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. This book weaves together the multilayered experiences of his life among these Kalahari people, capturing 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 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 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.