Becoming Real

Zambian friends at Accompaniment Dinner

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.

Abbey and Mama Katendi in front of our photo wall

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.

Kisu Mwane,

Katy Rettenmier, ‘24

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10 Responses to Becoming Real

  1. Heather Atkins says:

    I love this. What a wonderful way to frame a very important part of your collective journey.

  2. Molly Watts says:

    Soak it all in this last full day in Zambezi you wonderful Zags. It has been a true joy to get to accompany you from afar, through your words and pictures.

  3. Newson Family says:

    WHOW! Sounds like a beautiful experience. Enjoy your final day in Zambezi.

  4. The Hansen Family says:

    We have loved following your journey through the blog. Your love for the community that has embraced you shines through in each and every one of your posts. Enjoy your time left in Zambezi. May you all feel the realness of your connections.

    “The pain of a hard goodbye is the heart’s tribute to the privilege to love”- Beth Moore

    God bless you all and give my girl Eva a big hug from us! xo

  5. Nathalie Bergeron says:

    How beautifully said, Katy.

    You have all made yourselves vulnerable and in doing so have made genuine and profound connections within the Zambezi community and within your group. May these sentiments of what it is to be “real” remain with you for a lifetime, and may you draw from them should you feel yourselves drifting from your true and beautiful selves.

    It has been such a joy and privilege to follow your journey in Zambezi. Enjoy your final day with the same excitement as if it were your first!

    Go Zags!

  6. jonathan barsky says:

    What a wonderful blog! The Velveteen Rabbit is a delightful story about a stuffed animal becoming real through the love of his owner. You provide wonderful examples that show how we become human through the love of one another. This is a powerful affirmation of how human connection is especially important now, in a world filled with virtual media, the pandemic, loneliness, and mental health challenges. What a wonderful experience for all of you and we can’t wait to hug our Sarah!!

  7. Suzanne Rettenmier says:

    A beautiful tribute to the love and community you have gained, and given, on your journey. I was crying when I read it! Such joy in the relationships you have made and such sorrow in saying goodbye. I pray that these last few days will shine for all of you. You are much loved and missed. xoxo Momma Rett

  8. Watts Family says:

    What a great sentiment. Indeed.

  9. Jennifer Akins says:

    Oh my, how did I get so far behind on reading this blog! Reading 5 posts all in a row I can see how aligned you all are with each other. It is as though your posts have been edited for cohesion to have one chapter lead to the next, which is kind of amazing for a group of people from such an individualistic society!

    Blaine, wow, I love your ruminations on high and low context cultures, problem solving, living in chaos and in relationships. I have also often appreciated the U.S. mindset that can focus on a problem and fix it quickly, but what you described is such a poignant reminder that maybe in our efficiency, we are not seeing or understanding 50% of what is actually going on. And as Sarah points out, it’s not just going on in Zambezi or Dipilata. We live in chaos and we can create ethical relationships within our situated spaces, but that requires listening hard and understanding.

    Sarah, this, of course is what you so beautifully expressed. You also say that we are a “doing” culture, but I would suggest that in fact, all the world is doing, but those of us with more material privileges and opportunities often tend to evaluate our doing by achievement and progress, rather than focusing on the processes of living and doing. You express both your intent to live more in the moment as well as your arrival in presence through your beautiful reflection. I believe you are developing a lifelong habit of savoring the moment.

    And Eva, I absolutely love love love the expression, “the beauty in being wrong.” One of my favorite definitions of humility is that it requires an accurate and ongoing assessment of one’s own abilities and lack thereof. In other words, false humility is not humility at all. As you are all thinking and talking about cultural humility, I am so happy to hear your willingness to let an entire community and place participate in your own learning.

    And Nicole, to let the community into your experience with all of your senses is the essence of listening and welcoming the relationships, even the relationship you now have with the piles of dried fish. It wouldn’t be Zambezi or the land of the Luvale without that as part of it. Your descriptions are evocative, bringing me closer to my own memories of the place!

    And Katy, yes to becoming! We are all always only becoming and that is in its very essence the most real thing. What a fantastic connection between your experience and the wisdom of The Velveteen Rabbit. This is going to stay with me all day. It may even make it into my own writing. (I’ll be sure to cite you!)

    Thank you all of you for sharing your time with eager readers. Safe travels!

  10. Mark says:

    Such a treasure reading the heartfelt posts of this amazing group.
    Gratitude for the community that made it a reality.

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