Feel at Home in Bungatira

Laura and I rode boda bodas into the bush of Bungatira yesterday. I never tire of the feeling of wind in my face and the contrast of the red dirt against the lush, green landscape. There is a saying in Uganda when you visit someone’s home. They will say, “Feel at home,” which means you should feel free to be yourself there. Of all the places I love in Uganda, Bungatira, the home of my boda driver Denis and his family, is where I feel most at home.

My African Mama, Maria, greeted us, ever with a song in her heart and light in her eyes. She is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She is the embodiment of joy and love and generosity and strength.

Mama doesn’t speak any English and I don’t speak enough Luo to carry on a conversation well, but there’s a simple and divine beauty in being able to sit hand in hand with another human when the only words you know are, “How are you?” “Thank you.” “Me, too.” and “I love you very much.”

I think it’s that same kind of simplicity that made me love this visit to Bungatira. It was just a day of regular life in Bungatira. Many times when I visit, I have community business to attend to, elders to meet with, groups to speak with, projects to discuss. Many times I’m seated with or in front of a group of fifty or more and while I appreciate each and every one of those times it makes the times when I can just sit on the papyrus mat with the mamas and their babies that much more precious. I truly feel like one of the family then.

Days like those are rare so I soaked up every detail. The banana tree leaves rustled in the. The roosters strutted about the compound calling out to the hens. A gloriously fat pig napped in the sun. A mother goat gave birth to her kid. Maize dried in the sun and we walked through the farms, our dresses and skirts prickled with black jerk.

Mamas strung paper beads into bracelets and necklaces while babies nursed, and cooed, and toddled nearby on the mat. The squeals and laughter of children, who are much taller than when I last saw them, playing after school was the soundtrack to our visit. Babies found swaths of sunshine for reading books. And beautiful Mama Maria tossed and sifted the corn in such a way that it made a rhythmic shushing sound almost like the sound of distant waves.

When it came time for lunch, Denis’ wife, Vickie, served us traditional Acoli food in the cool dark of their hut. It was delicious and when the meal was over we attended to our small business of buying paper bead jewelry, giving them another supply of magazines, and handing over half of the solar lights, which will be useful when the ladies are making paper bead jewelry inside at night.

When it was time to return to Gulu, we all hugged each other a million times and then Laura and I climbed back onto our boda bodies and rode back to Gulu, feeling the complete peace and ease of spirit that comes with feeling completely at home.

Thank you for supporting our Paper Bead Project so that the children of Bungatira can go to school. It means a lot to me that you love my loved ones in Uganda so well. If you’re lucky enough to buy some of the beautiful jewelry created by these artisans, it’s my hope that when you wear it you’ll smile and feel just a little more at home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Welcome Party and a Sneak Peek

The welcome party thrown by Ivan and his colleagues at Art Shop Gulu was really just so sweet. Each time I walk up the stairs into Art Shop Gulu, it gives me chills, thinking of where Ivan came from and how hard he and his fellow artists have worked to create this space.

There was singing.

There was cake.

And of course there was art and paper bead jewelry galore! Here’s a sneak peek at a small selection of the pieces that will be available at our September 8th Paper Bead Jewelry and Painting Sale in Redding, CA. Any remaining pieces will be for sale online after that.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vigilante Acts of Kindness: Meet Sharon, Sharon, and Good Lynn

It is still a fact of life that in many areas near Gulu, women are considered property. It’s hard to reconcile that this still occurs in 2018, but it does.

When they are not thought of as property, they are still often looked at as second class citizens. If a family has to choose between sending their son or daughter to school because they can only afford to send one child to school, they will often choose to send the boy because he has a better chance of getting a job and earning a living.

To even have a CHANCE at an education, girls have to work doubly hard.

When Leku Ivan threw us a welcome party at his shop one of the things that most excited me was getting to meet his three female colleagues who take care of the books, do the inventory, promote the shop, and create their own items to sell. In other words, who run the world? Girls!

Ivan believes that men and women are equal and within his shop he and his partner, Mike, have established a culture of respect and fairness. That in itself is remarkable.

Meet Sharon, Sharon, and Lynn. Sharon and Sharon are cousins, both named after their grandmother, Sharon. One Sharon is 21 years old and the other is 19, so they call themselves Old Sharon and Young Sharon, naturally. Lynn is just 17 and is Aber Lynn, which means Good Lynn. Sharon and Sharon call Lynn their sister.

During the war when Joseph Kony and the LRA rebels were slaughtering villages of people and abducting women from their homes, Old Sharon’s mother was abducted. She was one of a group of five women who attempted to escape. Three were killed. Two escaped. Old Sharon’s mother was one of the lucky two.

