Installment 2 of The Elephant Mahout Project Update

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August 23rd 2008
Published: September 1st 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

The last update came up to around March time when I had moved from Tia’s family’s house into my own ‘shack’ so I was feeling more settled. To prove this settled-ness….I got a puppy! How could I say no when someone brought a ball of fluff to me and said it needed a home?


So now I have Bobbi. When I was asked what I wanted to call ‘it’ I said the first thing that came into my head, and that was a name that I thought would be easy for them to say…but I didn’t think they’d let me/take me seriously and would want a Thai name. So I said ‘Bob’ and they said ‘ok!’ At that time, true to my track record, I didn’t know if ‘it’ was a boy or a girl. When it was discovered that ‘it’ was definitely a girl I feminised the name to ‘Bobbi’ which is very confusing for new people that meet the puppy. She’s now about 4-5 months old and has progressed from her Manchester United collar (only because it got too small) to something a bit more bling. The main pre-requisite for her collar is a big bell as she’s already killed a duckling and broken a chicken’s leg! She spent her first few weeks sleeping inside with me but now moves around during the night spreading her love, and snoring, throughout various houses.

Travels from East to West

The project had started to get volunteers on a regular basis now so my days were kept busy helping with them. Providing a friendly face, translating as best as I could between mahouts and volunteers and generally helping out in whatever way necessary. I got to accompany a couple of volunteers on a trip to Ayutthaya and Kao Yai National Park in the north-east of Thailand, and to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in the south-west. I really liked Ayutthaya, the old Thai capital, which I’ve been to before to see the old ruins. This time I was staying in the newer part of town which had a really nice bohemian atmosphere, or certainly the part I was staying in anyway. I spent any free time that I had wandering the streets and markets near to the guesthouse where I was staying. The guesthouse had very traditional Thai sleeping arrangements i.e. just a mattress on the
With new puppy Bobbi With new puppy Bobbi With new puppy Bobbi

I'm not holding her down....much..
floor with no covers except for a bottom sheet and pillow cases and a fan in the corner. I don’t know if I’d have been put off before, but hey this is how I sleep every night now at the camp! The guesthouse was spotlessly clean though and had a really nice balcony area to sit and read - bargain at 300 baht per night, about £4.50!

After Ayutthaya we went on to Khao Yai National Park and whilst the volunteers and the guide did lots of trekking I spent my time working on the website. From here we traveled south to Khao Sam Roi Yot (the mountain with 300 peaks) where our main objective was to try and see the endangered dusky langur species of monkey. We stayed in a beautiful, small fishing village - Ban Khun Tanod - near the national park, in a bungalow at the beach. Amazingly I found excuses every day to stay behind at the bungalow to ‘work’ very hard. Said work did include lots of walking along the beach and sitting staring at the sea...for inspiration!

Then it was back to Bangkok to take the volunteers to their hotel where they
My 'basic' room in AyutthayaMy 'basic' room in AyutthayaMy 'basic' room in Ayutthaya

no frills but it was clean and in a cool area
would be spending their last few days in Thailand. Unfortunately this coincided with Songkran, Thailand’s New Year holiday celebration which involves throwing water over each other and smearing flour mixed with water over everyone’s faces! The centre of the celebrations is backpacker haven Khao San Road. Guess where the volunteers were staying???? Oh yes! And Khao San was closed to traffic so we had to trek through all this ‘merriment’ - I actually thought it was really funny, you have to get into the spirit of these things, accept, smile and join in….I'm not sure the volunteers shared my sentiments though, I think it was a bit of a shock to them, as it would be...arriving at your nice hotel only to be bombarded with water and flour! The worse thing was that we couldn’t find the right way to get through to their hotel either and were following the guide/driver around in circles. He did sensibly try to keep us in the grounds of a temple most of the time where no rowdiness could take place. Eventually we got them there safely and un-drenched and went back to the car - when Pradit could remember where he’d parked it. As I was waiting for him to unlock the doors I could see someone approaching me with a glint in their eye saying ‘you, you…’ as they prepared a flour/water paste. Pradit was stood having a conversation with someone while I’m pleading with him to open the doors QUICK!! Didn’t happen quickly enough though, after avoiding a complete soaking and daubing amidst all the crowds and throng I got both stood next to the car!!!!! Happy days!

Is a Thai Boyfriend Worth It?

I got back to the camp on the Sunday to see how Tia was after having received a phone call from him on Saturday lunchtime with him moaning ‘mai sabai, mai sabai…’ In Thai this means ‘not well’ but kind of runs the score from ‘ooh, I feel a bit under the weather’ to ‘I’mmmm dyyyingggg.’ So I didn’t know what to expect when I got back. Apparently he’d fallen off his dad’s elephant Su Da, I suspect after consuming some rocket fuel, otherwise known as Thai whisky. When I spoke to Mrs. Noi though she said she’d seen him 30 minutes before I called her (on the Saturday) and he wasn’t drunk. She’s obviously never experienced the potency of Thai whisky!

Generally Tia and I get on ok, but there are times when there are misunderstandings - mainly due to the language - and cultural differences to try and get our heads around. The Thai custom of drinking whisky at 7am is one I struggle with. I also worry that he is just with me for money, although he doesn’t ask me for much and does so rarely and his family took me in when I’d moved out. But I seem to be always buying the beers and I buy all the food, although that is mainly because I want to make sure that I have something that I like and that I get to eat vegetables. I sometimes think they count chilli as their vegetable and get their 10+ a day just from there! And I couldn’t sit there and drink beer by myself so I always buy some for him too.

