Begging For Life
We were on the rutted, jarring road to reach the Hadzabe tribe village
near the break of dawn.It was a National Geographic-type adventure, for
the Hadzabe are bushmen, one of the most ancient tribes in all of Africa.
They speak the first language known on earth, and may be the link between
human interaction. There are only 1,500 of them estimated to exist, so
from a Legacy Safari point of view, this was one of the highlights of
Our schedule was to join the Hadzabe in their morning hunt. The tribe
commonly hunts for monkeys or baboons, or, as we were to find, anything
that moved excepting snakes and domestic animals.
The Hadzabe speak the first recognized language, the click language. Their
culture is commonly termed the wellspring of all modern human communications.
Sadly, the Hadzabe are in critical danger of being overwhelmed by civilization.
With only an estimated 1,500 of them left, they are an endangered species.
Their nomadic lifestyle is being encroached upon by the thirst of a world
to exponentially grow. Some 10 billion people are expected to populate
this earth by 2050, four billion more than currently exists. The crush
of human proliferation will surely impose its footprint on the space allocated
to the Hadzabe.
In an attempt to protect the Hadzabe's cultural and evolutionary rights,
the Tanzanian government grants the tribe license to hunt creatures of
the wild, so long as they don’t do it in National Parks.
I had no idea what was in store. Each adventure we encountered was magical
to say the least, engineered by our masterful safari company, Auram
Safaris out of Arusha, Tanzania.
Like so many first-time safari travelers, I was suspicious of the agenda.
I was wary it would be too commercial, and this "primitive tribe"
we were to hunt with would be a "tourist trap." How wrong I
Zainab, who heads up Auram
Safaris, and her expert staff, had crafted a unique adventure. Each
place we visited was out of a dream, where we were virtually the only
people involved, and everyone was not acting a part, but rather living
their lives and letting us observe, join in, and capture the excitement
of African life with our minds and camera lenses.
Despite the numerous days of wonderful safari preceding the Hadzabe adventure,
that suspicious, jaundiced part of me was still standing at attention
expecting a “tourist” reception. But, I had faith in our guide,
Christopher, and our safari planners, that whatever was in store would
indeed be one more unique notch on our safari legacy stick.
I had my head shoved through the Land Rover hatch, enjoying the cool morning
breeze rushing over my face as the vehicle heaved and lurched over ruts
carved by torrential downpours that we had been graced to miss. I was
bending my knees to absorb the shock of bounces and lists that made for
a glorious carnival ride.
Lori was sitting in the copilot seat, enjoying the scenery and fact that
for some reason the tse-tse flies were still taking naps. Christopher
liked to take us out very early to avoid the onslaught of the bitter biting
bugger who could gnaw through a flack jacket to suck your blood.
My mind was empty of thought as I absorbed the golden hue of the sky,
watching the sun yawning itself awake and casting down its light to stir
the leaves and whistling acacia to life. The soil was deep rust, rich
in nutrition from the trees and plants serving food for both beast and
mankind. There is a Oneness in such moments, where the soil of the human
soul mixes with the dust and dirt of earth’s mulch, a reminder that
we are all part of one magnificent whole, split into distinctive elements
and configurations as though the Creator of Everything wished to never
be bored with two things being the same.
As a writer and somewhat of an artist, I tried to see through the eyes
of Creation, inhaling the mass of Everything and struggling to be Nothing
among Everything. The logic, of course, is illogical, and that was the
point. If I could escape momentary illusion that I was trapped in my own
flesh and blood and become a molecule of Africa’s morning magic,
whatever lay ahead at the Hadzabe village would be just one more gift
of the journey, just one more ecclesiastical implosion where the sense
of the civilized are crushed by simplicity of life’s rudiments.
The Hadzabe were, without question, the Dawn of Man and Woman. Their language
reached back tens of thousands of years when humans realized that they
could communicate, even if it was through a click of the tongue, and understand
that their future would evolve where they could fly great ships deep into
the womb of the universe or create a weapon of mass destruction that could
shower the earth with horror.
In a strange way, I thought of the visit to the Hadzabe as it might have
been visiting Adam and Eve’s village, where, unlike the creatures
surrounding them in Eden, they could discuss the virtues and evils of
biting the forbidden apple.