After her escape and the end of the war, Old Sharon’s mother was taught how to make paper beads in order to have a skill to earn a living. Her mother passed this skill down to both Sharons who are now making and selling paper bead jewelry to earn school fees.

Aber Lynn is a war orphan and was living on the streets when Old Sharon found her, and determined that she wasn’t going to let Lynn become a prostitute like so many other young girls on the street. Old Sharon took Lynn to live with her and taught her how to make paper beads, too.

Aber Lynn asked Ivan for a job at Art Factory Gulu and he hired her. It’s always been part of his dream to use art to help homeless kids earn a living and get kids off of the street. Now his dream is coming to fruition and Aber Lynn is safe, employed, and working hard.

After the singing and cake cutting and festivities of the party, I was taking photos of Ivan’s paintings when Old Sharon mustered up her bravery and told me their story. She asked, “Would it be possible for you to buy some of our paper bead jewelry to support us in going to school?” I told her that we already have a Paper Bead Project in Bungatira. She looked crestfallen until I told her, “No, what I mean is that we already know how well the paper bead jewelry sells and we always run out of jewelry and we’d love to partner with you.” She hugged me and asked, “Do you need to consult with your organization?” I said, “We are a board of women who believe in education is for everyone. Believe me, our answer is YES! We have a Work Study Scholarship fund for students like you who have a gift and are willing to put that gift to work to earn school fees. We will buy all of your jewelry, so make as much of it as you can before we return home.” Then Old Sharon replied, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! We will be #teamnosleep because we will just be up all night making jewelry.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vigilantes, I honestly don’t know how we are going to do it, but we are determined to buy every necklace, bracelet, and earring from the Art Shop Gulu Girl Beaders because we believe that when you educate a girl, you educate the world. And for us that starts with a pair of Sharons and a seventeen year old named Good Lynn.

Want to support the Art Factory Gulu Girls Work Study Project? Visit our Current Projects page to make a donation to the Work Study Project. 

Paper Beads & Paintings Now For Sale Online!

jewelry & paintings for VK website-8

Dearest, patient online Vigilantes, the long-awaited day for you to purchase paper bead jewelry online is finally here. In case you simply can’t wait another moment, pop on over to our store to shop. I’ll wait here.

Because of seed money donated by Vigilantes prior to my last trip to Uganda,  Vigilante Kindness was able to purchase 1,000ish gorgeous paper bead necklaces and bracelets. I bought up every bit the women of Bungatira created and I thought surely 1,000ish pieces would be enough to last us for sales for a year.

I was wrong.

So very wrong.

I brought them to one local speaking engagement and had 2 small jewelry parties and POOF! all but a few pieces were snatched up before I could even breathe, let alone get the pieces loaded vigilantekindness.com to sell.

Honestly, it was a great problem to have. Once again, Vigilantes, you completely knocked my socks off with your generosity and support for the people we’ve come to love in Uganda.

The good news is that there are a few lovely pieces remaining and the even better news is that this year’s jewelry sales have guaranteed that this project is now self-sustaining. It makes me want to jump up and down a teensy bit. Okay, more than a teensy bit.

Before you head over to buy some beautiful paper bead jewelry, please take 2 minutes to see how the paper bead jewelry is made.

Loving you with all my liver,

Alicia

P.S. While you’re there you can check out the three remaining painting we have for sale by Ugandan artists Calvin & Seddrick.

Vigilante Kindness Recycling Drive

Hey, Vigilantes,

Sometimes doing something good requires giving of your time and money.

Sometimes all it takes is giving your trash.

This is the latter.

At Vigilante Kindness, we want to pursue self-sustaining educational and employment opportunities with and for people in developing countries throughout the world, but we also want to do that in a way that takes care of the world itself.

Enter the Vigilante Kindness Recycling Drive.

You may already know that we’re recycling magazines to help the women of Te Okot make paper bead jewelry to sell so they can earn a sustainable income.

paper beads made from recycled paperWe’ve added a few items to our list and 100% of the proceeds from the recycled items will go toward Vigilante Kindness general fund.

Please consider donating the following recyclable items to Vigilante Kindness:
  • aluminum cans
  • plastic bottles
  • empty printer cartridges
  • empty toner cartridges
  • old cell phones/smart phones
  • old (working) laptops
  • old iPods

Want to collect recyclables at your workplace, your school, your church or any other location for Vigilante Kindness?   Here’s a printable flyer for you to attach to the container of your choice.VK Recycling flyer

If you live in the Redding area, when your container is full, just shoot us an email (vigilantekindness@gmail.com) and we’ll come collect your recyclables.  If you live outside of the area, but would like to join the recycling drive, shoot us an email and we’ll get you all set up.

