Every summer, our family tries to take a trip before the kids head back to the daily grind of school. We have lived frugal lives driving cars with over 200,000 miles, keeping phones until they die, and only updating our wardrobe when mandated by changing waistlines. The one extravagance we allow ourselves is travel.
We have tried to show our three kids many parts of this country and the world. From a six-month work/school stay in New Zealand, to a service trip in Peru, to swimming with penguins in The Galapagos Islands, each journey has contributed to our understanding of the myriad inhabitants of the wider world.
The summer of 2018 was consumed with my campaign for Congress and one brief jaunt east for college tours. Once the outcome of that election was determined, we set about planning our last hurrah with our entire family before our oldest headed off to college.
This summer, we embarked on a journey to Tanzania to see the wildest of animals in their habitat while camping in the Serengeti. From hundreds of hippos wading in polls and elephants mudding themselves to cool off, to hyenas on the prowl and lionesses feasting on the spoils of a hunt, the wildlife did not disappoint.
However, the most impactful moments of this trip were the times when we were able to interact with the Tanzanian people. From the Masai tribe who were notoriously fierce warriors from Kenya to the Datooga who displayed their expertise in metal working, making bracelets and arrowheads, we were able to spend a little time with these people in their villages and learn their way of life.
Although our president may have referred to places like Tanzania as s***hole countries, we found their ideas of communal living, sacrificing ones self for the good of the tribe, to be inspiring.
One person stood out among all of the others. At the midpoint of the trip, we were privileged to spend a morning with a group of Hadza people.
The Hadza are an indigenous people who inhabit the Lake Eyasi region of Tanzania. They are one of two remaining groups of hunter-gatherers on the continent, along with the much-larger San tribe of southern Africa. While their population is only 1,500, they have maintained largely the same way of life as that of their ancient ancestors from more than 100,000 years ago. While they allow western tourists to visit their camps, and they trade honey for arrowheads and clothing with the Datooga people, they primarily exist by hunting for prey, gathering berries, tubers and honey along the Rift Valley.
We were able to visit a 25-person group of Hadza and follow some of the men, and one Hadza boy, on a hunt.
The boy could not have been more than 8 years old, but he joined the three-man hunt with all of the confidence of a man three times his age. As we were about to set out, he disappeared behind some rocks and emerged with his appropriately sized bow and numerous arrows.
As we walked in the late-morning sun, our young guide grew weary of the load of arrows he had brought and handed all but two to my wife who was never far from him in case of need. He walked without shoes – unlike his adult counterparts who wore modified tires made into tough sandals, and my family who sported hiking and running shoes.
The Acacia tree is the dominant flora of the region, and its thorns are thick and reach up to 4 cm in length. As we walked, those of us wearing shoes could occasionally feel one of these tough thorns penetrate our shoe and just barley pierce the skin. Our young guide walked with confidence, unwaivered by the frequent thorns that he would remove from his own feet as he walked along, barely breaking stride.
The hunt resulted in the killing of a single bird, and despite his best efforts, the boy missed his mark on numerous occasions. But his exuberance was unmistakeable for the thrill of the hunt.
After three hours in the bush, we headed back to their camp, and the boy joined his cohort climbing rocks and trees like any kid in West Michigan might do, laughing all the while.
This half-day experience with this primitive tribe and one exemplary little boy has stuck with me since we arrived home. In a world of smartphones, tablets and streaming entertainment, the sheer joy exhibited by this one little boy half-way across the world was remarkable. The focus he showed while hunting was unrivaled in any western classroom. The laughter we heard when he returned to his friends was every bit as joyous at that displayed by any kid in my neighborhood when playing with their latest plastic toy.
The simplicity of the lives of the Hadza people and the sense of community that is necessary for their survival will serve as a frequent reminder to me and, hopefully, my kids, that we should look beyond the “stuff” of our lives and look more to the people in our lives in our quest for happiness and a life of purpose.