Last night, I had the chance to spend the evening as the mahouts and their families do. I spend my days at the camp, but my evenings are spent at a lovely air-conditioned house a few minutes' drive from the camp where I have my own room and access to a pool. I will be the first to admit that I've been fairly spoiled. However, I gladly gave up my air conditioner for the chance to visit the local evening market, help a couple of the children practice their English, and see the elephants' nighttime routine.
I experienced true Thai culture at the market, which was untouched by any tourism. I was the only farang, or Westerner, in sight. People were simply there to buy their groceries or pick up a treat for their children. There were insects for sale, and some stall owners were busy cutting fish or meat to display. I did not eat any of those insects, because I assume that grasshoppers crunch a lot more than ants. I especially love the tables of fruits native to this area, and I will miss them when I return to the United States.
Another privilege was spending time with the children from the camp. I never have the opportunity to see them while I am there, because they are in school. Thai schools have breaks at different times than us, which unfortunately means that I am gone by the time they return home from school. Last night, intstead of hearing the daytime sounds of elephants continuously munching their food and tour buses driving past, I got to hear the crickets chirping and the children playing. They showed me baby chicks and the lizards they had found, and I quizzed them on the colors green, purple, blue, and yellow and the numbers 1-10. Thanks to me, they now know how to high five and say, "What's up?"
I slept on a cot in the volunteer room, where they kindly set up a fan for me. Some of the adults stayed up with me, and we practiced the names of the seasons, the days of the weeks, and names of the months in both English and Thai. I now know the Thai names for each finger and the words for the sun, moon, and stars. I bravely declined a mosquito net, and lived to tell the tale.
There are many differences between their evening routine and yours. Of course, I'm just assuming that you don't check to make sure that your elephant has one last round of pineapple leaves before tucking yourself in for the night. Despite these superficial differences, the parents ask if the children finished their homework, and the kids grab a snack and run around outside with their friends. Families cook dinner, do laundry, and get ready for bed. The setting is vastly changed, but the concept is the same. Daily life is daily life, and similar concerns and joys come for everyone, even those with an elephant in their front yard.
Amazing fruits at the market
One of Ja's baby chicks
The prickly outer coating is awful, but the inside has become one of my new favorite fruits. It tastes a little like SweetTarts, but you can pick these off the trees.
This is me relaxing after a tough day. By "tough" I mean that I cut grass for Boonme to eat at 6:00 am, but then sat on the beach and rode elephants.