Typical Day At Elephant Nature Park
A week ago, I was saying teary goodbyes to a group of like-minded folks. We volunteered for a week, supporting a cause, greater than any of us. We cleaned elephant poo from their enclosures, built walkways, went on to cement our initials in the freshly poured concrete, bathe them (so much fun!) prepared food and fed them, unloaded multiple fruit trucks, collected firewood to build fires when they were cold, and cried while listening to the stories of their rescue. The week was topped off, when we sat in the presence of Pioneer and Elephant Whisperer, Lek, as she detailed the work she has been involved in. It was an emotional time; exchanging warm hugs, thank you’s, email addresses and phone numbers, vowing to see one another again in the coming years. We all recognized the path we had just traveled. No one wanted to leave. Our time at Elephant Nature Park had changed us, individually and collectively.
When I told people I was embarking on a solo trip to Thailand, more than 8K miles away, to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary for a week, I got two distinct reactions; the looks of complete dismay and fear (their own), when they asked “You are going by yourself?!” “But why?” And of course, the free-spirited, open-minded ones who gleefully exclaimed: “Omg that is absolutely amazing! Safe travels, and take care of yourself!” I had always wanted to do a volunteer vacation, and after much research, and preparation, I found myself jetting off on the 32-hour journey to the mountains of Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand.
One of the self-discoveries I made earlier this year, is that Elephants are my spirit animal. My wish to get to know these gentle giants was fueled even more, when I came across a heated discussion on social media. Someone posted a photo of themselves riding an elephant, and the “PETA” folks came at her, hard. I decided to go to place where I could learn, grow, and help in this awareness. When you visit a circus, ride an elephant, see them painting or begging in the streets, you could never imagine the cruel process, they must endure, in order to be ready to for what you see.
A little education. Not long after an elephant (in captivity) cow gives birth, the babies are taken away. The mother doesn’t get to raise them. Elephants are very sociable animals, and live in groups. They take care of one another; have excellent memories, and experience joy, sadness, and grief. They even cry real tears. Soon, the elephant must go through a week-long Phajan, aka, Elephant Crushing phase, which is intended to break its spirit, and eventually force it to do the will of the trainers. Babies have been known to step on their trunks, and kill themselves, as sometimes the treatment is too much for them. We watched five minutes of a heart wrenching documentary, and within seconds I was a puddle of mush. I will update the post, when I remember the name. I wept through the entire thing.
An elephant can live up to 80-100 years old. They often have multiple owners, and will work for, five, six or more decades. A lucky few are rescued by an organization like Elephant Nature Park. Lek, has been interviewed many times by major news networks, and received multiple awards for her work in their rescue and rehabilitation. The sanctuary allows them live the rest of their lives, free to wander, and do as they please.
I spent a great deal of time researching the facility, as not all sanctuaries are created equal. Some still allow tourists to ride elephants, and other forms of industry. Elephant Nature Park is completely saddle off, and as of next year, tourists and volunteers will no longer be able to touch them. A fact which made the time there, even more memorable, to be a part of the last set of volunteers, allowed to intimately interact with them in this way.
I cannot begin to encapsulate the emotions and experiences. Breakfast is at 7 every morning, and one day, I woke early to enjoy the last bit of sunrise. I sat down on the balcony to breathe in the fresh mountain air. Moments later, a few feet below, at least four elephants, and their mahouts strolled leisurely by. Where else could I go and have this type of heart stopping experience?! I will forever treasure my time and experiences there.
I want to share a brief story of one of the “eles”, whose care I will be following, as her story affected me deeply. Her name is Dalah. She was rescued a few months ago, from an owner who force bred her, Basically, she was chained to was chained up, and bull elephants tried to get her pregnant. In the process, she suffered a dislocated elbow, torn ligaments, and was being treated for abscesses. The owners would finally agree to release her, but for a price. She now walks very slowly, with a noticeable limp, and uses her trunk to help take the pressure off her injured leg. The project was in the midst of building a therapy pool, to help with her recovery.
