Walking on an empty beach on a sunny day — even if it’s chilly!
Walking on an empty beach on a sunny day — even if it’s chilly!
This is a raw memory, but I share it because I believe others may have experienced some similar doubt about themselves because of another’s judgment. It’s still painful, but I need to be more honest and kick this ugly moment out of my new life. My only lesson to others is to listen to your gut feelings. You’ll feel something is not right long before you’ll see the evidence.
One day in the middle of my life, I went to an office building where a friendly woman tested me for attention deficit syndrome.
Because my significant other said I was wanting. I was broken. I forgot too many things.
I was a teacher. A mother. A wife. A volunteer. A supporter. A helper. A giver. A worrier.
And he judged me as less than whole.
When I told this kind professional why I was there, she looked at me.
“Are you serious?”
“No, he thinks I’m losing my mind.”
And so, hours of testing began. She gave me a battery of tests to determine the strength, the worth, the ability of my mind.
And, honestly, I enjoyed those hours with her. I liked the challenge. I was excited to see where it could go. To find out what knowledge would be dredged up.
Several weeks later, a binder of results showed up in the mail.
I passed with flying colors. I was whole. My mind was strong. Dare I gloat, superior.
I showed it to the person who once said he loved me.
He shook his head.
I still was not whole in his estimation.
Judged not enough.
I should have known
I would not pass
Hard to believe, but I’ve been writing this blog for almost 10 years. When I looked back at the stats tonight, I found that the post below, which ran in October 2011, had the most hits of any post ever. In one day, the blog had more than 1,000 hits. (Believe me, that is insanely out of the ball park for me.) The site must have gotten linked or shared somewhere. The next day, I had more than 600 hits, and after that, it went back to normal. Anyway, I thought I’d look back at the list and see if it holds up in 2018, and I thought I’d add some new photos.
1. Stories, books, reading, writing, words keep me whole. Forever.
2. So do love, family and friends. Some gone, some still thankfully here. And so it goes. Oh! And two grandsons to love!
3. And place, a sense of being from somewhere grounds me. Always.
4. The open road will always call to me. Even more so.
5. As will wide skies. Love.
6. And an empty beach. All still true.
7. I take photos — I’m rarely in them. Looking back at all the photos, they help me remember, which is good. I do wish someone had taken a few more of me (when I was younger).
8. White wine is better than red. Went through a red period, but now I’m back to white. I realize this isn’t earth-shaking. Oh, well.
9. Coffee in the morning is a good thing. Life-saving thing.
10. I spent too much time in the sun as a kid — and I’m paying for it now — but I’d probably do it again. Yup.
Although my life looks a lot different from what it did in 2011, I’d say these still are the 10 things I know for sure.
What’s on your list? Share it with me!
How she held her pregnant belly as she scooted away on a mini-bike.
A shaken martini with lemongrass and a bamboo straw.
Listening to the roosters crow at 3 a.m. across the elephant village.
Walking along the length of a golden reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.
Biting into the hot steamed bun at the local night market.
How he looked down when he recalled how his father hid him during the war in this lovely country.
A curious baby elephant that tested his mother’s patience.
Hearing him yell that he’d cut his leg as we chopped bamboo with machetes in a village field.
Wearing elephant pants as thin as gauze to stay cool.
Riding in tuk tuks through Siem Reap’s traffic, poverty and riches to the school.
How they shared the rich stories of their over-55 lives filled with loss, hope and leaps of faith.
A bucket of cement, a trowel and the endless bricks.
Laughing and singing along to songs from an iPad amplified by a kitchen pot.
Riding in the back of a pickup truck on gravel roads that looked like my childhood.
Watching the silk-makers create rich patterns using ancient ways on intricate looms.
How these kind people always greeted us with palms together and heads down.
A pre-dawn ride to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise.
Climbing steep stairs to ten platform beds under hot pink mosquito netting.
Buying coconut ice cream flavors from the man with a cooler hitched to his bicycle.
Feeling the power of an elephant’s trunk as she grabbed her bamboo snacks.
