Elephant Poo Paper

Friday 26 June 2015

Today, we finally did something I have been very keen to learn more of and participate in!

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The making of Thailand’s Elephant Poo Paper!

This is an incredible process that allows the poorer provinces of Thailand to make money through a sustainable process- that of an Elephant passing dung! It helps them to maintain their care of the Elephants and of the dedicated Mahouts. And here’s how they do it!

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Bath Time!

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Today, we faced another (rather more fun) task required by The Mahouts of the elephant village of Ban Tathit- walking and washing the elephants!

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Just after lunch, all the Mahout’s and the elephants met at Mr Lee’s, from where we all walked together to the Surin River where the elephants can play, drink, wash and chomp a number of trees along the way!

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Day One in the Elephant Village

Monday 22 June

Yesterday, myself and several other volunteers travelled seven hours on the bus from Bangkok to Surin. The differences in the two places are pretty acute! Surin, while modernised with 7/11s, Big C Supermarkets, KFC and other such features, is far more peaceful and traditional than Bangkok. It’s also much, much cheaper!

After being taken to our volunteer house in Surin City, our Volunteer Leader Nam came to meet us to bring us up to speed on the project before heading there. Nam explained that, here in Surin, Elephants are considered near enough holy. That’s why there are a number of villages dedicated to buying Elephants from cities, where they’re mistreated and kept as tourist attractions, who then keep the Elephants, and dedicate themselves to ensuring the Elephants receive plenty of food, exercise and a generally happy life. As volunteers, the money we have paid to be here is the real true help. Our presence he is an opportunity for us to be involved and see a day in the life (or a few, as it were) or a Mahout- carer for the Elephants.

Nam did also make us aware that the Elephants are chained. This is due to insufficient space in the area- if this Elephants could roam then they would eat all the crops, and the village would have no food or income. If kept in the cities, the Elephants would be malnourished and mistreated. It’s a highly complex issue, and not an ideal one, but Nam emphasised strongly that the Mahouts love there Elephants dearly, and their care should never be doubted.

After this introduction, we all went to dinner at this little restaurant next door called P-Koi! I had a super fierce Shrimp Pad Thai, which I ate way too fast but it was delicious, and sampled a couple of local drinks.

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And then pootled off to bed to prepare myself for what promised to be an interesting day!

This morning we got up and all piled onto this bus ready to drive to the village of Ban Tathit.

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And then we sat there for an hour or so because, what do you know, one of the volunteers from our house had gone missing. He was there yesterday, he seemed totally keen and then *poof* gone! They investigated his room and all that remained was the guitar he bought yesterday in Bangkok, and his key to our house. After some searching, and many phonecalls made by the volunteer co-ordinators, it was established that he had actually shot off to Brazil of all places to try to win his ex-girlfriend back. No kidding! Anyway, so now I have this new guitar.

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Thailand: The First 24 Hours

20 June 2015

I’m. Hungover.

After a long, long journey to Bangkok from Botswana, I took a good sleep for what remained of the morning, and then sprung onto the Khao San Road with a few others I’d met in the hostel. Here, you’ll find plenty of good market stalls selling clothes and snacks which you can buy for fair prices, or if you’re good at haggling, VERY low prices! There’s also a number of nice restaurants and bars.

I was starving and heading out with the intention of finding some gooood Pad Thai, but got distracted by this:

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What kind of woman would I be if I didn’t try it?

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It was like really, really, really crispy fish.

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The Flight to Thailand

Friday 19 June

Well. This has been the longest journey of my life, and I am exhausted.

I arose from my tent in Botswana bright and early at 6:30am this morning, so I could get everything packed down and in the truck, to get ourselves on the road to Zambia by 8:00.

I didn’t sleep great in the night, as a hippo was grunting not too far from my tent… Amazing, but also scary!

And, to add a little extra hardcore-ness to the experience, when I began folding my tent this morning, this guy scurried out!!

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He was quickly stomped.

