Since the day we arrived in Taiji people have been asking how we can bear witness to the slaughter everyday and not go crazy? Well I think it’s about time I answered the most asked question.
Little distractions that helped us get through the extremes of each day. That is really what it comes down to. Those moments waiting for the boats to appear on the horizon, and waiting for the molesters to come back from lunch, or after a slaughter when we were all ready to go sink some boats; those were the moments we would talk about a T.V show, or toss small rocks into each others jacket pockets without the person realizing. They were harmless moments where the talk was not about the Dolphin Slaughter; these moments might have looked disrespectful to some, but really, it was helping us help the dolphins.
Before I tell some stories about these distractions and extremes I want to explain the relationships we built with people. I feel like this is extremely important into understanding how we were able to eat and joke and enjoy ourselves in the midst of such horror, things that you think would be hard to do in a situation like that.
Firstly everyone who came was a stranger to us… but not for long. Within the first day you felt like you had known someone all your life.
The bonds that were built can’t be broken. Even if two people may not have clicked, they still had something huge in common… the fact they were witnessing the slaughter too. We were all going through the same emotions and frustrations… some just handled it differently than others.
Knowing that the people around you felt the same way, made it easy to distract one another. I still can’t explain how I felt every day. It was like you needed to throw up but couldn’t, plus all the thoughts running through your head. Every single day! But I knew that the person standing next to me was going through the same thing, and even though we couldn’t explain it to each other… it was comforting knowing you weren’t the only one going crazy.
Hello, goodbye! We were constantly saying “Hello and Goodbye” as people came and went. So there was always building new relationships and saying the tough goodbyes to the ones that were leaving. That was a huge distraction! Getting to know new people as they came… and comforting each other as dear friends had to leave to places we can’t travel to easily.
When Cove Guardians like Libby and Rupert returned to Taiji, it was really exciting because we would want to catch up with each other’s life!
Save Japan Dolphins representatives Greg and Lelani became good friends of ours! Even though they were a little more separate at the cove most times everyone was hanging out in the lobby and going out to dinner together.
Lelani and Greg were so helpful the day my dad was taken to the police station. We all watched each other’s back and helped each other out.
On days when the boats would not go out or would return empty handed, if we didn’t have a lot of email and internet work to do we would take a little tour around Wakayama. One day my dad and I went to a gorge and took a boat ride. Sometimes we would go to my favorite log cabin restaurant and get away from everything for a while!
We took many trips up to the temple and waterfall… But we still stayed in the Wakayama prefecture so that every morning we were in Katsuura ready to be at the Cove the next morning.
While there was a small break in the day a lot of us tried to distance ourselves from our surroundings. We would toss small rocks into each other’s jacket hoods and pockets. Talk about TV shows or other random everyday things from back home. Talk about our lives and friends… there were several times were I even fell asleep lying on the ground in the sun because I was so tired and it was the easiest way to get away while you were there all day long!
I love photography! So on days when we were waiting for the boats to appear, I would photograph the dead leaves on the ground, or my shoes, the trees, the light shimmering on the water, funny looking bugs that blended into the branches that hung down in some of the pathways that circled the beach.
I think that the biggest distraction however, came naturally. Sometimes I would skip and dance around listening to really happy music! Or build little things with rocks and leaves! Haha, there was this one day I was laying in the shade waiting for the last few boats to return and there were some flat stones scattered around me. I started stacking them like blocks. Soon I was collecting small sticks and shoving them in the ground next to the little buildings I had made with these rocks. A few ants were crawling around on the ground around this little “village” I had started to create… so I added more to it. I pulled up some moss and grass and made a little city wall and with a gate for entry… and put smaller pebbles in a little clump for houses etc. I called it ant city! Before I knew it all the boats were in the harbor and that mornings anxiety vanished!
It is that inner child that is super comforting (and I don’t mean to say that I’m not a kid anymore) but I’m talking about the time when Mom, Dad, and Barbie were the center of my World. I can’t tell you how many times I said “Life was so much easier when I was seven!.”
When I was younger and my entire world was school at home with Mom and play dates with my friends, and making up stories in the back yard with my sister (like pirates, or fairies) when we would collect leaves and flowers and make fairy potions or play out whatever other expedition we came up with that day… I miss that. Now I see the world for all the problems it is, and I’m balancing work with college and realizing who my real friends are, learning about things that I am interested it. And while this is all exciting and I’m looking forward to facing the world and working towards my goals…I think we all wish that we could still run around pretending we can fly when life gets tough.
Another thing we all had a lot of fun with was messing with the police and dolphin molesters! We would drive our cars around when it was starting to get dark and drive by the police, then some of us would crouch down half on the floor of the car and then we’d drive past them again. Soon after that we would see police cars circling the area and inspecting what we were doing. Someone might jump out and just walk down the street appearing all of a sudden, and then the police would have to scan the grounds with flashlights to make sure no one was up to something.
