it’s a little wooden elephant. through the years, it has occupied various spaces…typically the top of a dresser.
i’ve had it for most of my life now. there aren’t many things i can say that about. this was given to me by an elementary school classmate. i’m guessing it was part of a gift exchange. i have no clue. i’m now facebook friends with that classmate. i should ask him if he remembers. and when i say elementary, i’m talking pre-1989. it was when i attended British Independent Preparatory School (BIPS) in Monrovia, Liberia.
the tusks are a tooth pick broken in half. i discovered that magical improv after they first fell out. i’m quite certain these current tusks are over 20 years old since i really don’t remember replacing them much.
anyway, all of that is quite random. why the elephant? why hold on to something so small for so long? does Liberia even have elephants?
well, first of all, i want to thank you for asking such astute questions and for not assuming that every country in Africa has all the animals from The Lion King. yes, Liberia does have elephants, but they’re not running wild through every neighborhood as some think elephants do…all over Africa…and speak as if Africa is a country. but i digress.
keeping this elephant all these years has nothing to do with it being an elephant and everything to do with it being from Liberia. of all things to hang on to, i’m sure i could have found something far more symbolic, far more poetic. but perhaps this is, for me, a strange sort of connector. so i keep holding on, keep wrapping it up or placing it carefully within some larger container whenever i move. it has never suffered a fracture or a chip. it looks as perfect as the day Nils gave it to me.
Nils is from Sweden and he works for the Church of Sweden which sometimes lands him back in Liberia and in other countries working on various community development projects. when i first found out that he’d returned to Liberia, i was amazed. and then i found out another childhood friend, Charles, had returned, also doing community development work.
and so i look at this wee elephant and think of my friends who don’t let a war-damaged landscape scare them. i’m proud of them. perhaps i envy them, their bravery, their ambition, their determination to be part of really good change. it’s taken 20+ years for me to even consider returning. it’s not that Liberia’s been knocking at my door. it’s just that i swore i wouldn’t go back.
perhaps keeping the elephant is, in a way, a really weak way of saying that even though i’ve not wanted to return, Liberia is still part of my history and a part i’m really grateful for. it feels sadly similar to the defensive line we toss out when accused of being racist: i’m not racist; my neighbor’s (insert color that’s not us)!
i don’t wan to go back but look, i have a memory of that place and i’ve kept it really safe all these years. that’s got to be worth something, no?
part of the trouble with all of this is that i have yet to confirm that Nils actually gave me that elephant AND there are various things i remember from my childhood that my parents have told me, years later, aren’t true. what i’m saying is that this elephant, these memories, all this unpacking may only just be a really nice exercise.
i’ll be sure to let you know.