Sometimes though I do think I’m justified in being mightily p****d off with him. Like at Songkran. I was really looking forward to celebrating my first Thai New Year celebrations, as I’d been back home in England this time
A dusky langur monkeyA dusky langur monkeyA dusky langur monkey

an endangered species only found in Thailand, Myanmar & Malaysia. We were lucky to see them every night stealing mangoes from the trees!
last year. But Tia went off with his friends to celebrate not even asking me if I wanted to go along. I was so disappointed. My reaction was to barricade myself into my house (not easy in a wooden shack with no lock on the door) turn my phone off, liberate my portable DVD player from the shared TV (given to me by a friend) and bunker down with some beers. Not talking to him except to tell him to bugger off when he did finally show up! Having an argument with such a big language difference is not easy, you have to do it by dictionary - point at a word and pull an angry face! I think on this occasion I did numbered pieces of paper (up to about 25 if I remember) pushed into pages of the dictionary with words highlighted saying how lonely I was because I was in a village where no-one spoke English and so I had no friends, no-one to talk to, that my life was no fun and he didn’t help. So there (I think I forgot to add that expression - maybe next time) sulk, sulk….
I think around this time we didn’t have many volunteers and so I was at the camp all day everyday with nothing much to do, no-one to talk to and no way of getting out of the camp to go anywhere as I didn’t have any transport…….

Devil Machine

So I bought a motorbike. Now the first time I’d even been a passenger on a motorbike was last year in Bangkok and now I was going to try and learn to drive one. I gave much enjoyment to everyone as I tried to learn, setting off in my wobbly style then…well they say it comes in 3’s….

1. The first fall was on the way back from visiting a friend of Tia’s at another camp. Tia had drunk some whisky and drove us straight into a tree. Luckily slowly and on very soft ground.

2. The second fall was when I decided that I’d waited long enough for Tia to drive us back - from the top of the camp to the bottom after a wait of mmmm..about 2 minutes (yes I am slightly embarrassed) - so I got on the motorbike and set off and it wouldn’t stop. So I let it go and fell off. Thankfully again not going very fast and on soft ground. As everyone laughed I lost my sense of humour and stomped home in a manner that my mum will recognize only too well from when I was 3 years old.

3. The third fall was again on soft ground…and that was part of the problem. When I first started to learn to drive the bike I used to get confused and keep my foot on the break. On this occasion I was driving Tia and me away from his friends again and was going through a sandy patch and couldn’t understand why we weren’t moving fast enough. I looked down and thought ‘oh, my foots on the break’ so I took it off. What I didn’t also do was release the full throttle that I’d also been using….. The bike flew into the air, I flew into the air, Tia managed to get off the back reasonably easily whilst I landed on the ground with a thud, one leg twisting one way away from me one way, the other twisting the other way away from me….I think it would have been better if they’d twisted in opposite directions….. I ended up lying on the ground screaming at Tia (not obeying Thai culture where you’re not supposed to raise your voice) as he tried to straighten my legs. A pickup truck had been following us and had stopped when it saw my 'stunt' and initially they offered to drive me. I so wanted to get in that pickup truck and not back onto the bike but when she realised that my legs weren’t broken she scarpered. So I had to get back onto the bike with Tia driving. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was in agony, every slight movement of my legs made me feel sick. We got back to the camp, where Tia’s mum was an angel, and they all started telling me to go to the hospital. Initially I said no, partly because I didn’t want to get back on the bike again, but gave in eventually when the ice and max strength Nurofen were having no effect. I even tried Thai whisky!

We went to the hospital at the Thai temple, on the back of the motorbike (!) where straight away someone rushed out with a wheel chair and I was seen straight away…to discover that I had torn ligaments in one knee, a hairline fracture in the other leg and 2 sprained ankles! I haven’t driven the bike since….

Moving Mahout Style

The other news for this installment is that I moved house/shack. I’d had my eye on an empty one for a while, I have to admit mainly because of the nice tree with pink flowers outside. Who are you calling shallow?? At first Tia said that it was no good as the roof had too many holes in it (I think actually anticipating the work I would be asking him to do...what else are men for?) but I put my (knees now feeling much better thank you) foot down and he helped me move my things. He was right about the roof though. Luckily the bedroom roof is pretty much ok, except for one small spot where it leaks on my foot if the rain's particularly heavy, but my ‘veranda’ - I still haven’t really worked out what to call it, suggestions are welcome - gets absolutely soaked when it rains. I have to do a run to collect cushions and
My new houseMy new houseMy new house

complete with hammocks and elephant bean bags
bean bags etc. when the rain starts, sometimes in the middle of the night. They have promised to repair it but nothing’s happened yet, it all adds to the fun I suppose. Moving mahout style is very different to Western style. I just decided that I wanted to go, then one afternoon went, and I didn’t even have to apply for planning permission for my kitchen extension. Cooking is so much easier and more enjoyable now that I can stand up, and find things! I still have further plans, mainly for trees, flowers and a vegetable garden but more of that later…

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Cooking at the camp Cooking at the camp
Cooking at the camp

with help from sous chef Bim
My new house...My new house...
My new house...

the bedroom
Thai art!Thai art!
Thai art!

I made this candle holder out of a beer can & then I put candles in them. Clever eh?

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