Your Memoirs – “Ecstasy and Ivory”

The very first time that I saw a film about elephants I was entranced.

Giant but graceful… compassionate, caring… loving to their families… protective, loyal… everything humans are too often not.

Fatefully, my husband and I lived for a while in Kenya where I embraced seeing elephants and other wonderful creatures. After a year, we moved with our small son to neighbouring Tanzania.

Amid the 1980’s drabness of Dar es Salaam, there were vibrant shops filled with tie-dyed dresses, ornate boxes, beads and bangles. Trinkets of bone and ivory too… hard to tell them apart… I had tried. But there was little in the supermarkets.

With British aid, a road was being constructed far inland to enable farm produce to be transported out, generating vital revenue. Until houses for the engineers’ families were complete we were to remain in a hotel near the city. The manager had miraculously found basics like butter and powdered milk and, with my husband upcountry for weeks at a time, I was grateful for his enterprise.

Bugs aside, the hotel was paradise. Guests were accommodated in rondavels – small, round, whitewashed buildings with conical thatched roofs. They sat facing a golden beach where Indian Ocean waves and rustling palm trees sang together in the breeze.

One evening the project accountant said he wanted to buy his wife, who was arriving soon, “an authentic Tanzanian gift.”

“Help me choose an ivory bracelet?” he asked.

“No!” I said.

He looked bemused.

“Why,” I asked, “should beautiful creatures be killed to make jewellery?”

He laughed. I plowed on.

“Do you know how much more human than humans elephants are? The extent they care for their families? That they grieve deeply when one of them dies? Or that a baby will stand for hours in the sun beside its mother’s body, her tusks hacked out by poachers?”

“I hadn’t thought,” he said.

“Like the farmers upcountry, poachers need markets and unless people stop buying ivory, elephants will be hounded to extinction.”

He fell silent, then said he would buy his wife a silver, not ivory, bracelet. My heart sang.

Submitted by Ann Seed, 67, Edinburgh

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