This weekend I did two things I’ve never done before in my life, meditated and rode bareback on an elephant. We meditated first so I will start this entry with that.
On Friday we drove to this place called the Nilambe Meditation Center. I think it was clear to everyone that this would be a bit of a disaster for me. Personally, I do not care much for sitting still nor being quiet, and meditation is a prolonged combination of both.
I’ve come to know Maria’s host family quite well, as our host fathers are brothers. I’ve also come to befriend their chaotic little dog, Shaggy. Maria’s host mother jokingly told us that Shaggy and I should try to meditate together.
Obviously, the women knows me quite well, as the meditation was a bit of a disaster for me. Basically all I did was fidget about for a few hours while trying really hard to not distract the others. However, the technique that worked best for me was to remind myself that if I made through meditation, soon it would be Saturday and on Saturday we were going to the elephant orphanage. I spent most of meditation imagining myself playing with baby elephants. That, however, was just my experience, some of the other students seemed to have gotten a lot out of the Nilambe trip and said that they planned to try and include the meditation we learned into their daily routine.
After meditation came the day that I had been waiting for since I arrived in Sri Lanka, our visit to the elephant orphanage. Although its called an orphanage they have elephants of all ages there, and most of them, are just free to roam about, and the people who visit the elephant orphanage are free to move about the elephants.
First we watched some baby’s being bottled fed, then we moved to a huge grass field with tons of elephants. I won’t attempt to guess how many there were. When you handed some of the men who worked there some money they would walk you over to a particularly friendly elephant that you could pat and have your picture taken with. Then we headed to the river and got to watch all the elephants running into the river to play and have their bath. The whole thing was one of the coolest experiences of my life.
Then Nancy, our director, asked if we wanted to ride an elephant. A few of us said definitely so we drove less then a mile down the road to a popular tourist attraction and paid about four dollars each to ride this enormous elephant. Sarah, Kristen and I all rode one elephant together.
Normally, I would condone this behavior as cruelty to animals but the elephants seemed extremely well cared for and I was actually happy for these elephants because in Sri Lanka wild elephants are killed constantly by farmers. It seemed to me that tourist interest in the species was helping to protect the elephant population on the island.
When we climbed off the platform onto the elephant I was surprised because we were just sitting square on the elephants back, no fancy contraptions to hold us in place. Then the elephant walked us down to the river and sprayed us with water. Then he took us back to the platform and sniffed all our hands just to double check that we didn’t have any food that we were hiding from him.
I can probably swear that I will never meditate again but I certainly will seize any opportunity that would offer me another day in the company of elephants.