Borneo trip part 1: Village living, Kenyalang

I once again find myself exploding with motivation and newly received knowledge as I sit in Kuala Lumpar airport awaiting my next and final flight home, to Australia. I am re filled with the passion, empathy and insight that I was fortunate enough to experience 14 months earlier, a month before moving to England where I am now returning from. This return visit began staying with Alvin(tour guide for the orangutan and tribes project) his wife Christina, and their beautiful family. The two hour drive to their village from Kuching airport was lead through greenery as we arrived at the rural community of a couple hundred where the tribe are descendants of head hunting practices just a generation ago. The seven skulls they still keep are now stored away from sight as it does not align with their new religious practices of Catholicism. The village consists of a longhouse which home 17 families, dating back to the 40s, made purely from resources found about the land; a “short” longhouse with 4 families, and some individual houses which generally hold 3 generations, including cousins, aunts and uncles. Alvin and Christina’s place where i were staying is situated across the river which the community is based around, so crossing via the recently installed bridge was a necessity to do anything including carrying shopping goods home and any equipment used for building their new house! This also goes for access to the school which has 38 students, begins at 7am(!! Ending by 2…)and provides meals and government support to encourage families to send their children. One very slight positive contribution the Malaysian government have made towards their people, while still neglecting the concept of sanitation, waste collection and recycling amongst other standards we take for granted. This kind of neglect allows practices such as throwing rubbish into the river to be perceived as normal-because the tribes have been doing that generation after generation so why change now? Well, this is one of the realisations of that mixing point between old traditional habits/culture and modern society where now very little waste is made of organic materials.

The totalling 7 nights i spent in the village was split in the middle with 5 nights in the jungle, one in the city of Kuching either side to commute and 3 extra before departing(2.5weeks altogether). The period amongst the family in the village was what i was most looking forward to and turned out to be the climax of my time in Borneo, as unlike the jungle trekking it was a completely new experience. I immensely enjoyed the way of life that feels so much more connected to the earth. As someone who is conscious of their environmental impact and relation to nature i basked blissfully in waking to a cold shower with a bucket of water. This was not only refreshing due to the high humidity but knowing i could monitor so closely my water use and keep it minimal was a perfect alternative to my short showers at home, especially when three washes a day was needed to cool off the sweaty air.

Choosing to reside away from the city means a more peaceful living environment but puts pressure on work life in upholding finances far from job availability and modern luxuries. In this case living closely to the land becomes a necessity not just a tradition. The grandmother spends her days planting rice in her paddy which sustains the family, and other members will pick wild fern or vegetables growing in their garden to cook a substantial and tasty meal. The variety of plants available for eating in this small area is absolutely plentiful with a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables including sorts such as pumpkin leaves which i never really thought of as existing before, let alone as more than a bi product. I suppose as an outsider it looked as if they would just walk down the road, path or field and pluck luscious greens from all directions but maybe thats just my lack of connection in comparison to their years of practice being bought up living off the land, learning the nutritious value and medicinal use for their surroundings. Their everyday life motions were my nirvana and their wealth above any materialistic possessions, tangible or intangible.

I am so fortunate to have been welcomed into this home, temporarily taking over one of the children’s bedrooms and sharing moments I will cherish with the warm hearted family. As well as the opportunity to live by such standards i regard as high in vitality which i hope to further alter my lifestyle towards in order to live with a more harmonious frequency amongst the earth and family. Being the only (fair)white(with colourful tattoos) that most may have ever been in presence of in the village called for some funny questions and statements surrounding my habits of second hand shopping, unfussiness to get dirty in the mud and clothing choice.

During this time i attended a funeral at the longhouse with an open coffin, prayers, church service and singing before the boat led the body to the cemetery in the jungle for burying. The ear piercing crying and wails provoked my own thoughts on death as i glance at the husbands eyes staring off, lost. It was here that there was no language barrier between the cultures, just compassion for a universally horrific situation. Other events included visiting the 5/6 year old school class as they attempt their English with a quiz i ran; viewing fireflies in the trees; lots of mid day napping, exhausted by the heat and acquiring and improving foraging/cooking skills and inspiration for further development. The highlights above all were reading with the children of the family; language exchange; daily yoga and exercise with half the village kids getting involved. On occasions having them strewn down the road skipping, sidestepping, running and stretching(sound familiar?) the few cars passing pass questionably “what.are.you.doing?” and the many moments that the people i arrived hardly knowing were transformed to feel like family.

I departed with further respect for these people, their intelligence and awareness of their surroundings, and the love i received and reciprocate during my time with a family that i hold in my heart dearly.

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grandma on the way to her rice paddy

grandma on the way to her rice paddy

proud grandmas rice paddy

proud grandmas rice paddy

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