Once upon a time, I went on a trip to the Kalahari Desert in Africa to learn more about the people who lived there.
I took a plane to the Kalahari Desert with my friends and teachers. When we got off the plane, it was in the early morning. We took a car to the desert, and along the way I talked and laughed with my friends.
The desert was very hot and in the car, I felt that I was in an oven, but I forgot the heat when I joked and played games with my best friend, Tom. After an hour, we arrived at a big resort in the desert, and we began our morning walk in the desert, before it got too warm.
After walking for some time, I saw some very interesting plants in the desert, and I got too excited. Then, I did not see that my teachers and my friends had already left. When I finished looking at the strange plants, I could not find my teachers and friends at all.
I was very scared and shouted for my teachers, and yelled, “Help! Help! Tom! Where are you!” But the desert was so big and wide that I could not see my teachers, or Tom, at all.
After shouting for a long time, I saw somebody walking in the distance. I began waving my hands and shouting, “Help! Come and help me! I’m lost!”
Instead of seeing my teachers, I saw an African boy wearing nothing except a piece of skin draped over the front part of his body. I was amazed at this sight, but I recovered quickly and shouted, “Do you speak English?”
The African boy said slowly, “Yes, I can speak English. I went to a school before and learnt English. You are lucky to have met me. No one else here can speak English.”
Curious to know more about the boy, I asked, “What’s your name? What tribe do you come from?”
The boy replied, “My name is Xo, and I am a !Kung bushman. I live quite a distance from here, and I’m out to gather berries to bring back to my tribe. What is your name? Where do you come from?”
I replied, “My name is Thomas. I come from Singapore, another place very, very far from the desert.” Xo looked quite puzzled, and I thought that it must be because he had never heard of Singapore in his whole life.
As Xo walked around the vast desert, he looked out for trees to get berries to eat. When he saw berries on the trees, he took a twig and threw it at the berries, hitting them down.
Xo said to me while he threw twigs at the berries, “To us, nothing is evil and everything is good. Even the poisonous snake is not evil at all. We just have to avoid its sharp teeth and hit it against the ground. A snake is very useful as we can get skin and delicious meat from a snake.”
I was amazed at how Xo and his people could put everything and anything around him to good use, and he could even get good things out of a snake, which people think is always bad.
Xo went on and said, “To us, God only sends good things to the earth, like berries to eat and dew to drink. God never sends bad things to the earth, because he loves us as we are his children.”
From that, I saw that the bushmen got everything they needed from things around him, unlike modern people who get things they need from many other places.
After walking for an hour, we still had not got to Xo’s village. I asked Xo, “Do you walk everywhere? Do you or your relatives have cars?”
Xo looked puzzled and said, “I know what is a car, but I’ve never seen one. Cars look like metal animals that blow out air from their backs. They look very strange, and we never use them. We walk everywhere we go.”
I was surprised that the !Kung walked everywhere and did not need cars. In Singapore, it would be very difficult to get around without a car! I explained that to Xo, who said, “Walking is much better that sitting in a car. You have legs to walk with, so why do you need a car?”
After more walking, we finally arrived at Xo’s village, where about 30 people lived. Instead of seeing houses made out of bricks, like those in Singapore, all I saw where huts made of straw and leaves. I asked Xo, “Are these huts safe? Will they fall down when the wind blows?”
Xo laughed and said, “Of course they won’t fall down! They are very safe, and anyway, they won’t be here for a long time. After this place runs out of water, we’ll have to move to another place with water. Come, let me introduce you to my father.”
Xo led me to an adult man and began talking to him in his native !Kung language. The man was short and thin, and was smiling all the time, like Xo himself. After talking to the man, Xo said to me, “This is my father. You said you are lost, right?”
I nodded my head, and Xo began talking to his father again. Xo said, after talking for a while with his father, “My father will bring you back to where you came from and look for your friends after we eat.”
I asked Xo, “But how will you know where we came from? It is so far away, and we don’t have maps or traces to know where we came from! I bet I’ll never see my friends and teachers again!”