Derek, Lek’s husband, was guarded, when our group asked if she was going to make it. We all hoped she did. She was on large daily doses of Tramadol, light therapy, and massages. She spent most of her time in the enclosure to prevent her injuries from getting worse. Dipor, another elephant and friend, visits her very often, to check on her well-being. The park suspected she might pregnant, but it couldn’t be confirmed for a little while longer. All in all, she was holding on, despite everything. I remember whispering to this beautiful creature, the words” I’m so sorry”. She had every reason not to trust humans, but she remains as loving as ever.
Nothing could have prepared me for this most beautiful of experiences. I went in with no expectations or preconceptions. A week later, I left with phenomenal new friends, a humbled heart, and a profound sense of gratitude for what I witnessed, and been a part of. Furthermore, my hope was renewed by the people working hard every single day, to give rescued elephants, the life they should be living. Despite, the cruelties they have suffered, some do live the rest of their lives in peace.
So what can we do? Well, if you love animals, please do not support this type of industry. Once the need for riding, painting, street begging etc is no longer paid for by tourists, then the industry eventually go out of practice. I understand people must make a living, and in their minds, feeding their families comes first. However, they existed before this practice. Education is the key here. Through Lek, many businesses are slowly turning huge corners. However, there is so much work to be done. If you are not moved by anything in this post, then seek that which sets your soul on fire!
While elephants are the main reasons people visit the sanctuary, there are more than four hundred dogs up for adoption, as many cats, some rescued horses, pigs, water buffaloes etc. I found joy in watching elephant families interact, babies stealing bananas (their favorite food), the cat who sat on my lap for hours, the village school we visited, and whose many industries we supported. The children, some as young as three, who performed for us during our last dinner hour. Once my time at the sanctuary was over, the land of smiles would continue to deliver, over and over; from the world-renowned temples I walked through, visiting the Golden Triangle, crossing into the Thailand/Myanmar border, spending time the Akka Hill Tribe, and so much more! For more info about the projects, visit Elephant Nature Park
Come next year, I will be back into the volunteer vacation habit. Mama Africa has been calling my name for a very long time, it’s about time I answered.
I sincerely hope you make the most of what’s left of 2017. This past year has been so favorable and kind to me, it has succeeded in wiping out a disastrous 2016. Euphoric feelings have often enveloped my entire being, as an abundant universe reminded me, that I am loved and worthy. True happiness can only come from within. I know the reasons behind my smile. I’m putting the finishing touches to several noteworthy projects, due to be released next year, and couldn’t be more excited!
My prayer is for each of us to find joy in life. To understand what Atticus meant when he said these profound, yet simple words “Don’t give up now. Chances are your best kiss, your hardest laugh, and your greatest day, are still yet to come”
See you in a few weeks.
Until the next post,
If you follow my blog, you will know in late 2015, I was diagnosed with a Carotid Aneurysm. Last Thursday, a little over 6 months’ post op, I had a follow up MRA, then an appointment with the Surgeon. The wait was about 20 minutes, but it seemed to have gone on forever. Now, this time after post op, is very critical. There are two outcomes; another follow-up surgery is needed, or you are healing properly, in which case, then it’s another MRI/A in about a year. Other than the Anesthesiologist who woke me up in March, after my 3.5-hour procedure with the words “Wake up Miss Williams. Your surgery was a success”, I’ve never heard sweater words, except when the Surgeon said to me last week “Your MRA looks great. You are healing in the manner we hope….” His words trailed off, as the burden lifted.
Today, I simply want to say again THANK YOU VERY MUCH. The thoughtful souls who organized prayer vigils and fasts for me. Carried out prayer chains. The office staff at my former employer, in the 305, who gathered at the time I was supposed to be wheeled into surgery, to pray for me. The ones who followed up to see how I am doing; you each have contributed to my life, in ways I can only hope, that I spend the rest of it, being grateful and paying it forward. And when I forget to do so, the minute I remember, I would correct my actions immediately. If I didn’t reach out to let you know of these developments, hopefully, you know me well enough to know, that I meant nothing by doing so. I thought long and hard, before telling anyone to begin with. I generally handle my trials, the only way I know how; with my God given strength, as much grace as I can muster, and the knowledge that if I was brought to it, HE will help me get through it. I just felt this was too much for my tired shoulders, at the time. I have no doubt, at some point or another, each of us, will need nothing short of a huge miracle to change the trajectory of our lives!
