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Frequent Flyer Returns for the Long Haul

By Jonathan Berry 3 weeks ago

This is my seventh time back to this amazing village. Each time I come out I become more and more infatuated with the people and their culture. I came here first to get behind the conservation side of this project, but every time I’ve been here I fall more and more in love with the community aspects. My first day back in the village started with a natural alarm of the roosters. I’d say people are crazy if they’d ever told me how much I’d appreciate the wake-up call. I hear them in the morning and it’s like a calling to get up and prepare for an elephant hike. No start to a morning would be complete without a trip to Root’s coffee shop to give me that boost before hike. His son, Wynn, prepares us a delightful fresh coffee with beans grown right here in Thailand. After ensuring I’m awake, I would wander up to base to see what feast awaits me at the breakfast bar. It’s always a good day when it’s breakfast rice and (luck of the draw) it was on my first day back. After a spicy start with some breakfast rice and a quick brush of the teeth, I am ready to go see some elephants.

My first hike back was to see the second youngest, Lulu, and her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Dee Dee. Teenage romances are complicated, even for elephants. A great first hike back with Program Manager, Liane; I was already making new friends with the people in my intake. No data collection is always a relaxing hike and gives you the chance to really appreciate being in the elephant’s natural habitat and observing them in their element. One of my favourite parts of hiking is practicing my Pakinyaw (the spoken language here) with the mahouts. The mahouts are the people who look after the elephants and make sure they are kept in good health in the forest. On this hike, was Atit and Thanapol. Atit is less shy and tries to converse more than Thanapol, but hopefully we can change that over the next six months through mahout English classes.

After hiking, my body is always in need of some food. I always get slightly excited to see what treats my homestay mum, Seeporn has made for me. Today, it was chicken and noodles with the standard side portion of rice. A real tasty lunch, if you ask me. I especially like it when she makes me spicy food.

First day back was going excellently, and it only got better when I was given the chance to go and see one of the villagers we help, Nee-Weh. Nee-Weh is a boy who has never had the opportunity to learn English at school. I first started seeing him in September with an old staff member, Katie. We quickly learned from his first session that he had no English and couldn’t do numbers or letters in English. Seeing him now is like a different person; only nine months down the line and he knows the alphabet, phonics and numbers up to 10,000. He can even read to a certain extent. I hope I get the chance to take over him full-time and work with him for the whole time I’m here. The biggest highlight for me was when I asked him my name and he remembered. It reassured me that he does remember me and I actually have helped his learning. I did slightly more fun activities on this day and enjoyed the time we spent getting acquainted again. After his lesson, I went to enjoy the best part of village life, the cold bucket shower. People in the western world take so much time using the bathroom, but what I love about the shower here is how quick it actually is. No time-wasting with the squat toilet or the cold water. In and out, like a military operation. There’s a technique to the cold shower. You wet your body first, soap yourself up and rinse by pouring the bucket over each limb, before moving to the head and torso.

After feeling refreshed, it was time to head to debrief. Debrief is the time of day when we go through the schedule for the next day and get to say what people have done well today. Once this is concluded, we all head to our homestays for dinner – a chance to sit and enjoy a delicious meal made by our families. Seeporn always treats me to something tasty, and she didn’t disappoint on my first night back, with a cucumber and chicken broth and an omelette (not to forget the obligatory mountain of rice she always gives me).

Life in this village is just amazing, and I wouldn’t want to spend the next six months anywhere else.