Natuvo, the elephant
Posted on 17th November 2020 at 14:13
I am seated in my studio following a day full of zoom online therapy sessions with my tribe of hero’s that are my clients. Each one of them still showing up, despite all that is being thrown at them. And I am exhausted.
This is not what I stepped into this job to do, to sit opposite a frame that could never contain all of who a person is.
I am sobbing – I am lonely, beyond words. This is a desperate loneliness that I do not understand.
Natuvo the matriarch elephant leads her tribe that is migrating from the mountains down to the valley of Selous and the water that she knows will be there. Behind her, her sisters, their daughters and any young that are being held by this mighty female.
Along their journey, they will need to navigate many dangerous situations, hunters actually being the least. Every year, migrant travellers move around the nature reserve burning bush to turn into coal for their cooking stoves. Elephants will not walk on burnt land for up to 2 years.
I have been sitting with this loneliness now for 2 months. It gnaws in my belly and I am a waterfall in the evenings.
I sit at my computer and hold my Facebook group in the only way I can, I offer my whole congruent self. I will not offer platitudes or misguided mantras – I have no idea if everything will be alright. Everything we know is changing, and it is right to be scared.
I will come online, live and we will make talismans that will remind us that we are a tribe, however far away we are from each other.
I realize my loneliness is a yearning I have encountered before. I am locked down with 3 men and I crave women. I am mother hungry again.
End July 2020
Natuvo arrives at the edge of the lake. Atop her head sits a white bird, at her side, her sister and her aunt. They have travelled far, and they rest into each other.
Across the wide expanse of the lake is a familiar face – Umbuto, a matriarchal elephant from another tribe raises her trunk as if to greet. Two queens maybe, or perhaps in the elephant world it is the meek and poor who steer the tribe.
Perhaps it is only now, that we humans are learning that our rich and powerful do not hold the keys to our survival. I like to imagine that in the human world, when not migrating across Great Plains, Natuvo and Umbuto work in Asda on the check out, filling food bank bins as they leave each shift.
I arrive at a birthday. I am part of a tribe of 4 women, we are creators – we mould a world from clay. Each of us have a tribe of women to hold.
We are currently migrating through a world where the ground has been on fire and our years, though different, tell us not to walk on burnt land.
We are raw, vulnerable and casually crude. We blend naughty jokes with our deepest worries and fears. It is the way we know how to survive.
One of us is stuck so far across the water, that we can barely make out her hand signals, yet our hearts remind us she is there.
Most evenings we connect via What’s app, it has become the lake we come to drink at. Its cool waters brush aside our feelings of mother hunger for just a moment.
I feel as if Natuvo lives within me. I am consumed by the way that elephants move through life. On safari, our guide tells us they are the arborists of the animal world – for every old tree root they devour, they replant. Their manure becoming the perfect nest for a new tree.
I have been fighting this “new normal” I am supposed to get used to. I want December 2019 back, where I could see people smile when they read birthday cards in gift shops – carefully selecting the funniest for their dearest friend. I want to travel.... heck I think I might want to fly again, yet there is a ban now; funny how it’s true that you only want something when it’s gone.
I want to go out for dinner.
I want to sit in women’s groups.
I watch David Attenborough’s latest documentary and I start to lean into the new normal.
My face is smattered with dirty tear tracks, my eye sockets darkened and hurting. I realize with great pain how essential this horrific time is.
We are now all migrating – one by one, tiny tribes of human beings starting to negotiate our journey – a journey we must take.
It cannot be that we have burned this land to fuel our fires, it cannot be that we don’t hold ourselves accountable.
Elephants stand over the bones of their ancestors and pick over them, mourning the loss – Masai tribes will tell you that the bones talk to the elephants.
2020 has asked me to pause, and stand over the bones of all the things that have died, and it is true that they have spoken to me.
In April I heard them remind me how women hungry I can get.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
To my sister through birth, and all my sisters through migration – you are phenomenal women.
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