The Comfort of a Greater Family
I was frankly taken by surprise a few days ago when a small girl from a remote Maasai village unceremoniously took hold of my index finger as if it belonged to her, a casual gesture but one loaded with that emotion we anticipate from family.
We were inspecting a bridge funded by the Great Plains Foundation, across a mostly benign river that trickles below, but one that suddenly rages up, sweeping everything in its path away. A year or so ago, a young woman was carried away and she clung to the branches of a tree overnight as hippos and crocodiles rode the torrent beneath her. Jefferson, deputy manager at Mara Plains Camp explained why this girl and so many others deeply appreciate this bridge. One of them is his daughter. “To get from our village to any small shop they have to cross the river. To get to school and back every day they cross the river. We worry about them all the time because of hippos, crocodiles and buffalo in the thickets. And their mothers used to rush to the school to get our kids each time it started to rain because we knew the kids would be cut off for days. Now they have a bridge. We have a bridge. It will help with safety, with well-being and even with education. You have no idea…”
Hours later we were sitting with a herd of elephants, digesting this moment and the unofficial opening of this bridge and another we have built for the community, and as usual, found a parallel in elephant society. A baby elephant wobbled to her feet, looked around and headed for a bigger calf in the herd, and then spent hours twirling his tail into her mouth, a behaviour that is at the same time intimate, (and irritating for the older calf) but also comforting to the family members. It is an expression of playfulness but also one of appreciation and comfort.
It is about tolerance and acceptance and after hours of watching the little calf, the obvious parallels made us both feel as good about having been able to give something of importance to the individual girls who are already using the bridge, the community, and about the slightest gesture of appreciation. If we can do anything to reduce the potential of conflict between nature, wildlife and people, we will have taken a step towards harmony, and that is the Elephant Way.