Sunday, September 5, 2010

Trying to make sense of it all . . .

I've been back nearly 5 days and I'm slowly achieving coherence. I don't know if it's jet lag or just straight up emotional exhaustion, but I've been sleeping about 16 hours a day.

When I read over my blog entries I realize there is so much I couldn't put into words. It's very hard to describe what you're doing and what you're feeling at the same time. But one thing I cannot stop thinking about is how my experience there seemed to differ so completely from that of the other 13 volunteers in my group. I was second oldest and the only American. Most of them were from England or Australia, between 20 and 24, and backpacking their way through Asia after they'd graduated from "uni" (college).

After the first day or so, I realized I wasn't really fitting in. I was worried and starting to get a complex. I couldn't understand why I felt so apart from them. Was it b/c I cried every time we were near an elephant? Was it b/c I was old enough to be their mother? Or maybe it was b/c I was in bed every night by 8 and they stayed up drinking and playing cards until the wee hours?

I won't say this hindered my experience, but it did limit the people I had to share my overwhelming thoughts and feelings with while I was there. When I got back, I was talking to Carol Buckley about this and she clarified it for me. She said, "Your trip was about the elephants, their trip was about themselves."


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mixed Emotions

I got back into the country last night and while I am happy and relieved to be here, I already feel like I've been away from the elephants for a very long time. And I'm afraid it will also be a very long time before I can go back. When I was at the park it immediately felt like home, as if maybe I'd been there before. It seemed so natural to be with these animals, to be up close, touching them, feeding them, treating their wounds. I will miss them intensely and being in their presence has reinforced my drive to protect elephants everywhere.

I will never forget my time there and I have much more to write about, so stay tuned.

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's a Dog's Life Here

Just a few . . . .

The park is home to somewhere between 50 and 80 dogs. Some have been rescued, some have been abandoned and some have been born there. The dogs have the run of the property and have separated themselves into 5 packs.  This is something that concerned me before I arrived. I knew that the dogs had the pack mentality and there were occasional scuffles, but I didn't want to witness anything more serious. Ever since Sophie was attacked by that pit bull I am seriously traumatized and even a distressed cry from a dog sets me on edge. But once in a while one of them will stray across territory lines and is immediately chased back where he belongs, other than that they behave. Most have been spayed/neutered and vaccinated. They are healthy and seem very happy. Almost all of them are very friendly and love the attention showered on them by everyone.

And a few more . . . .

The flea meds I brought were very appreciated by Lek and Pom. Lek said she puts a few doses in her truck and if she sees a dog on the street that obviously has bad fleas she stops and treats them. She's amazing.

I loved having the dogs around. One or two took a shine to me and were never far away. Three or four of the dogs followed us as we trekked around the property and nearby villages. It was great. A couple of the dogs would go into Chong Yim's shelter and tease him. Even though he chased them out with much indignation I think he secretly enjoyed it.

Total Rookie Mistake

That day that we cut the grass was pretty warm and sunny. We all took our handy-dandy water bottles in their nice holders w/the shoulder straps that were given to us on our first day. Seriously, this is a great invention.

Later that afternoon I started to get a headache. I decided to lie down for a while before dinner. Within minutes I had one of the worst headaches of my life. An hour later I was shaking, sweating, and vomiting. This went on for about 4 hours.(You know I must have been in bad shape, I missed dinner.) Nothing helped, not Tylenol, anti-emetics, cold compresses. It sucked pretty bad. Finally I took a Benadryl, not sure why it might help but desperate for relief. I fell into a fitful sleep and woke up the next day feeling much better.

When I mentioned this to my group leader he told me I had suffered from a heat stroke and that I didn't drink enough water the previous day.

I can't believe I was that stupid. So let that be a lesson to you.

Faa Mai and Chong Yim

Faa Mai and Chong Yim heading to lunch w/their families.

