|Elephant Village in Laos|
What can I say, think, believe? My daughter and son-in-law just experience a terrorist event, be it international or some loco nut. Doug had already completed his marathon run at Boston and they are safe in the hotel. He was busting with pride that he ran so well, qualifying for next year’s run, and having overcome an injury in his 49th year.
This is my country? Now our sporting events are attacked? This usually happens in some other land. Are we going to shut down life again? I pray for us all.
Yesterday while life was normal, I was living out another passion - riding en elephant, not in a seat strapped like a saddle to the elephant’s back, but without a qualm, I was riding in the mahout’s seat - the mahout is the person who rides, cares for and loves his beast. It is a very tight marriage in the heart, like a man and his dog. This mahout is a man and his elephant.
|Heaven is Close|
I was being given a chance to bond with Mok, a friendly elephant in Elephant Village, a new first class resort about an hour over a dirt road outside of Luang Prabang, Laos. At 37 years old, she didn’t seem to mind the job she has been given, giving tourist a ride down a hill, across a low flowing river, up another side and through the village where, lo and behold, someone had a large armful of bamboo leaves and banana stalks for her snack. (Boy did she speed up when she saw that coming).
|I'm a Mahout again|
From the moment the real mahout suggested I slide down from the chair, where my guide Jim continued to remain for the trip, and put my legs behind her ears and scooted up as far as I could on her neck, I had reached my nirvana. Wow. She had a comfortable slow gate and after awhile, with by knees bent up like a race jockey, and your bare feet sort of pressed against her ears (which are flapping because she is happy, I was told by her mahout), so I could give her signals, all I had to do was keep balanced and smile. There were hundreds of stiff hairs all over her head and I rubbed my hands through them periodically but what she really liked was behind the ear scratches. As we waded though the river and then straight up the hill, I never felt I’d fall. Obviously she wasn’t going to shake me off. She stopped often, definitely a snacker, threatening to pull up a plant from a villager’s yard, wanting a rest, or waiting for an elephant in front to poop going uphill. Her mahout picked red hibiscus and placed them in her ear creases, showing his particular attachment to Mok.
|True Happiness is an Elephant ride|
For one hour, I was in the elephant’s soul. They are such amazing creatures and don’t have the extinct problem in Indochina because they have little or no ivory that can be traded for big bucks. That’s the disaster in East Africa. There is a move in Laos and I’m sure other countries here to take elephants out of the labor force where they can be abused, particularly in logging, but who else can pick up three or four heavy logs in their trunk?
After I dismounted (at a mounting station), I was able to purchase a rack of bananas and boy! did she light up! Happiness. She stretched out her trunk long before I got back to her and grabbed three bananas at a time (about 15 all toll) and I know she had a smile on her face. She eats in a day more than three times my weight in grasses, leaves, foliage and stalks, a constant chewer of and searcher for a snack. Mok, be blessed.
|Banana snack and farewell|
|Naga glass sculpture|
From here it was time to pick up red and sticky rice to take with me, and get a bamboo steamer to use to make sticky rice, which we learned the previous afternoon, and then get to the Luang Prabang airport. It was crowded and hot (no AC) but I got back to my needlepoint until the Vietnam Airlines green prop-jet roared in. All airlines seem to load and unload from the back. Old style. It was a two hour flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of the Anghor Wat. Best of all, finally, after a week of suffering, I had cellular service. Cheers and Hallalujah. I could communicate with my family and friends by text and maybe even an expensive phone call. Thank God this happened yesterday before this tragic event in Boston.
Siem Reap in a few years has turned into a crude place with three dusty hotels and dirt road, to a thriving tourist mecca with 300 new hotels and paved roads and all that goes with that, including a fancy shopping center called Lucky Shopping. Hmmm. The driver drove us past all the monster hotels with exotic names to a lesser street where, all of a sudden we arrived at an amazing place, another of the Secret Retreat small hotels. Samar Villa and Spa Resort is exposed to the outside on so many sides with dark shiny wood trim and many Asian antiques from the owner, Christopher’s personal collection. The kitchen, dining, bar and reception are all one large inviting space melded together. An ample dark tile pool was the center around which 8 rooms rest. What peace and beauty.
But before I could rest, we had a special appointment (because today is The Holiday of New Years here as well as elsewhere, and yes, there are water squirters but only randomly) with the director of Anjali House, an NGO program that helps street children by providing them with a learning and creative center through the arts. Because of the holidays, the children were not there and it was late in the afternoon with light fading fast. But the director is right on target with his task to rescue these kids that families use for selling produce on the streets, and trying to give them education. There is a magazine of their poems and writings and activities that is published periodically. It is a brave solution to an enormous problem of children living in the streets here. Cambodia, noted for its massive and often not pleasant orphanages, does have some outreach efforts that will hopefully change the situation. God bless Anjali. Look at their website.