Sometimes you get a great opportunity you didn’t even know you wanted but once you realized it was there is nothing that could stop you. Two weeks ago I left the beautiful beaches of Greece to go to India. And although no fiber of me wanting to stay, I persevered. I embraced the unknown and made sure to enjoy every single minute along the way. Last week I stood awe-inspired in front of the Taj Mahal wondering what madness must have driven a person wanting to build such a magnificent monument. In case you were wondering, it was a broken heart… But this week I am far from beaches and unique monuments, I am far removed from the crazy chaos of Jaipur, where cars and motorbikes and anything else that possibly could make noise would honk at you. Instead I am in the quiet tranquility sharing close personal space with these gentle giants:
Now, seeing elephants in India is not a rarity. In fact, elephants are quite the tourist attraction for many people. They want to ride these majestic beauties, cover up their beautiful grey with all kinds of different colors, forcing them to stand on hard pavement, being mistreated with hooks and sticks. I wasn’t going to buy into this nonsense. I wasn’t going to ask a wonderful beauty like Maya to carry my weight, when clearly, she had enough on her plate. Quite literally actually. Instead of spending money on mistreating these wonderful giants, I decided to take a weekend trip far away from Jaipur. So on Tuesday evening the idea was born, three days later I was all packed and ready to go. My mind was made up, I wanted to go to the SOS wildlife rescue center close to Agra, nothing could stop me.
The logistics seemed quite simple, get on a train, get off 6 hours later. However, the Indian railway system doesn’t quite operate like that, so instead my travel companion and I sat at the train station waiting 4 hours for our train to finally arrive. No worries though, we took so many selfies with random strangers, that time passed quite quickly. Around 1 am in the morning we finally made it to the rescue center, where all we could do was pass out. After a short night we were picked up by the education director of the rescue center who drove us to see what we came for:
All elephants have been rescued from horrible human-made conditions. None of them have ever seen the light of day of their natural environment, so even if the elephant keepers would try to release the elephants into the wild, the likelihood that the elephants would survive are very slim. Being used to humans, they might fall victim of poachers without them even trying. So instead of releasing the elephants, the elephant keepers care for them deeply, go with them for walks, wash them thoroughly, make sure all their needs are met. A daily vet-check up is a must and one cannot help but feel the love that the keepers pour into this place. The center is also a learning and education hub trying to raise awareness and trying to teach other elephant keepers how to stop abuse and how to properly care for the gentle giants. But they also educate children and families about how to properly care for any animals and how to minimize their waste output. There is no government funding for this initiative, in a country where the government seems not to care much for its’ citizens’ health or sanitation how could one expect them to care for these wonderful creatures?
But don’t be fooled and think for a second that I would make this treacherous trip just to watch elephants from afar. No way! I came to help out. I came to volunteer and if you ever make it here, you should too! Some of the volunteer activities include walking side by side with the elephants through some of the fields. Some of the elephants have suffered poor diets i.e. fast food and sweets and lacked exercise, so long morning walks are extra important for them. But no day would be complete without a few little snacks. So we found ourselves up to our non-existent sleeves in melons, bananas and pumpkins.
And then the fun part started. We jumped in with the elephant keepers and washed the magnificent giants. Of course with a lot of attitude from every single one of the giants. Where they could, they would make us wet and demand snacks for waiting patiently for their mani- and pedicure. There is just something about working closely with animals, that makes me incredibly happy. I am rarely as comfortable around people as I am around animals, so I didn’t mind being soaked in water, smelling like a haven’t showered in days and being surrounded by millions of flies, just as long as I could be close to these beauties.
I would have stayed all night and watched the elephants interact, take a nap, run around and eat. But even the most happiest volunteer needs to rest sometimes. So I’m going to follow my role model and take a long well-deserved nap before I return to the rescue center for another hard and super rewarding day of work.
A photo posted by Jessica Giannoumis (@jandtheworld) on Aug 13, 2016 at 5:17am PDT
Tomorrow afternoon we will head back to Jaipur, with a heart full of love fighting another day for these beauties among others. Fighting for their freedom, their rights to a happy life and most importantly fighting for their right to live and roam in the wild.