It was the last day at the Elephant Nature Park , and 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 along the side of a dusty road had us reconsidering such a momentous challenge and quickly downgraded the mission to the bar by the river. The same bar where our fellow volunteers would be launching their tubes. That way we might just score a ride home after they were dropped off for a Sunday river ride. Always think ahead, after all beer + sun would be a lethal combo.
It was a lazy shamble down the 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, 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 sound of a stressed out golf cart motor coming around the corner behind us… it could only be POM! The 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 up the very hill we wanted to avoid,. Timing is everything. Pom took us all the way before going back to where ever she was going before we hijacked her. I would have loved a chance to get to know her, I think she hid a wicked sense of humour behind that gruff façade.
The bar was made up of wood thrown into the air and quickly nailed together before it fell to earth. After grabbing beer and Magnum ice cream bars we threw ourselves on the benches of the corner table over-looking the river. Ahhh Magnum bars, the food of choice of volunteers: creamy ice cream full of nuts and caramel and coated in chocolate, there was nothing like it with a Singh beer. Sigh.
A girl with Downs Syndrome, 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 boisterous volunteers full of loud river energy. After they were launched we jumped into the back of the truck and hung on for dear life.
One of my favourite things to do is riding in the back of an old truck down dirt roads so I was in my happy place. We clung to the sides as we bumped and swerved along a road made more of pot holes than asphalt. The lush green trees dappled sunshine over our dusty skin and we smiled like we would burst from sheer joy.
I took a picture of Kelly that captured how we all felt, her head thrown back in mid-laugh, at nothing and everything. In that moment there was such an abundance of joy. It just can’t get any better than that. In the back of a beat up old truck – awesome friends – in the sun – in 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 since I couldn’t think of a way to stay so, for once, I didn’t let it ruin the bliss bubble I was in.
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, this important mission? Two 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? And 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?
As I was falling asleep the memory of that day, of that adventure, came back so clear it woke me up and demanded to be written. I close my eyes and I am back there smelling the dust and feeling the sun on my skin. Such precious precious moments! I am so greedy for more.