How difficult it is to lay a foundation, build walls — how fulfilling to see them rise.
A sky full of stars.
I confess: I’m not an honest-to-goodness animal lover.
I’m not sure why. I guess maybe because I grew up on a farm, where animals had more utilitarian purposes. Sure, we dressed up barn kittens in doll clothes, and stray dogs showed up and stayed a while. I remember bottle-feeding a few calves. The spring chicks were cute, and it was a treat to be surrounded by the chirping troops in the warm brooder house. But, by summer, it was time to pluck them for dinner to go with the bushel baskets of sweet corn from the field. Reality.
My mother had enough children in the ever-expanding-bedrooms, one-bath farmhouse without adding a house cat or a dog to the menagerie. We did get one kitten from a cousin (future mother of barn cats) and a friendly dog named Toby from town, who lived a long and happy life (because he was my little brother’s friend).
When my own girls were little, they had hamsters, which were quickly replaced a few times with look-alikes so that they wouldn’t know they’d spun on their last hamster wheel. And then there was Sassy, our independent and smart cat, who lived 17 years and was buried in our back yard. She roamed the neighborhood and knocked on the door when she wanted to be let back in — often leaving a mouse on the stoop to prove her worth.
So, why did I decide to volunteer to work up-close with elephants in Thailand?
The stories I’d read about elephants’ memories and their friendships and their intelligence intrigued me. Also, sadly, I worried that one day they’d become so endangered that an experience like this one would be impossible. Finally, I had been sitting at a desk for most of my adult life, and it was time to undo my own chains.
Through Bamboo, part of my volunteer group’s experience was staying for five days in an elephant village in Surin province in northeastern Thailand. We lived in the home of an elephant mahout and his family. Bamboo contracts with the village families to house volunteers. The family’s elephant, named Malika, lived in the backyard, where we could watch her eat huge amounts of bamboo.
Cutting the bamboo was one of our jobs while we stayed at the village. We went out to a field and chopped the tough, woody stalks and carried them to the truck. In return, we also got to take the elephants to nearby river twice for baths. Each of us selected an elephant and walked with the mahouts and the elephants to the river — which the elephants loved. They rolled around and blew water out of their trunks and trumpeted their joy as we threw water on their heads and rubbed them down (being careful not to get stepped on or kicked).
While walking through the village, we stopped at the small groceries in homes for beer and snacks, and the ice cream man came around with this cooler-bicycle contraption to offer cool treats. We learned about the Thai language and culture. We learned about the history of elephants in Thailand and their importance, and how it has become more difficult and expensive for mahouts and their families to live this lifestyle.
We visited baby elephants and their protective mothers. We ate lots of (what some called “dumbed-down) Thai food because it was not as spicy or flavorful as most Thai dishes. We visited an elephant sanctuary where we learned more about the history of the elephants in Thailand, made paper from the fibers of clean elephant poop and saw an elephant cemetery. We went to local outdoor markets that were awhirl with colors and smells and sounds — and mounds of fresh vegetables and fruit. What I would give to have that kind of market available here where I live!
The area of Surin in Thailand is known for elephants, jasmine rice (wrong time of year for us to see the working rice paddies) and silk. One afternoon we visited the silk region, where we watched women create silk using an intricate weaving system passed down for generations. The silk patterns were incredible. The shops in the village sold much cheaper versions of silk scarves, ties, dresses, skirts and cloth in bright colors.
One afternoon we helped fertilize a young field of bamboo by dropping the pellets of fertilizer in the rows and covering them up with hoes. Walking down the rows of bamboo in the hot sun brought me back to the days when we walked soy beans to cut out weeds on the farm. I realized that I hadn’t bent over like that to chop and hoe in a very long time. And when we got to the end of the row and drank ice water from a jug, that, too, brought me back to those long-ago summer days.
And what do I take with me about the elephants?
The wisdom in their eyes. The pure happiness in the water. The almost-uncontrollable fear of a mother elephant who is chained to the ground as her baby scrambles out of her reach toward a group of noisy humans. And the curiosity and fearlessness of that baby.
