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Never trust an elephant: Week 13: Blogging for survival

I’m on my last elephant ride. The realisation that I will never do this again comes with the  certainty of the sunrise. Staying present in the moment. With a shame that comes from the imperialism of being human. Of killing, eating, enslaving and humiliating animals. She walks with care and deliberation. Each step takes me closer to my pathetic regret.

Elephants have a similar life expectancy to humans. And like humans they can live full and happy lives. Under the right conditions. Lakshmi Kahli is 35 years old. 9 am in Chitwan, Nepal and she is on her second run already. There has been a slight delay because we asked them not to overload her. Serious discussion ensues. Each of these elephants is expected to carry 5 people at a time.    

We are the last to ride. Hoards of animated, excited, overweight people jump, scratch and scramble their way on to the elephants. As each person boards, the elephant adjusts slightly to manage the load.

My first elephant ride was at the Melbourne Zoo. I was 5. In all the years that have followed I have also jumped, scratched and scrambled my way onto the backs of elephants around the world. Loving the view from up high, the gentle rhythm and the mystery of the elephant spirit. On top of an elephant is on top of the world.

I have been told about the vengeful nature of elephants. How they will remember a hurt done to them and wait for an opportunity to retaliate. In Laos, the guide at the elephant camp tells a story of a tourist who teased an elephant by offering bananas repeatedly and pulling them away just as the elephant was reaching for them. After a few minutes of this, the elephant whacked him to the ground. ‘So’, he says, ‘never trust an elephant’.

At 35 years old I was working 3 jobs. Harnessed. And at times I felt like a brute animal, with little value other than the weight of the load I could carry. I retaliated at acts of senseless cruelty. I also retaliated for much less.  There were times when people would say. ‘You can never trust a Lisa’.

These days I choose who, and what, I will carry. I do not carry entitlement, or cruelty, and I brushed rudeness and humiliation off on a low hanging branch some time ago. About the time I developed a deep fondness for bananas. And kindness. This is what it means to be free.

As Lakshmi Kahli stands steady for me to scramble my way off her back I think of all the elephants that have carried people, little and big, safely around the world and through time. Of their huge bulk kneeling to accept a small child and their gentle trunks touching the upturned palms of generations. And I smile.

You can never trust an elephant.



A Mess of Idiots: Week 5: Blogging for survival

Today my friend squashed a spider as it emerged from between the sheltering folds of the newspaper. In that moment I felt something break inside me. I think it was the fragile philosophical premise that there is a space between animals and humans.

I’ve been equivocating.

Not being one bit vegetarian. And having killed the kindergarten rabbit. Accidently. Also being scared of horses and really wanting there to be a bit of space between them and me. More physical than philosophical. So, having admitted that I’m terribly failed, and have also put bait out for snails in my wretched past, I wonder where this emerging awareness might lead.

I struggle with binaries. The whole good versus evil dance. The moral high ground or the murky wasteland for the plebiscites, right or wrong, yes or no, succeeded or failed, male or female. Human or animal. Animal or human? Human animal?

I love the collective nouns for groups of animals; An Array of Hedgehogs, An Asylum of Cuckoos, A Boogle of Weasels, A Business of Ferrets, A Clowder of Cats, A Coalition of Cheetahs, A Contradiction of Sandpipers, An Exaltation of Larks, A Flick Of Rabbits, A Harem of Seals, An Implausibility of Wildebeest, An Inferno of Lucifer Hummingbirds, An Obstinacy of Buffalo, A Rhumba of Rattlesnakes, A Scourge of Mosquitoes, A Tower of Giraffes, A Troubling of Goldfish and a Wobble of Ostriches. The richness of these words nudges me closer to the edge of my human bondage.

Animals just seem so much more.

Perhaps I need to enliven the human species within my linguistic imaginary. Maybe then I would feel more kindly towards people. And less like Sweeney Todd. You know, wanting to bake them in pies.

So I start to make a list. Of sorts.

A Stomach ache of Lawyers, A Candida of Bakers, A Botox of Birthday girls, A Velvet of Ushers, An Armpit of Feminists (that’s me and my mates), A Sweat of Teenagers, A Horribleness of Haters, A Bondage of Stock Brokers, A Pleasure of Friends, A Hawk eye of Traffic cops, a Suture of Surgeons, A Regretfulness of Lovers, A Compass of Hikers, A Desolation of Refugees, A Homesickness of Travelers, A Tenderness of Babies, A Bouquet of Brides.

The list making softens the shouts of the debating team in my head. OK. No one is getting baked in any pies today.

I’m such A Foolishness of Human.

The circus. Week 3. Blogging for survival

They always burnt the grass after the circus left town. Cauterising the ground. Erasing any evidence of them. Like a guilty, dirty little secret.  I remember. It was in the spare lot on the estate and my sister and I would go there. Later. After the heat was gone. Looking for coins. Or jewelry. Or any treasure that had fallen carelessly to the grassy floor of the big top. And remained. Through the matinees and evening performances, under the feet of the towns children and beyond the reach of the monkeys.

I found a sooty crucifix once. I kept it in my ballerina jewelry box. Feeling a small tingle when I touched it. It’s an old memory. So ancient that it is a relic of a primal and pagan past. A time when wild animals were tamed for our pleasure. Living and working in a relentless cycle of performing and travelling. Not like now. No animals are harmed in the making of the circus. In Australia. Anymore.

No, not anymore. We can watch the circus from the elevated position of our high moral ground. Safe in the knowledge that all is well.  For the animals. That are no longer caged. We can go to the zoo for that. Or the supermarket. Or MacDonalds. Well not caged exactly, vacuum packed really.

I eat chicken Parmigiana. I love it so much, I order it at any opportunity. But something is troubling me. I think it’s my cat. Who isn’t mine. Aside from her carnivorous tendency to predate on frogs, which is an exceptional and unnecessary burden placed daily on my ‘do no harm’ Zen. It’s about her feelings. She has many. 

A man who wrote his thesis on the rights of elephants in Sri Lanka once said ‘I started out writing about the rights of people, studying the loss of humanity during conflict and I gave up, I gave up on people. Now I choose to think about the dignity of animals instead’. Looking at my cat I’m wondering if I’m there. If I’m giving up on people too. I think I’m on a continuum between human rights activist and crazy cat lady, inching closer to crazy daily. Much closer.

So I’m back at the circus. Heading for the big top. The fairy floss. The bench seats. I hurry everyone along. My pagan past is snapping at my heels. I can feel the sooty crucifix and smell the unmistakable scent of caged animals. I nearly trip on my own desire. To feel the seduction of the exotic other. The lure of the time before knowing. Before the burden of awareness. 

As the lights dim and the music starts I glance at the faces of my companions. My family. Up and down the generations. In that dusky light I see them. Rapt. Expectant. Shivering with anticipation. And I smile.

Here we all are. Tamed for their pleasure.

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