Email of the Week- Amanda French

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I’m lucky to receive many emails from amazing people all over the world and today’s email of the week comes all the way from Norway!

I’m not going to lie; it is a long email, but if you take the time to read it, you’ll be left smiling at the adventurous spirit and deeply insightful thoughts that Amanda shares.

Good on Amanda- great story!

“Hey Seb,

Just put down the book and just wanted to say congrats! Best read in ages, and could relate to so much after our crazy, spontaneous year with little Bona the elephant. Your story-telling and humour throughout it all was just perfect, and I’m not surprised so many others have enjoyed being a part of the experience. It was like I was reading my own writing! I started a yes year 2 years ago now, and it’s not looking like it’s going to end anytime soon!

My colleague Muzza Munro (or bearded Jesus), who I believe is catching up with you next week, recommended the read many MONTHS ago and it’s only now, that I’ve landed on the other side of the world in Norway (from Oz) that I’ve had the chance to read it.

I’m on a similar journey sitting here scratching my head wondering how the bloody hell I ended up in Norway after experiencing a year of doors that continuously opened up since deciding to head to Sumatra to save Bona the elephant. I could relate to so many things, not just about your outlook on your life throughout as you saw life on another level, but mainly about the doors that unlocked once you took a leap to take that first step. Like me, there is no chance in hell I could have foreseen what was ahead when we set out to buy food for a starving baby elephant at a pet warehouse in Brisbane. Chance encounters, fate,  I don’t know, call it what you want but one thing led to another. We were quite simply meant to take on this journey to now tell the story.

I could have been reading about myself when you described skyping with the girls from ‘The Circle’ at 2am from your room in Geneva. I know that exact feeling when the laptop was closed and you’re left in the dark wondering, “Did that just happen? Did I just feature on National television?” Then you take yourself off to bed like it never happened. I did my whole Australian Story filming and interviews via skype at ungodly Norwegian hours and could not even begin to put into words for my fellow Norwegians what I’d just done or what a huge deal this was for me personally. Meanwhile back in Australia! Totally surreal! haha. The day the episode went live on ABC, I sat alone in a lounge room in Norway watching myself on Australian Story feeling like I was on another planet. Meanwhile back home, messages from primary school mates, old colleagues and ex boyfriends (disgusting!) were incessantly texting asking what in god’s name Amanda French was doing mothering a baby elephant. As far as they knew, I was working as an Events Manager leading a semi-normal life. But the news now labelled me as an “elephant rescuer”. I liked it.

Our story was similar in the fact that we set off with a goal to rescue a baby elephant in the jungles of Sumatra with absolutely no clue what was ahead of us or what was actually required. 3 months after succeeding with the challenge, and resigning from our day jobs, becoming full-time elephant mahouts,  we were thrust into a media frenzy appearing on every national news program, morning shows etc. We were responding to emails from complete strangers backing us which was overwhelming and left our mouths wide open with shock that people were suddenly following along our journey. Why the hell us? We hadn’t done anything amazing, but in the eyes of the general public, we were suddenly heroes.

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Thousands of emails, facebook followers etc became a part of our daily lives to retell the story to and justify that we did it all flat broke. There’s really something in the fact that through your own passion and determination, you can almost give someone else sitting behind a computer on the other side of the world the sense that by just following along you have opened up their eyes to so many more possibilities that maybe they hadn’t otherwise considered. There’s so many people out there who want to help and do something meaningful in their lives, the way you wrote about it, similar to what we did through personalised blogs and storytelling, empowered them to take life by the bit and do something for themselves. Three ordinary people, can do something extraordinary- they can too! Even if it’s liking and sharing our posts on their own facebook- it empowers people.

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People are innately good, and want to do good things. I truly have learnt this through my own journey with this. A WHOLE world has opened up to us of like-minded people who genuinely want to help. They just need a bit of a push as to how and where to direct that good deed. Stories like yours, and stories like ours, show that you don’t have to be a millionaire to achieve your goals. You can be everyday people, you just need passion and to take the plunge. I could relate so much to how you described people asking you how you fund such adventures! People still think we must be living off the donations to do what we have done. It’s crazy. Little do they know, the incredible value in the hospitality from the network of people that are out there who just want to help. Doors open, new friendships are made. Life changes the day you just say “yes, let’s do it!”