In the day-time, we would all group up and make little “teams” of people. Then we’d separate and some would go up Tsunami hill and some on Glenda’s mountain… my dad might drive a bunch of people to the harbor… and then the fishermen would start tailing all of us. It was super funny!
The Extremes of each day
These are only two examples of the extremes that happened most days. You have to remember that tons of stuff did not go into the blog!! It couldn’t at the time (which is why I’m writing a book). So the extreme high and lows of each day wasn’t something I really talked about often because I couldn’t tell some stories just yet.
But there is one story that I couldn’t post while we were there… that I’m going to share now. But before I do, keep in mind that this happened before they passed that law about fining people who crossed the nets in the hills, etc.
One morning they caught a very large pod and I really wanted to know how many Dolphins were waiting to be slaughtered. Like my dad wrote about one time, the numbers are important because they represent a life. So we went up to Tsunami Park (hill) and I (not SSCS lets make that clear too) crawled through a hole in the netting that someone else had cut out a few weeks back. The molesters had lined the ground with barbed wire and strung more wire on the low branches of the tree so that you would walk face first into it. So I am working my way through this like a puzzle and my dad is standing guard at the fence. Finally I make it to a little clearing on the side of this cliff looking over the dolphins swimming around in the more open area outside the killing cove. I was going to film them for about two minutes then get the heck out of there! Little did I know I’d be spending the next two and a half hours hiding!
I was standing there for no longer than a minute when I heard talking… which was strange considering my dad WAS alone. So I crawled half way back to where I could see my dad through the netting at the fence (unfortunately I don’t think I filmed this part because I was trying to stay hidden) two fishermen with their knifes hanging off their side where standing with their backs to me… and my dad was in front of them. He saw that I was curious about what was going on and put his hand up as if to say no to what the molesters were asking him… but I knew he was telling me to get back to wherever I was, out of sight!
The two molesters had come up to patch up the very same whole I disappeared into! This became known as the looking glass and I was Alice who had fallen down the rabbit whole! When the “Rescue Alice” mission went into play!
I backtracked to where I was and just listened to make sure my dad was alright… I was also scanning the woods around me listening for molesters searching the hill for people hiding (I didn’t know what was going on!). I then heard tons of cussing and my dad yelling NO! Then some shouting in Japanese… I got on the radio and said “We need back up on Tsunami Hill”. Rupert and Dinielle responded first. Rupert forgot to turn off his camera when they rushed over to the hill (they were filming in the harbor) and showed me the video of them speeding through town. Soon Rex, Ryan, and David were at the top of the hill too. Soon the place we called “Wonderland” because the trees looked like something out of the movie… was covered in dolphin molesters and Cove Guardians having one giant camera battle!
Tarah, Libby, Rosie, and Glenda were on the hill above the killing cove looking over to where I described I was. They were keeping an eye out behind me in the woods so that I could get down under some bushes and hide in case molesters could see me from the killing cove.
Spiders were crawling all over me, I was playing Tic Tac Toe in the dirt, I was listening to conversations in wonderland get very colorful and angry… and all that kept running through my head was my dad saying what he said to every new person that arrived “This isn’t a game or a movie, they will hurt you if given the chance”. I was talking to everyone with ear-pieces (thank god I had the radio with an ear piece or this might have gone down differently) and they were comforting me and letting me know the status of the small battles in Wonderland. The molesters didn’t just go to Wonderland to battle with us though, they were stringing up netting across all the trees lining the fence that I had just crossed over!
Rex came on the radio at one point to tell me that the police had arrived… if I wasn’t freaked out before I certainly was now! Now I was thinking “they will hurt me if they find me” and “they will interrogate me if they find me”! Of course I knew when I got off the plane that both these things were a large possibility, but still it’s not that comforting of a thought when you’re hiding on the side of a cliff from people who hate you just because you exist!
Not only was it scary, but it was torturous too. I could hear this dolphin family clear as a bell! Every huff, every tail slap, every jump, and I was watching them panic and huddle in the middle! It was worse than some of the butcher house or gutting barge shots I have taken.
Once the Molesters were done with their decorating, the police chased them off. And it wasn’t long till the police left too. When it was safe to come back down the hill, I had to decide if I was going to stay there and see if they were going to slaughter, or if I was going to come out. We decided since they were taking their time to decorate that a slaughter was not going to happen. So I walked down the fence line till I found a spot I could get out and we met everyone down in the parking lot.
This was with out a doubt the scariest thing I have ever done in my life!!! Everyone was so worn out from running around to different locations, that we decided to go to the Log Cabin restaurant. Because the weather was getting wet and the sun was going to start setting soon. We knew nothing was going to happen to that pod in the evening, it was just too large of a pod.
We were going to the Log Cabin to celebrate my birthday! It was a birthday I will never forget, I’ll give it that! Haha. We got away from the cities and just hung out chuckling at the day’s events.
But this is what I mean by extremes. The morning was insane and intense and dinner was calm and relaxing. You need a good balance.
