There is a passage from the Velveteen Rabbit that I have been thinking about for the past week. I’m not sure if it fully relates to today’s activities but I think it relates to one of the many aspects of being in this special place. In this passage, the Velveteen Rabbit asks the Skin Horse what it means to be ‘Real.’ (For context, these characters are stuffed animals). The passage says:
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’”
I think this passage can relate to what we are experiencing here. Like one of the previous blog posts highlighted, we haven’t had a mirror in the convent to brush up on our appearances. Dust and dirt covers our faces, and our hair tangles each and every way when we ride in the back of the truck. Additionally, there have been moments of awkwardness from stepping out into a new connection without understanding of a cultural cue or social dynamic (I’m thinking of our dancing at the Makishi ceremony last week). Amidst our appearances that feel rather unfamiliar and unkept and our total surrender into unknown cultural experiences, we have still been covered in love and connection by both the people in this Zambezi community and each other in this group.
Today has made my heart feel very full. I got to watch the final presentations for the Business and Leadership class that I have been teaching with Andie, Nicole and Dugan. In these final presentations, each student was asked to present a business plan that would benefit the Zambezi community in some way. I was very eager to see the hard work that our amazing class had put into their projects. This class has been one of the biggest highlights during my time in Zambezi because I have grown quite fond of every student and the unique personalities that each of them show. Their presentations were absolutely fantastic, and it brought me so much joy when each student thanked us for facilitating the class.
For the remainder of the day, the Zags prepared for the Accompaniment Dinner that we have so anxiously been anticipating. Each person from our Gonzaga group was asked to invite a community member to this dinner to celebrate the friendships and connections made in our time here and close out the journey. Some people chose to invite their homestay hosts, or students from their classes, or their favorite tailor in the market, or even just a random friend they made along the way.
It was during this dinner celebration that many Zambezi friends gave speeches that touched our hearts. Father John, the priest that guided our trip to Dipalata declared: “You have preached to me before I preached to you.” Mama Josephine, our warrior woman and Lunda/Luvale teacher, told us that each person in our group has become one of her children. Jessie, the choir teacher that first welcomed us into Zambezi, sang us a song about saying goodbye. It was quite an emotional evening with many tears but also many smiles, and it felt really nice to be able to show our gratitude and hospitality to the people who have given us so much.
Throughout our time on this journey, I think it’s safe to say that we have all been made to become a little bit more Real.
Katy Rettenmier, ‘24