Arrival: 10 years ago I packed up a rucksack and left for Sri Lanka to live with the elephants for 3 months. Now I’m back this time for only 3 days and so much but at the same time nothing has changed. I arrived in the middle of a thunder storm on Thursday night, already wet from the humidity the rain was a cooling relief. The car journey from the airport had been my first indication that things had changed. Before, the tuk tuk ruled the road only pushed aside by big Tata trucks and buses. Now the tuk tuks fight for air between cars, vans and even larger lorries. Wafts of sweet breads and hopper stands make you lean out of the window and breath in, just remembering in time to pull back before the next bus sputters past. Paddy fields still punctuate the towns and villages but last for only a few minutes before the next shack selling cashews and plantains heralds the start of the next street. Don’t get me wrong this is still one of the most beautiful and green places I have ever visited and in comparison to the sprawling dry mess of New Delhi I had just left this it’s an oasis. Warm smiles on familiar faces and sweet milky tea made me feel instantly at home. I had expected faces to look different, hair to have greyed but no it’s as if time has not stopped but at least slowed down here. The only thing missing was of course – the elephants but it was dark so they had been put to bed. I went to sleep last night hearing through the window the regular crack and swoosh of palm leaves being torn for food and felt happy.
Day 1: So now there are 8 volunteers, Danish, English and American. The most we had here before was 3 so already it feels that things have moved on. Amy a previous volunteer has returned as ‘volunteer co-ordinator’ for the next 6 months. This will make a huge difference. I remember just how easy it as to let time slip past – my first lessons on the Sri Lankan pace of life: • Walk slowly it’s hot you’ll sweat a lot and least this way you can also breath • Don’t expect to get things done in the same time it would take back home, there will be more people to ask and by default more people to yes when they mean maybe • Wear a watch if you like but it makes little difference. The next bus will be along soon and you’ll arrive when you get there
So back to the volunteer program, MEF is a small place with big ideas. For years it has provided a sanctuary for around 8 elderly, injured and retired domestic elephants. On my first visit we were left to our own devices, lots of projects had been started but never completed. The one that stood out was a web page layout designed and ready to go but no host to launch it. By the time we left we had the site launched, now 10 years on MEF can be found on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. However all of this needs maintaining and what good is a Twitter account with no followers?