Learning True Survival in a Bell Tent

by | Jan 13, 2022

True Survival, from Rwanda to a Bell Tent

True Survival Goes Beyond Circumstance

One month ago, I was in balmy Rwanda, working on a medical/educational development project my Grandfather started in 1978. It was immensely transformative to stand among the resilience of a people who are living breathing miracles of survival. It’s hard to imagine what was witnessed and experienced just a short time ago during the genocide of 1994.

The sheer force of human willpower and sacrifice required to pull themselves up, individually as a people and collectively as a country, to move forward, reconcile, and then grow from such trauma is, from a survivalist perspective, an inspiring example of grit.

In my opinion, one of the most essential survival skills is grit. Grit shows willpower and a place of existence deeper than circumstance. It is internal; evidence of something that cannot be seen.

A deeply embedded example of this survivalist grit is contentment. Being ok with what is in your hands right now, in the moment. Knowing that you are more than what you have or what is currently happening to you. You hold the power of who you are. This truly powerful concept translates into so many areas of life.

Stout Tent's outdoor living educator, Heather Cook.Learning from Rwanda

While in Rwanda, I interviewed Angelic, a brand new student at the medical school our project is based in. She told me her dad had been injured in the genocide, so her mother had supported their family of eight on a small potato farm. Her parents had sold two cows to put her through secondary school, and after, when there were no more cows, she was resigned to come home. She took her national exam and packed her bags to be a farmer.

Angelic received perfect marks on her exam and was granted a full-ride scholarship to medical school.

“In grade school, I called myself Dr. Angelic,” she laughed, beautiful white teeth flashing bright against her dark skin. “I had no way of knowing how it would be. But I knew it would be. I learned contentment. If I had one pair of shoes, that was ok. If I ate a meal on a day, that was good, but if I didn’t eat a meal on a day, it was still ok. I learned that I will be ok; I will survive.”

What is survival anyway? What is it that we truly need?

True Survival Requires Contentment

I have a deep hunger to rid my life of heavy clutter. To simplify. Go back to nature, cycles, and seasons, marked by plenty and preservation. To accept, like Angelic, the gifts, and resources of the day. Hold contentment above possession. To let go and also to keep going.

I have lost people, things, expectations, hopes…but I haven’t lost my ability to survive. I haven’t lost my ability to dream, and I haven’t lost my ability to love. I’m developing a better understanding of what true survival means. It isn’t just a bunch of gear, a shelter, or a stash of resources. It’s a mentality and a concept that anyone can hold. True survival is an open-handed way of approaching the world. Knowing that things can run through my fingers because it wasn’t what was in my hands that mattered anyway.

Living unwalled and simplistically helps teach this…it develops an understanding that I didn’t need what I thought I needed. I’ve got the grit to survive any discomfort because discomfort won’t kill my spirit – but maybe too much comfort will.

I’m learning that even if today isn’t what I wanted, or even if my life right now isn’t the place I’d like to stay, it’s still ok. I will be ok. I will survive.


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