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 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,


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

Back to Bungatira

I know the road to Bungatira like I know the road to my own house. I feel the bumps in the road in the pit of my stomach that flip flops with nerves.
This place has broken my heart and going back I feel that same heart thud in my chest. I rest a hand on my bag and feel the small spine of my notebook, which contains the short Acholi speech I’ll be giving if asked to speak. The words are still so foreign on my tongue and that, too, makes my nerves bounce inside my rib cage.

Denis catches my eye in his rearview mirror. “Itye maber, Lanyero?” Are you good, Lanyero?

“Atye maber,” I breathe in the air whipping around me and focus on the red road spread before me.

Our first stop is the Bungatira Boda Boda Association Office. Denis has been voted their chairperson and today some of the executive board have gathered to greet us.    

Their association has a membership of over 300 and has written a full constitution. Denis hands it to me and I read it, smiling at the fact that so many of the tenets are the same as the constitution we revised with the Bungatira community group two years ago. They even have a microloan program for their boda riders.

Walt Whitman rises from my heart. Indeed nothing is ever lost.

We board our bodas again and ride the ruddy singletrack roads to Mama and Musee’s home. The bush thwaps against my skirt and my nerves are jumping again. I look out over the valley and pray small prayers like. Yes. and Thanks. and Help. Sometimes that’s all I’ve got and thankfully prayer is less about the words I say and more about God who hears them.

We arrive at Mama and Musee’s house and Mama sings to me, a song about welcoming her daughter home. She dances and claps and is sunshine and love and warmth. I squeeze her tight and hug her at least six times. I hug the other members of the family, too. I’m relieved to see only the family is there, and only about thirty of them.


I sit on the papyrus mat with the mamas and the babies and the children who are growing up too fast and I’m home.

The mamas chatter and make paper bead jewelry while babies coo in their arms.

I play rounds of peek-a-boo with the kids who eventually take me to the garden to show me maize and tomatoes and malakwang.

Back in the compound Vickie and Mama have prepared lunch for all of us. They’ve slaughtered a chicken and cooked millet and posho and beans and bo’o and rice. It’s a true feast and I eat until I’m stuffed and still they want me to eat more.

The rest of the afternoon is full of mamas and babies and dads and kids. Mama asks if I’ll stay with them for a few weeks or even just a night. I feel loved, but decline knowing that my presence is one more mouth to feed.

As we prepare to leave Musee speaks and I blink back tears when he expressed appreciation for everything I’ve done for them, everything we’ve done for them. He humbly asks if I’ve brought more lights because his battery is low. I tell him I have both and will be back on Saturday to deliver them.

It’s my turn to speak and I read my speech in Luo haltingly like a first grader learning to read. I stumble over words and sounds and my son William still has to translate my speech. They applaud my effort and Michael, Denis’ older brother, says “I didn’t understand it all, but I understood the part where you said, ‘God loves you,’ and I say it back to you.”

On the ride home, my nerves are gone because that is more than enough.

Nothing is Ever Lost

If you’re newer to Vigilante Kindness, I’m glad you’re here, but you may want to go back and read a few posts before you read this one. Vigilantes who have been around a while, hold onto your hats, we’re going back to Bungatira.
Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,

No birth, identity, form–no object of the world.

Nor life, nor force, nor any visible thing;

Appearance must not foil, nor shifted sphere confuse thy brain.

Ample are time and space–ample the fields of Nature.

The body, sluggish, aged, cold–the embers left from earlier fires,

The light in the eye grown dim, shall duly flame again;

The sun now low in the west rises for mornings and for noons continual;

To frozen clods ever the spring’s invisible law returns,

With grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn.

-Walt Whitman

I love that poem, the idea that nothing is ever really lost. Walt Whitman had it right when he said time and space are ample. No amount of time or space can separate us from our loved ones. I’d like to add that no effort is ever in vain, no plan is ever for naught.

The part that’s resonating with me particularly today is the line about Spring’s invisible law returning. Spring comes in all her authority and seeds that have laid hidden in the soil through bare seasons, until the the right time and the right conditions collide, slip off their coats and from dark dormancy, green grows.

This is that kind of story.

Not long before I returned to Uganda, Denis messaged me that something very good had happened. I asked him to tell me what it was, but never heard from him about it again.

The night I arrived in Gulu, my mom, my sons, Denis and I had dinner together at a local pork joint. I sat wedged in between my oldest son, William, and Denis. William and Denis have become dear friends and they constantly tease each other. They tossed remarks back and forth over me, but during a rare cease fire, Denis leaned in and told me that his family was returning from Te Okot to live in Bungatira.

I nearly choked on my pork.

I fired about a thousand questions at Denis. What about the other chiefdom who poisoned your pigs? Where are they? How is it that you get to return? What does this mean for your land?

Over the din of the pork joint and the loud bunch I call my family, Denis unpacked the last year’s events.

There were ten chiefdoms living in Bungatira, two of which were the Pawel and the Aria. Denis’ family are Aria. It was select members of the Pawel chiefdom who poisoned Denis’ pigs, the same people who didn’t agree with the work of the Bungatira community group, the same people who claimed to be so disturbed by my presence.

I want to be clear about something, that it was not the Pawel group as a whole creating the trouble, only select members. Many Pawel lived and continue to live peacefully in Bungatira, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

As it turns out, all of their anger wasn’t over the work the community group was doing, but was over land. I’ve said before that land is life here and it proved to be true again.

Those particular Pawel people wanted the land that Denis’ family was living on. It was fertile and near a stream, so they claimed it as their own, said that the land had belonged to them for many generations. The Pawel far outnumbered the Aria and so after meeting with their chief, Denis and his family moved to Te Okot, where they would be safe.

The people wanting Denis’ family’s land moved into their homes and took over their crops. To think of someone else forcing their way onto the land and living in Musee and Mama’s home turns my stomach to this day.

I thought that was the end of the story, but buried under conflict was a seed of justice just waiting to crack open.

Denis took their case and their history on the land, to the Aria lawyer, who brought it to the Pawel and Aria Chiefs. They heard the case and in a remarkable turn of events ruled in favor of Denis’ family.

Can you even believe it?

The select members of the Pawel tribe who’d killed Denis’ pigs, took their land and lived in their homes were forced by the Pawel chief to leave Bungatira indefinitely. They left and on my first weekend in Gulu, the Aria lawyer paid to transport Denis’ family, everyone from Musee down to my favorite kid, naughty Lucky Maurice, returned home to Bungatira.

Maybe you’re in a waiting period, a time when you can’t see the hand of God at work, a time when it seems like justice has been buried deep. Take heart, the invisible laws of Spring are at work and the seeds you’ve planted are waiting for the perfect moment to peel off their coats and grow anew.

For us at Vigilante Kindness, this means we now have two sites, in Te Okot and Bungatira, working together on the Paper Bead Project. For me, as Whitman says, the light in my eyes is now flaming again because now I have two places here filled with people I love. I’ll go visit my loved ones in Bungatira tomorrow and when I do, Whitman’s words will echo in my heart.

Nothing is ever lost.