Being Dolittle

Shannon Murphy-Berrios, 131 TESS 

I believe in looking at nature for a lot of answers. My grandpa and I would watch the birds flying and the lizards climbing in Puerto Rico and he’d be able to determine what kind of weather was coming; then taking the time to actually smell the air and look at the clouds, he could tell if the Sahara sand would be coming through (It’s a real thing. Wind carries the sand from the Sahara to the Caribbean, creating a haze). 

In my service and as an animal lover (I call a lot of the local animals Puan “friend” which probably concerns a lot of my community), I try to learn from the animals around me: what do they do and why? What habits could I pick up from them?

Here’s what I have learned.

  1. Suai (Monkey)

For background on Suai she is a monkey that my PST host mom has. The monkey was gifted to her and it lives in a cage which is something that I was certainly not used to seeing at home despite PR having a Monkey Island. I think she was one of the first things that made me realize that Thailand would be hella different. Now of course because this is a wild animal, she has no interest in being in the cage, but what else can she do? Even when she resorts to anger Suai gains nothing from it.


Lesson learned: Though at times I feel like I am in a cage, walking back and forth won’t help me. Retracing my steps will only do so much and resorting to anger won’t help.

      2. Menao (Dog) 

When I tell you this dog is messed up I mean it, she’s the first one you notice in the pack and that’s saying something because the lead dog is a scarred, battle-ready black lab. Her back legs are weak and she can’t carry herself long yet it doesn’t stop her from joining the other dogs on their terror missions until she can’t anymore.  When she walks its wobbly and never in a straight line, when she stands, she sways side to side. Once she’s tired, she sits down and rests in front of her (my) house. She was the easiest of the pack to win over considering how much time she spends resting. 

Lesson Learned: Being a foreigner, you may always be the one to stick out, but don’t let that stop you from being a part of things. Although always remember when it is time for you to sit down and care for yourself. There’s no shame in limits and boundaries.

     3. Khao (Dog) 

Khao is one of the school dogs. Recently our janitor left and took a good chunk of the dog population with him. But Khao stayed or got left behind. Khao attends the morning assembly and sings loud and proud with the anthems and prayers bringing a smile to almost everyone’s face. This lesson was a simple one for me. 

Lesson learned: Use your voice. Sing loud and proud- you’re in Thailand and karaoke is inevitable. 

But also don’t be afraid to speak up… especially when people forget you’re there.

     4. Birds (various)

I honestly hate birds, aside from Crows and Ravens. I think they are so dumb, and when a pigeon gets trapped in my classroom my hatred for them just elevates more. They fly around not taking a minute to look at their surroundings. They keep trying to exit from the same closed window as before, and they shit everywhere in panic.


Lesson learned: Look at the situation you’re in. Analyze what’s going on. Then make the decision that’s going to work for you, and if that decision doesn’t work, don’t do it over and over again. 

But when all else fails, shitting yourself would probably get you out of a lot of situations.

      5. Scorpions

Yeah, my site has scorpions, I’m never happy about that and have only encountered two, both being dead. Killed by a lizard just slightly bigger than them, in both cases the lizard was also dead. But their lessons were pretty strong.

Lesson learned: No matter how tough you think you are, there’s something out there that can remind you of your weak spots. 

Act in anger and you only end up hurting yourself and your causes.

Your thick skin can only save you for so long.

     6. Navi (Cat)

Navi might be the most important one. She is my house cat. I fully intend on taking her home with me because she is my spirit animal. Many people say she looks insane and I think sometimes she might be. But this f****** cat makes every day easier for me. She spends her day lounging around the house or taking small day trips with me to my school, and her night having what I and many others call “destruction zoomies” meaning just bursts of energy shown by running, climbing, scratching, clawing, biting and overall just being a weirdo. She sits bravely in front of my screen door taunting the dogs outside and when they lunge and growl at her she remains calm, often not even moving, just cocking her head slightly, then stretching out and moving to another location. But this coolness is not constant. This cat has serious separation anxiety, if she cannot see me she begins to freak out, clawing at doors and on occasion even trying to run through one to get to me (I was taking a shower and heard a series of thuds coming through the door, followed by a broken meow). 

The advice from Navi is always being added to but here’s what I got so far.


Lesson learned: Don’t let people see you sweat when they are trying to mess with you, but let those emotions out eventually.

Freaking out over things you can’t control will result in some serious headaches. 

Be yourself even if people think it’s weird.

If you act like you’re crazy, people will think you actually are and crazy people, while they can be entertaining, aren’t the best company to keep.

     7. Elephants and Water Buffalo

Thailand is known for the elephants, but Water Buffalo are also super common and really cool to look at in my opinion. I think both of them carry themselves in a graceful manner despite being quite bulky. When you see them eye to eye and see past the grey, wrinkled skin they have the most beautiful gaze, one that seems to be full of emotion and insight, and truly if I had the powers of Dr. Dolittle I would try to talk to an elephant (right after a talk with the cat about acting right). The message from an elephant and water buffalo would be;

Lessons learned: Move slowly and enjoy the little things around you. 

Even when you may not seem beautiful there is always someone who finds beauty and grace in you.

You may be strong, and you may be powerful, but you don’t always need to show it. Save the strength for when it is needed.


Growing up, “The Wild Thornberrys” was one of my favorite shows and I always pretended I could talk to animals. Today I do, and although they don’t really speak back, they are still saying something. Give nature a listen and she will speak. 

(Also, can we really do something about climate change and conservationism? The world isn’t going to save itself.)


Read Shannon’s previous articles and contributions.

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