The Rhino

I just wish to live a life that’s simple,
Roaming the plains from where I was born,
But there are those that look at my pimple,
Thinking it’s not right for me to adorn.
So I have to spend my days in hiding,
Keeping careful watch for these greedy men.
My problem is my eyes are short-sighting,
Making it hard to see where I have been.
This gives the advantage to the hunters,
Creeping nearby me in the undergrowth.
I will never know about their saunters,
Thinking of a tree as neither and both.
That’s why I keep secret my location,
Keeping horns safe from another nation.

An African Safari

I feel like I have lived a pretty lucky lifestyle. There are not many people in the world that can say that they have had the opportunity to travel to five different continents and have been able to have visited over forty different countries. Some might think that this would get repetitive after awhile, and after seeing something, it would be hard to be amazed by it the next time you came across the same kind of sight. But it is hard not to be amazed at rhinos when you come across them in the wild, or to be taken to see the wildlife of one of the most beautiful continents in the world, Africa. I have been lucky enough to be able to do this twice in my lifetime, and both times, I have enjoyed the experience immensely.

Of course, going on safari like this is not only about the rhinos. It is about seeing all of the animals as they try to survive in the wild. To be fair, where I went was not exactly a safari. I got to travel around the vast expanse of land that had been designated as a nature preserve. The same type of interaction I would have been able to see on the plains of the Serengeti are not the same where I went on this trip. A nature preserve wants to make sure that the animals do not let nature take on what it is designed to take one. They keep the predators separated from the other species to help preserve them and help them to once again grow in population so they do not become extinct.

The black rhinos we saw are a great example of this. They have been hunted for their horns because in some Eastern Asian societies it is believed that they have the power to cure cancer even though this has been debunked by science on numerous occasions. In fact, I have been asked by the nature reserve to not disclose their whereabouts because they fear the information might get into the hands of the wrong people and they would come after the rhinos that they have on their lands. They even take other precautions to help these animals survive by making sure that there is someone watching them so hunters do not try to come in and steal their horns. It is strange to think that this is the reason that these animals are becoming extinct.

They are not the only animal that they protect. There is also the African wild dog that is facing the same problems with extinction. The problem with their extinction is a little different than the one with the rhinos. There is no foreign power that is making strange claims that have nothing to do with science. Instead, there problem comes with the ranchers and farmers of Africa itself. The wild dogs are killed because they are always sneaking onto the ranches and are killing the livestock. This is just as difficult of an issue to overcome, but because of the reasons behind it, the solution to the problem is completely different.

It was a nice experience to go out and see these animals in the semi-wild. I also felt good about giving this organization my money because their main focus is to protect these animals, and work to make sure that they are not going extinct. It would have been nicer to have seen them in the wild, but at the same time, I understand why this is so difficult to do. If I were to go out in the wild, I would have had difficulty trying to see all of these animals due to humanity’s impact on their lives. It is great that these organizations exist, and I hope that they continue to do their good work so future generations can enjoy watching these animals as well.

Forensics – A Trip Back to Normal

In a post-Covid world, t is a nice feeling to see things slowly going back to normal. It is not quite at where we were before the pandemic froze the world, but we are now taking the steps to get back to that place. For instance, I have talked about how I have moved to Jordan a year and a half ago to start teaching there, and one of the programs I picked up was the Speech and Debate, or Forensics program. It was something that had been huge at the school, and one of their prides, but when I came last year, it was hard to get students to want to participate in the event. All we had to offer was a weekend where we would meet at school and have a virtual meet where we competed against schools from India, and Africa. After being weary of being on-line all the time for classes, and not really knowing what Forensics was all about, we only had a few of the dedicated ones who helped keep the program alive for one more year. This year was a little different as we were invited to a meet in Africa, and could entice people to join by promising them that this would be the culminating event. Still participation was weak, but we the enthusiasm was up from the previous year. It felt like jumpstarting the program from scratch, but in the end everything came together to produce a great event that surprised me in more ways than one.

The first was how amazing the trip was. It was nice to be able to take a trip with students again. We didn’t just go down to participate in the meet, but we also made sure to include some cultural experiences as well. We were able to go visit a nature preserve, and explore the Apartheid Museum, two dramatically different experiences, but ones the students will never forget. Despite this, we were also able to enjoy the regular cultural experiences, nice hospitality, and a new cuisine that none of us were really familiar with.

We were also able to make some new friends. In fact, I was really proud of the way my students got out of their comfort zones and got to know the other participants around them. What I like about forensics as an extra-curricular activity is that it is not always about winning. It is more about gaining a skill set that the ones who participate will be able to use later in their lives. And they know that they are not going to be amazing at it to begin with. The whole experience is about the growth in the field, and when they go into it with that mindset, the people that they are competing against are not enemies, but other friends who are going through the same experience that they are. All it takes is the right attitude, and I am proud of my students for having that attitude. By the end of the event it was fun to see them mingling with kids from other schools, and cheering for each other at the award ceremony. They were sharing Instagram accounts and making plans to stay in contact with each other even though they lived over a thousand miles away from each other. It was what made me proud for having had been a part of this trip.

