Brad Leithauser travels to Tanzania, where he not only finds animals but also meets the Hadza and the Barbaig, whose way of life gives a new perspective on the wild kingdom

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A Tanzania Safari Experience

Unlike the Hadza, who dress in rags and whose fly-by-night existence discourages much accumulation of property, the Barbaig we met have a taste for finery. They keep cattle; their lives are tethered to big, solid objects.

George introduced us to a man in his sixties who owned a great many cows. He is a rich man—as evidenced in his having once had seven wives. One had recently died, and now he was making do with six. Of course, being rich means different things in different places. Although there was a house for each of the wives, there was no running water, no electricity. The ground was littered with discarded flashlight batteries. And those wives' houses were—by any standards we'd brought with us—grim, low structures: packed-dirt floors, walls of dried mud, ceilings a thatch of mud and branches.

Having no language in common with them save what George could provide as translator and intermediary, we did a lot of wide-eyed looking. And so did they. I was touched when one of the wives snatched Hilary's hand and held it up in the sunlight, peering at it quizzically. It seems she'd never seen nail polish.

Some further sentences I'd never heard before coming to Tanzania:

"A hyena is the one animal that has ever woken me from a deep sleep purely by its stink."

"I lost two friends to Cape buffalo last year."

"I don't know, but I think it's wildebeest pâté."

"Baboons aren't that smart, but they're still too smart."

George drove us for an hour or so deep into the bush, to a remote Barbaig village. We watched a couple of young men fetch water for their cows. A steep pit had been dug around their well so that the livestock couldn't approach and pollute it. This meant, though, a good deal of backbreaking hauling from the bottom of the pit. I was struck again, as any Westerner new to Africa must continually be struck, by the extent of human labor that we would naturally expect machines to handle. Bucket after bucket was dragged up into the sun. When at last the men were finished, the cows made a quiet sound that echoed down the millennia from biblical days: livestock lapping up water that someone had just hoisted out of the ground.


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