I’d been in Sri Lanka for a week, and now a couple of friends and I are driving through the interior of the island nation. The road’s edge is lined with a string-wire fence standing roughly ten feet high – this marks the Minneriya National Park. Then we spot it: a monstrosity of a mammal standing on the other side of the electric fence.
As I get out and inch over to the beast in aims to get the best photo possible, our driver Tissa yells, “Please stop!” I am probably three to four feet from the fence. The elephant and I catch each other’s gaze and enter into a seemingly timeless connection. No movements are made. No gestures are given. It’s just us saying something, about to get to the significance of our contact.
Then suddenly Tissa’s alarming warns me to get away. I glance to the van and hear one of my friends shrieking something unpleasant.
I turn back around to face my counterpart, but the moment has passed. Now we are a human and an elephant – worlds apart and not understanding one another as before.
A few seconds into the drive away, Tissa tells us of an Italian who was grabbed by an elephant’s trunk through the fence a year earlier, thrown to the dirt and summarily stomped to death.
“OK, intense story,” I admit to myself. Tissa then states in his Singhalese-turned-to-English tongue, “You artists. Anything to get the shot. You need to learn.”
But I did learn. And I was one step closer to figuring out Sri Lanka.