Little sweet girl Faa Mai was born on April 17, 2009, and is the first baby ever born at the park. Her mother, Mae Bua Thong, and her older sister, Tong Jan, were rescued together from a trekking camp and brought to the park in 2005. Faa Mai is very sweet and you can tell she is made of 'sugar and spice and everything nice', but she is a toddler and acts like it!

Mischievous little Chong Yim was born on July 12, 2009. His mother, Dok Ngern, was rescued by Antionette Van de Water of Bring the Elephant Home. Antoinette was unexpectedly at the park the night he was born. Isn't karma beautiful?

Being a boy, he is very active. He likes to grab things (like cameras, hands, purses) from the visitors and volunteers. You have to be very careful around him b/c he's quick and he's strong. He's a typical toddler, getting into everything. I love him.

Because Faa Mai and Chong Yim were born at the park, they will never be taken from their mothers.They will never work as logging elephants or street beggars.They will never undergo the cruel phajaan training to break them of their will and spirit in order to teach them to perform for tourists. Instead they will enjoy freedom and love. Forever.

Faa Mai entering the world

Working with Dr. Prathis

On my third day I began doing rounds with Dr. Prathis. What a nice, down to earth guy. He took so much time to educate about me about the different conditions that affect the elephants here and how he treats them. Together, even with the language barrier, we found common ground in our interest in medicine and healing. I learned that many of the meds used on elephants are the same meds used on humans. Amoxicillin, penicillin, povidone-iodine, Ibuprofen even! (it takes about 40 Ibuprofen pills a day to relieve a minor ache or pain for an elephant).

Our first patient of the day was suffering from an infection on 2 of her feet. The wounds were caused by worms and the result is necrosis on much of the skin above the toenail, even causing the nail to lift away from the foot. To my shock, Dr. P quickly me gave the rundown on the treatment procedure and handed me the first of several meds to be applied. After cleansing, cutting and giving a triple dose of antibiotics (liquid, powder and injection) she was done. Although she was very cooperative, you could tell it was not her favorite part of the day. She even played that game with me, "here's my foot, ah! too slow! ok, just kidding, here's my foot, oooh, too slow again!!"   Gotta love her.

For the next two hours, under Dr. P's direction, I treated an abscess on the back of Jokia's ear, a bilateral eye infection and dry skin on the back of an elephant's elbows. I was trying hard to be present in every single moment, but I was simply overwhelmed with disbelief. Finally on the 3rd day of helping the good doctor I roped him into taking pics while I administered to these lovely ladies so I could prove that I had done it -- to myself especially. I am terribly worried that I will wake up soon and realize that it all, in fact, has been just a dream.

More pics of playing Dr. Lowery, Medicine Woman

Genevieve, a fellow volunteer and doctor from France joined us on Thursday and Friday. Some of these pics are of her -- we are wearing the same clothes and have the same hair. Weird.

Such Devotion

Mae Perm and Jokia
Mae Perm (My-perm)was the first elephant to come to the park and at 89 years-old she holds the role of grandmother. While it's unknown if she's ever had a baby of her own, she is very maternal and takes all of the younger elephants under her wing. The babies just love her.

Jokia (Joe-key-uh) was previously a logging elephant and even though she was heavy with child, her owner made her work anyway. She ended up delivering her baby on the logging trail in the middle of the jungle. The baby died and Jokia was so distressed she refused to work. As punishment her owner shot her with a slingshot, blinding her in one eye. Later she was shot in the other eye with a crossbow, rendering her completely blind. When Lek brought her to the park Mae Perm befriended her and has been Jokia's eyes ever since.

One day while I was feeding Jokia at the feeding platform another elephant came over and started picking on her. Oooh, Mae Perm was so pissed she chased that elephant all the way to the river. As soon as Jokia realized Mae Perm was gone, she let out some worried rumbles and a few small squeeks to which Mae Perm replied with her own reassuring trumpet as she ambled back over to Jokia. They touched trunks and when Jokia felt safe again she moved back over to the feeding platform to finish her lunch. It was beautiful to witness such friendship and dedication.