I have been thinking about elephants.
Yesterday, I spent the day at Akagera National Park in Rwanda. We drove through the hundreds of acres in the park, hoping to see all those big animals you go on safari to see. I was most hoping to see an elephant.
We have been learning a bit of traditional Kinyarwandan dance. The day before the safari, we learned a bit of a dance for women called umushagiriro. The movements were meant to mimic the grace and elegance of elephants.
It was a surprise to me since I am used to the American idea of elephants as clumsy, lumbering sort of beasts. I thought if I saw an elephant in a more natural setting, I might understand the dance a little better.
Outside of a zoo, I’ve only seen an elephant once, while traveling in Thailand. It was awful, to be honest. It was a young elephant who was chained to a steel frame in the middle of an empty field. The elephant rocked back and forth, shifting aimlessly. It reminded me of a traumatized child, rocking in a corner to soothe herself. As it turns out, the comparison was apt. The elephant was in the cruel process of being “broken” so it could be ridden by tourists.
We did see an elephant in Akagera Park. It was seated in the middle of tall, lush grasses quite a distance from the road. It looked so much like a stone that we only knew what we were seeing when it moved it’s ears. We stopped the car and watched for a few minutes, mesmerized by the movements of the elephant’s ears. We all agreed that it did indeed look like the graceful and elegant moves of the dance we were learning.
So, I have been thinking about elephants.
Our perception of elephants in America comes from our so limited perspective. We see elephants in captivity, constrained by the size of the zoo where they live. Or, we see elephants on television, filmed in their natural habitat. Still, they are constrained by the editor of the film and the size of the screen we watch them on. The elephant I saw in Thailand was altered and restrained, mistreated into becoming something different than a wild elephant.
It makes me wonder about other mammals, humans in particular.
How many people, who we judge as awkward or unattractive, are just beautiful souls who are constrained? How many people, whose behavior seems strange to us, are just suffering under some cruel outside pressure?
And, what can we do to release our fellow humans into a more natural habitat so they can rest in comfort and safety and reveal the grace that was there all the time?
I believe this question will drive the next phase of my professional life, so I will keep it close to me as I take more dance classes to learn to move like an elephant.