Bar Night (definition): once a week, dehydrated and exhausted, but usually freshly showered wildlife volunteers descend like an avalanche upon a bar in Hua Hin, Thailand (an hour away in a taxi ride that I am sure causes many a taxi driver to question their career decision). From 7:30-10:30p, they take in as many “2 for 1” cocktail specials as possible.
Prominent activities include: talking about how drunk they are, how much they are in-love with everyone here, taking Snapchat photos, dancing and, much to the staff’s chagrin – hanging like a monkey from the plastic exposed beams and/or curtain rods.
Being one who values a full stomach, I arrived after dinner. I walked in and beheld a scene that made me feel like Jane Goodall watching chimps. It was awkward, mostly unsuccessful debauchery – the likes that belonged not to Roman Toga Party, but to a Roman Thursday Night. I could only sip my two “two for one” mojitos, and sit in the back, my already greying hair turning more silver the more I thought about being the Jane Goodall of “younger people habits.”
Minutes later a 19 year old man saddled up to me and offered his sage advice:
“You should take it slow, I know a thing or two about drinking”
“Don’t worry, I will, I have been drinking for a while”
“Yes, but I’ve been drinking longer than you (winks at me) – I’ve been drinking since I was 12″
Math. Shock, horror, pause. Laughter (on my end).
Apparently those Jane Goodall silvers had retreated enough to blend in with my subjects.
Last week a volunteer came down with blisters. Giant, ugly, worm shaped ones that slithered around her finger tips. She insisted that she could keep working, she only had a couple of days to go, and really everyone was being so nice and constantly asking her about her hands.
In reality, we weren’t being nice. We were terrified. We googled images of “Monkeys, Herpes B” – a horrible, mostly deadly virus that destroys your brain and spinal cord, as well as “Herpes, blisters” – you know what comes up with that, and the more probable, “Hand, Foot and Mouth, blisters.”
Shocked, afraid, and aware that there was no hero, no sexy story – if we all got infected, because Foot and Mouth is highly contagious, we’d all be a foot note. There wouldn’t be a movie, there might be a potential Darwin award for “yesterday, while trying to do “good,” a hundred volunteers distributed a virus aboard planes bound for thirty countries.”
At one point, Emily and I crossed paths (a fate I had been hoping to avoid, I dreaded touching anything she had contaminated (if there were a movie, I’d be “Volunteer 58”)), and she said, “you look tired.” I just nodded back, but in my head I thought, “yeah I’m exhausted thinking about you giving us a virus that is a pain in the ass to stop”
Turns out, it is probably not a virus.
The blisters might just be the effect of a concept known as “hard work” – which is something we didn’t Google.
My finger tips are currently so raw that the “unlock quickly using the only secure feature that identifies you” does not work on my phone, in fact the only thing that will cool them down and stop the burning sensation is holding an icy cocktail.
Now, despite the 100 degree heat, I’m going to wear my gloves. Cause no matter how small I have to chop up cucumber for the baby tortoises, at one point, this princess is hopefully going to go to a ball and does not want to have to explain that I lost feeling in my hands by chopping fruit and sweeping up after animals (I’m not Cinderella, I can’t pull that look off)
Update: turns out chopping vegetables with work gloves is a impossible, you look like a baby who is just learning about butter knives.
Mmmm dried sweat, fresh sweat and various kinds of animal feces – an aphrodisiac cocktail that attracts nothing but mosquitos – no matter how much DEET you put on, they queue up.
Say whatever you want about mosquitos, but they love indescriminately- sure, they may love some a tiny bit more than others, but on a whole they are the hippies of animal kingdom. They believe in free, interspecies type love.
They are impatient, they don’t wait for the Tinder, “you matched with…” button, they don’t wait for the third date, they definitely don’t buy you a drink first; they just aggressively grab you and take what they want.
Now, they may not be the most selfless companions, and they dont care whether you have a good time, but they never leave you alone, and even if they do “”ghost” you for a bit, they’ll be back – it just maybe in an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator 2 kind of way.
The point of this post: when you’re volunteering with wildlife, kind of like when you’re in prison (stereotype), you’ll take what you can get. At least something wants to be around you.
There is an Eddie Izzard bit about mass murderers that seems appropriate to mention right about now. He talks about Hitler, Stalin, and then he talks about Pol Pot.
He says that we just don’t know how to deal with mass murderers: you kill one person, you go to jail, you kill twenty you get sent to a hospital to get monitored, but you kill a hundred thousand or more, we don’t really know what to do, and almost say “well done?”.
And that’s Pol Pot, the mass murderer who killed one in four Cambodians (estimates go up to 3million) from 1975-1979 and then hid out in the woods for twenty years, still recognized by the UN, by the US, by England, by Australia as a leader, until the last year of his life he was placed under comfortable house arrest.
In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot (real name Saloth Sar) came to power in Cambodia. When they marched into Phnom Penh they were seen as liberators, the Communists that had ended the fighting.
Within twenty four hrs, schools and hospitals were closed, religion was banned. The city was emptied in three days.
In an effort to create a “Year Zero” of a pure communal society Pol Pot felt that the country needed to be cleansed. Everyone needed to be equal, everyone needed to a farmer. Teachers, doctors, lawyers were murdered. Anyone intellectual, anyone who looked intellectual – anyone who wore glasses or had soft hands, was murdered. One of the Khmer Rouge slogans was, “to destroy you is no loss, to preserve you is no gain.”
People were sent back to the farms, into forced labor camps. In order to make the society “work” Pol Pot decreed that rice production needed to be tripled, he was a former teacher who now murdered teachers, but math (or logic) was not really his thing. Thousands died from overwork, from starvation.
Over the next three years and eight months, until January, 1979 – Cambodians lived in state of fear. As with most dictators, Pol Pot became increasingly paranoid and increasingly evil.
Prisons were set up to find “traitors” and torture people. Killing Fields were set up kill people after they had been tortured, “better to kill an innocent by mistake, than spare an enemy by mistake.”
At the Killing Fields mass graves were filled with people that had been executed in a variety of ways: babies and women were bashed against “killing trees”, people had their throats slit with the sharp and jagged edges of palm leaves, hammers, and knives delivered fatal blows – but not a lot of bullets were used – bullets were too valuable. Most of the killing was done at night, under giant speakers that blasted music to drown out screams, then – DDT was thrown over the (sometimes still living) bodies to cover up the stench.
Then, in January 1979, the Vietnamese marched into Phnom Penh and started what would be a ten year occupation of Cambodia. Originally, the North Vietnamese had helped the Khmer Rouge ascend to power, but once that was accomplished Pol Pot feared Vietnamese expansionism and began purging them from his ranks. During his reign, there were skirmishes along the border, and at the end of 1978, Vietnam had enough, and launched a full scale invasion.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge fled to the forest, where for the next twenty years, the world would still recognize their government.
Eddie Izzard is right, we just don’t know what to do in these situations – what do you say to people who lived through the horror? What do you say to people who lost most their family? There are no words that sound appropriate, meaningful enough. All you can do is admire that somehow, people manage to put themselves back together again.