I have always had a great respect and reverence for life, but since March, it has been amplified, something akin to a steroidal influence! I no longer wonder and worry about experiences I should have, places I want to visit, and things I welcome into my life. I make better choices in my relationships, and jobs/careers I pursue. I KNOW things can change in a minute. All I have is now. I will try not to worry about the scan I need to have in a year, if and when I come to this bridge, I will cross it. Friends, if this post does nothing else for you, I would hope you at least realize, that if you haven’t started walking in your identity, and living your best life, then, what are you waiting for?!
Until the next post,
I follow several bloggers here at WP, sometimes a post resonates deeply with me, that I feel compelled to share. If you are still struggling to come to terms with who you are, take a few minutes to read the message below. I was there a few years ago.
I’m working on securing a platform to educate, inspire, and motivate. I hope to bring my message to millions. Its going to be an exciting few months!
Photo Credit: lbryan (Bigstock) Around the time I turned 40, I became acutely aware of the passage of time. Imagine that. So, I’ve spent much of the past year trying to make the most of it. For instance, several weeks ago, I was planning to take advantage of a gorgeous weekend by camping out in…
Until the next post,
In the past several weeks, on my way to work, I’ve made it a habit to listen to a randomly chosen Mindshift/Inspiration series on YouTube. I noticed within a short time of doing so, I’m more prepared for the day ahead. Social Services can be hard and draining. Many people suffer burnout, several times in their careers. I absolutely love what I do; it’s rewarding to see people go from the lowest points in their lives to independence. However, I don’t see myself doing it into retirement. There are other mountains to climb, projects to complete, and dreams to seize.
I once dreamt of collaborating with other authors. Recently the opportunity presented itself, and I had to grab it! I’m happy to announce, come February 2018, we will be releasing a book together. We held an online meeting this past week, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! There will be photo shoots, radio interviews, launch parties, book signings etc. We are working with an International Best Selling Author, and the hope is this project will land us on this list too. As the project gets ready to launch, I will keep my followers updated.
This project was a dream years ago. One I could have pursued, but didn’t. I wasn’t ready. Was it a coincidence, the moment my thinking started to shift, that this opportunity should fall into my hands? It’s a possibility. However, I’m at a wonderful place in life. I’m ready, and not afraid or ashamed to speak my truth. My dear friends and well wishers, your dreams are not dead unless you bury them. It’s hard, BUT go get yours! Above all, remain thankful for all the small victories. Except for one incident, this month has been incredibly kind to me. The things I envisioned for myself are being granted. I couldn’t be more grateful, for the decision I made to get out of my own way.
I hope you find some gems from the video below.
I wish you joy, peace, and a type of love that encompasses all your understanding!
Until the next post,
Life has been very hectic lately. However, it’s not the wildly disorganized, stressful, and frenzied type! Far from it. I am working on a few projects, which demands a lot of my time. The amazing thing is, I have every reason to be hopeful. I’m a perfect example, of how great things can enter into your life, once you get out of your own way! I want the same for each of you. I pray there is joy in yours, or you have the hope of new beginnings.
Today’s post, is inspired by a video I came across this past week. I love Oprah. While some aspects provides a good measure of comedic relief, it is also very sobering. The word legacy is often associated with children. Not everyone has, or wants children. I think it safe to say, we can collectively share another meaning; the quality of our lives, the summation of our choices and actions, our morals and values, and how we will be remembered.
Have you ever thought, what would people say about us when it’s our turn to leave our earthly home? What ethical choices did we make, and eventually shaped how people saw us? How did we treat the earth? Did we get involved in charitable work? Express compassion for the suffering? How did we treat those who will never be able to repay us? How many lives did we change? Our conduct in this life leaves behind ripples, an impact, of our actions after our death.
Oprah gave a commencement address at St Agnes College this year, take a listen to an excerpt. Absolutely brilliant. Using the words of a poetic giant, Maya Angelou, she sums it up beautifully.
Until the next post,
I believe in collecting stamps, not things. I’ve always had a reverent appreciation for life and its fragility. Ever since I made it through my risky and invasive procedure in March, living my truth, has taken on new and multi-dimensional meanings. I love to travel! I hope to visit at least four countries this year. Last month I spent ten days in Cuba. I’ve already made plans for the next three.