In the end, I come away knowing we are not at all so different.
Here are some more interesting facts about Thailand’s elephants.
More to come!
On Jan. 10, a friendly Uber driver took me to the Amtrak station in New London at 6 p.m. (second-to-last train to Boston that night) for a ride to South Station. From there, I took a city bus to Logan Airport and walked around the airport for a few hours. I flew out of Boston on Cathay Pacific at 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 11, and landed in Hong Kong as the sun was coming up on Friday, Jan. 12.
By noon, I was going through customs and finding my luggage in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and meeting some of the other people who had traveled across the world for an experience quite different from that of a typical tourist.
We piled into a minibus — and headed off through Bangkok’s Friday afternoon noisy rush of traffic to our first hotel. (Note how many different forms of transportation I’ve used even BEFORE the trip officially started.)
Let’s back up. Why in the world was I speeding across Bangkok on a Friday afternoon in January? Why had I lost a day of my life to sleep and three (or was it four?) movies?
WTF was I doing?
Can I blame it on the rum drinks and lazy heat of Jamaica on my last vacation? Or the uncertainty of what was ahead in retirement? Or could the universe be eavesdropping on my hopes and fears again?
Or was it simply that Facebook had sliced and diced my information so finely that it knew I was looking for an experience that I’d never forget — one that forever shaped the border between the world of work and the world of … less work.
Magic or the world of marketing?
Posts about a company called BAMBOO started showing up on my Facebook page. And I tugged on that bone. No, I chomped it in two. I returned to the page almost every night to read reviews and googled the company to find out more about them (photo below from website).
I liked the fact that they offered a mix of tourism and volunteerism. I liked experiencing the people and the countries in ways you can’t on a beach with a umbrella shoved in your color-of-the-day drink. (Believe me, the allure of melting on the beach has been my only desire at different times in my life. But not this time. I wanted something different.)
And so, one summer night I found myself forking over the down payment for the trip and checking off the list of items I needed to take care of before I could join the group.
Fact 1: It was cheaper than a super-duper vacation because for part of the trip I’d be either helping or living in Thai homes.
Fact 2: There also was the allure of visiting Angkor Wat and other ancient temples and working up-close with elephants and living in a village where they were part of the family.
Fact 3: I would be part of a group of 20 or less people who were over 50 (like me) and from across the globe. In fact, my group totaled 16 from all over Australia, England, Canada and the U.S. — 15 women and one brave man.
They were moms, wives, grandmothers, single, divorced, engaged. They were nurses, teachers, social service providers, business professionals, hard workers, animal lovers, long-time adventurers, first-time world travelers, music and book lovers, dancers.
They were lovers of life. And each had a story.
But let’s get back to that ride across Bangkok in the minibus.
We wove and honked our way through one of the busiest streets I had ever seen or heard — Rambuttri Road. What could compare? Little Italy in NYC? The French Quarter of New Orleans?
Not even close.
We were in the thick of life — and surrounded by street vendors — in Bangkok. And here, at the Villa Cha-Cha, was where we’d spend our first two nights in Thailand. (Photo above is of the outdoor restaurant at the hotel where we had breakfast in the morning and cheap beers at night.)
Come back for more!
I will begin at the end of my trip.
To the young woman sitting in 47A from Bangkok to Boston
We share slight smiles when no one claims the empty seat between us.
Our bodies unloosen into this blessed space.
When the attendant passes out customs forms to fill out, you ask:
“Can you help me? I have never flown before.”
Dark hair, round face, wire rims, careful English, half my age.
Together, we answer the questions.
Half a world away, I am new at this too.
You explain: “I will live in Boston for three weeks.
My boss thinks I need this experience to advance in my career.”
And once again I am humbled by a woman’s story,
by the hopes and fears and desires that take hold of our days.
As she sleeps in the seat beside me for hours,
I pray she will meet kind people in Boston,
as I have done on my own journey.
I pray she can stand on her own
if she doesn’t.
I pray we close our eyes, hold our breath and leap.
I pray we land on our own two feet.