So, of we went back to the border to get the boat back over, away from beautiful Botswana and over to lovely lovely Zambia.

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Truly, I am going to miss it here.

At the Border, I said goodbye to the rest of the gang for whom Matt was waiting with the truck, and Paula, Dan and I made our way to Livingstone Airport.

We had an emotional goodbye, particularly Paula and I who I have felt so close to these last few weeks and then off they went to leave me to start one hellish journey…

Wednesday 17th June
13:10 (11:10 UK)
Depart Livingstone, Zambia

Wednesday 17th June
14:55 (12:55 UK)
Arrive Johannesburg, South Africa

Wednesday 17th June
20:00 (18:00 UK)
Depart Johannesburg, South Africa

Thursday 18th June
06:20 (10:20 UK)
Arrive Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Thursday 18th June
08:25 (12:25 UK)
Depart Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Thursday 18th June
13:05 (08:05 UK)
Arrive Mumbai, India

Friday 19th June
01:05 (20:05 18 June UK)
Depart Mumbai, India

Friday 19th June
06:55 (23:55 18 June UK)
Arrive Bangkok, Thailand

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Zambia

Having been in the unusual but fortunate position to spend my first few weeks in Zambia completely alone, it gave me the advantage to appreciate where I’ve been staying on a more close-up level.

The village of Mwandi, I can’t emphasise enough, is absolutely wonderful. Though struck with poverty, HIV, Malaria complications and lacking in opportunity, I have never known anywhere to be so friendly, at peace and equal minded. Whether you were male or female, black or white, you were always addressed as an equal, which is still something we don’t see in many parts of the West. No one is condescended to- if elderly can work, they will work. If children can cook, they will cook. It’s a different world because of a degree of desperation there- the elderly need to work, the children have to cook. But, it’s one that has given way to so much positivity, that it’s impossible not to be in admiration.

The Homes for AIDs Orphans charity, for whom I’ve been working the last few weeks, is a fascinating project. It’s a totally grass-roots-started-out-with-nothing charity, and has grown and become more successful through small donations and gaining the trust of the locals- particularly the Village Chief who has granted them land from which to work, and publically commended their work. It does not end at building houses, but also now expands into childcare, support in the hospitals, and helping at the Elderly Care Home. They reach so many lives here in spite of being such a small team with so few resources. Even at camp, the living is basic but still very enjoyable. If you would be interested in working with them, and I very much recommend you do if only for a short while, then please visit their website on www.homes4aidsorphans.com

Homosexuality is a crime in Zambia, and after careful thought I made the decision long before I’d even arrived to stay in the closet for this experience. In spite of being an advocate for gay rights and equality, I needed to accept that this is a culture far from my own and my mission here is to help and learn about them, so that’s exactly what I did. However, I must say, there are times when it was difficult. I first came out when I was 17 and since then have treated my sexuality exactly as though it were any other- with comfort and acceptance. By this I mean, in simple chit-chat when someone might talk about their ex-girlfriend or ideal husband or what have you, I will join the conversation with the same contribution. This obviously was not something I could do in Mwandi, and I quickly started to feel antisocial. Conversations with me would effectively consist of me asking question after question after question about them, without contributing anything of my own. Eventually, the conversation would fall flat and I would strive to change the subject to something else. It felt somewhat frustrating! My agenda is not to push my political views, but simply to have conversations without feeling a need to be secretive and even something as simple as this was out of my grasp! Returning to a world of secrecy I haven’t known since I was a teenager reminded me of how lucky I am to live in a country that supports my right not only to marry, have children, work, but also the basic right to live a free and simple life where talking alone doesn’t feel like a risk! I loved Zambia, and I would go back but… This is the only thing that I would change about it, and it’s a very big thing.