I take my hat off to you! And I’m just stoked I was able to read about someone who understands exactly what we have just experienced. It’s kind of like you have just been given time and experiences in another dimension while ordinary people are going about their ordinary lives, drinking, partying, watching TV. You come out of it with all of this incredible confidence, meaning and experiences meanwhile life has still existed for everyone else exactly as it was. I could only explain it the way you have written about, so happy to read your words.

So like you, our goals we set out to achieve have now been fulfilled. Save an endangered animal…TICK! Now we have this realisation that there is a whole world out there who have connected deeply with our story and we haven’t finished telling it. The fact that because we said, “yes” to taking that first step to journey to Sumatra, means that there’s now thousands of followers who not only know the name of a once abandoned starving animal, but also know about what is happening with her species who are in grave danger of extinction. A lot of people, “safe” people, told me I was crazy the day I quit my office job to journey to the middle of a Sumatran jungle to help a near-dead animal. The day we boarded that plane in our hand-made Save Bona t shirts, changed our lives and directions forever. I think only you would understand what I mean after reading your book. Every airport personnel, customs officer etc we told along the way were basically high fiving us once we told them the story. It’s kind of like they wished they had of been coming along too!

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I remember one night getting a teeny tiny bit of internet at camp and logging on to my facebook to update everyone that I was alive and hadn’t been eaten yet by a tiger. Three of my girlfriends posts featured in a row on my newsfeed. All of which were pictures of their renovations to their newly purchased homes, or pictures of their lavish weddings. I looked out the door of our humble blue cabin with a squat toilet wondering how, at 27 years old, our lives could be polar opposites. I had just spent my last savings dropping everything to save an animal, meanwhile they seemed to be doing the things we’re told is the right thing in life. I panicked for about 20 seconds thinking I was crazy and then 6 elephants walked past our cabin, one of which was a tiny baby who came right up to our door for her evening feed. I knew in that moment, I was happy with my lot. And I was experiencing things that my friends locked into their daily routines would unfortunately not be privy to. Not long after the media frenzy broke out, my Mum bumped into a parent of a girl I went to primary school with who is now married with 2 kids. Mum, pretending to be interested asked how her grandkids were doing. She responded asking Mum if she has any new elephant grandkids almost in a mocking fashion. Mum felt prouder than she ever had being able to hear that.

In that entire journey, for me personally, my favourite moment was sitting in the jungle with elephants strolling by listening to one of the Mahouts play DJ on my iPod. Out of the thousands of songs he could have chosen, he selected Paul Kelly’s ‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’. As we sat there in the kitchen (or cement slab), unable to communicate with our different languages, we shared a moment that I cannot put into words. I felt the happiest feeling I have ever felt, pure contentment. If there was to be a reward for taking on this project in place of any financial gain I could have received, then that was it. From little things, big things grow indeed- and not just a baby elephant growing into a healthy one. The friendships formed throughout were simply priceless. You couldn’t pay me to replace that good feeling then and there.

So now, our lives are completely different to when we first set out. Bruce now lives full-time in Sumatra with his Indonesian girlfriend running his own coffee shop, I am in frozen Norway, and Muzza is finding his own way after our mammoth transformations. All three of course, are still telling the story every day!

I have asked Muzza, if he sees you, to give you a big hug from me to say thanks for publishing the words depicting your journey. I hope one day too, we can have you over at camp Bona to sit and share stories in that beautiful, tranquil jungle setting where you don’t need money or material possessions to realise that life really is awesome. And I can’t wait to continue sharing this message when I get out of the frozen arctic! haha!

Thanks Seb! And so sorry for my novel! Life is an amazing series of incredible experiences if you let it be. The world is amazing, society at times is not. If you break from the mould, there’s an incredible world out there to explore. I am just so thankful to have seen what I have seen, and I know you would too.


Amanda French
Volunteer for Bona

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