On a recent morning in the jungle of Cameroon, the chief of a central African village has grown furious with an American healthcare worker who has been diligently improving the local clinic. The American insists that no meat be served at an anniversary party for the clinic, only vegetables. “No goat,” the chief says, shocked. “The gods will be angry if we do not slaughter a goat.”

The chief, his face contorted, looks sincerely terrified. I am standing with him and the American doctor and I...

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