Kismet Salem went to Africa to work with orphaned animals. She knew the work would have a profound effect on her. What she didn’t expect was how much she would learn about humanity in the process.
It all began when an animal intuitive familiar with Kismet’s work approached her and asked if it was possible to do trauma resolution on animals. Kismet, a holistic bodyworker and trauma resolution therapist based in Los Angeles (http://www.kismetsalem.com/) said yes. She knew that animals are usually much faster with dispersing trauma than humans, because they are connected to their hindbrains, where traumas are resolved. The response pleased Kismet’s acquaintance and she invited Kismet to join her in a trip to Africa to work with orphaned baby elephants whose mothers had been tragically killed by poachers. Who could refuse such an invitation? Of course, Kismet said yes! “I packed my bags and headed down there, no idea how I was going to do this work with baby elephants (and one baby rhinoceros).”
The plane trip took about 20 hours and included a lay over in Amsterdam. “It was so incredible, because I have a twice-daily meditation practice. And, in Amsterdam they have this meditation room in the airport. When I went in, there was an orthodox Jew a Muslim family, a Christian, all in the same room together. I walked into that and sat down and started meditating. The energy was amazing … all these religions combined! It was a good opening marker.” From Amsterdam, Kismet flew to East Africa. “It was the middle of the night, I had no idea where I was. The next morning, I woke up and there is all this lushness, this green. Then we went to the airport to fly into the middle of nowhere. Literally, out in the middle of nowhere, the middle of the bush!” Caretakers met the plane and took Kismet and her friend to camp. “The camp is incredible. It is these tents, but they are encased in these huts. Everything is very rural, but unbelievably beautiful. Everything is built into the landscape like it just belongs there.” Once in camp, the women were driven out to the elephant orphanage. “First when we got there, there were no elephants. Every day, they go and walk the babies in the bush, because in the wild elephants walk miles and miles every day. They are trying to give these babies a natural integration back into the wild.” After a little while, the elephants started to arrive. The experience was intense. “They came into the facility and I stood at first on the outskirts. This was the first time I was exposed to them in such close proximity. I had to collect my bearings, negotiate the space. How close can I come? How close will they come? They were so cute! I started walking in and their energy is unbelievably high and eloquent. I was reminded of whales and dolphins, with their high energy.”
“Kismet flew to East Africa… to care for orphaned baby elephants whose mothers had been tragically killed by poachers ...into the middle of nowhere. Literally, out in the middle of nowhere, the middle of the bush!”
For almost two weeks, Kismet spent her days with the elephants, quickly learning not to match her energy to theirs. They wanted to play with her like they do with other elephants, but such activities could be very dangerous for a small human! “Every day we walked with them in the bush. They are two tons and I’m a little human. So, matching their energy, they think they have someone to play with. They tried to sit on me, roll with me, lay on me…” Kismet also began doing cranial sacral work on the young elephants, choosing this modality over somatic trauma resolution because she was unsure she could contain such large creatures. You see, with humans, we can work through things discharging physical sensations. Sometimes there will be movement, like hitting shaking, or anything that did not find resolution when the trauma happened. This Kismet could deal with. But what would happen in if a two-ton elephant decided to run and to charge her while releasing its trauma? Surely, not a good idea! So, she stuck with cranial work, touching some elephants and working on others energetically, making sure to keep a safe distance from the larger animals. “We went to these watering holes and I did this work when I was in the mud with them. I did cranial work, they’d unwind and their heads would just lull around. It was magic. Once I started doing energy work with them, they started lining up! I would work, and then look up. All of the sudden there would be two rows of elephants. They knew something good was happening and they wanted more of it.”
Over the course of her time in Africa, Kismet learned a lot about elephants, and about each of the babies in the sanctuary. She learned that elephants cry actual tears, like humans, when they are sad and when they are happy. She also saw that, while some of the babies stayed away from human contact, most of them are still ok with humans—even though humans committed the atrocities that took their mothers from them. Additionally, Kismet heard some of the amazing tales about this horrible violence and the family bonds that link elephant mothers with their babies. “There was this one story. A mother elephant was severely wounded by a poacher. But she schlepped herself all the way to a village, because she knew the humans would take care of her baby. Just as soon as the villagers came out to try to help her and her baby, she passed away.” Kismet also learned that wild elephant herds come and “steal” babies from the orphanage. And that this is actually a very good thing! “The wild elephants come around more often and check out the babies. And some babies just rear off and go with them. The workers just let them, because ultimately they want them to go into the wild.” The animals have a strong connection with one another and all elephants in a herd are valued, no matter their age or abilities. Watching the elephant herds, Kismet was reminded of humans and how we disregard the elderly and others because we think they have no purpose. Kismet has always believed this to be an unbalance.