Ironically, the Hadzabe detested snakes, and starving, would shun them
as they might poison water when dying of thirst. I was going to hunt with
the Hadzabe. I was going to the Garden of Eden to see how Adam and Eve
lived before the apple changed everything.
The Land Rover jerked over a deep rut and jarred my swirling thoughts
back to the here and now. I glanced ahead.
There, along the side of the rutted path Christopher was negotiating like
a bull rider trying to clock his eight seconds of glory, stood a young
boy tending his goats.
I was amazed at the maturity of the children of Africa. Our grandchildren
couldn’t cross the street without grandparents or parents insuring
the light were safe and no cars were near, and there, children of the
same age were out in the wild by themselves, with their goats, tending
them with the same aplomb a city child might take out the garbage.
I caught the face of the young boy—perhaps seven or eight—looking
at us, smiling. He held his stick in on hand, leaning slightly against
it and with the other hand outstretched, wagged it back and forth in the
direction of the Land Rover.
My first thought was that he was asking for money, reaching out for the
“tourists” to cough up some coins or perhaps a greenback or
But as the Rover ground closer, I noted the boy’s wrist was moving
left and right, back and forth, over and over, and his index and middle
fingers were pinched together, pointing toward the vehicle.
His face beamed eyes bright, shoulders straight.
The morning sun kissed his rich mocha skin, illuminating him against the
backdrop of verdant vegetation upon which his goats feasted.
His hand moved faster and faster, back and forth, left and right.
As we lurched past him, I realized what he was requesting.
I felt a hole in my own soul, a shame and guilt that I had even thought
that he was seeking money once it became clear to me what he wanted.
He was waving his hand back and forth in a scribble fashion, a hand signal
of a person seeking a pencil or pen.
Here, in the midst of what some might consider “uncivilized wilderness”
was a young boy asking passersby for the key to knowledge, yearning to
have someone place in his palm an instrument of great power—greater
than an bomb or bullet or dollar or block of gold bullion. He wanted wisdom,
As we passed by, I remembered reading in the documents http://www.auramsafaris.comhad
sent about bringing pencils for the school children. In the madding rush
to pack everything, pencils were not on my list. I had a couple of hundred
in dollar bills for tips, but no pencils.
There it was, the answer to all the questions about the future of Africa,
and, for that matter, the world. They were cradled in the palm of an outstretched
fist of a goat tender child asking the passing white Land Rover with two
American tourists for a pencil so that the secrets of the mind and universe
could be unlocked by the graphite snugged up in a wooden husk, donned
with an eraser to eliminate errors and set the destiny of a child on a
truer, safer, more secure course.
No mother or father stood prodding the child, urging him to request a
pencil from the tourists.
His thirst for the key to knowledge was imbedded in his genes, part of
his blueprint as a human to thirst wisdoms beyond one’s grasp, and,
in the process, to create wisdoms yet unseen and unheard.
I swiveled my head slowly as our Land Cruiser leapt over ruts and its
rear wheels spun to right its path toward the ancient Hadzabe tribe where
my wife and I would marvel at their way of life and be amazed at the ideal
that even in the 21st Century people rebuffed modernization and chose
to follow a way of life and language that began when Adam and Eve took
at bite of the Apple and was the root language of the Tower of Babel.
Later, when people inquired of my opinion about Africa, their questions
seeking to ferret out the one glistening moment, that one epiphany that
most expected to be the sighting of a leopard, or the charging event of
the bull elephants, or the challenge of the baboons to my wife while she
sat in the tent trapped inside while the baboons swaggered with Saturday
Night Fever around it.
I did not pause with my answer to the question about the most exciting
event that happened to me “over there.”
“It was,” I said with my firm determination of a man who has
lived a life in search of his own value and meaning…”it was
a young boy standing by the road in the middle of nowhere tending goats
waving his hand not for money or charity, but signaling that he wanted
a pencil to quench his thirst for knowledge, for personal growth. When
any child in any part of the world wants a pencil more than anything—more
than a ticket to Disneyland or an iPod—then that child is the richest
child in the world. That sight of the child asking for a pencil was far
greater than all the elephants, hippos, cheetahs, lions, giraffes or any
other combination that exists in Africa.”
Then I paused and added, “My deepest regret was that I didn’t
have one to give him.”