Meeting the Girls
“They’re just over this hill,” Yo explains to us as he parks the truck and quickly turns off the ignition.
Holly and I look at each other in excitement, each with our eyes bright in anticipation. It’s the first time we will meet some of the girls, Mo Tau Bae, Mo Beu Bae and Mae Tau Po. “What will they be like?” we ask ourselves.
After each traveling over 7,000 miles from our respective cities, Holly from Toronto and myself from Seattle, we hop out of the truck into the warm sunshine and briskly trek down a steep hill and up the other side to meet the girls. We’ve finally arrived. It’s our first trip back to the village since Maria and I’s initial visit in January, just a few weeks prior. A lot has happened in those few weeks between January and mid-March: we officially founded our nonprofit and put plans in place to bring the first girls back to the jungle.
I look at Holly with a quick smile and know at that moment this is the start of everything. This is the start of the tears we’ll shed as we pour our hearts and souls into our mission, the start of when our ‘real work’ starts and the start of a new chapter for these gorgeous girls. This is what we are here for.
Mo Tau Bae, a tall, stunning girl quickly scurries off into the deep jungle. One of the mahouts explains, as Yo translates, that it will take time for her to recover from working in the city giving rides for tourists. She needs nourishment from the jungle. I am happy she’s able to choose to forage and roam where she wishes.
Mo Beu Bae then pops out of a thick area of the jungle. Shorter, and much smaller than Mae Tau Po, I ask how old she is. At only 9 years old, my heart immediately warms to the fact that she has her entire life ahead of her to live as an elephant is supposed to live. The long days eating whatever she desires, roaming where she wishes and taking mud baths to cool down: my wish for her is she’s able to rekindle her playful spirit I see in the depths of her eyes. I hope with being so young, she has plenty of time to heal her emotional wounds.
We then walk up the hill as the dry earth crunches below our boots, to meet one of the most stunning elephants I have ever seen. Mae Tau Po, with this regal, wise presence greets us with a gentle sniff as she reaches her trunk to us. “Wow, she is so beautiful,” Yo exclaims. Holly and I quickly agree. It is impossible to not. “Hi, gorgeous girl. You’re safe now.” I gently reach my hand to her and stroke her trunk as she makes eye contact with us, as if to assess our intentions. My heart swells for her as her mahout explains she’s had 2 miscarriages from forced breeding attempts. I see determination in her and I know being home will restore her spirit to where nature intended.
Before we know it, it’s time to head back to the village for lunch that has been generously prepared for us by the local people. “Ah, but if only we had more time,” I think, as I put down my camera, inhale deeply and consciously look around as to leave this moment as a tattoo in my memory. I don’t want it to end.
Days later, as I make the journey back from Chiang Mai to Seattle, I think about how time is so precious and how lucky we are to be in the presence of these beings. They could easily knock you over with one flick of their trunk, they could easily seek revenge on us after we have wronged them so deeply. But, instead, they choose love. They choose acceptance and forgiveness. That’s just the thing about being with these incredible creatures: they teach you lessons you can take with you as you navigate through your life. And with that, they challenge you to be the best version of yourself.
For the Elephants,