Today I met an elephant named Arum. I write this now, in bed, because I know that with time, things will get blurry, confused and lost, as they always do. I write this now, at two in the morning, in an empty balcony in my hotel room in Bali, because I don’t want it to be lost forever.
We visited the Elephant Park this afternoon, a foundation that protects and shelters elephants, just on the outside of Ubud, in the dense forests that surround it. As soon as I walked in, I understood that the Elephant park was a wonderful place, taking great care of these incredible animals. It was gorgeous, even from a first impression, to see that the elephants hold a really special place in people’s heart, here in Bali, despite the calamities that goes on, in other parts of the world, such as killing them for sports, hunting them down for their ivory or keeping them caged in tiny places in zoos. The park is formed by a central area where most of the elephants are, and on one edge there is a small fence, where all the guests can interact, touch and feed the elephants. As soon as I approached this area, there was one elephant there, the tallest of the other two that were there beside it, that caught my attention, so I approached her and begun to touch it’s trunk. The elephant was sort of restless at first, not giving me any attention at all, trying to find some of the food she seemed to be sniffing from the ground. I picked some up and held my hand out, and watched as this elephant sniffed them and threw them away.
” She likes the fresh ones… only the ones that have some liquid in it. ” A keeper standing close to us tells me.
” Oh… Ok. Where are those? ”
” They went to get some more… they’ll be here shortly.”
I smiled. And then asked:
” What’s his name?”
” It’s a her… She is called Arum.”
”Arum… Beautiful name. ” I smiled and begun again to touch her.
Arun’s keeper tells me that she was rescued, and that she has been living in the foundation for about 15 years. She just turned 30 years old, exactly like me. He also tells me that she is a happy elephant, and that she has a really easy-going personality, very friendly and active. He tells me that once, in her previous life somewhere in Somalia, before she was rescued, she had been a mother, but that the child elephant had been taken to another foundation and they had been separated. She has not been a mother again, but instead has become very friendly with all the other child elephants that have been born and raised in the foundation. In between touching her trunk, and talking to the keeper, the fresh green sticks of food arrive and I rush to get some for her. She devours every single one of the ones that are fresh, and ignores the ones that are not, dismissing them to the ground.
I go closer to her and gaze into her eyes. In between silences and soft gazes she tells me so much more about herself. She tells me that she is sad, a sadness so deep that she doesn’t even remember why it’s there; she tells me that she is also happy in her life in the park… she tells me something is missing from her life… She tells me she is an old soul.
When I looked closer I found a tear streaming down from the corner of her great big eye. It broke my heart… Just one single tear. The keeper tells me it’s normal, but I think there is more there, than we can understand. It cannot be normal… a tear is a tear. She was hurting… even if she was also happy. Just like us… humans. I whispered: ‘You are so beautiful… You are loved… ‘ and imagined she could hear me and somehow deep inside of herself, she felt better. I had always heard that elephants had the best memories and that they remembered everything that they had lived… And as I looked into her eyes, I really understood the depths of this… it seemed all her memories were still very much alive within her. But despite this pain that she carrying, despite that deep hurt, she was still smiling, playing and being true; she was observing me as I was observing her, touching me with her trunk when I turned around calling me back, moving backwards and forwards for me to follow, playing with the sticks, and throwing the crown of flowers I had placed in her head into the ground and then picking it up with her sweet trunk for me to put it back on her. Her gazes, in between play and contemplation, seem more human than most human gazes I have seen; although she is huge, bulky and tall, she is careful with her strength and touches me softly with her trunk so not to hurt me at all. I am mesmerised. Hours have gone by and still I cannot leave her. She is a gigantic softness, a huge weight of friendship and kindness, wearing her soul in her eyes, and her heart in her gestures. She could see my soul, and somehow… even just moments after I left, I knew that she had a piece of my heart.
Secretly, I wish that she could have been free… that she could have had a better life, without pain, filled with play, with her family, back home, where she was free. But she will never be. She will always be confined to that place, that brings her both sadness and happiness. Someday, I will come back to see her again. She will remember me, as I remember her. Maybe she won’t have tears in her eyes, maybe it will be me that will be crying… Maybe she will have her own family again. Maybe… she will be full. But then again, maybe she is just too human for that: meant to be always incomplete, filled with the memory of a lost paradise.
Until we meet again Arun.
I am back home now. I have arrived last night. These notes were in my notebook. There hasn’t been one day since we met that I haven’t though of her.