Becoming a Mom Again

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December 16th 2015
Published: December 16th 2015
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At age 62 I became a mom. Again. But this time, my child had a hard shell, retractable head, and four feet. And I have to admit that it was unplanned. Here’s how it happened:

Mamallapuram is best known for its remarkable carved rock temples scattered throughout this small coastal city. But about 20 kilometers north of town is The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, where thousands of crocodiles representing nearly 20 of the world's species are given safe haven in murky pools. Snakes lizards, turtles, and land dwelling tortoises join the extensive collection of all things reptile. In addition, men from the Irula caste demonstrate the fascinating work of extracting venom from poisonous snakes.

A shady path skirts pools lined with high walls. Signs warn visitors not to stick their hands over the top, because crocs can jump! I wasn't tempted, however, to test the warning as I strolled the grounds with Sanjay, who drove me there on his motorbike.

Next to the cage with the reserve's biggest croc was an enclosure with a handful of Aldabra giant tortoises, native to the Seychelles islands. A big sign indicated they were available for "adoption." A generous
Extracting the venom Extracting the venom Extracting the venom

The men from a particular caste called "Irula" catch the snakes, bring them to the center for four weeks. They extract the venom from each snake once a week.
donor had already adopted the huge croc, giving enough money to feed the big guy for a year. And since he eats emus and chickens and other meat, the diet can get expensive. I asked one of the staff nearby, "How much to adopt a tortoise for a year?" I've always had a soft spot in my heart for turtles and tortoises, so I was curious.

"Three thousand rupees," he replied.

I did the conversion in my head--only about thirty dollars. I looked in my wallet, and without hesitation, said, "I want to adopt one." I even knew which one I wanted to feed, the smallest one in the pen, who probably weighed 300 pounds.

He smiled, called the reserve's business manager, and I was happy. A tortoise! My very own...They would put my name on the sign, "Proudly adopted by...." right outside the pen.

In fifteen minutes I was talking with the young business manager.

"He said it was three thousand for a tortoise, right?"

"Actually," he said slowly, "it's forty thousand for two." I didn’t think, I was just elated that I was adopting a big tortoise.

"Okay, I can do one." We went to his office, sat, and I pulled out my calculator...let's see, 20,000 rupees divided by 66 at the current exchange rate...I kept punching the numbers in the calculator, but it kept coming up $303.00. My breathing grew shallow, and again not thinking I said, "Oh, that comes to over $300. That's a lot..." knowing full well I wasn’t carrying that much money and, that was like, let's see...ten times more than I thought initially!

The manager was going on about how great it was that I was adopting a tortoise, and how badly they needed people like me to donate because most people would rather adopt a cuddly tiger. Meanwhile, I was getting this sinking feeling. Then I stopped and scolded myself. For goodness sake, here I was traveling in India for five weeks and I thought I couldn’t afford to feed a tortoise for a year? It was a question that every traveler should ask herself...

"Do you take credit cards?" I asked.

"Not here in the office, but online we do."

No problem then. I pledged to complete the paperwork and forward the money to feed the Aldabra giant tortoise. I was feeling good about supporting this non-profit reserve that plays a critical role in reptile conservation in India. And, there were perks! I’d get a tee shirt and a photo of me and my tortoise! Really cool...and maybe I could visit my tortoise, work with it perhaps (maybe I could train him/her to do sit ups or play fetch??), and do a number of activities at the reserve.

I was so proud and excited that I went directly to the most expensive place in Mamallapuram for a celebratory lunch. I ordered the catch of the day and a lime soda, and settled at my seaside table. Then I checked my wallet. Not enough cash. I was drumming my fingers, listening to the waves crash in the ocean, feeling the cool breeze, but repeating the turmoil that I had just experienced at the reserve. I distracted myself by recalling all the cool movies where the suave leading man, through some clever ploy, gets out of paying his bill at a fancy restaurant.

Except this was real--I really didn't have rupees, and I would soon receive a hefty bill. But I had some dollars—could I pay with those? The restaurant manager approached my table and said they only took rupees. I was getting more embarrassed by the second, confided that I was a couple hundred rupees short, and joked that I must have been confused because I was carrying some Cambodian bills that I thought were rupees. The manager wasn't laughing. He instead rolled his eyes, and tried to decide whether he should kick me out right then. Meanwhile, my catch of the day was cooking. I started looking around at other well-dressed resort guests with their gold chains and silk saris, wondering if I could ask someone if they could change some dollars for me. I was painfully aware of my baggy pants, floppy hat, wind-tossed, tangled hair and sweaty blouse—having just ridden a motorbike for 20 kilometers from the reserve.

Then I remembered. I had this wonderful thing called a credit card in my wallet. I pulled it out. The manager and the head hostess standing there waggled their heads, indicating they’d take it, and suddenly all was well. But the crashing waves weren't really as soothing as they had been when I first sat down.

After I left the grounds of this posh resort, my excitement grew. A tortoise! Even though it would never call me ‘Mom,’ congratulations were in order, yes?

Choose one: Congrats for (A) becoming a new tortoise mom, or (B) figuring out how to pay for the catch of the day.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Temporary snake homesTemporary snake homes
Temporary snake homes

Big clay jars serve as temporary "cages." They feed them rats.

16th December 2015

C: all the above 👏
16th December 2015

You Would....
...mess up my tally! Pick ONE of TWO....I should have known I'd get a smarty pants who would confuse things with a non-existent third option!!! Thanks for commenting (?)
16th December 2015

What a blog you have written to describe your happiness on adopting a giant crocodile. Then it became full of suspense when you went to that fancy restaurant. Loved reading it.
16th December 2015

Adopting a big one
Actually it was a tortoise that I adopted for a year, not quite as big as a crocodile, but still big. Thanks for commenting!
17th December 2015

Oops! I wrote crocodile by mistake
I read your blog with a lot of interest but while writing the comment my mind lost focus for a moment and I wrote crocodile instead of tortoise. Thanks for being a patron to this lovely creature. Happy Journey.
17th December 2015

Many thanks for reading and and commenting.
18th December 2015

Not EVEN surprised by the adoption!
Hi Terry. Thanks for the photos and the blogs. I understand that there was a hidden "city" uncovered where you are after the 2004 storm and tsunami. You will get to see it and I am so happy for you to be there and having a wonderful time. Blessings to you and I can't wait to read your next blog. Hugs, Lynette
19th December 2015

Tortoise surprise
Little did I know when I woke up that morning that I would be a tortoise mom by the end of the day. Thanks Lynette for reading and commenting.
18th December 2015

What an easy adoption. I really can not imagine a 300 pound tortoise! I don't think I would be able to hang out there very, Dianne
18th December 2015

Crocs didn't move much
They looked like statues, so it wasn't too disturbing....the tortoises were cute, kind of.
19th December 2015

Speaking Tamil
I come from Rajasthan, North India. But I lived in Chennai for a year and learned a few Tamil phrases. Whenever I said - Eppadi Irkenga (How are you?), that made locals happy. I hope you keep surprising people with your knowledge of the language.
19th December 2015

You are right, knowing even a few words in the local language can do wonders. Sometimes it can backfire, though. Recently a rickshaw driver thought I accepted his invitation to his wedding, when I had no idea that's what he asked me. He thought I was more or less fluent in Tamil and got all excited. I felt so embarrassed when someone finally translated for me.

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