Understanding India: Elephant Camp Pt. 2

The elephant camp not only housed giant leathery beasts, but small children too. They weaved in and out of buildings, and between the mahouts and their animals. They watched us. They were shy. My go-to for interacting with small children is to make myself look as dumb as possible. Silly faces. Hiding behind posts and pillars. Anything to make them laugh. I had the easiest time communicating with the children in India. Despite our language barrier, cultural barrier, age barrier we got along just fine.

With the other adults communicating was intimidating. I have no understanding of Hindi or any other of the many languages of India. Most of the people who led us and coached us through India had an impressive understanding of English. The intimidation came from fear of humiliation. I was inadvertently representing American culture, one in which it seemed like India idolized. If I were smart I would have tried to learn more about where I was going to spend three weeks of my summer. If I were smart I may have put a greater effort in languages in general. And now I was representing America? Maybe I was doing a good job.

I was careful with how I spoke, but sometimes the pressure of communication (not seeming rude, ungrateful, stupid, or all three) was too much. I was glad for the children. We both knew we knew nothing, or at least very little, of each other. We both were shy and timid. We both liked to laugh. So I would make the best worst faces I could manage. Filling my cheeks with air and pressing my nose like button letting the air escape. Miming invisible strings that lifted my eyebrows and pulled at my lip. I gave one little boy my invisible string, carefully tying it around his wrist. He laughed at me. What’s funny is that while I would entertain these kids some of the adults would look over, amused. Also laughing at the young white girl who has come to visit. I was never humiliated by the attention. I was connecting with people in an innocent and sincere way – free from insecurity or fear.

These children are the same age as the kids I work with at my church. I think now of the different lives they lead, only different because of where they were born. But also how they are similar. How making monkey noises is a sure way to get some giggles or tying my hair in front of my face like beard and pretending to be a grouchy old man will split sides. There were many times on this trip where I was at a loss of understanding or comprehension. In many ways I was a spectator in India. But this was one way I felt like I participated successfully. I’m thankful for everything I was able to see and experience in India, and I am thankful that in this one small way I was able to contribute. 
In & Around the elephant camp In & Around the elephant camp \In & Around the elephant camp In & Around the Elephant Camp In & Around the elephant camp In & Around the Elephant Camp In & Around the elephant camp


Read more: 
The Arrival 
Bangalore
Infosys
Chennakesava Temple
Mysore Palace
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary
Around the Coffee Plantation
Elephant Camp Pt. 1
Elephant Camp Pt. 2
King of Cobras
Kuppalli and Kuvempu
Elephant Bath

We were in India to complete the filming of the documentary Elephants in the Coffee. And now it’s done. It explores the elephant-human conflict that has been happening in India. The coffee you drink has most likely been wandered through by elephants. They are a nuisance to farmers, but also a god in the Hindu belief. You cannot destroy a god. But you can scare it off with crackers and shotgun blasts. The elephant habitat is shrinking. In its place villages and farms have moved in. Elephants walk the same paths they have for hundreds of years, even if houses, crops, or people stand in their way. How could anyone stop them? Electric fences, trenches and steel beams have been used and are being used to keep them out and keep people safe. Nobody wants a god wandering through their crops eating their jack fruit, trampling their livelihood. But a god cannot be stopped.  

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