Another example of more everyday extremes… me and two other Cove guardians were sitting on this giant rock that was in the middle of Wonderland hidden by trees. The rock was also on a slight hill so we could see over the trees that ran down the cliff to the gutting barge. It was at the end of one slaughter, and they let some of the pod go. This was the one where two babies were separated from the family driven out to sea… and the babies were swimming around near the gutting barge. All three of us just sat there watching this for about half an hour. Until they started packing up the gutting barge, and then still I was having trouble getting up.
When we got down to the parking lot, everyone was just ready to break down. So Libby, Mia and I started talking about anything, just stupid random things, to keep from crying.
Food conversation was a huge distraction! At the Cove there is death, at the hotel we are watching what we filmed, but when we were eating out or eating and watching a movie at the hotel…. It really was a wonderful way to escape. Even though we still talked about the slaughter at meals sometimes… it was a time for us to get to know the people we were sharing this journey with, and that was the greatest distraction of all.
Joking around about girly problems happened sometimes too. Haha, there is something that all girls have in common, and it didn’t take us long to figure out that what we had brought with us… was all we had. We couldn’t find what we needed at the stores. If they sold them, then the packaging was very strange because we were all convinced they did not sell this product! So sometimes when supporters emailed us and told us that they were sending us a box of vegan food etc. they would ask if we needed anything in particular! It was funny having those conversations with people who understood just how much that sucks! And soon we were getting boxes of these things in the mail! Libby and I were cracking up because we had stacks of them in our rooms! We brought them all down to the lobby one night and handed them out. It became quite the joke between all us Cove Guardian Girls!
Talking to families and friends back home and introducing everyone on skype to each other was another way we escaped the blood filled mornings. Nothing like having your mother and sister raid your closet while you are on Skype to distract you from the mornings events!
But sometimes we needed to let things out and be droopy. There was one day after a really bad slaughter that all 15 of us just went and sat on the beach. We spent that time of remorse together even though we didn’t say much.Most times after a slaughter we all went straight to the lobby with our computers and went over what we captured from the different locations we were all at. I remember one day we had a little meeting afterward and all of us were one at a time explaining what they saw and the rest of us were just looking at the floor.
About three or four days before I left, Mia, Thomas, Nicole, Rupert and I were sitting on the railing at the promontory and Libby was filming us sitting around waiting so that she could practice with a new editing program later. Rupert turned to us and said “What’s the hardest thing you have witnessed in the time you’ve been here”… this opened up about a 20 minute video were all of us vented about how awful the captivity is, the hardest things we had witnessed, and why we keep fighting.
People will cope differently. There is not a readers digest version of advice for those planning to go, because I’ve seen many different ways of copping. I didn’t go to Taiji with a plan for functioning during the slaughters. I built a wall the first day and kept adjusting the height and thickness of it as events occurred.
The important thing to remember is that joking around and fooling off a little when it’s appropriate to, doesn’t show disrespect to the dolphins… you are keeping yourself sane so that you can continue to fight for them. You are keeping yourself healthy so that you don’t act out without thinking in a scary situation such as my cliff-hanging birthday.
Crying for three months would have done nothing but make us mental cases. I suppressed so much while I was there, and really held in everything I was feeling till it came time to blog. That is when I would pour my heart out, then bite my lip so I was ready to do the same thing the next day.
I managed to not cry for two months… It’s not something I was going to share with people, because I know that it might cause a little worry. I really don’t know how I did it because I certainly wasn’t trying to bottle things up. Only around the molesters would I put on that face that they were not getting to me. I suppose once we got back to the hotel and it was safe to cry… crying just seemed too hard. It would have taken so much energy that I just didn’t have.
As unfortunate as it was, you became numb to everything you were seeing. Even though it hurt just as much as the first day you saw it… it was a different kind of hurt. It was feeling like you weren’t really helping, because you just wanted it to end over night! Even though we knew this wasn’t true, we were at least making a dent of a difference… feeling like we weren’t helping made me angry! Which made me hold it together because in that moment of photographing the gutting barge, the killing cove, or the butcher house… besides wanting the slaughter to end there was nothing you wanted more than that picture that was going to shock the world and encourage people to call the Japanese Embassy’s every single daytill the day they stop killing or until the day dolphins vanish.
Since I have been home, I am spending a lot of nights thinking it all over till I just pass out of exhaustion. It is wearing me out so much mentally that I have been sleeping till 2pm. If I had allowed myself to do this while I was in Japan, going stir crazy and constantly thinking about everything I had witnessed and been through and heard and felt… I would have been sick.
So even though some of those “messing around moments” and talking about things that had nothing to do with what we were doing, might have looked disrespectful to some… really it was best for the Dolphins. Because it helped us stay and fight till we were forced to leave by law.
For those of you who have been following my blogs for a long time now, hopefully you have come to appreciate how important the oceans are to me.
So to answer the most asked question: How did you do it? With a little laughter, a lot of tears, some good friends, a lot of courage and a love of dolphins.
Far Fast and Deep,
Elora Malama West