On “nomaphobia” and digital detox: Tuning out, turning on and doing without the the devices, if only for a few days.

There’s a hotel on Bali that has passed a “digital detox” policy for its guests — while poolside, anyway. The resort has banned smartphones from outdoor public areas to enforce relaxation, and the early word is that people are loving it.

I won’t be on Bali for the next two weeks, but I will be somewhere in the tropics, untethered from my digital devices.

So … no blog, no Dispatches, and no weekly columns for Imitation is the sincerest form of — well, if not relaxation exactly, something close. As writer Hannah Ellis-Petersen put it recently in the Sunday Observer, does a hotel pool exist if you don’t put it on social media?

Ayana Resort in Jimbaran, Bali —perched on a limestone cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean — is encouraging guests to simply soak in their surroundings and take pleasure in being alive and somewhere other than the concrete jungle — to stare at the wider, green world, rather than staring at a screen.

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

Ayana’s digital detox extends to tablets, MP3 Players and laptops, not just smartphones. It’s all part of an effort to “forcibly untether people from their addiction of checking the news, compulsively taking photos, updating social media and replying to emails even when on holiday.”

I will be taking photographs, mind, just not compulsively. And not on Bali. 

All of us need to take a break from the wired world on occasion. It’s hard sometimes to grasp just how pervasive — and easy — instant communication has become, across the entire globe. A conservation-photographer acquaintance of mine just this past week sent me a Facebook message from the Southern Ocean, off the northern tip of Antarctica. Her expedition ship had no Internet connection while in Antarctica, she noted, but she had discovered — presumably by accident and not out of some need to stay in touch with the West Coast of Canada — that her Facebook Messenger app worked, albeit sporadically, and assuming her ship wasn’t about to be tossed about in a Force 9 gale while trying to navigate the Drake Passage, somewhere off Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands. The life of a research assistant in 2018 is never completely cut off from the ends of the Earth, it seems.

On Bali, Ayana’s guests are encouraged to swim, “truly relax and be in the moment” and — spoiler alert — read a book. On actual paper.

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

There’s even a new word to describe our need to be in touch 24/7 — “nomaphobia,” which experts are now labelling “the 21st century disease.” Surveys show that, even while travelling, one-in-five of us check our phone once an hour. More than one in 10 of us — 14%, if you must know — admit to checking our phones at least twice an hour. A 2017 Deloitte survey in the UK found that more than a third of those polled — 38%, if you must know — said they believed their were using their smartphone too much . . .  and then immediately went back to looking at their phones.

After all, how were they to know the results of the survey they had just taken, if they didn’t look it up online?

Myself, I plan on reading Paul Theroux’s new book, Figures in a Landscape: People and Places, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Africa correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman’s book, Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War and Survival — in the original hardcover.

Back in two weeks.

“Life is for the living, not the dead.” — Dame Daphne Sheldrick 1934-2018

Damn. They say life goes on. And in my case, when I first heard Dame Daphne Marjorie Sheldrick, DBE (born 4 June, 1934) had passed away at age 83 from a longtime battle with breast cancer, it took me a while to realize that Ishanga, the orphaned elephant I sponsored in November, 2010 — rescued literally from the jaws of death after being surrounded by marauding lions in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park — is alive and well and repatriated back into the wild at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Ithumba Unit in Tsavo East.

Daphne Sheldrick may have lost her battle with cancer, but there are so many orphaned elephants — almost too many to count — that the Sheldrick Trust has nurtured back to health over the years and decades, thanks in large part to the many sponsors around the world who help with feeding and medical costs, that her spirit will survive for as long as there are wild elephants in Tsavo.

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

I’m not going to bang on much more about it here. I’ll leave that to others who knew her best, and those at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the outskirts of Nairobi National Park, home of the Kenya Wildlife Service — Kenyan-born armed rangers who every day put their lives on the line and wage war against ivory poachers in Kenya’s semi-arid thorn scrub bush and acacia grasslands with romantic names like Tsavo, Samburu, Meru, Amboseli and Nakuru. The Sheldrick Trust takes its name not from Daphne but from her late husband David, who was the founding park warden of  Tsavo, one of the last truly wild protected wilderness areas on the entire continent of Africa, and without a doubt Kenya’s most rugged, wild and untrammelled park, a vast  wilderness area so large, so dangerous and so genuinely wild that tourists only venture into those tiny pockets of pacified bush that skirt the Nairobi-to-Mombasa highway. These are true badlands, Kenya’s equivalent of Zakouma National Park in Chad or Gorongosa in Mozambique, where AK-47s are as common as bushbuck.

