Saying Bye to the Elephants – Emily

I just took my first hot shower since I left home two weeks ago. That is partially my own fault, considering I did not realize that the showers in the Lub D could have hot water if I turned the knob the other way….but while in the Elephant Nature Park, there was no hot water. Only cold water in a shower with muddy floors and lots of bugs. It is nice to finally feel clean again.

Our group left last week for Chiang Mai. After the 11 hour train ride through the night, and a night in another hostel-like guest house, we left for Elephant Nature Park. Upon arriving at the park, I immediately knew I was going to enjoy it much more than Bangkok. The transition from skyscrapers and dirty streets to mountains and dirt roads was appealing to me; I was sick of the busy traffic and gross smelling areas of Bangkok. Negative thoughts about Thailand were beginning to form in my head. Chiang Mai was a nice change because it was still a city, but also a bit more traditional and much less crowded. When the van of Westtown students left Chiang Mai and headed for rural Thailand, I was not sure what to expect.

The landscapes of forested mountains were beautiful and different from anything I had seen before. As we approached the park, all I saw was jungle covered mountains surrounding an area of flat land that included tropical looking trees and a small river. As we turned down the dirt driveway of the park, I saw elephants in a field to the left. My negativity disappeared, and I couldn’t wait to begin the week.

The week at Elephant Nature Park was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. I ate a lot of Thai food, and a lot of pineapple. We fed and bathed the elephants, and learned a lot about how the park was created. We went tubing down a Thai river while local children threw mud at us. We spend our first morning cutting down corn stalks with machetes in the hot sun, and then rode back to the park sitting on top of the corn in the back of the truck eating watermelon. Draining the mud pit for the elephants turned into a giant mud fight (totally worth the ruined clothes and mud in my ears), and later that day we had to cut our Elephant Walk short… in order to help the workers fight a forest fire that had traveled onto the park’s property. Climbing up a hill in the hot sun with a bucket of water to throw on the burning plants, while walking on burning leaves and thorns that gave me many scrapes and cuts was something I never imagined my Senior Project would involve, but I am thankful for the unforgettable experience.

As lame as it sounds, I really am having trouble putting my experience at Elephant Nature Park into words. We washed and fed elephants, prepared their food, and did a good amount of manual labor. But for me, it never felt like a “service project”.  I looked forward to the morning jobs and feeding the elephants, I really loved every moment of it. We hiked up mountains with elephants and slept in a shack in the middle of the woods for a night. We walked around in the dark jungle helping the mahouts find the elephants. I spent a week with 35 elephants and 70 dogs, and had the time of my life. I realize that I am still in the “learning stage” with my project. I’m supposed to think my project was so fun, and then in a week I am expected to come to some sort of realization about the life lessons it taught me. In reality, I am still halfway around the world from home, and I know that my project has had a huge impact on me. I know that I still have a lot to learn and experience in life. My week away from internet and the usual luxuries (such as hot water or a full-length mirror) truly allowed me to truly immerse myself in the experience. I learned that I don’t need to worry about everything right now. I’m 17 years old and have many many years ahead of me. Up until the day of my project, I had so much on my mind that at times I forgot I was even going to Thailand. My time in Thailand has allowed me to take a step back, and stop freaking out about things that seem so important right now, but in reality, could change in a few years, or even months. Spending time with people whose lives are so different from mine (for example, a guy who lives in a shack in rural Thailand and follows around a baby elephant 365 days a year) has been an incredibly positive experience for me. It is still hard to put into words how Thailand has impacted me, and my blog post has probably become very confusing. Basically, Thailand was just what I needed before I head into my final months at Westtown. It was a breath of fresh air, and my project put many things in perspective for me. I’m ready to go home.

We are leaving Bangkok tonight, our flight departs at 4:30am. After the 12 hour train ride last night, I am dreading the flights back, but looking forward to seeing my family and being home again.

-Emily 🙂

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