Thanks for helping us care for the people we love throughout the world in ways that also help care for the world itself.

Fondly,

Alicia

Vigilante Kindness: Paper Poem Beads

Yesterday I wrote about how God makes beautiful, new things out of old, wrecked things.  What got me to thinking about this in the first place is this little Vigilante Kindness Paper Bead Jewelry Project that’s in the very baby stages.

This project started with a conversation with my friend Denis about his wife, Vickie, and how she wants to be a businesswoman.

Vickie and some other women in Te Okot know how to make paper bead jewelry.  In fact, some of the men, including Denis, know how to make beads, too.  I wanted to bring Vickie a gift the next time I went to Te Okot, so I bought her some jewelry making tools and supplies.

The one thing that had me stumped was where to get the paper.  Slick, shiny, colorful magazine paper would work best, but it’s not like there’s a magazine stand on the corner in or anywhere near Te Okot.  I can think of two bookstores in Gulu.  They carry textbooks, dictionaries and Bibles.

Earlier in my trip, I’d stopped at the stationery store and picked up two blank sheets of poster paper to use in the poetry workshops I was teaching.  The posters were baby blue because that’s the only color the stationery store had and I bought their last two sheets.

I penned George Ella Lyon’s earthen poem Where I’m From on the posters, my handwriting slanting perilously downward as I wrote the words in pungent, permanent black ink.

I took these posters back and forth with me to class, rolled up in my backpack as I rode on the back of a boda to school, then taped with duct tape on the makeshift blackboard and finally rolled back up into my backpack at the end of each class.

By the time the writing workshops came to an end, my posters were covered in chalkdust from all the notes we added on the board around the poems.  The edges of the posters were red with the dust that blew into the classroom and also kicked up underneath the tires of the boda.  They were splattered with mud from puddles of fresh rain and polka-dotted with water spots from the rain itself.

My tattered posters were destined for the trash, that is until I found out that Vickie needed paper for jewelry making.  The posters weren’t the slick, colorful magazine paper that’s best for bead making, but they were what I had.

This seems like a lesson I have to learn over and over again.  What I’ve got to offer is enough, even when it’s tattered and splotched with mud.  It’s enough.

I passed off my poster to Denis who took it home and made beads with Vickie.  By the time I returned home, my mud stained, used up poster had been made into beautiful beads.

paper beadsI love these beads because they’re proof that stained, wrecked things can be made new.  Broken, wrecked people like me can be made new.  That’s another lesson that I have to keep learning.  Maybe the broken, wrecked parts of you need that whispered in the cracks, too.

I love these beads because poetry is tucked into them.  The black parts of the beads are my lopsided scribblings of George Ella Lyon’s gorgeous words.

I love these beads because the lighter parts of the beads are the water spots from a day when I was caught in a rainstorm, drenched down through all the layers of myself.

Most of all, I love these beads because they mean that Vickie and the women of Te Okot get the opportunity to be a businesswomen who are able to earn money and feed and clothe their children.

When I return to Te Okot in July, I’m bringing Vickie a suitcase full of magazines.  Your magazines and my magazines, once destined for the trash, or the recycle bin at best, will be made into jewelry. Second chances never looked so beautiful.

magazines

 

 

Saint Vickie

“Denis, how come you never talk about your wife and kids?”

It comes out harsh and more accusatory than I intend, but I don’t know how to say it any other way.  Friendship is so darn hard to navigate sometimes, especially when I’m all kinds of blunt and don’t know how to be otherwise.  Add to the mix friendship between two such different cultures and things really get messy.

“What do you mean?” he shouts over the wind whipping in my ears.

“I mean, we’re friends, right?”

I soften because this is the real root of my question and being vulnerable enough to ask it dissolves any toughness I purport to have.

Are we friends or aren’t we?

The lush green of Uganda passes in blurred shapes as we fly down the road.  This is how most of our conversations take place, me side saddle on the back of the boda boda as he threads through traffic and pedestrians and cows and pot holes a cacophony of other road hazards.

This is what we’re doing now, threading through pot holes and trying to remain on the path of our unlikely friendship.  It’s not the first difficult conversation we’ve had and odds are it won’t be the last.

“Yes, we’re friends.” Denis is perplexed by my question.

“But I didn’t know you have a wife and children until this week.  We’ve been friends for a long time now.  It feels weird that I’m just now knowing your family.  You know my family-my three boys and Terry.  You’ve even talked to Terry on the phone.”

