Last day at Elephant Nature Park , only a few hours before the van would take me to the airport and away from this amazing place. So my 2 BFFs and I decided to hike to the hill temple … however a few minutes shuffling on the side of the dusty road had us reconsidering such a monumental challenge and we quickly downgraded the mission to the bar by the river where our tubers would launch… that way we might just score a ride home after the guys dropped the volunteers off for a Sunday river ride.
It was a lazy shamble down a dusty road, with women who were closer to me than time together gave them any right to be. I loved and admired them, but more, I was in awe of them. Their youth was not used as an excuse to not care and not ‘do‘. Their passion and compassion were worn as comfortably as an old tee-shirt. And they laughed, a lot and well. That they liked and enjoyed my company was a buzz I couldn’t get enough of. And here we were together for one last adventure, ambling along a sunny country road in northern Thailand, chattering like we had known each other for years, instead of a week. What a wonderful dream.
Suddenly we heard the stressed out sound of a golf cart motor being asked too much of, coming around the corner behind us… it could only be POM! Manager of ENP, she was Lek’s intrepid woman-friday, who took ‘stoic’ to new heights. Grinning, we begged a ride to the bar, thus tormenting the poor engine further on the very hill we wanted to avoid, with even more people in it. Timing is everything. Pom took us all the way before turning around to go where ever she was going before we hijacked her. I would have loved a chance to get to know her, believing she hid a wicked sense of humour behind that gruff facade.
The bar was made up of wood thrown into the air and quickly nailed together before it fell to earth. After grabbing beer and Magnums we threw ourselves onto the benches around the corner table over-looking the river. Ahhh Magnum bars, the food of choice of volunteers: creamy ice cream full of nuts and carmel and coated in chocolate, there was nothing like it with a Singh beer. Sigh.
A young Downs girl, around 9 years old, sidled up to our table, not shy exactly, more like testing the waters of our attitudes. We smiled a welcome and she warmed up and flirted her way into our hearts. She was enchanting as only a child who knows unconditional love could be, unselfconscious, confident in her worth to be accepted; she kept us entertained until the ENP truck arrived full of tubes and volunteers full of loud boisterous river energy. After they were launched, we jumped into the back of the truck and hung on for dear life.
This is one of my favourite things to do, riding in the back of an old truck down back roads. We clung to the sides as we bumped and swerved along a road made up of more pot holes than asphalt. The lush green trees dappling the sun against our skin and we smiled like we would burst from sheer joy.
I took a picture of Kelly that encapsulates how we all felt, her head thrown back in mid-laugh, at nothing and at everything. In that moment there was such joy, an abundance of joy. It just can’t get any better than that. In the back of a beat up old truck, with awesome friends, in the sun, the middle of no-where, in Thailand, volunteering at an elephant rescue centre. Seriously? Fucking ridiculous how happy I was in that moment. I deliberately refused to think about leaving because I just couldn’t think of a way to stay, so, for once, I didn’t let it ruin the moments of bliss that I got to experience in the now.
Will I ever go back? Those two women were so much a part of the experience, so important to how much I enjoyed myself, what would it be like without them? Of course, the elephants would be there, and it was all about the elephants. But what I keep coming up against is what can I bring to the table? What value can I offer to this important place, important mission? 2 weeks of scrubbing and cutting fruit and vegetables, cutting grass and bamboo, cleaning elephant shit up, that was fine and good. But going back and doing the same thing again? As well, being 60+, I feel like my physical contribution may be ebbing. I want to be with the ellies, I want to contribute to their well being, but other than with money, (which I have so little of) but then, what? Again, I am faced with purpose – mine. What is the point of me? What can I bring to any party I go to? Why would anyone really be happy to have me on their team? How can I get to this age and still be so unskilled at anything worth doing? Way too many ????? and it is late. The memory of that day, of that adventure, had come back so clear as I started to fall asleep that it woke me up crying, demanding to be written down. I close my eyes and I am back there smelling the dust and the sun and feeling the ghost of the smiles on my cheeks and the tears start again. Such precious precious moments. I am so greedy for more but I know that if i get too hungry, I will scare them away