Introduction: To the Heart of the Matter
"For more than a decade even the wildest drylands of Africa no longer held autonomous bands who might share their self-sufficient experience. Then Botswana’s convoy destroyed the last government water supplies and deliveries inside the Reserve, triggering their crisis—and my opportunity. I saw America’s fate inextricably linked to the predicament of a thousand indigenous people suddenly forced to submit, die or adapt once again to The Great Thirstland. The survivors had to tap into the deep reservoir of indigenous wisdom, and I hoped to grasp the essence of their unwritten code. For centuries Bushmen had been shot and infected, poked and prodded, and now, facing the onset of permanent droughts, I set out to exploit them one last time...."
"The ‘Last of the First’ welcomed me to their fire. I listened to what often seemed serious debate but was later translated as spectacularly lewd banter. During a lull one evening, as it grew cooler, I moved with tape recorder and camera from one Bushmen to the next until coming to an unspoken matriarch. In exchange for smuggling contraband water and other supplies, I sought to extract from her and others a few Important Answers to Big Questions, namely, “What will you do without government supplied water?”
"...Outside of their Reserve the so-called civilized world found that for all our military might and internet bandwidth, certain things still lie beyond our grasp. We discover we cannot ‘regulate’ barren rivers and depleted aquifers any more than we can ‘regulate’ our climate, clouds, or rain. Out here, while elected leaders kneel as us all to pray for a thundershower that will provide temporary relief, the increasingly dry hot wind whistles through the thorn trees in the central Kalahari and whispers the ancient secret those last defiant Bushmen never forgot.
We don’t govern water.
Water governs us."
A magnificently wrinkled female Bushman squatted by a small fire, stoking the embers beneath a smoke-blackened kettle. To the outsider, the creases of her light reddish skin and the folds of her faded and filthy scraps of cast-off clothing carried the mixed aroma of dust, wood-smoke, and stale sweat. No one else seemed to notice the sour odor—the tight-knit group had long grown accustomed to the smells of one another.
The woman was in her sixties, or perhaps seventies. No one knew her exact age, not even she. Elder Bushmen marked time by stories linked to the shape and position of the moon. They didn’t honor birthdays. In any case she was not youthful or pretty. She had low cheekbones, a bony chest with empty breasts, and lacked curves in her waist, her hips or her buttocks. Deeply creased lines furrowed across her brow and drooped from her Mongoloid eyes down to her jaw, avoiding the wide space of skin stretched between her nose and upper lip. She appeared to have no brows above deep set eyes that took in everything. Her hair was short, dirty, and turning slightly grey. Both her shirt and dress were torn open. Her square features looked almost masculine. Even with her black and white bracelets, and hoop earrings, a glance at her photo led foreigners to think she was a man. But in the way she moved and by the evidence of the offspring to whom she had given birth, she was entirely female....
..........Her band fell silent and listened as the air carried the sound of heavy engines grinding toward them through the thick sand. Trucks, they decided, including a few big ones. Qoroxloo had lived her first several decades without ever hearing a motor. Later, vehicles remained rare, but mostly welcome diversions, bringing unusual stories and white and black people from the outside world. Most were researchers or officials, and some brought useful gifts, like knives, scissors, or wire. But in recent years the sound of certain engines had grown familiar and menacing; it was a sound that brought relentless pressure from men in uniforms, men with guns. Men telling Qoroxloo’s band that they could not live here any longer, that this was no longer their proper home. ..........