By Shannon Foster – 1 week volunteer
Who do you think you are to be taking on such an enormous adventure? How can you possibly do this without the support of your husband by your side? You’re injured! How do you think you’re going to get through those hikes? You have trouble sleeping in a normal bed! You have intestinal issues in the comfort of a five-star hotel. What the hell are you THINKING????
These and a million other fears went through my mind the morning I woke in Chiang Mai, knowing I’d be leaving my husband and venturing who knows where to do who knows what, while suffering from an injury that is going to require surgery, all in the name of learning more about, and getting to see, these animals with whom I had fallen in love on a previous trip to Chiang Mai 7 years ago.
You see, I’m a princess. I live an incredibly privileged and blessed life. I have an absolutely brilliant, kind and gorgeous husband who spoils me rotten, I got to quit working at the age of 38, and we have a pretty epic life of travel and adventure. There is very little in my life that is difficult or uncomfortable and, as I approached the end of my thirties, I knew that I had to start pushing myself outside my comfortable little bubble or I’d end up being insufferable and boring, and not all that kind or compassionate.
In addition to that, I needed some pretty serious soul healing after several years of caring for, and eventually losing both my parents to devastating illnesses 13 months apart from each other. Enter Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary. A way to give back, a way to learn more about the ethical treatment of animals, and, most assuredly, a way to push myself and find out what I’m made of. Except this decision was made from the comfort of my couch in the States, still reeling from the death of my second parent in the span of a year. Seemed like a solid decision, right? RIGHT?
But I did it. I left the comfort of my hotel and the strength of my man and started my adventure, making friends almost immediately, proving to myself that mind over matter can in fact, battle the nausea that occurs after four hours in the back of a truck on a twisty, rutted road up a mountain. I realized that I can sleep amidst the cacophony of grunting pigs, barking dogs and crowing roosters, without a pillowtop mattress. That eventually, my body will adjust to the new and unfamiliar diet and regulate itself. That I will learn a few words of the local language and begin to communicate with my homestay mom to thank her for the delicious dinners and lunches she’s cooking for me every day. That a cold shower feels amazing after a long hike or weeding a garden of sapling trees struggling to gain ground in the dry summer soil.
But most of all, I now know deep in my soul that every twinge of pain, every ache, every time my leg buckles out from underneath me as we climb up and down hills, is so completely worth it, for just one glimpse of the most glorious animals on earth. To know that we are seeing these elephants finding their foothold in their natural environment for the first time in their lives. That coming here supports the wonderful work that the staff and interns and volunteers are doing for such an incredible cause.
And the princess steps aside and the soul leads and that’s where I find the strength. And what an incredible lesson to take with me after I leave, what is so clearly a sanctuary for humans, as well as elephants.