Coffee With Elephants
I am sitting on the open-air deck at the Doi Chiang Coffee Shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is February the beginning of hot season. Leaves cover the ground reminding me of the fall in Seattle, Washington where I grew up. The air is cool this morning offering a reprieve from the hot Northern Thailand sun. The blue sky is everywhere framing rolling hills filled with lush tropical jungle. Fuchsia and white Bougainvillea trees line the hillside. Lavender flowered trees and bright orange tube flowers drape over fences. The sun peaks over the mountains. The rays reach out and gently touch my face. A flowerpot filled with lily pads and a purple lotus flower blooms up facing the morning sun. The little frog in the pot lets his voice be heard. The Lotus is my favorite flower because I know its story. The Lotus seed is planted and it has to travel through mud and silt to grow. It breaks through the surface reaching toward the light and blooms it’s beautiful purple flower showing its strength and beauty. A journey many of us know well.
In the middle of the coffee shop a chubby monk stands chanting his morning prayer. He has wrinkled brown skin around his neck and carries a golden offering bowl. The Monk is barefoot, he has thick skin on his feet from walking with no shoes and his robe is bright orange. Three slender Thai men kneel in prayer in front of the monk. The workers at the Doi Chiang are quickly preparing food and a café latte for the monk. He blesses the coffee shop this morning and I realize I have entered into a room of transcending tranquility.
The entire space is filled with teak wood furniture and carved wooden lanterns. Orchids take root in the middle of the large trees their fuchsia and white speckled flowers twist upward. A German tourist sits across the shop enjoying a 9:00 am beer. A motorcycle with a squeaky wheel and a homemade sidecar passes by the shop.
The elephant sanctuary sits below the coffee shop. I watch the elephants swing their trunks back and forth. An elephant lifts his trunk up high, blows from his belly as he is calling to his friends across the park. The elephant across the park answers his call, puts his trunk up and blows back.
The birds sing, some low, some high, tweets & whistles.
Swadeeka”, the waitress greets me with her million-dollar smile. Her teeth white, she places her hands together in prayer position, bows her head with a wai. A wai is Thailand’s way of greeting each other. I smile back over my hot pink covered MacBook, my blonde hair is pulled back in a short pony tail. I copy her, put my hands together and wai back mimicking her contagious Thai smile that comes from my toes. I point to the basil chicken and Thai Coffee. A strange thing to have for breakfast, I think to myself, but when I am here on this mountain I am all Thai. Thai people, Thai language, Thai music, Thai sunshine, Thai Buddhist monk, Thai bikers, Thai golden temples, Thai stray dogs, Thai flowers, Thai elephants, and Thai coffee.
Thai coffee is made with coffee beans from Northern Thailand. I take a sip of the iced coffee with sweet condensed milk and my taste buds sing at the flavor. Every cup they give me is topped with a cream-colored orchid with hue of yellow and pink.
I look around and notice temple in the corner where oranges and coffee are placed as an offering to the gods. On most days instrumental Thai music plays at the shop, but on this day a song I recognize pours through the speakers. The words ring through my head,” A whole new world, a new dazzling place I never knew. But when I’m way up here it’s crystal clear I’m in a whole new world with you.” Written by Alan Menken, Linda Ronstadt.
Tears start to fall down my face as I remember this song was played at my mother’s funeral. As I listen to the music and think of my mother, an elephant calling below echo’s across valley and fills the air. I see a momma elephant caressing her baby. The baby reaches up taking in her mothers love with her tiny trunk. It is as if time stands still.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath and trust this is my mother’s way of letting me know she is here. The song, the sunshine and the mother elephant loving on her baby are no coincidence.
To this day it amazes me that I ended up here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Twelve years ago my husband Greg and I visited this beautiful land of smiles, it was during that trip, my love affair with elephants first began.
We arrived at an Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There were many elephants doing tricks. Some played soccer, some painted pictures on canvas with a paintbrush in their snout. Tourist fed them bananas and squealed in delight when the elephants reached their scaly trunks in search for more bananas.
I secluded myself from a large group of tourist, as I reloaded my camera I looked up and saw a medium sized elephant standing before me.
She was tied to the low wooden fence between us. She had tears running down her face. I reached out and gently touched her face.
Her skin was dry and soft, with wiry hairs that did nothing to absorb her tears.
Her keeper was a small Thai man with broken English and when he saw me he came running over.
“ She cry for one year, she lose mother”.
He shook his head with his gaze turned down, then hurried back to the crowd of tourist who watched the elephants do tricks.
His broken words pierced through my heart and tears began to stream down my face. I reached up and wiped the elephant’s tears with my fingertips.
I looked deep into her greyish blue eyes and I could see an ocean of grief I knew all to well. She cried, I cried, she cried, I cried and the words, ”lost her mother she cry for 1 year” speaks to that empty place where I longed for my mother.
Together we cried.
Across species, our hearts connected, we are both motherless daughters.
At that moment when I cried with that elephant I connected to this animal in a way I never thought possible.
On this morning as I watch the elephants from afar. I feel compelled to be near them. I walk across the street as the mother elephant makes her morning call to her Mahout,. A Mahout is the elephant’s keeper they are with the elephant almost 24 hours a day. They sleep in a bamboo hut nearby. The elephant is gently rocks in excitement as she prepares for her morning munch on bamboo leaves.
A mom with 20-day-old twins passes by and dad is slowing walking behind her. The dad has large white tusks and his tail is outlined with wiry hair that swishes the flies away as he swooshes his tail back and forth.
The twin elephants run under their mother’s legs, she walks toward the fresh bundle of bamboo leaves her mahout has gathered.
I smile and think about my own 9 twin sons. I wish I could speak elephant so I could reach out and let her know she is in for the best journey of her life.
Motherhood, especially motherhood of twins.
I stand in awe in this sanctuary full of elephants. I watch Mothers and babies, Fathers and toddlers and everything in between. They are all there.
Their stories are not unlike our own. They are stories of survival. Abuse. Neglect. Loss. Physical Anguish. If they could talk I know their stories would not stop there.
It is here at this park at time in this moment where the elephants come to recover. It is here at this park at this time in this moment where I come to recover.
Taking this year to write the story of my life.
As I stand across my coffee shop, among the elephants, in this sanctuary
I am reminded of how much these elephants have taught me about love, loss and a lifetime of grief and healing. About taking in this moment.
About family and how when we loose someone we love they are never really gone. They are with us in the love we get from each other, the tears of an elephant, a song in the coffee shop. An elephant mothering her babies, the warmth of the sun on your face, the kindness of a stranger, a flower in your coffee. They are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
All we have to do is sit in this moment, in this time, find a place that inspires you to take in this moment and live.