In Sri Lanka, I bathed an ellie at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and I instantly regretted it. As soon as I saw the elephant with a chain on her neck, I was heartbroken. But, instead of backing out and demanding to return the money I paid for ($5), I went down into the river. Why? It’s for the experience to get so close to this incredible giant. And yes, for photos, too – you may say that! That’s what we all do when we travel, right? For memories. For keepsakes. For the love of life.
Nope. Not, really. How could I? The caretaker gave me two small brushes made out from coconut husks. He showed me first on how to properly bath the lying giant. He rubbed the animal’s skin with vigorous strength.
Before I touched the ellie, I asked the caretaker why she was chained.
And he said, “For control.”
My legs were a bit wobbly, afraid that I might contribute to her pain. I ignored the brushes and touched the animal with my bare hands. I touched her face, her neck, her ears and the skin around her eyes.
And perhaps, she felt that I was gentle with her, she played with me by splashing water from her trunk. I assumed that’s how they play with humans?
When I told the caretaker I was done, he told me go on because there’s no time limit. I thanked and told him that I had enough of the experience. He insisted and prodded me to ride on it but I declined, of course! I had many chances of riding an elephant in my previous travels but I turned them down.
The elephant trumpeted, like she’s saying goodbye to me! And I excitedly responded by saying, “Goodbye, Manika!” Or, maybe, it’s a trumpet for help? Or her way of saying, “You’re stupid for falling into this tourist trap.”
According to the caretaker, the elephant’s name is Manika. She’s 28 years old and she arrived in the Orphanage 8 years ago.