As the saying goes – time flies when you enjoy yourself! It is GREAT to be back. I can’t believe it has already been 5, 6, 7 (?) days since my return to Pai because so much has happened. While it didn’t take much time to readjust to Thai food, customs, culture, language (I’m getting better and better!), friends & elephants, the only thing I cannot get used to is… the cold! Even though my Thai friends had warned me about winter in Pai and advised to bring warm clothes, I didn’t take them very serious (after all, most already complain when it’s 25 instead of 30 degrees). But now I’m paying the price… Who would have thought it could get down to 5 degrees (Celsius) at night? Yesterday, it even snowed in Thailand for the first time – just about 100km from Pai! Even though it still gets up to about 27 degrees during the day, the air is crisp and cold. And so I’ve taken up wearing socks in sandals, which is a really, really Thai thing to do (I refuse to think my ‘Germanness’ is taking over – most Thai wear socks in sandals or socks in flip-flops!).
I had a great ‘Welcome Back’ dinner with the other NGO team members the night I arrived back in Pai: Miguel, his girlfriend and one of the Mahouts from my ‘old’ elephant camp. The next day, I went to visit the others at the camp – and was finally able to hug Tutdao (i.e. her trunk). However, I was disappointed that she didn’t show a lot of affection for me and only listened to some of my commands, e.g. ‘come’ (maa) and ‘go’ (pai). Still, she clearly remembered who I was since our nightly routine worked as if I had never left: I opened her pen and told her to come to me; she obeyed and immediately lowered her trunk so I could climb on to her; she picked up my stick from the ground and handed (trunked?) it to me – and off she marched towards the mountain. As Tutdao hadn’t let a new Mahout climb up her trunk several days before and even tried to lift and throw him over her, it was at this very moment that I realised how strong our bond actually is.
At her resting spot for the night, I remembered how to tie her two chains to her leg, which is something that took me 6 weeks to learn. She’s allowed to roam around a bit during the night but has the chain so she won’t run away and destroy fields.
Having fallen in love with Tutdao all over again, I’ve spent the last few days helping out at the camp. At the same time, I’m trying to find a small house where I can live until we (the NGO) buy a piece of land, move outside of Pai and start our tree nursery and elephant camp. Here and there, I’m working on my first main tasks for the NGO, i.e. naming it (a frustrating process because other NGO or companies tend to have used with my ideas already), building a website as well as designing a logo and business cards. But it’s a challenge. Being back in Pai makes it hard for me to accept that I am no longer Tutdao’s Mahout and cannot spend my day taking care of her. While I am highly motivated to work for the NGO, I wish I could do so with her being just a few meters away from me. I just love to watch her drink water, touch her rough skin, and spoil her with bananas and other fruits. Also, it’s hard to get stuff done at night as there are so many ‘reunions’ taking place (we had a BBQ yesterday and went for some drinks the night before)… I guess with many friends (human & elephants) around me and much work to do, life could be worse.