Outside magazine, July 1999
Africa's Bushmen offer tourists a taste of the real thing
To visit Namibia's Ju'Hoansi Bushmen, contact Okavango Tours and Safaris (organized expedition; 011-44-181-343-3283) or Safari Drive (independent expedition; 011-44-1488-681-611). For the Nharo in Botswana, contact Andrea Kennaugh (Box 651, Ghanzi, Botswana) or Okavango Tours and Safaris. For South Africa's Khomani, contact !Num (011-27-21-790-5950; firstname.lastname@example.org).
After nearly six hours of tracking, the three hunters finally locate their quarry: a dead wildebeest, pierced the previous day by an arrow smeared with a slow-acting but lethal mix of acacia pitch and crushed beetle larvae. Taking out their knives, they go to work until all that remains is a pool of blood, upon which a cluster of blue butterflies descends to drink. After the meat is stuffed into packs made from the wildebeest's own hide, the men hoist their loads and start the ten-mile slog home. For the hunters, it's simply part of a survival ritual dating back millennia. But for the two British travelers participating in this venture, it is a taste of a unique form of tourism being offered by Africa's Bushmen, who occupy increasingly smaller sections of the Kalahari desert stretching through Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa.
For years, indigenous groups from Kenya's Masai to the Highlanders of Papua New Guinea have been hosting foreign guests. Many trips of this ilk, however, are notoriously contrived affairs—a bit of feasting, a touch of dancing, some astute hawking of local crafts. By contrast, the Bushmen and a few small-scale tour operators are offeringthe chance to sleep in the dunes and partake of local cuisine (roasted jewel beetles!). When hunters go out for fresh meat, you join them. When women pick spiked wild cucumbers, you help. Visitors pay $700 to $1,500 for the privilege of being incorporated into tribal life for up to two weeks.
The scheme started two years ago with a group of tribal leaders looking for ways to protect their territory from encroachment, and a coterie of sympathetic outsiders who concluded that the stateless and politically powerless Bushmen could best improve their lot by involving themselves with the cash economy. Business is slow—only a handful of tours have been booked for this year, including the first two American groups. The Bushmen, however, feel it has potential; last year the Namibian government, impressed by the Ju'Hoansi Bushmen's potential for earning foreign currency, declared their land a game conservancy. "Without money we cannot keep the land, and without land we cannot exist," says Benjamin Xishe, a Ju'Hoansi. "For us, this is a last stand." —RUPERT ISAACSON
The Unbearable Tightness of Being
A group of baffled sales executives struggles to understand why nobody wants performance-enhancing shorts
"I feel incredibly frustrated," grouses John Stella, a marketing manager for DuPont fabrics. And who could blame him? More than two years ago, DuPont had what seemed like a golden sales opportunity: a scientific study revealing that shorts made from highly elastic fabrics could reduce muscle fatigue and thus improve athletic performance by up to 30 percent—enough, DuPont envisioned, to get every fitness freak in the world clamoring for a pair. But alas, no. "You'd think this would be an athlete's dream," says Stella. "Why doesn't everyone wear them?"
A fair question, and therein lies a tale of marketing gone wrong. Legend has it that the concept was born when an especially self-confident football player squeezed himself into a woman's girdle for added muscle support and in the process discovered that it helped prevent hamstring injuries.
Meanwhile, the running craze of the 1980s introduced spandex tights to the public. Perhaps eyeing what has since become a $3 billion market for athletic shorts, DuPont decided in 1990 to investigate whether such garments could also improve performance. It turned to William Kraemer, at the time an exercise physiologist at Pennsylvania State University. After five years of research, Kraemer found that wearing shorts made with about double the Lycra in standard biking shorts increased power by 12 percent among men, probably because the garments reduced wiggling that can tire muscles. An even greater benefit, about 30 percent, was reaped by women. In 1996, DuPont licensed several specialty manufacturers to make certified "Lycra Power" compression shorts, which now sell for up to $50 a pair and are worn by professional football teams from the San Francisco 49ers to the Washington Redskins.
Although the findings were trumpeted in the press, everywhere from the Los Angeles Times to Runner's World, sales never caught on with the public. Reason: Recreational athletes are apparently just as vain as the next person, and they aren't interested in jumping higher on the basketball court if it means they must cram themselves into the fashion equivalent of shrink-wrap. In a recent survey by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers' Association, buyers ranked comfort as their top priority; performance was rated seventh. Another drawback is the price—a function of what DuPont charges for Lycra Power fabric.
But despite the snags, the miracle fiber may soon get its day. This summer Reebok will use Lycra Power in the uniforms it's developing for some 2,000 athletes in next year's Olympics. If the fabric attracts enough attention, Reebok will introduce a spring 2001 line for consumers—a prospect that thrills Stella. "It's an uphill battle," he says, "but word may finally be getting out." —ERIK STOKSTAD