any rate, all that to say he’s a good guy. And he’s the one PEG has invited to come to Guatemala and have some first-hand experience there in order to tell stories at shows and raise a little money for the schools we work with.

John tours pretty constantly, like me, so we had some trouble finding a time we could both go down, and these six days were the most we could carve out. The timing’s not ideal, given that some schools are getting out around now in Guatemala, and not all the ones we work with will be in session, but it should be a good introduction to the work we’ve been doing, and a good first trip down.

Of course, the proximity to Thumper’s arrival makes it tough for me, but I had no way of knowing that it wouldn’t be the toughest part of leaving this time.

A couple of days ago my Dad, John LaMotte, was taken to the hospital with some tightness in his chest. He had sextuple bypass surgery (yep, six) twenty-one years ago. He has been off all the charts in his recovery (in the good direction), walks three miles a day, and is certainly the healthiest seventy-seven-year-old I’ve ever met. He built a rock wall in the back yard recently. You get the idea.

Still, it’s scary stuff, given the history.

The first word we got from the docs after they checked him out yesterday morning was that they might just put him on some beta blockers and such and try to treat the new blockages with drugs. The down side of that would be that he would have to live a life of less activity.

There are people in the world who could live that way and be OK. My Aunt Evelyn was one. She lived pretty quietly for many years and was pretty happy. I might be OK that way myself. Dad, not so much.

This morning my dad called while I was literally sitting on the plane in Asheville waiting to take off and let me know they’ve decided to do bypass surgery instead, and they expect to need three of them. I can’t help but remember when he went in twenty-one years ago and they told us there was a chance they might need to do as many as four.

They did six.

Dad sounds good, and clear on the decision. I’m on board too. It’s scary. There’s real danger here. But Dad wouldn’t be happy, and wouldn’t be Dad, if he weren’t vigorous and vital.

I want very much for my father to know my son. And I want my son to know my father even more. He’s quite a role model and a wise counselor. One whose shoes I’ll never fill (it’s good, I guess, that I have my own shoes).

So if you’re the kind that says prayers, we welcome them. If you’re more about sending love and Light, please do that. To me, that’s pretty much the same thing.

And in the meantime, I’m heading to Guatemala, with a big part of my own heart heading in the other direction. I’d really like to be there with the family, and if John Smith weren’t flying south on his first trip there, I’d be on a plane home instead. Dad felt strongly that I should go, though, so off I go.

Mom and Dad came to Guatemala with me last year, which was an extraordinary trip. They bounced down washed out dirt roads with me to visit schools and explored on their own in Antigua, making their own friends. There’s a shop owner there who still asks about them by name each time I visit. They get why I’m there.

I’ll post more updates as the trip goes on. Thanks for reading, for the time and for the support I know you’ll send because you always have.

paz, justicia y salud,

An email I just got

October 9, 2008

I got an email from an old friend in Wyoming today. It disturbed me.

I’ll include the text of the original email here and my response to it below that. I was writing primarily to a Christian friend of mine, and I write to her in that context, so forgive me if it’s a little long on religion for some readers.

On Oct 9, 2008, at 12:54 PM, ***** wrote:

—– Original Message —–

More on the special subject that keeps our blood pressures high.

Been around but you should read this one more time especially if you are a Democrat.

Think you know who this man is?

This possible President of the United States !! Read Below and ask yourselves, is this REALLY someone we can see as the President of our great nation!!!!

Below are a few lines from Obama’s books; In HIS words!

From Dreams of My Father: ‘I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.’

From Dreams of My Father : ‘I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother’s race.’

From Dreams of My Father: ‘There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white.’

From Dreams of My Father: ‘It remained necessary to prove which side youwere on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and namenames.’

From Dreams of My Father: ‘I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn’t speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa , that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself , the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.’

And FINALLY the Most Damming one of ALL of them!!!

From Audacity of Hope: ‘I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.’

* If you have never forwarded an e-mail, now is the time to Do so!!!! We CANNOT have someone with this type of mentality running our GREAT nation!! I don’t care whether you a Democrat or a Conservative. We CANNOT turn ourselves over to this type of character in a President. PLEASE help spread the word!


To others who received and/or sent this note,

I received this email with some dismay, so I’m responding. To not respond would be disrespectful. I respect the person who sent it, and since I’ve been invited into the conversation, I’ll put in my two cents.

I highly, highly recommend that each of you get this book and read it. At least go and find the quotations and check their context. I challenge you to read Dreams From My Father and still think that these out of context excerpts represent the man who wrote it. It’s at the library if you’re concerned about sending money his way.

Until you do that, though, let me set some context.

The first excerpts about race have to do with the struggles of a biracial young man to find his identity in a world where he didn’t seem to belong anywhere. There were periods of his youth where he was angry (anyone not have those periods in their own youth?), and where he got into trouble in a search for who he is. These quotes relate to different times when as a teenager he got off-track. He is admitting that he was off-track in the book, and it is duplicitous to present these quotations as though he’s saying that’s how he feels and what he stands for.

It would be simple to pull lines out of context from the Holy Bible itself and make it look like a crazy rant, but if you actually read it, a different picture emerges. Anything can be pulled out of context and turned against itself.

It’s irresponsible to forward a fear-mongering note like this without having read the book. If anyone else has read it and wants to have a discussion of it, I welcome that – it’s the work of democracy to kick these ideas around and respectfully forge our way forward as a nation.

As for standing with the Muslims, it is the job of Christians to stand with all persecuted people when they are persecuted unfairly, as some Christians stood with Jews in southern France during the holocaust (told beautifully in the book “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed”) Read what Jesus had to say in the Sermon on the Mount. These are our instructions, and Obama in this part of the book is talking about unfair persecution of a religion within our country. Friends, if we’ve stopped believing in religious freedom, we have ceased to be America. If we will only stand up to defend people who agree with us, we have nothing left to be proud of. What Obama refers to in this quotation is a scenario where Muslims were being attacked for being Muslim. What would you do in that situation? I’d like to think I would come to their defense, as a Christian and an American.

Thanks to everyone in the country who is participating in the dialog. It’s our job as Americans. It’s what democracy looks like. Since I received this email from someone I love and respect, I’m responding with a heartfelt and I hope helpful contribution to the conversation that was started.

God bless us all,