Mornings here start with noise. The noise of a small village slowly stirring and getting ready to face the day. Roosters start crowing before the dawn – sometimes I hear a crackle of fire as the mahouts gather round to make their breakfast. Motorbike engines start – people making their way to the fields to harvest. Cowbells stutter as the buffalo are let loose from under the houses, and run towards the forest to feed. They have huge horns but are harmless.
This noise is my alarm clock. Sometimes, I wake up early too, before the heat, and run down the forest path. When I take out my headphones, the village noises have stopped, and instead all I can hear is the thrill of cicadas, crickets and the occasional birdsong. Sometimes I hear that unmistakeable call of a gibbon, and if I’m lucky I might see them across the valley – they look like little men, walking along the branches, shoulders swaying, long arms dangling.
If I don’t time it right, I’ll come back with the sun beating down on my skin. Then I walk the length of the village to get to the office – a little wooden balcony on stilts. I pass familiar families sitting outside their houses; I see their kids change and develop over the months, from these morning encounters. Some have started to walk, some have learnt how to smile. When I reach the office, I glance over at the rolling hills while I sit and plan my day. Every day the view changes, depending on the light and the weather and the season…. and somewhere in those hills are the elephants we walk with every day.
I love my mornings at the office – they are quiet and productive, as everyone else is in the forest. Volunteers slowly start to return around lunchtime, filled with stories of their day hiking with the elephants. Maybe they’ve had a narrow escape with a falling tree (elephants are strong!) or they’ve been lucky enough to see our younger elephants playing and interacting. Regardless, they have had the chance to see elephants in the forest where they belong, which is always rewarding.
In the afternoon we hang around the village – teaching at the school, taking the kids to the stream to swim. Days are long but pass quickly. The only time they are slow are when the heat becomes oppressive. That’s how you know when it’s going to rain – it becomes exhaustingly hot, and being sweaty is inevitable. Sometimes you hear distant thunder; it’s exciting, because you know things will cool down once the rain comes.
However, when the rain finally arrives, it is relentless. Our open office cannot withstand it; papers fly everywhere, laptops get damaged, sometimes we lose a few roof tiles. Wherever we are, we run for cover, crowding under any bamboo or wooden shelter we can find. Before we know it, there is sunshine and blue skies again – everything calm and green.
Every evening, the bugs come, attracted by the light. Some of them, round and fat, zoom blindly into the wooden pillars and get stuck in people’s hair. Just like morning, evening is full of noise. The frogs chatter and the cicadas sing deafeningly. They are everywhere – the local people eat them – they drown them in a bucket of water. Village kids collect the beetles and tadpoles in old plastic bottles. They eat and eat but the noise is still there.