Our group of 10 piles into the back of a pickup truck at 8 a.m. We’re covered head-to-toe, largely to avoid ants crawling down our clothing and nipping us.
I’ve got on a hat with fabric flaps, a long-sleeved shirt, a T-shirt, leggings, gum boots, and a pair of gloves. And, I’m not as covered up as others.
There are no seats in the back of the truck, so the group of us stands, grabbing on to the thick white metal bars that remind me of a cage, to keep us all from flying out of the back.
We drive for miles, down the road we came in, past the elephants carrying passengers. When we drive past them, I get angry. A part of me wants to stop the truck, jump off and explain to the people on their backs about what these elephants have endured. But really, I want to kidnap the elephants and guide them on the quick walk up the road to safety at Elephant Nature Park. But, I do nothing. Instead, I turn to my fellow volunteer with simply a look of disgust.
That’s all we need to convey how we feel about what we see on that road.
We bop along, heading out onto the highway for a few minutes, holding tight to the bars. Then, we arrive to a little plot of land down a small road. In front of us is a field of corn that needs to be chopped, bundled, loaded back into the truck, and taken back to the park to feed the elephants today.
Jack unloads a bag of machetes.
I hate knives. I hate blades. I don’t like anything that has the ability to cut a finger or other body part clean off, so when he drops them on the earth, I feel the back of my knees tingle. I watch as everyone’s eyes light up.
One by one, they grab them and begin to chop at the thick stocks of corn. I’m a little more apprehensive. But, finally, I go and grab one.
It’s heavy in my gloved hand, and when I make my first swing, I realize I need to be a little more forceful than that if I want to make a dent in this field of corn. So, I swing again. This time, the corn falls to the ground.
Ha. Take that corn.
Since the pieces need to be roughly the same size, I pick it up and slice it in half again.
Within minutes, gloves are soaked with sweat. Dripping with sweat. I’ve sweat through nearly everything, actually. The sun may not be out, but the humidity and the heat are making the corn cutting exhausting.
I try to carve out a row, whacking and thwacking corn in my path. I try to be all Jungle D and, in one foul swoop, knock the corn to the ground. Of course, it doesn’t work like that. More often than not, I am standing there, at a stalk of corn, for a good minute, holding the top of it tight as I hack at the thick bottom part. Then, sometimes, if the middle part is too thin and I fear I may machete right through the stalk and into me, I just bend it over my knee and break it/rip it apart.
As the volunteers throw corn to the ground in piles, villagers who have come along with us, rope bundles together.
In an hour, we have hacked the entire field.
Next, we have to haul the bundles into the truck.
There is no graceful way to do this. At first, I try to be ambitious, grabbing two bundles — each hand grasping the twine — and teetering back to the truck. It doesn’t work well. At all.
So, the next round, I fling the bundle over my shoulders, draping my arms around it. This time, I am able to make it back a little easier. Granted, it’s not comfortable, and my mind keeps going back to the previous day’s conversation with Adele who got accosted by ants that trailed down her shirt when she did the same, but I manage.
I don’t get too many bundles to the truck before we are done. I’m half way back into the cleared field when I ask Pam if there are any more left. She shakes her head “no.”
I’m hit with a huge feeling of accomplishment. We started with an entire field to cut down, bundle and haul to the truck. Within 90 minutes, our little group has cleared the field and loaded the truck. I’ve never been witness to such teamwork before, and when we get back in the van (yes, the van instead of the pickup) to ride back to the park, I feel a rush of satisfaction and pride to be a part of such an amazing group of people.
We aren’t doing this for us. We’re doing it for the elephants. And, that feels awesome.