I was somewhat mentally and physically prepared for Cuba. No blog post, google search, or friend’s account, compares to a first-hand experience of this highly clichéd country. Cuba has its drawbacks, probably more so than any other country you will ever visit. You need patience, and a lot of it. You will leave (I hope) humbled, grateful, and changed. I’ve heard firsthand stories of visitors feeling utter sadness, which spoiled their trip. Rubbish. Well, I guess that is their experience, and I can’t make light of it. However, you come away from Cuba; it will and should change some part of you. I can almost guarantee, you won’t visit another country like this one!
To experience the real feel of the place, and mingle with the locals, we used Airbnb’s. I was so glad we chose this route. Our first stop was Havana, then Trinidad, and finally the picturesque city of Vinales. One blog post can’t begin to encapsulate my experiences, the people I met, the things I saw, and oh, the food I ate. In the next few months, I’ll post a guide to visiting the country. If you need any tips/advice on travelling to Cuba beforehand, (especially as an American citizen) please use the Contact Me page above, and I’ll be happy to help. I mentioned American, because of the US-Cuba relations, however, the majority of the advice is for everyone. At the time of this post, we wait for word on whether or not Donald Trump will dismantle yet another Obama policy regarding Cuba.
For now, to the wonderfully kind, gracious, hardworking, and warm-hearted people of this nation, THANK YOU! Cuba, you swept me off my feet. I saw a lot, but I’ve barely scratched the surface. You have developed to the beat of your own drum, at a slightly slower and irregular pace, and this is totally fine. I know the daily challenges of your life, slightly permeates into the tourist experience, but I remain grateful for the obvious sacrifices you made, to make sure my stay was memorable. From the Statue of Christ, Old Havana street dance off contests, horse carriage city tour, sugar mills plantation, Playa Ancon, Palenque Caves and its original slave artifacts, Bay of Pigs memorabilia, to the prehistoric murals, and dozens of other experiences, I was lucky to have, how can I ever thank you?!
If you’ve thought about visiting this ever evolving country, stop thinking, just go!
Until the next post,
Photo: Google Images.
I know who I am. My likes, dislikes, wants, needs, limitations, triumphs, goals, values…the whole kit and caboodle. Right now, I find myself in an exceptionally great place in my life. However, I’ve often wondered where my ancestors originated from. We all know the slave trade started in West Africa, but which of the eighteen countries can I lay claim to? Back in the late 90’s when I first landed in America, people often asked if I was from Jamaica; they claimed I sounded like the characters in the movie Cool Runnings. The conversations always brought a smile to my face, but even though I was able to explain the differences between the Caribbean countries, to this day, I still remember the longing to say more, about the origins of my people. I just couldn’t.
About two months ago, with my birthday approaching, I decided it was a good time as any to find out. So, I purchased a DNA kit from a highly respected company, returned the sample, and waited anxiously for word. There are more than 200 populations in the world, and finding out which ones I was genetically similar too, was both intriguing and fascinating. I mean which percentage of my heritage was African? Did I also have European blood running through my veins? What is the history behind the route my ancestors took to end up in the Caribbean? What year did they come over?
Long after I’ve left this earth, I want my children and grandchildren to be able to come to this space, and have some type of record of their ancestry (since I’m no good at keeping a diary). The company I used did a great job of keeping me updated with the process, so, when the email finally came advising me the results were ready, I was beside myself with excitement. When I get excited, I’ve been compared to a child in a candy store!
So, apparently I am:
Ivory Coast/Ghana: 21%
SE & SC Africa: 2% each
North Africa: >1%
Nigeria & Senegal: 2% each
Western Europe: 8%
Ireland & GB : 1% each
European Jewish: > 1%
I was floored. I now have at least 50+, 4th cousins or closer, that I’m related to! I’ll be busy establishing new relationships and digging into the history even more. This revelation has opened a whole new world for me, in terms of travel, activities, and groups I can align myself with. I mean which tribe did my ancestors originate from? It’s very difficult to find out, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to try. I’ve got a feeling, this is only the beginning of another grand adventure.
I’m off on a well deserved 10 day vacation. In other exciting news, I’ve also been accepted as a Contributing Writer for a magazine! It might be at least a month before I post again. In the interim, take care of yourselves and your families!
Until the next post,