Looking down over the elephant’s ears and trunk, the ground started to spin and the midday sun suddenly became both blindingly bright and oppressively dark. My breath came in quick gasps and my vision blurred with tears as I tried to find the rest of the group, fixated on a cute baby elephant sitting in front of them. My elephant’s mahout, or caregiver, shouted commands and encouraged me to shout along with him but my voice was caught behind my heart, now a painful lump in my throat. I heard him from miles away, dimly, through the ringing in my ears. I croaked out whispered gibberish as my lip trembled and the tears spilled over. My elephant lowered her front legs, time froze, and I thought I was going to topple forward and be trampled. I somehow very ungracefully removed myself from atop her shoulders, stumbled backwards, and tried to hide myself behind a pole to lick my wounds to dissect what had just happened. The truth was, I didn’t really know.
I heard about The Giving Lens’ (http://thegivinglens.com/) trip to Thailand on Facebook. A blip, a quick few words on my News Feed from a friend of a friend. Photography? Travel? Philanthropy? All in one trip? I was committed before I even knew the details. What I found out was that this would be TGL’s first women-only excursion, and we would be teaching photography to girls in a facility (COSA – http://www.cosasia.org) that prevented them from being sold into the sex trades, or rescued them from that torture. I was enthralled. I had never traveled anywhere in Asia, and Thailand had been number one on my dream travel list for years. I submitted my passionately-written application and hoped I would be selected to join this project.