But this wasn’t the only thing that made me proud of what they were able to accomplish. Even though, for most of the students that came, this was the first time that they ever competed in a forensics tournament, they all did exceptionally well. It was fun to watch to them compete for four rounds. With each proceeding round, they did better and better. And on the second night of the tournament, when they starting naming who would be in the finals, and they could barely contain their excitement, I loved to watch them jump up and down when they got the news that they wanted to hear. And finally, when they started to hand out trophies for first, second, and third place in each category, I was just as excited to see them walk across the stage to receive their trophy as they were.

Overall, it was great to have these trips start up again, and it is also interesting to see that every school is on the same playing field. Each one of them struggled with putting a team together, and making sure that their students stuck with it through the whole season, the same that we did. There was even one school that pulled out at the last minute. Yet, it was important that we took that flight and did our best. If we backed out at the last minute then the program at the school could have faltered, the meet could have been cancelled, and then, it would have been impossible for it to start up again anywhere. It was not the most impressive meet I have ever witnessed, but considering what we all went through the last few years, there isn’t a school in the world that has been able to pull off the impressive meets that they used to have. But this is the first step of getting back to those great events. I’m glad that it happened too, because the benefits of this program is too great to let it go by the wayside. Next year will even be better, and we might even be able to build a season around this one event. I can’t wait to see how this grow over the next year, and I can’t wait to see how it affects my students again. 

I wished to add pictures of my students participating in this event, but due to privacy reasons, I declined showing any of these pictures. Instead, I have included other pictures from the trip instead to respect their privacy.

Sayaboury, Laos – Day 4

I woke up early on my fourth day in Laos, and enjoyed a little peace and quiet while reading a book on the patio of my bungalow. Little did I know that one of my past mistakes would come to haunt me on this day.

This is not the only trip that I have been on where I roughed it with the elephants hanging out nearby. About eight years ago I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Tanzania where I was able to experience these majestic animals out on safari.

Of course, there are some differences between African elephants and Asian elephants. First of all, African elephants are a lot bigger, and they have ears that look like the continent of Africa. They also haven’t been domesticated in the same way that the Asian elephants have, so there might have been a time when they resembled each other more, but this is not the case any more. Despite these differences, there are many factors that make them similar.

One of these similarities is threads of hair that can be found on their tails. It is not like the hair that can be found anywhere else on their body because it is a lot coarser. It feels a lot like wire if you ever get the opportunity to ever rub it between your fingers. Elephants use it to clean their genitalia, especially with female elephants, by swatting it with the coarse hair. The thing is that many people think that because it is hair, it will grow back quickly which is not the case. But because of this belief, many of the owners of the elephants will clip off the hair, braid it together, and sell it as a bracelet or a ring. Many people end up buying them as mementos and it encourages the selling of more of these bracelets. Elephants lose the hair that they need in order to keep themselves clean which can eventually lead to painful diseases and in some cases cause elephants to have problems with giving birth. So something that appears innocent at many of these tourists camps where this practice goes on, actually contributes to the depletion of the species.

This is where my past came back to haunt me. When I was out in Tanzania while we were traveling between national parks, we stopped at a gift shop on the side of the road to pick up mementos of our trip out there. One of the things I always look for on my trips is something I can hang on my Christmas tree that helps to remind me of all the places in the world I have been at. This particular time I had found a nice wooden carving of a giraffe’s face, but when I went to check out the man who was selling me the item hounded me about buying one of these elephant hair bracelets. At the time I thought it was just wire because that is what elephant hair looks like. The man claimed that if I wore it, it would make me strong. I still wasn’t interested in it, but he continued to pester me about it, and I considered it an act of charity to buy one off of him even if it was a sham.

My wife and her family has continuously made fun of me for making this purchase. They tell me that I need to be strong and learn how to say no from time to time. It wasn’t until this trip that I learned the truth about my purchase which made me feel even more miserable. If I had known what I was buying was genuinely an elephant hair bracelet and what damage I was doing, I would not have done it, but I had never been educated about it. It takes trips like this to help me learn about these small things in the world. And hopefully by telling the world about my mistake, it will prevent somebody from making the same one in their lifetime.

It is another reason that I really loved the time I got to spend at the Elephant Conservation Center. It wasn’t just about hanging out with the elephants and watching the staff help them become more self-sufficient. It wasn’t knowing that the elephants were well taken care and examined by a veterinarian in large stalls at regular intervals. It wasn’t knowing that this organization was helping to create a forest where man has come in and depleted it without really thinking about the larger consequences of what that could mean about future generations. It was the fact that this place took the time to educate the people who stayed here about what they could do to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem by the decisions they made half a world away.

This is why travel is so important. If we never go out and take the risk to see what the rest of the world is like, we get set in the mind frame of the place we come from. We don’t see the larger picture. We don’t understand how the buying of palm oil helps to contribute to the depletion of the forest. We don’t understand how the buying of certain products gives money to the people who would continue to abuse animals for their own superstitions or their own wallets. We need to be aware that we live in a global society and each decision we make affects the lives of so many others.

So as the sun started to set on my second day at the Elephant Conservation Center, I was able to reflect on my life and my contribution to the problems of the world. I was able to see that I needed to be more conscious of my decisions as I continued down this road of life and make sure that I make the right ones.

If you would like to find out more information or contribute to the work happening at the Elephant Conservation Center, check out their website at http://www.elephantconservationcenter.com.