DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is what makes everyone on earth unique. DNA can separate different groups of people, but it can also bring people together. In the travelogue Meeting the Family: One Man’s Journey Through His Human Ancestry, the author Donovan Webster discovers that he shares DNA with four different groups of people, including the Hadzabe Bushmen of Tanzania, Lebanese Arabs, tribal Uzbeks of central Asia, and Spanish Basques.
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These groups are vastly different from one another, and yet they face similar issues. Each of these peoples must determine how to make a living in this contemporary world to survive. These groups, that all exist in one person, have had to face modern pressures and social issues to survive in the modern age, including finding clean drinking water, technological advancements, and violent terrorist organizations.
The first part of Webster’s trip was the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania, home of the Hadzabe Bushmen. This is where he met Julius, a man whom he is distantly related to. Both men share the M168 marker. Julius showed Webster the way of life in the Hadzabe tribe. The Hadzabe people make a living by hunting and gathering. Julius said that they prefer to “live purely inside nature,” and not partake in manufacturing, farming or husbandry. Most parents do not send their children to school because they do not wish for their children to sleep under metal roofs. Even water is something they prefer to get from rivers or streams, although they have a cistern for water on their land that was built by the Tanzanian government. Since the water has gone through the metal, they prefer not to drink it. This purely natural lifestyle is quite unique to the Hadzabe people, especially when compared to the other three groups that Webster is related to. Hunting and gathering would not be considered a modern lifestyle by most people. Some people wonder why the Hadzabe continue to live this way even though the world is now full of new inventions and technologies.
The explanation is simple: although not many people still hunt and gather, it is something that has worked for the Hadzabe people for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, so they do not feel the need to change. One could argue that their resistance to change is why the Tanzanian government protects the land the Hadzabe tribe lives on. With the huge population explosion and technological changes, the Hadzabe are left as some of the last hunter gatherers in Africa. The government feels that they need to protect their land to preserve their nearly extinct way of life and culture. One problem faced by the Hadzabe tribe is that other tribes such as the Datoga and the Masai are on their land illegally. This is a major problem for the Hadzabe because these other tribes are allowing their animals to graze in their fields, which takes away resources from the Hadzabe and drives away their game. To deal with this, Julius told Webster that he has gone to the Tanzanian government multiple times, but they still have yet to do anything about it. This is because the Datoga are more educated than the Hadzabe are, and they are more popular with the government. Having foreigners on their lands is a problem also faced by the Lebanese Arabs. The Lebanese have to deal with Israelis and Syrians crossing their border, and Palestinian refugees.
The Datoga and Masai, and the Israelis, Syrians, and Palestinians cause different issues for other tribes they interact with; these issues put stress on the tribes and cause problems for them such as taking away resources and attracting violence from neighboring countries. Living in a world that is far more contemporary and modern than their own culture and lifestyle may pose problems for the Hadzabe, but they are continuing to try and have these issues resolved. When Webster first met Julius and was getting to know him, Julius said, “In some ways we must accommodate the outside world as it comes closer and closer to our home. But in other ways, we choose to leave the outside world alone. And this is fine too.” In saying this, Julius means that the Hadzabe will continue to preserve their way of life even in the face of change.
Lebanon was a stark contrast to the Great Rift Valley of Tanzania. The hotel Webster stays in while he is in Beirut is a prime example of modernity in Lebanon because he is offered a choice of water or tea while checking in, which makes the hotel feel very welcoming and contemporary. This was not the case in Tanzania because they are already facing issues with just finding clean water, and tea would most likely be considered a luxury item. Also, the decorations and furniture the hotel used were very sleek and new age. Although the author’s hotel is in Beirut, Webster came to visit the Lebanese Arabs, who live in Baalbek and its Bekaa Valley. When Webster first arrived in Baalbek, he saw people working in fields, donkeys carrying woven baskets full of vegetables, and trucks full of potatoes, sugar beets, onions, and several other crops. Webster met a man in the Bekaa Valley named Mohamed, who farmed his land in the warm seasons and then moved back to Baalbek with his family in the winter.
Mohamed said that although he does not do this, some people grow drugs such as marijuana and hashish to make money. Farming seems to be the most common way of earning a living among the Lebanese Arabs. Since they live so close to the valley, or in some cases in the valley itself, farming is the perfect choice for these people with land and farm resources being plentifully available. They were also possibly raised by farmers, so maybe they are just continuing their family practice. They, like the Hadzabe, live off the land, albeit in different ways. It is interesting that both Lebanon and Tanzania have groups of people that are slightly similar in lifestyle because they are two remarkably different countries in many aspects. Like the Hadzabe, the Lebanese Arabs are facing many different problems, but most of them are social problems. Mohamed told Webster that it had become harder to farm the lands in the Bekaa Valley, the reason being that it is owned and farmed mainly by non-Muslims who have more influence with politicians. Mentioned previously is another major issue that Lebanon faces: people of neighboring countries crossing their borders. Palestinian refugees are seeking asylum and moving to the southern regions of Lebanon.
