Friday, January 21, 2011

Chain Gang

Today morning chore is probably the most labor intensive. We will be taking a 45 minute ride in the back of a truck to go chop grasses for the elephants. The prior days the other groups were cutting corn stalks, which are easier to cut since the plant itself is a little stiffer. We know that the grasses will be a bit tougher but we are prepared. It's a beautifully sunny and warm morning and the camaraderie that has developed within Group A is awesome. We are advised to grab old used shirts provided by the sanctuary to wear over our clothes since this is messy work. We grab gloves too since we will be yielding machetes.

Here are Sabine and Lisa trying to find a comfortable location on the truck.

Sabine and I realizing that we should have taken our sunglasses which are sitting on our beds back at our hut.

Sabine and I become suddenly aware that we did not take any motion sickness medicine for the ride. I get motion sickness from everything. Even my own driving sometimes. Especially when I am driving fast and on curvy roads. Sabine and I make the best tactical decision and decide to face fowardish in the truck and keep our faces looking out of the slat rails of the truck (instead of facing our friends). We are all standing because of the remnant dry grasses and dust on the floor of the truck left by the last grass-cutting crew. The truck starts on the winding roads to get us out of the jungle and onto the main roads. This last for about twenty minutes and we are all surprised at how incredibly fast the driver is driving, particularly since it is such a curvy road. We all are clutching the rails and even the guys are saying, 'I hope he doesn't tip the truck'.

Our volunteer guide for today's chore is Ekk and he is the only one who is sitting on the floor of the truck. He looks queasy and tired and is very quiet, very unlike Ekk. We then realize that he is hungover. Last night, one of the mahouts, Hope's mahout, got married. Everyone including the volunteers were invited to the reception which was in a nice little backyard area of the village. Volunteers made their appearances out of respect (in Thailand you invite the entire village to the wedding which ends up being an all day affair) but we didn't stay long. Ekk and the other volunteer coordinators and staff of the Sanctuary stayed out late in celebration. They do not tend to drink much, so any amount of alcohol can cause a hangover the next day. It is sort of funny to watch Ekk suffering, but I also feel bad for him. He is such a nice lively guy and he is clearly uncomfortable.

About ten minutes before our destination, I can feel my stomach getting queasy and I am suddenly praying that I do no throw up on the truck. When we finally arrive, I hope off the truck quickly and walk around to see if I can settle my stomach. In as few words and gestures as possible, Ekk gets the sack of machetes, tells us how to hold the machetes and how to collect the grasses. He plops down a first aid kit and suggests we count all fingers before we get started. We are all actually pretty eager to start cutting the grass, so everyone grabs there machete and look for areas where we can work without getting in each others way. Sabine finds a spot close to the truck and starts hacking away.

I fall in ditch and decide to stay in it to start my work.

This machete business is hard work, but perfect for having random conversations and just enjoying each others company. We help each other when we get stuck or have a huge bundles of grass to move and I smile at the success of our mentally effortless teamwork.

After 45 minutes, Lisa and I decide to take a break under the banana trees. It's HOT out.

Sabine decides to check on us.

Then we all decide to take a break. (Imogen, Sabine, Dave and Mary Ann)

I could get used to this...

We finish cutting and bundling a truck full's worth of grasses. Normally, we would be tying the bundles and loading them into the truck, but Ekk wants to make sure we get back to the Sanctuary in time for the noon feeding of the elephants. Good call, Ekk! Today is the last day here for me and Sabine, so we want to make sure we get to participate and see as much as possible before we leave.