As in a Dry and Weary Land

Psalm 63: 1-3, “God you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you and flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is beter than life my lips will praise you.”

Walking through the bush behind a Hadzabe man on the hunt is no easy task. Thorne bush to your left, spiked tree to your right, don’t forget to dodge that branch right at eye level. The Hadza get where they are going on foot. And when I say they get where they are going I mean these guys are speed walking champs. So you best keep up.

After a rather difficult week in the city getting a young Hadza boy’s dislocated arm healed, it was good finally being back in the bush. Ngasa had a cast but other than that was doing well. Upon our return to the bush his father Cowounda had noticed that the rainy season had come early to Gitamilanda. He made a comment that he would hunt zebra the next day. Not wanting to miss out on the adventure we asked if we could come along. Cowounda, said of course.

We rose early that Sunday morning. The African sun was just peaking over the morning horizon. The air was still cool, which is the best part of mornings near the Equator. We gather alongside the men at the far end of camp. Cowounda is the leader of today’s journey into the bush. He yells a few words in Kindiga to a young Hadzabe boy, who proceeds to run up and hand me a bow and a few arrows. I am now extra excited, I test the bows draw strength—it is easy to pull back. I figure that means long distances and large game are out of the question. But I am excited all the same.

A few of the young men, probably in their early 20’s join us. They are dressed for the hunt. The Khaki shorts they wear are probably the hand-me-down of a Westerner who came as a tourist or anthropologist. They also don warn-ragged t-shirts. I see Shaqua, a man we ran into a few nights ago around the fire. He is wearing a black t-shirt with the playboy bunny insignia—I figure it is doubtful he knows the meaning of the bunny head. They also wear a thick sheet called a shuka around their waste as a fanny pack. They roll the sheet with a plastic container inside of it and tie it around their waste. It’s perfect for hauling any small game that we might find on the hunt today. But the real treasure that everyone wants to bring home inside the plastic container is honey. It is sweet to the taste and high in calories, not to mention it is like currency for the Hadza among their neighboring tribes. It diversifies the rather bland diet that the Hadza are used to at this point in the dry season and can be traded to gain other useful items like metal arrow heads and corn flower.

Once the young men arrive it is time to go. The walking pace is intense. It’s a long journey to the hunting area, and none of the men want to waste the nice cool air. Up and down the first foothill near camp, then a second and a third. 2 hours later we have arrived in the valley where the animals seem to be. Cowounda takes a shot at a Gin fowl, about 50 yards away. He misses by only a few fractions of an inch. It is not a bad shot considering he is using a homemade bow and arrow, and that the shot was uphill at a target that seemed no bigger than a quarter at the distance we were.

We walk up to a tree, they say there is honey. Everyone is excited including me. They start a fire near by the tree and use the smoke to calm the bees down. They then use their homemade axes to chop into the trunk of the tree and retrieve the honey. They bring us a few bites of the gold soaked comb. It still has a few bees crawling on it and there looks to be some larva in one of the pieces; just part of a well rounded Hadza breakfast. I remove the bees, but eat the larva along with the honey. It is very sweet to the taste, and feels good I my stomach. But then it hits me—sugar means thirst, but we forgot to bring water—bummer.

After the honey reserve is exhausted by the men, we continue on our journey. We cover more terrain; see some animal sign, but not really anything else. One man is very excited and says that there are zebra. Charlie and I wonder if he really saw them, or if he just saw their sine. We certainly didn’t see any zebras go running in front of us. But then again we are spending a lot of time looking down, trying to dodge any potential threat to our feet.

We stop and take rest in the shade of a large Baobab tree. Two of the young men climb the tree. I wonder what they are doing. Soon enough they are sitting in its branches lowering a can into what seems to be the hallowed out trunk of the tree. They pull it up; the can is full of water. The young men get their fill of the good stuff. They then fill a container and bring some to the rest of us. Each of the Hadza men takes a swig. They hand the can to us. Charlie and I discuss taking a sip to quench our thirst, but the consequences would be too great. The water seems clear, but there is no way to be sure, and we cannot clean it. If we have learned anything up to this point in our travels it is that American stomachs are weak… and often cannot handle unfiltered water and even some of the food can cause problems. We decide thirst is better than whatever sickness we might incur. After everybody is done drinking, we continue on.

We eventually reach a larger range of mountains, and they signal for us to turn back. Time for the more than two hour walk home, thankfully it is all downhill. Unfortunately the sun is high in the sky at this point and the temperature has definitely increased. And after several hours with no water, intense motion and some extremely sweet honey, I’m thirsty going on dehydrated.

We begin the journey home. This is going to be a long walk. One hour in, and only about halfway home. My lips are dry and cracking as I move my mouth. My tongue is beginning to stick to the inside my mouth, all I want is a drink of water and some shade. The erred landscape seems to just keep going.  I can see the heat as it rises from the ground in the distance. At some points the paleness of the mineral rich soil and the distant horizon seem to join to form a seamless vision. At 1 and a half hours, I begin to think about what it would be like to be home right now where I could drink a cool glass of water. My mind travels and travels. I try tricking my body by imagining water quenching my thirst. The thought of water had become quite overwhelming, it possessed every facet of my conscious thought. Water, water, water…

I don’t know where the thought comes from, but the next moment it seems to just bounce into my head. Psalm 63:1-2. I had memorized the first five versus of the psalm my first year of college and now almost exactly three years later they came popping into my head. “God you are my God…My soul thirsts for you and my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” I am overwhelmed by the thought that I am experiencing the reality of the author’s figurative language. I have never been this thirsty in my life; I’ve never been in a drier more desperate land.

The verse is so real to me as I step through the sandy soul. As much as I want water in this moment, the author of the psalm desired God. And I realize, that is what it should look like for me to desire God. I should want Him all the time as much as I want water in my most thirsty moment.

As we walk into camp, water is the first thing on my mind, of course. I proceed to down most of my 1.5 liter bottle. It is so satisfying. I sit in the shade for a while after that and just wait for my body to begin to feel better. Eventually it did.

Though the hunt was unsuccessful, I consider the lesson I learned quite valuable. To thirst after Jesus just as you desire water when you have none.

I have continued to ponder what God was saying to me that day and I have come to this conclusion. God wants us, and we should want him. But not just want him… we should desire him more than any other thing in our life. And when we do, God satisfies our desire allowing us to experience the life sustenance of simply being near to him.

Psalm 63: 1-3, “God you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you and flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is beter than life my lips will praise you.”IMG_0343IMG_0344Digital CameraIMG_0341DSC_0084DSC_0077DSC_0021IMG_0340IMG_0339

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