As she worked with the elephants, Kismet was surprised to find that most are actually well adapted despite the traumas they’ve been through. But, the humans caring for them were in desperate need of help. “They (the elephants) are away from their mommies, which is hard. But they were adapting pretty well. What I found was that in trying to create an environment for the elephants as close to the one they have in nature, the caretakers are actually the ones in need of assistance. They are getting worked to the bone. Their family unit is getting torn apart because they are catering to the elephants. The caretakers sometimes work three full days and nights, so they don’t sleep. They get four days off per month. This is the time they see their families. But, it sometimes takes two days to get to their families. They get there and they are exhausted and then they have to leave again. And all their energy goes to the elephants.” One of the major issues with such rehabilitation efforts is that baby elephants must create new bonds if they want to survive, but such bonds can exact a heavy price from a caretaker who needs their own family time as well. “Some (elephants) die of pneumonia. As a holistic practitioner, I understand that lungs are grief. The bond that happens between mom and child in a mammal is chemical. When that gets disrupted, if a child witnesses the brutal murder of their mother elephant they have a hard time with the idea of ‘oh, I can make it through.’ If they don’t find something to attach to, they can’t form another bond. So, in the beginning, the sanctuary had just one caretaker for the elephants. But, the elephants would get terribly upset when the caretaker went on leave. Now, they are starting to rotate the caretakers so the elephants won’t get so attached. But, what’s being disrupted is the bond between the one caretaker and the elephants. So, there has to be a resolution there.”
With this understanding of a terrible dilemma for the human caretakers, Kismet started turning some of her attention to the people around her and was amazed to see what was happening. In such a loving environment, a place devoted to the care of orphaned animals, how could humans be so negligent of one another’s needs? “There are racial and other tensions between the organization’s leaders and the caretakers. There is this double-circle that happens, because the caretakers are talked down to and treated poorly. I was a little disheartened. There’s this disharmony and unbalance, which needs to be restored.” It reminded Kismet that the disconnect people had with one another was entirely reflected in how we treat our planet and the living creatures around us. “People go out and poach animals and think it is no big deal because we’re disconnected. We administer the same behavior to them as we do to people. But, to me, we are all one.” While Kismet is quick to point out that the organization she worked with is a much-needed resource, doing wonderful things for the animals—particularly now that the ivory ban has been lifted and illegal poaching is on the rise—there is an underlying sense that humans are not being treated with kindness and dignity. “What about the workers? There needs to be another way, something other than, ‘Not everybody’s needs can be met.’ I believe everybody’s needs can—and have to be met—for a good and peaceful society. People need to be allowed to express their emotions and have their needs met. Our communication revolves around violence. I’m looking at this organization that does these wonderful things, but look at how violent they are with their workers. ‘You have to do this or you are fired.’ Can we do this in a different way? It was an odd reflection of how things in our world are. “
As Kismet thought more and more about the issues that were happening among the humans caring for the elephants, she realized one basic truth: The problem with poaching will never go away unless they fix the human-side of things. The organization she worked with and others like it need to set an example; they need to be a focal point around which other humans can gather. Then, people will see how we are supposed to treat one another, and how we are supposed to treat animals and our world as a whole. It became clear to her that the group is badly in need of integration; the caretakers and officials need to be on the same level and treat one another with respect. “If I can go back, I want to help the organization learn about integration. If we can make this an integrated unit, it will reverberate out. The energy will go out and draw more and more humans and animals to it. Coming together, all the needs are met, both human and animal. These people love their jobs. But, there is a flip side where they aren’t happy and these miss their families. If you integrate this small organization, you will begin to fix the problem.“
Although Kismet’s realizations about the organization she worked with were disheartening, it was also wonderful to get to be a part of it for a little while and she is hoping to return next year to work with the people in finding resolutions for their traumas and seeing that everyone’s needs are met so that they in turn can teach others about being better stewards for our Earth. “It was very powerful. It gave me a lot of motivation to work more to speak up. We cannot afford not to speak up. Because there is this tendency of, ‘well, what can I do?’ There’s always something we can do!“
Thank you Kismet, for sharing your Story with us.
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