Denis doesn’t respond.

“If you don’t want to tell me about your family, that’s really okay-I won’t make you, but I want you to know that you can tell me things, trust me with things.  I’m safe.  And I’d like to be friends with your wife.”

“Like I’m friends with Mr. Terry?”

“Yes, like you and Terry are friends and you and I are friends.  I’d like to be Vickie’s friend, that’s all.”

I leave it there, like an offering, meager as it might be and then I back off.

“My mind has been divided.  Last year I was focused on going to school and this year I’m focused on shifting to Te Okot,” Denis explains.

“Your mind was so divided that you forgot about your family?”

So much for backing off.  I’m not letting him get away with that one. No way.  If Terry’s mind was so divided that he forgot he’s married to me, well, let’s just say that wouldn’t end well.

I’m quiet, pressing my lips together to keep from spouting off my indignance on Vickie’s behalf. Denis catches my eye in the mirror on the handlebar and I wait, unblinking.

I once heard that when you ask a question, you should wait seven slow seconds to give the other person time to think, time to compose their response.

Seven seconds feels like an awkward eternity.  Go ahead and count them out.  I’ll wait.

You couldn’t make it past two, could you?

On the back of the boda boda I waited, counting the seconds.  I waited, maybe for a response.  Maybe for an explanation.  Maybe for nothing.  Because sometimes nothing is the only response. But I waited nonetheless, giving breathing space and thinking space and the space of time where there wasn’t the luxury of physical space.

Denis doesn’t offer up an explanation of why he safeguarded his family from me.  Instead he extends an olive branch.

“Would you like me to tell you the story of how I met Vickie?”  I hear a small smile creep into his voice.

“Very much.”

Denis unfolds the story of how he met Vickie when he was still staying in an Internally Displaced Persons Camp.  He tells about his sweet, kind father, who was legitimately bitter and angry, ravaged by war and loss.  I nod because if my child had been abducted I’d be beyond furious and seven shades beyond bitter.  Denis took his mother and moved out of the camp with Vickie, who was kind and soft when he needed it most.  Denis continues and tells me about his reconciliation with his father.

“I can’t imagine Musee being that way.” I say over the wind.

“War breaks a lot of things.”

It’s the truest sentence I’ve heard in a long time and I let the words sit between us before asking my next question.

“What does Vickie like to do?”

“She stays at home.”

“I know, but what does she like to do?  Does she like to sing or build things or sew or cook or dance?  What does she like to do?”

“She likes business.  She makes paper beads.  I learned how to make paper beads in the IDP camp and I taught Vickie and my sister, Conci.  Vickie wants to make jewelry and earn her own money.”

“Can I bring her a gift of bead making supplies when we visit Te Okot?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good.”  I feel the embarrassment of not knowing about Vickie start to fade.

“From seeing her, how old do you think she is?”  Denis grins in the mirror.

I tilt my head to the side and conjure up her face.  She served me beans and posho the last time  I was in Te Okot and had the grace not to laugh at my feeble attempt at thanking her in Acholi.  She had a shy smile and smooth skin.

“I think she’s twenty-three.”

“She told you!”  Denis chides.

“No, she didn’t tell me.  She just looks twenty-three.”  I imagine being twenty-three, raising four small children in the bush, where daily living is so very hard.  Vickie is remarkably unhaggard.  “What are your children like?”

Denis tells me about Mercy, a first grader who loves to write.

“You’re just saying that because you know I love to write.”

“No, you will see in Te Okot.  Writing is her best subject.”

“And what about Lucky Maurice?  What’s he like?”

Denis shakes his head and tells me about his second child, Lucky (who incidentally is my favorite kid in the whole family because he’s always laughing and making mischief).  Denis tells me that Lucky used to pick on all the other kids in Bungatira and that trouble was Lucky’s shadow, but now he’s mostly grown out of that.

“And the twins?”

“Opiyo is sweet and Ochin is stubborn, so stubborn.”

“I know. The last time I was in Te Okot he was using the panga outside and Vickie asked him to bring it inside and from inside the house all we heard was a groan and his footsteps stomping away.”

“That’s Ochin.  Stubborn, stubborn boy.”

“I wonder where he gets it,” I elbow Denis in the back.  “You know she’s a saint for putting up with you,right?”

“Who?”

“Vickie.  Sweet Vickie.  Saint Vickie.”  I fold my hands piously.

He laughs and a few minutes later we reach our destination.  I pull out my notebook and scrawl a reminder.

“What are you writing?”

“Bead materials for Saint Vickie.  I love that she wants to be a businesswoman.  Who knows, maybe I’ll be her first customer.”