May 9, 2010
This morning I left Sauraha, Chitwan, heading for Kathmandu and my flight to India. After 22 days living as a member of the village of Sauraha I felt sad to be leaving.
The Tiger Residency staff gathered and I received the TIKA blessing in a traditional ceremony. A circle of red powder was placed in the middle of my forehead. I was offered a glass of lassie, a red flower, and surprisingly, a chocolate candy bar. The candy bar was a deviation from the traditional gifts. It felt extremely personal, an indication of the sensitivity and awareness of others that is typical of the Nepalese people. The candy bar was a very kind gesture.
You’d have to be here to understand the significance of the candy bar. Shiva is the person who served our meals, made sure our water containers were filled and refrigerated, was patient with our bizarre food requests and brought us tea each morning. To say the least, Shiva made sure we were safe, well fed, and comfortable.
More than once we saw Shiva peddling off on his bicycle in the direction of town. Unwilling to tell us that something we requested was unavailable, he preferred to speed off like a mad man into town, regardless of the humidity and heat, to fulfill our request. Yes, we asked him to simply tell us they were out of what we requested but Shiva would not be swayed; he took his job seriously and it showed.
Learning that I have a fondness for chocolate resulted in Barb joking about candy bars and different chocolate treats in front of Shiva. We teased him about adding a new selection to their breakfast menu — chocolate pancake with chocolate pudding topped with sliced bananas, all a figment of our imagination of course. Shiva would smile politely, repeat the recipe out loud and act as if he was considering how it would taste. After much serious silence Shiva would agree that this sounded like a good idea…sort of.
The jeep that would take me to the airport waited outside the dining hall door. It was hugs and namaste all around as I headed for the jeep. In that moment, an elephant and mahout appeared directly in front of our path, both on their way to the bath. I did not recognize which of the 45 elephants of Sauraha she was, but I will never forget her.
She reached her trunk toward me, like a silk scarf dancing in the wind. I felt so drawn to her, to making a gesture that I had not allowed myself to experience while in Sauraha. For 22 days I had seen myself as providing assistance to the elephants of this village. In this moment a goddess was coming to me, blessing me. I wanted to give her something, wanted to pay my respects, to let her know how honored I was to be in her presence.
The candy bar in my hand was the gift. I don’t believe in feeding junk food to elephants but in that moment it was not a candy bar but a sacred gift, a sign of my appreciation of her. Gifting forward, the candy bar had been given to me as a sign of love and I was now in a position to pass that love forward. I tore open the wrapper and broke the candy bar in half and placed it gently into her outstretched trunk. I hesitated to feed her the entire bar for fear that doing so might be viewed as disrespectful to the Tiger Residency staff who had gone out of their way to provide the gift.
But as quickly as the thought came to mind, I realized that the candy bar was a gift from all of us. In a show of our connectedness, I took a small bite of the second half of the candy bar and placed it in her patiently waiting trunk. She was in no hurry to place the candy in her mouth but lingered as I greeted her with a gentle touch, trunk to hand; we were one.
As quickly as she had appeared, my elephant blessing disappeared, causing me to wonder if I had imagined the entire experience.