Once I sat in a giant treehouse for ‘the good cause.’ With two others, I kept an eye out for everything. The unpaved road at the jungles’ edge had our special attention. Jam-packed tuk-tuks, minivans and scooters drove back and forth. The colorful scene looked so peaceful, yet appearances can be deceiving. This fusion of the natural and human jungle is a conflict zone. This is where the constant clash of territory between man and Mother Nature takes place. Oh god, such a prayer without an end. Humans and animals need quite some space. Often each other’s space, that is. Shit hitting the fan for sure. That stinks even worse as a shot, half-decayed elephant. I preferably don’t encounter such a sickening scene again. As I sat there, I hoped I wouldn’t stumble closer to the fire. It actually seemed to turn out that way. Wandering elephants and the sparse traffic weren’t on each other’s path simultaneously. Peace might prevail. Hallelujah. Harmony between man and nature is possible after all. Finally, the dominant species constructively uses its influence. We’re on the path of recovery and compassion at last. Finally… finally.
Yeah… Nah. Two trigger-happy blokes appeared out of nowhere. They saw their target and didn’t hesitate at all. The armed passenger got off the scooter and walked straight towards Bigear. Oh-oh. Dumbo, Look over your big shoulders. Run, quickly! I braced myself for some trumpeting and a headshot. But my Sri-Lankan brother came to the rescue before a shot could be fired. Adesh shouted something to the poachers. A lot of screaming in Sinhalese erupted. They made wild gestures and waved their hunting rifle in all directions – ours included. I looked motionless into the headlights with a heartbeat of over nine thousand. Fortunately, the icy calmness of my neighbor had a calming effect. Hats off man. Adesh suddenly got up amid the uproar.
“What’s going on? Where are you going?”
“They demand that I come downstairs for a chat.”
“Okay… Please take care.”
“Stay here. It’s gonna be okay. I’ll be right back.”
I was breathless as I watched the exchange of words. This gag could still get out of hand as far as I could tell. Under this maddening tension, I asked myself wherein God’s name I ended up. And what the hell am I doing in a place like this. Emotions tempered as the chitchat went on. They left as soon as traffic was on their way. Just like that… and it’s gone. Somewhat surprised, I walked to Adesh and bombarded him with questions. The pissed young men turned out to have mutual acquaintances with Adesh. They had recently lost a loved one due to an elephant raid. Now they didn’t act out of self-defense, survival or a similar necessity. They simply wanted revenge. It was the lingering fear and fatigue that sought a way out. Painful memories of an organic bulldozer demolishing the house at midnight remain. Nothing that’s so permanent on your memory as a trampled family member. It makes the failed attempts to prevent this drama even more painful. Fireworks. Fences. Glowing hot chilies. Alarms. Searchlights. All kinds of cheap, low-Tech measures turned out to be fruitless. So frustrating. No, that doesn’t make you happy. A drowning man will clutch at a straw. It’s as clear as day. Don’t be so difficult. Just aim and pull the bloody trigger.
We told what happened to the rest once we returned to the village. The other Western volunteers had missed out on something. Action, sensation, adventure. Something special or whatever. Their awkward jealousy made me feel ashamed. Such an event is the jackpot for outsiders who briefly drop by, do their act and show it all off on social media. But there’s nothing cool about something this intense as a daily fact of life. Then all you want is a lasting solution, anyhow at any time. Preferably one in which human behavior and the natural environment are balanced. So tricky. Easier said than done. Yet my compatriots made a brave attempt. They had their thoughtful answers ready. It’s very simple. Don’t be cruel – don’t be bad. Leave everything behind: your livelihood, culture, income, food supply. Your homeland with its joys and sorrows. There’s no place for sentimental rubbish. Just go and do something else somewhere else. Shut up and piss off. Go now, get lost.
The quick verdict wasn’t from a bunch of Muppets. They are highly educated, ambitious and had a decent upbringing. Neat citizens with voting rights, straight teeth and branded clothing do matter. The best sailors are often ashore. An artificial shore of a cultivated, overly populated Delta in this case. From a safe distance, it’s easy talking about something you’re not personally involved in. The Dutch have the luxury that their ancestors displaced or eradicated all that’s dangerous, unproductive and undesirable. No problem. Now pointing fingers from the safe-space of the high moral ground is possible. Predators, large mammals, rare animals: they’re all fantastic as long as it’s a far-from-my-bed-show. And the bed of your loved ones. Animal species dying off? It happens. Simply watch a nature documentary or go to the zoo when you feel like it. Or have the time and money to do so. Life can be tough. It’s a merciless sum in that Sri-Lankan village: floods, persistent droughts, food shortages, poverty, pollution, power cuts, elephant attacks, aggressive stray dogs with rabies, useless infrastructure in the rainy season, crocodiles in the water supply and the aftermath of a civil war. First-world issues of slow internet and small data limits pale. Not so strange that well-intentioned paperwork from outsiders automatically ends up in the black cloud. That’s the right destination for simplistic, lecturing and useless statements.
Going to Exotistan without becoming any wiser can happen, luckily we still have the pictures.