Since Palestine and Israel are less than friendly with each other, the Israelis also cross over and bring with them lots of violence. The Syrians cross over because they claim that they are trying to help establish peace. Unfortunately, Lebanon has been trapped in a cycle of violence that shows no signs of letting up. This violence is similar to what the Spanish Basques experience due to the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or ETA. The Spanish Basques face many kinds of threats from this terrorist group, and it causes many problems for them. One way that the Lebanese have tried to deal with this is by heavily arming themselves. Others try to ignore all the tension and violence and simply try to live peacefully, raise their families, and enjoy living in beautiful Lebanon.
The next part of the trip brings Webster to Samarkand, Uzbekistan to explore the lives of tribal Uzbeks. Of all the places the author visits, Samarkand appears to be the most diverse in terms of ways to make a living. Webster mentions nomadic peoples, a factory, and an electricity plant. Golbor, Webster’s driver, says that some of the nomads sell carpets to make a living. They put new carpets that they have woven in the road so that cars runover them and make them appear older. New carpets are not as valuable as old ones, so doing this brings in more money for them to support themselves. Letting people run over carpets that they have woven by hand seems very counterintuitive, but it has clearly proven to be beneficial, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. When Webster finally makes it into the city, he meets a man named Dilshod. Dilshod offers to be his tour guide in exchange for money, a proposition which Webster eventually agrees to, albeit a little reluctantly. Tourism is how Dilshod earns a living. His father has been sick, he still lives at home, and there is a girl he wants to marry.
With Dilshod, Webster meets a saleswoman in the local bazaar who sells him green tea and leaves from a tree that supposedly cures headaches. Commerce is the way that most people, people from all different walks of life, make their money. There are many ways to make a living in Samarkand, but there are also several issues in Samarkand. Recently, Samarkand has fallen on hard times both politically and commercially. An example of this is that the airport was closed to commercial flights. This hurts the economy and all industries in Uzbekistan, including the tourism industry that Dilshod is a part of. Being so out of favor has likely put immense pressure on Samarkand. One of these pressures is for the government accepting new ideas for their current system of government. The current type of government in Uzbekistan is a presidential republic, which is the same kind of government in the United States. Although they are a republic, they are also very authoritarian, meaning they have a president, but there are no elections for the people to vote for who they want, and the president remains in power indefinitely. Uzbekistan could respond to this pressure to adapt their political system by gradually democratizing. They could do this several ways, such as holding elections for officials and creating set amounts of time for officials to serve. Doing this could help Uzbekistan regain both political and commercial favor.
The final stop of this tour was Bilbao, Spain. This is where Webster has come to meet the last group of his extended family. Several decades ago, Bilbao was in rough shape due to trade boycotts that left their economy in shambles. Since then, they have been able to revamp their economy by focusing on tourism, communications, education, and advertising (Webster 263). All the careers from these industries are how people make a living in Bilbao. As mentioned before, the main problem faced by the Spanish Basques is the ETA. The ETA is responsible for many kidnappings and bombings in the area. (add sentence about why they are doing this) Webster spoke to two men who had very different opinions about the ETA. The first man, Federico, disliked the ETA and said that they are terrorists who do not solve any problems that they’re objecting to with their actions. Federico also said that are just destroying things and killing people because they are frustrated. Federico is justified in saying that the ETA is not solving problems, they are just creating more in a violent manner.
The second man, Miguel, supported what the ETA is trying to accomplish, saying that they are just fighting for freedom to make their own choices in life. It is intriguing that there are two completely different opinions and yet they are both Basques, both from the same group with the same values. In an attempt to deal with the ETA, the Spanish government has implemented increased policing, as well as arresting some of the higher-ranking members of the ETA. Doing this has led to the weakening of the organization, but unfortunately the violent attacks have continued despite the efforts to suppress the ETA.
The Hadzabe Bushmen of Tanzania, Lebanese Arabs, tribal Uzbeks in central Asia, and Spanish Basques all have their own ways of making a living. They also have a variety of modern pressures and social issues that they deal with in a variety of ways. All of these people live different lives because of the different circumstances they experience. Webster is one man who is tied to all four of these groups, and he learned to accept and embrace them all, despite their differences. If we all learn to realize this as well, then hopefully we will be able to be less judgemental of people who are different from us.
“Authoritarianism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Nov. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarianism.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Authoritarianism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2 Nov. 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/authoritarianism.
The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “ETA.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2 May 2018. Web. 14 November 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/ETA
“The World Factbook: UZBEKISTAN.” Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 6 Nov. 2018, www.cia.gov/llibrary/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uz.html.
Webster, Donovan. Meet the Family: One Man’s Journey Through His Human Ancestry. National Geographic, 2010. Print.
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