This amount of time alone and this jarring appreciation of my rights back in the UK also gave me some time to consider important changes I would still like to see happen. On paper, our equality is golden, but socially there are still some changes I’d like to see, namely this tiring use of the word “gay” to describe something you consider in some way to be inferior. This isn’t, as people so frequently mistake, a ‘Straight People Vs. Gay People’ thing, as plenty of either seem to say it through either innocence or ignorance, or maybe an attempt to fit in or not rock the boat… Whatever the reason, it’s sending the message that it’s ok. Some come forward with the idea that language is ever evolving “you know, the word ‘gay’ actually used to mean ‘happy’”, but everyone recognises that this isn’t an evolution, this is using a word knowing it’s meaning in an effort to be comical or lighten the mood when you’re showing dislike. It’s not ok, and it is damaging. Someday, I hope to have children and when I do I don’t want their friends or themselves to have confused the meaning of this word. I remember, many years ago, I was helping at an after school club and a six-year-old girl pointed at a picture in a book and said “that’s gay!”
“What does gay mean?” another child asked her. “It means bad”, she explained. It’s not her fault for thinking that, she’s at an age where she’s learning the meaning of a word from the context in which she hears it being used. I’m proud and excited by the steps in equality this country and many others have taken in the last decade, but I’m concerned by the idea that children might learn the meaning of the word ‘gay’ to be ‘bad’. It might just send us backwards if my child’s friends confuse his or her Mum’s to be ‘bad’. I hope other adults, parents and future parents start to be more considerate to this soon, but just in case here’s a little chart that can help:

That’s a bit gay = That’s a bit lame

Ah, gay! = Ah, gross!

I don’t mean to sound gay, but… = I don’t mean to sound soft, but…

And so on…

It was also addressed to me by another UK volunteer at one point (and, again, let’s remember I was not out at this time) that it’s cruel for Gays to have children. Not because they believe there should be a male or a female, they explained, they believe children grow up healthily in a conventional or unconventional family so long as there is love. But because of bullies. “My kids would for sure bully the kids of gays, because that’s exactly what I would do”, he explained matter-of-factly. So, socially, it’s not just the “that’s so gay” lark that still needs to be fixed, but a general feeling and teaching of superiority that still comes from some communities here. Once you recognise another as your equal, then neither of you need to fear judgement. And isn’t that a nice idea?

As for the nearby town of Livingstone, this is an interesting place. Another you recognise as a place of poverty, but so much more developed than Mwandi it’s hard to believe they’re only two hours drive apart! Plenty of restaurants, shops, bakeries, and even a few ATMs! It’s worth a visit, though I must admit I think I’d be bored of it after a weekend. But the Victoria Falls are a must see! They took my breath away! They’re just… EXTRAORDINARY! And for everyone, locals and otherwise, to tell me the awe is more so from the Zimbabwe side… Well, needless to say, Zimbabwe has shot straight to the top of my list.

But, to conclude with the point I opened with, I truly loved Mwandi. I made some very special friends there, and felt so safe and welcomed into that community. I hope to have the pleasure of visiting and working alongside Paula, Dan and Matt again one day. And you should too!

Thebe Dawn Drive and River Safari

16 June 2015

Yesterday we arrived at Thebe, a cabin/campsite based beside the Chobe River.

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Much like Elephant Sands, this too felt like a place of discovery, my first being the local’s lager!

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Then got my Western on

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I had opted to camp here, not only to save money but also because it’s something I’ve not experienced before, so after lunch I got straight on with pitching my tent:

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Not bad!

After that, it was pretty much just a chill out day, so after a bit of shopping on the local markets (where I bought an excellent spoon for making Nshema, as advised by Berri) we all went to dinner

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And then got a reasonably early night in anticipation of this morning’s Dawn Drive through Chobe National Park!

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Elephant Sands

14 June 2015

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Elephant Sands has been an incredible experience and I would recommend it to ANYONE who wishes to experience the true wildlife of Southern Africa without compromising the animal’s dignity, personal space or safety.

The wonderment began yesterday afternoon, when we arrived to the camp site with water pipe built in an area very VERY highly populated with wild African Elephants!

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