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Journeys with Flies

From 1973 to 1994, anthropologist Edwin Wilmsen lived and worked among the Zhu, Mbanduru, and Tswana people of the Kalahari desert in southern Africa. Thousands of miles from his home, immersed in what first seemed a radically different place, and operating in languages he initially did not understand, he began a record of his impressions and reflections as a complement to his scientific fieldwork. Journeys with Flies weaves together the multilayered experiences of his life among these Kalahari people, capturing at once the intellectual challenges an anthropologist faces in the field and the myriad and strange ways that unfamiliar experiences come to resonate with deeply personal thoughts and recollections.

Combining biography, poetry, and anthropology, Wilmsen vividly portrays the intense realities of life in the Kalahari and carries the reader across space and time as events in the present trigger emotions and memories. Images of apartheid, for example, evoke memories of Wilmsen’s childhood in the segregated South. Poems, journal entries, and moving accounts of deepening personal relationships all intertwine as Wilmsen conveys the experiences he shares with his "subjects" in spite of vast differences in their backgrounds—extreme thirst under the desert sun, grief over the death of a child, and the constant irritation of ubiquitous flies.

"Our understanding of other peoples," he writes, "lies not in themselves or in anything that they do but in our experience of them. Experience that is lived partly in their world and partly in a shell of our world that we wear when we meet them."

Sophisticated, lyrical, and passionately written, Journeys with Flies will inspire all those who travel to places far from home.

Read an excerpt.

168 pages | 5-1/2 x 9 | © 1999

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Travel and Tourism: Travel Writing and Guides

Table of Contents

Geographies (on Kgali Hill)
A photograph of Heinrich Böll
First times
Separate parts
Songs my mother taught me
Let us go then
Samqo’s job
Return to beginnings
I can not put aside childish ways
Given names
Killer chill
A card with landscapes
And these shall be the signs
A conversation with Kahai
The gospel according to Mark
Reading the ground
Sometimes alone
A single spring
News of the human race
Forget’s father
Buy me this

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