I was truly blessed this past year to spend my time in the field at Camp Jabulani. I not only learned a ton from our unique herd of elephants, but also the amazing people who I worked with at the lodge. These are just a few to mention, on my journey from American student to adopted South African bush girl!
- “No man is a failure who has friends”– Clarence the angel from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. No matter how overwhelming my project seemed or how many walls I hit along the way, the friends I made at the lodge were always there for me. They made me feel like I could accomplish anything if I worked hard and tried my best. Without their creative ideas and “Can Do” attitude, I’m not sure if my project would have turned out to be as successful as it did!
- Fear will be your greatest enemy. It was only my second day at the lodge when I began walking with the grooms and the herd. Though I had loved elephants my whole life and dreamed of walking with them, I was terrified by their enormous size and how they could easily crush me under their giant feet! After entrusting the grooms with my reservations, they made sure to make me feel as safe and comfortable as possible. Instead of throwing me in the deep end, they slowly brought me around each elephant and told me why they were each so unique and special to them. I started seeing the elephants as family members instead of huge animals I was afraid of. Overcoming my fears allowed me to explore questions I never would have been able to answer if I was too afraid to go near these amazing creatures.
- Independence is amazing and scary all at the same time! Leaving home is a big step in everyone’s life, but leaving home and living 8,600 miles across the sea for a year is like taking that big step, tripping and then falling on your face. I felt like I knew nothing and no one (which was partially true at least). I had to make a whole new group of friends, be immersed in a completely different culture, learn a few new languages, eat very different foods, and keep my sanity all at the same time. Okay, maybe I am being a tad dramatic, but it was a really big change in my life to be fair! Luckily, I met amazing people along the way to help pull me back up off the ground and I found my footing eventually. I wouldn’t have grown so much in such a short time if I hadn’t thrown myself in the deep end of the pool!
- When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If the past two years of my life have taught me anything it’s that the path you are on might not be one you ever expected, or wanted for that matter! Not getting a job or a master’s program right out of college was humiliating to me, and accepting an internship wasn’t part of my plan. Little did I know that this internship would show me what my dream career was and would lead me to applying and getting the best master’s program in the world! If I had never ventured off the direct path in front of me, and took a few twists and turns, then I probably never would have achieved my biggest dream of walking with elephants. There is never just one path to your dream, there are multiple!
- Home is not necessarily a place, but can be a person. My family and I are very close, so moving away from home was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. The huge time difference of 8 hours and poor Wi-Fi signal didn’t help much either as it grew harder and harder to stay in touch with them. This forced me out of my room and to interact with multiple people at the lodge, asking for their help in finding the best Wi Fi signal possible to talk with my family. Lucky for me, everyone was so helpful and understanding. I even met one of my best friends, Julia, this way as she showed me her secret spot which I used every day to talk to my family. Slowly I realized I wasn’t as sad being so far away from my house and hometown and that the bush was becoming my home. It wasn’t the place that made it so, but the people who made it home.
I cannot thank Adine Roode enough for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to study her magnificent animals at Camp Jabulani. To all my friends at the lodge, thank you for showing me your beautiful country and teaching me how to be a South African at heart. I miss you all so much and am counting down the days until I can see you all again. Happy New Year everyone, here’s to all of us chasing down our dreams, no matter how big they may seem.
Chloe Grotto is an elephant researcher. To read more about her click through to this link: