This was my second week working with the elephants at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. It started Sunday with my first banana tree harvest. The whole elephant schedule kind of revolves around these trees. We harvest them, feed them to elephants then compost them. At least a dozen volunteers ride in the back of trucks and to various banana tree orchards in the area. We always have a couple mahouts with us who chop down the trees with machetes and we carry them to the truck. It helps that they always blast Thai techno music from the truck to keep us pumped up.
The trunks are quite deceiving and its impossible to tell how dense or heavy it is until you hoist it up onto your shoulder. They're also usually quite juicy and tend to stain whatever you happen to be wearing so the veterans are dressed in shabby clothes covered in dark brown blemishes. The best adjectives to describe this activity are tedious, sweaty and dirty. Occupational hazards include mosquitos, fire ants, scorpions, thorns, hidden ankle traps (vines, holes and uneven ground) and stumbling over typhoon-aftermath-level debris.
For some reason I started thinking about fashion catalogs/magazine spreads and how ridiculous they are. For example, in the last Anthropologie catalog that was sent unsolicited to me before I left the states, the first page showed a woman in an immaculate white dress painting a canvas in the middle of the woods. This dress must have been enchanted because somehow there wasn't a speck of dirt or a drop of paint on it. It's just ridiculous how much companies spend to make models draped in their apparel appear as if they are doing things that no one actually does in real life. I'd much rather see real people doing real things so I started snapping pictures and announced to everyone that I was taking pictures for The Harvest Collection Fall 2015 Catalog (see previous post for the series). At first I got strange looks and some resistance but after a while everyone really got into it. I assembled the pictures that night into a catalog and made up satirical text to go with the pictures. I described our grungy, filthy, peasant-like ensembles as "vintage, distressed, antique and exclusive."
So just as my bruised and battered foot finally healed, my phone broke. The screen on my iPhone 5 had been a bit dodgy for a while; the LCD was a bit detached from the rest of the phone and horizontal lines had been flickering across my screen for at least a month. One morning I discovered that despite being charged all night, the screen on my phone was black. I tried to turn it on and a white apple appeared in the middle of the screen like it was about to boot but then the screen just went black again. I did this several times fueled by a blend panic and frustration, but the same thing always happened. I decided to take it to town and ask the Thai phone guy in the village that sold me my SIM card to take a look at it. After suspecting the battery or the LCD screen was the source of the problem he failed to fix it and then determined that it was some part of the motherboard called the IC power component. He said he was going to Bangkok over the weekend and would try to find this elusive replacement part so my fingers are crossed that when I go back to see him again in a few days, my phone will finally be fixed because I've been phone-less in a foreign country for over a week now. You really don't realize how much you take something for granted until it's gone.
And now back to your regularly scheduled elephant programming…
This week I moved from working in the center with the most docile elephants to working in the new lands with the ones that are hands-off. It amazing how much elephants are like people; they all have their own personalities and socialize in groups and have their own individual preferences when it comes to other elephants and people. Boon Chuey and Dao Rueng are like the Plastics (Mean Girls Reference) of New Lands because they bully poor Duen Phen by trying to steal her food and exclude her from the swimming hole because she doesn't wear pink on wednesdays. Khan Kluey is the only male elephant and I call him the Hellephant because he decimated most of the trees in his enclosure and you can't come within trunk's reach of his habitat because he will try to grab you so he throws rocks (and sometimes tires) at us instead. His surrogate mom, Somboon, is much more chill and just wants to eat corn. Not the cucumbers or melon, though. Just corn.
We also discovered a pair of puppies in the bushes this week at New Lands. We strongly suspect that they were abandoned there intentionally by a local. They are both black and one has erect ears and a stumpy, docked tail while the other has floppy ears, a white patch on its chest and an intact tail. I named them Dingo and Domino, respectively, since at first we thought they were boys. But later we discovered they were actually girls and the mahouts started calling them Pancake and Cupcake. There are already over a dozen dogs roaming around the Center already so we couldn't transport them there so some of the volunteers pulled off all their ticks and gave them flea baths and even bought a bag of puppy food. Not sure how long they're going to be able to stay in New Lands so hopefully they'll end up at a local temple where they'll at least get fed by monks.
Towards the end of the week, I got to work with the elephants in the Mid Lands enclosure. This is where the center is trying to form a small herd with Aunties Kaew Petch, La Ong Dao, Momma Pun and Baby Pin. Pin is the cutest little thing ever and acts just like a toddler; almost as much food ends up on the ground as in her mouth and she just wants to run around and play all day. Pai Lin, Nam Phon and See Puak are also here but I didn't work much with them. All together, there are now 15 rescued elephants throughout the refuge.
On my last day, I decided to taste the food I had been preparing for and feeding to the elephants for the past two weeks. I had a small bit of a banana ball and it tasted like unsweetened bran cereal mixed with sand and ripe banana. Not terrible. I also tried a slice of banana tree trunk which was crunchy and water, not unlike iceberg lettuce. I could totally see Dr. Oz touting is as the next weight loss miracle or trendy restaurants making an exotic salad out of it and charging like fifty bucks for it.
I learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed my time working with these amazing animals. For my third and final week, I will be working with (translation: feeding and cleaning up poop) a vast variety of other rescued and currently rehabbing animals native to Thailand so stay tuned!