Elephant extravanganza...

Trip Start Apr 28, 2006
Trip End Oct 21, 2006

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Well I'm finally getting round to writing my first blog from Sri Lanka! Sorry its taken me so frickin long but I've been v busy and when I haven't been busy I've been lazy... But anyway I'm here now! Hmm where do I start?! I arrived in Colombo last Saturday at midnight - the flight was all fine and dandy bla bla bla and I managed to find my lift ok, so I got to MEF (the Millennium Elephant Foundation - my home for the next month!) by about two in the morning. There were four volunteers at the bungalow to meet me - well technically three, and the fourth guy staggered out of his room in his boxers completely off his face a bit later! There are three guys and one girl - well woman really, Sam's 30-something and married with kids - she's been my roommate for the past week and is absolutely lovely. The guys are all cool - Dave's 30 as well - he's really nice, and the boys Seb and Nick are only 18 so slightly immature at times but v sweet! Nick's from Hartlepool and was over the moon to discover that not only had I heard of it, I'd actually been there (remember that disastrous day trip at uni girls?!) Wasn't quite so happy when I pointed out that it's a shitpit and there's nothing there though...!

Anyway you're probably wondering what the hell I've been doing with myself for the past week! Well, I was 'given' my elephant last Monday - her name is Somaliya, she's quite an old girl and only has half a tail but is very cute! Apparently she's the most adopted elephant by visitors to MEF don't you know! So I'll be helping her mahout look after her every morning for the month I'm here. Each elephant has their own mahout, who shouts commands which the elephant has been trained to obey - they also have big sticks in case the elephant chooses not to obey - mostly used just to threaten them with though! One thing about Somaliya is very cool though - she hates to lie down... Sounds random, but basically one of our main jobs is to help the mahout wash the elephant, and to do this they get taken into the river and have to lie down while you scrub the crap off them with a coconut shell. But as Somaliya refuses to lie down I get the privilege of climbing onto her back, riding her down to the river and scrubbing her from on top, which is v fun! The first time I did it was just the most amazing experience - some of the others had been there two months and were extremely jealous as they hadn't yet had one ride on their elephant! Also rather scary - she's not the shortest and its pretty damn high up there! Especially as I climb on while she's going down the steps, which is rather a jerky process with her arthritis and even now still involves me squealing with every step, feeling like I'm going to fly straight over her head! Getting down afterwards is even more interesting and usually ends up with me sliding down her leg clinging on to an ear and landing on my arse in the river while the mahout pisses himself laughing! Washing her involves me getting absolutely soaked, through a combination of her squirting copious amounts of water with her trunk (known as an 'elephant shower') and the mahout chucking buckets over the both of us as well! And as my mahout is totally crazy he seems to pay particular attention to getting me rather than the elephant as drenched as possible!

The mahout's pretty cool though - a v friendly old guy called Bandar - he's constantly happy and smiling, which is lovely if you can ignore the fact that his teeth (those he has anyway) are disgustingly rotten and stained red from the paan he's always chewing! He wears a variety of sarongs combined with an array of strange sparkly belts over which his topless belly protrudes. His English isn't great - his response to most things I say is 'Ok no problem madam' and he is a bit barmy - although we did catch him sneaking a shot of arrack (potent local Sri Lankan drink) in the bar at like 8.30 in the morning the other day, which may explain some of it!!

As well as helping with our elephants, we also teach kids at a local temple every day. Well I say teach... The two 18-year old guys who've been here for a while have got them used to their style of 'teaching' which I'm not quite convinced by; they stick a few white boards up with sentences and stuff written on, the kids copy it blindly even though for half of them it goes straight over their heads as they cant speak a word of English, and the other half its far too simple for; then the rest of the lesson they run riot, shouting, throwing things and smacking each other! Its quite difficult being a new person to come in and take over and try to inflict a bit of discipline, but Sam and I have been getting increasingly frustrated, feeling that we're not doing anything of any use with this class! So last week we started a class at a new village a bit further away, and actually split the kids up into ability levels before we started; which meant that even though we were totally thinking on our toes as we hadn't planned anything, we managed to have really good lessons with our respective kids and came away feeling really positive as we might actually be able to teach these kids some English! Nice to feel useful! And its all good experience for me of course, with the ever-important career-planning looming closer and closer eek!

Anyway, enough of that - just to give you an idea of my life here - my daily routine goes something like this:
7.30am - go down to clean out Somaliya's bed - this does involve some dung-throwing but we get gloves so its not too bad - they do crap a lot though and its damn heavy!! The wee smells worse though - its like an absolute waterfall every time they go and I have to mop away a whole days' worth every morning!
About 8.30am - prepare the elephants' medicines - as they're mostly quite old creatures they all have their own special concoction of drugs and vitamin supplements, which we put into a dough ball to feed them.
9am - breakfast at the restaurant - best meal of the day!
9.30am - vet check - each elephant comes up in turn and we sweep their feet and check for any wounds, the vet gives them any medicine they need then we feed them their dough ball!
About 10.30 or-whenever-we-can-be-arsed - gardening. Yuk, not my favourite activity! Although I think Mr Kuru the farmer has pretty much given up on me being of any use in the garden and usually assigns me to the weeding as that's all I'm capable of!
12 - Wash Somaliya.
1.30ish - Lunch.
2-4ish - Piss about or often help out with random things that we get told to do!
4-5pm - Teaching at the temple down the road.
7pm ish - Dinner.
And then more pissing about til we get bored and go to bed!

So although we do often get roped in to helping with any other random activities that people need help with; like office work, visiting local places in the community etc; we generally get lots of free time to chill and sunbathe etc (yay!). And we have the weekends free to do whatever we like - the weekend just gone we went to Negombo, a place north of Colombo where we spent our time relaxing on the beach which was gorge! :o) Its really relaxed out here - the guys in charge, Sara and Sunil, are really cool about everything - also so helpful in arranging stuff like transport for us and helping out with things. Sara just sorted out changing the date of my flight home for me - which means... drum roll please... I will be flying home two days earlier than planned - on the 21st Oct instead of the 23rd! Yes I knew you'd all be jumping for joy! My fault - being the muppet I am I hadn't realised my visa would expire the day before I leave, so rather than have the hassle of changing it or risk being detained at the airport, I thought it best to change the flight!

So yeah its all going really really well out here - am still majorly appreciating just having people (normal people at that!) around me, after all that time alone in India! It definitely makes things so much easier - for example we have a bit of a rat problem in our kitchen, which we all just laugh and joke about - and I keep remembering how utterly freaked out I was when I discovered a mouse in my backpack in my room in Dehradun but had no-one to tell about it! Very sad but hey! And it is pretty amazing spending so much time with elephants and being able to get so close to them and actually get to know their personalities and become intimate with them. I'm certainly glad I came here, I'm having a wicked time so far and hopefully the next three weeks will continue to be fantastic!

So I think that's me for now - I'm sure there's tons of stuff I've left out but never mind, guess it can keep!

Til next time I have time/can be arsed to write another one (the internet is unbearably slow here!) Miss you all, but its not too long now - less than three weeks aaaahhh!!!

Hugs and kisses,
Han/Mo xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx :oP
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franglitter on

So you finally made it to shovel le merde, well done! Sounds like you've found your niche there - if you're unemployed when you get back just get your ass over to Napton and I'm sure we can find you a nice job in't country.. Not long now!! Can't believe you will be back so soon - don't be having too many fun reunions till I'm back now!
See you (quite) soon, enjoy the rest of your travels xxx

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