I’m now in my second year of being in Huay Pakoot… It’s been such a crazy and special year settling into life here, getting to know the people and culture, and playing a part in developing this awesome project. It’s gone so fast, but when I look back we seem to have squeezed so much in! There’s never a dull moment.
It didn’t take long before I felt totally at home here. Despite the fact that very few people in the village speak English, and I am by no means fluent in Pakinyaw, their kindness and wicked sense of humour is something that transcends language barriers. It’s a simple way of life, but I can’t really think of much else I need (maybe a hot shower once in a while would be nice!).
So I thought I’d tell you a bit about how my day goes, as Base Manager of this project. I usually wake up very early – no need for alarm clocks, as the village is filled with roosters, who seem to get confused about the time; I’ve heard them crow as early as 2am! Sometimes I lead the morning elephant hike – that’s one of the highlights of my week, sitting out in the forest watching them alongside the mahouts – it’s so peaceful. I always love hearing the gibbons singing on a hike; it’s very rare, but a totally amazing moment, as their haunting melody fills the forest. Spotting them is even harder, as the sound travels for miles.
If I’m not hiking, I use the mornings to catch up with work, as I have the base all to myself. A lot of my work involves being on the computer, but I can’t complain when my office is basically a huge balcony overlooking nothing but beautiful forested hills and farms. The view changes so much with the seasons, as we experience the dry and hot season where the forest turns brown and everything has been harvested, then the rainy season where slowly things start to turn green again, and the fields spring up with corn. The best time of year is around Christmas, when the elephants move into those forests opposite our base, and I can hear them playing and trumpeting from the village!
Afternoons vary – twice a week we go and teach at the primary school. I love teaching, so I try to get involved as often as possible. It’s great watching the volunteers (and students!) gain confidence in the classroom. It’s such a small school with only about 50 children, so it’s easy to build up a rapport with them all, learn their different quirks, and just have a laugh together! Having been here over a year, it’s been so heartwarming watching some of the students growing in maturity, and also watching some of the toddlers we see at Nursery start learning to smile, walk, or talk. I also love the school holidays, which happen during the hot season, where we take the kids to the river to play and cool down, and they show us how to collect tadpoles for dinner.
Another highlight of my week is the evening class I teach. A lot of the women are interested in learning English, so we have evening classes on most nights of the week. I teach two women, Jaree and Darawan, and they’re now starting to learn to read, which is so exciting! Evening classes are the best way to practice speaking Pakinyaw too, as we usually have a catch-up after the lesson.
I love how the village is so small that you see the same people every day. It’s familiar and comfortable. It’s great meeting volunteers from all over the world too, with all different kinds of lives. It’s such a communal way of life here, as we all live and work together at base. This means we have the chance to really build up close friendships with each other, and I still get sad to see volunteers leave, even though it happens every week! Luckily many of them fall in love with the village just like I have, and return – always nice to see familiar faces!
The longer you’re here, the more you begin to understand the special and unique relationship that this village has with their elephants. They’ve owned elephants here for hundreds of years and consider elephants to be a part of their family. Seeing first-hand the relationship that is built up between an elephant and its mahout is something inspiring. I am still learning new things every day – from villagers, other staff, and volunteers. Think I’ll be sticking around for a while.
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