And yet those, like David and Daphne Sheldrick who lived there, soon fell under Tsavo’s spell.

Tsavo is where Denys Finch Hatton — played by Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning 1985 film Out of Africa — died after crashing his Gypsy Moth biplane in May, 1931, shortly after taking off from Voi, not far the Nairobi-Mombasa rail line that would famously become the site of the infamous “Man-Eaters of Tsavo.” The man-eaters, a pair of uncommonly large, maneless male lions, killed 135 construction workers — the exact number is a matter of some debate — between March and December, 1898 and stopped construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway in its tracks. literally. Tsavo has always been untamed.

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

David Sheldrick came to Kenya as an infant — he was born in Alexandria, Egypt; his father, who had served with the British Remounts in the First World War, settled in Kenya to establish a coffee farm — and died of a heart attack in 1977 at the relatively young age of 57. His widow Daphne created the Sheldrick Elephant Trust in his name.

David Sheldrick had served in the Second World War with the King’s African Rifles in Abyssinia, Ethiopia and then Burma. He was drawn to Tsavo’s rugged beauty and its reputation for unpredictability and sense of danger. It wasn’t long before Sheldrick saw the need for conservation and protection of the wilderness. Tsavo was home at the time to some of East Africa’s largest herds of wild elephants — it still is — but they were disappearing at a fast, and growing, rate. Illegal hunting and ivory poaching were rife, even in the early part of the 20th century.

Daphne Sheldrick recounts those early years in her 2012 memoir, Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story, and a portrait emerges, much as it does in Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Philip Caputo’s hypnotic, addictive 2002 book Ghosts of Tsavo, not of an idealistic bunny-hugger but of a tough, uncompromising woman unafraid of using pithy language when she wanted it to stick, and who showed little fear whether facing a marauding lion, agitated elephant, bandits wielding automatic weapons — or an ill-informed writer visiting from North America with misplaced notions about cute animals and the supposed romanticism of post-colonial Africa.

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

I first learned of Daphne Sheldrick and the Sheldrick Trust from a 2006 segment of CBS’s 60 Minutes, as reported by the late, veteran war correspondent Bob Simon.

The publicity generated by Simon’s 60 Minutes piece wasn’t the reason the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi became a mandatory pit stop on the Nairobi tourist circuit, of course, but it played an incalculable role in introducing the very idea of an elephant orphanage to jaded TV viewers from all over the U.S. and Canada.

The Trust isn’t some misty-eyed vestige of post-colonial romanticism, either. One of Sheldrick’s greatest and most overlooked achievements was winning the trust, confidence and support of successive presidents of independent Kenya over the years, many of them veterans of Kenya’s protracted and often bloody struggle for independence from Britain. Kenya’s current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is the son of Kenya’s founding father and co-leader of Kenya’s struggle for independence, Jomo Kenyatta.

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Enough background. I leave it here with some of Daphne Sheldrick’s reflections and musings from over the years, in her own words. The grace, dignity and respect for nature’s wonder shines through in ways both subtle and profound, and always heartfelt.

“To be a baby elephant must be wonderful. Surrounded by a loving family 24 hours a day.... I think it must be how it ought to be, in a perfect world.”

“Animals are indeed more ancient, more complex, and in many ways more sophisticated than us. They are more perfect because they remain within Nature’s fearful symmetry, just as Nature intended. They should be respected and revered, but perhaps none more so than the elephant, the world's most emotionally human land mammal.” 

“They, who have suffered so much at the hands of humans, never lose the ability to forgive, even though, being elephants, they will never be able to forget.”

“Life is for the living, not the dead, who belong to the past and are at peace and beyond all further pain and suffering 'somewhere in the great somewhere.”

                       —  Daphne Sheldrick, 1934-2018.                       

                            Pumzika kwa amani.

Daphne Sheldrick with 'Wendie,' May, 2011.  ©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Daphne Sheldrick with 'Wendie,' May, 2011.  ©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust