Don’t bother reading this if you aren’t going to carefully look at the pictures at the far side of the link, and read the two articles there. It is an amazing story about how people perceive things and project their own weakness and failure onto limited understanding of other peoples strengths. I promise you that if you look at all the pictures, and read the stories that I’ve linked to you’ll see something surprising – and after that feel free to consider my own response to it:
The first thing that I have to say is that I really like these men. I don’t know them, but I recognize them in a way from the pictures — I recognized them when I first saw the picture of one of the lead showmen parading a hyena down a public street in Nigeria. I feel, when I see the candid pictures of them with their animals, that they understand the animals in a way that most people do not. I feel that they are closer to their animals, for instance, than zoo keepers. We are very civilized in the west — we handle our animals through bars. I imagine that when you handle them without the luxury of bars and tazers and guns that you have to learn how to handle them very differently. It’s just a guess, but I think that anyone who handled hyenas without respect would be dead very quickly — and since they are traveling performers, and have learned the trade from their family, I suspect they have grown up with the animals and probably treat them a damn site better than you treat your dog.
Besides the respect for the animals, I suspect these men are not stupid. They are not living an easy life — they have to do a lot of navigation. They have to pay attention to the animals, and to the people the perform for. They have to know the rules and the stigmas, they have to find places to stay, they have to find food. I suspect that they show more intelligence in a day than your average office dweller shows in a month.
Another thing I can see directly in the pictures besides the respect they have for the animals, is their humor. They have the humor of the showman — there is a freedom to being an itinerant performer — it is the same in every culture — gypsies, troubadour or carny — there is a humor to finding a way out of the grind — back to a responsive (if substantially harder) life. They fool people for a living, make the animals look more out of control than they are. Like a juggler who wobbles a little to make a trick which has grown easy look hard. They are engaging human fascination — and bringing surprise and delight to people ground down from the facticity of life.
I could be kidding myself — but then so could we all about anything — I think I would feel profoundly comfortable with these men — much more so than with the metaphorical hyenas and ringmasters of the office world.
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