All week on the chore board, I saw that on Saturday we were scheduled for a “Derek Walk”. No one could really explain what that was aside from an “ele walk with Derek”, whatever that means. So, today at 1:45 our group met out on the main lawn and took a group photo and then were told to meet on the platform at the meeting place (the hub of the start and end of every day) to meet with Derek.
Turns out, Derek is Lek’s husband. He’s a white guy who is tanned and leathered by years of work in the sun and was walking around in board shorts, a very worn Woodstock 1994 concert T-shirt and a pair of old flip flops. Really, he looks like an old surfer dude from Santa Monica. He and Lek have been married for many years and he is the brawn to her brain. He’s a contractor by trade and is responsible for the infrastructure for ENP in addition to having an amazing commitment and love for each of the animals here. He is there for every rescue and doesn’t sleep until the elephant is home and stable. If that means he’s up for 32 hours, then he’s up and with the elephant for 32 hours.
One of his relationships came from a special herd that was rescued and to this day, all they need to do is hear his voice and they will come running and surround him as a member of the herd. I was able to witness this today. They swarmed him, encircled him – all rubbing him with their trunks and uttering noises of love and affection. At one point, he was seated on the ground, between the front legs of one of the elephants and was perfectly safe. One of the elephants holds his hand with his trunk and walks with him, side by side. It was truly a beautiful site and brought tears to my eyes. All week I’ve been saying that all I want is an elephant hug, but today I got to witness one. Simply amazing!
We walked nearly the entire 8 acres of the main part of the sanctuary today listening to Derek and his vast knowledge of every elephant and their histories prior to coming here. I know that with great reward, there is sometimes great heartache. There were a couple of times today that I could see someone had touched a nerve with their question and he had to fight back his emotions. I honestly don’t know how he and Lek do this every day. I would get so attached, that my heart would break every time one of the elephants die. My soul would be crushed if I got to one “too late” and they never had a chance to know a life of freedom, love and peace. I am thankful for people like Lek and Derek for doing the hard work to save these majestic animals.
It’s hard to believe that this is my last day here. I could sit and watch elephants all day. But tomorrow begins the 2nd leg of my journey!