Xo laughed and said, “We don’t need complicated machines or maps to know where we were. We can get around easily around the area and we will never get lost. We can find very easily where you came from, so there is no need to panic.”
I was relieved. I became more interested about knowing the !Kung people, and I asked Xo, “Do the !Kung have a calendar? Like, Monday or Tuesday?”
Xo said, “No. Here, it’s always Monday, Sunday or Wednesday if you like it. We find no difference between a day from another.”
That was so different from the rest of the world, which gave names to days and told people to rest or work on this day. So, there was somewhere where you could rest for as many days as you like without caring whether it was Monday or Thursday!
I also saw that there was a huge space in the middle of the circle of huts, where children were playing, women were cooking, and men were sitting around talking. I asked Xo, “Is this where everything takes place?”
Xo said, “Yes, we do everything together in this space except for sleeping.” How different it was from Singapore, where everything a person does is within his own home, unlike here, where every body does things together.
In the distance, I saw men bringing back animals they had hunted. I asked Xo, “Do you get everything from hunting and collecting? Where I live, we buy things from a place called the supermarket, where everything we want can be found.”
Xo said, “Here, we get meat by hunting and fruits and water by collecting. Even the skin that we use to cover our bodies is from snakes, which we hunt. By the way, why is your body entirely covered in this strange thing? It looks like skin, but it has so many colours, and why do you cover up your whole body?”
He was talking about the shirt I was wearing, which was red with yellow stripes. I answered, “Where I come from, we cover up our whole body, because it is rude to not do that. This is not skin, but it is ‘cloth’, which can be coloured into many different colours, unlike snakeskin.”
Xo said, “Strange thing to do! It is so hot here that we don’t cover up our whole body. Anyway, it’s time to eat now, and it’s important to eat lots of food before going off.”
Xo led me to where many of the !Kung people had already sat down and were feasting on berries and meat. We sat down, and Xo handed me a large fruit and said, “This is a baobab fruit. The baobab is a tree as large as ten huts stacked up together, and the fruit is very juicy. Try it!”
I took a bite into the baobab fruit, and as Xo had said, it was extremely juicy, like an orange but as large as ten oranges. As I ate the baobab fruit, Xo handed me a handful of fruits that were shaped like eggs. “These are the fruits of the mongongo tree, which is very tasty. Break open the skin-” Xo showed me how to break open the fruit-“and you get a wonderful nut. The mongongo nut is very tasty. Try it!” I ate the nut, and the taste was wonderful. Soon, I was busy cracking mongongo fruits and eating the nuts.
The bushmen seemed to be very curious towards me, as they kept on looking at me while I was eating. They were probably curious towards me because my skin was not black, like theirs, and I was covered up in clothes, while they weren’t.
After feasting on baobab fruits and mongongo nuts, it was time to leave the !Kung village. The friendly people waved goodbye to me, even though I had only been in the village for less than two hours. I felt quite sad to leave this happy place where no children were scolded, but Xo said that we had to go before it got too hot.
Xo and his father accompanied me, and Xo began figuring out where he had met me in the huge desert. Amazingly, without having to use a compass or map, Xo could easily find out where we had come from.
When we returned to where we had started, I saw my teachers and friends frantically calling, “Thomas! Thomas!” I ran to my teachers shouting, “I’m here! I’m here! I was rescued by a !Kung bushman!”
My teachers and friends ran to me and hugged me, and my teachers said, “Never wander off again in the desert! Now, where is the !Kung bushman that saved you?”
I turned around to look for Xo and his father, but they were already gone. I missed Xo and his father, and I asked my teachers to bring my friends and I to the village to visit the !Kung people again. My friends were also very excited to see people that never scolded children and were always happy.
On the last day of my trip, my teachers brought us on a car ride around the desert to see if we could find the !Kung village, but we could not find it at all. In the end, we gave up and we drove back to the resort.I came back to Singapore on a plane with my friends and we lived happily ever after. I never saw Xo again.