Sunday, 14 January 2018

Describe Wind: Ngarang Everywhere 4.0

Sitting on the porch one lazy afternoon, waiting for my turn to shower, I begged Rhon to teach me how to play the sape. So she showed me the correct way to hold it, where to place your fingers, and broke it down into three parts. After letting me struggle along a little, Rhon decided to show me how it was played. It was at that moment that movement caught the corner of my eye. Tepuq had walked in quietly and started moving her hands in the wavelike patterns oh so common to the ngarang. As it played out, I couldn't decide which one I admired more -- the sound of the sape, the spontaneity of the whole situation, or how graceful Tepuq looked as she danced in time to the plucking of the sape.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Describe Wind: To and From Arur Dalan

Every morning, a couple of us would make our journey towards Arur Dalan. The winds and cold air accompanied by mist like a scarf around the neck of the mountains set the tone for the day while the suns rays and buffalo poo told tale of a less lazy afternoon.

As we made our way to the field the sounds of car engines, the beat beat beat sounds of motorcyclists passing by, and the sucking noise our shoes make against the muddy ground filled my waking thought as we walk down the uneven path. Soon, we reach our destinations and begin to make our way to the respective fields we are assigned to... the clouds, hanging over us in it's pretty way, cold sawah soil and water clinging around our legs... the air is filled with chatter, laughter, and friendly banter. The fields in its vastness calls us to enter. Exhaustion, sweat, and dirt mean little in a place where contentment and serendipity tip the scales.

As we return back through the fields lined with corn, slippery roads, unruly weeds, and daun isip, you cannot help but marvel at that feeling it gives you as you slow yourself down enough to hear it's call. The lack of bustle lays claim over the imagination.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Difficulties I Faced

Hi! To all those who are reading this blog post, congratulations, because when I attended this trip, I did not read any of the blog posts - and I regretted (or not really), however, to be honest, it is always good to set the expectation right, and be readied for any challenges ahead in this trip by looking into what others had experienced. I will talk about the challenges I faced in the working days (or the data collection days) and how I changed myself in the process.

The beginning of my working days was… not productive enough.

There were several challenges I faced. One of the significant challenges was the language barrier. I am not a fluent speaker of Bahasa Melayu, nor did the locals speak the conventional Bahasa Melayu we learnt in class. However, when there is a will, there is a way, I used my elusive body language, Google translator, plus the help from my batchmates - I found the experience of data collecting more intellectual than rigid, like a happy conversation. I thought I need to be “professional” - precise and sharp to delve into the deepest core of questions I set beforehand, but eventually as I worked with my tepuq, I forgot all of that nonsense. I just wanted to know more about them - what they eat, what they face, and what are their stories ... and that became my most look-forward-to thing while I collected data. Frankly, I am a logic freak. I like to digitalise, analyse, interject and conclude in a design-thinking manner, but the nature of Bario embraced me to a different way to a manner I found myself not thinking they way I was used to thinking but instead started to behold how things were like this by nature.

To assist my deficiency in Malay proficiency, I translated everything in the booklet beforehand.

Da..daa! (I brought my data collection booklet into the muddy field). My intention was to write whenever I heard something interesting in the field... but I found that it wasn't a good idea. 

Another challenge I faced was... who cares. The key is to relish every moment so that challenges are never difficulties but an experience to make you grow as a person, especially when you are in Bario, a place where there is no peer pressure, where nature embraces you, where you are not distracted by social media, where you feel and you connect.

So to those who are afraid that you might not be able to communicate well in Bahasa Melayu, it is time to let your body speak for you; in fact, my tepuq and I had grown to an affinity in which we looked at each other… be silent for two seconds, and then we laugh, as if we got each other’s thoughts (no joke!).


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

One among the many, Bario was memorable

There were many people in Bario that had made this volunteering trip a memorable one, and Tepuq Do Ayu is definitely one of them!

She made me realize the little things in life.

Every morning from 8am to 12pm, two of my friends and I will walk through muddy roads to arrive to another village called Kampung Arur Dalan to spend a few hours helping our tepuqs with their paddy fields - removing seedlings from the nursery itself and planting them in a bigger sawah (aka paddy field).
Tjia Ern, I and Clovey from left to right

Upon my first day with Tepuq Do Ayu, I was already excited and in the move to communicate with her since the WHEE participants' main purpose was to collect data from our tepuqs by asking questions in an informal way.

I realized that every time I communicated with her, she never failed to look me in the eyes and replied me.
( Left: Tepuq was planting rice, Right: * started speaking and she looked up and smiled to the camera*)

Fast forward a few days on when my planting skills were getting a little bit more handy, I realized how painful it was to bend up after bending down for long minutes.

Here's tepuq Do Ayu and I-

After the first day of paddy planting, I was drenched in mud and she washed me up telling me to clean the corners of my pants that were not cleaned before even cleaning herself up.

Then, with wet pants and water dripping, I walked into her house not knowing what to do with the mess I could potentially be making, and without me requesting, Tepuq Do Ayu passed me a sarong to wear.

That really made me feel a whole lot more comfortable moving around the longhouse and sitting on the chair next to the famous 'window' in her house with the hot coffee she had made for both Rhon and I!
Rhon took this photo while sitting on a stool

The upcoming days were unexpected, all I knew was that we were going to have a performance over the weekend and only the following Monday, I will continue data collection again with Tepuq Do Ayu.

Our few hours together on the first day were sweet - we managed to finish everything before the rain started pouring, and her capacity to love was already showing.

Here's a photo of Tepuq Do Ayu and I after church!

My friend - Tjia Ern was actually the one that spotted the tepuqs from Kampung Arur Dalan leaving Sunday church and we rushed through the doors and onto the road to stop both of our tepuqs - hugging them and asking them how are they were going home.

By then, I have learned some simple Kelabit sayings such as " You look pretty ", so I said that to Tepuq Do Ayu which she replied with a smile, "Why didn't you sit with me in church just now?" (translated into English) , and that was tepuq's way of showing her love to me.

Day 2 was slightly different.
I got to rest in tepuq's farm after a few hours of rice planting and was generously served with coffee, biscuits and pineapple by Tepuq Do Ayu.

Within those moments, she also began telling me about her stories of how this shelter was built by her husband and how the doors behind us was to avoid dogs from entering etc.

This is tepuq laki ( how Tepuq Do Ayu calls her husband) and he helped bring our bucket of seedlings around from one end to another that day

Tepuq Do Ayu and Tepuq Laki have a special relationship that somehow made me smiled through their conversations that I could not understand.

All I knew was Tepuq Laki enjoys walking and Tepuq Do Ayu always laughed and smiled whenever I mentioned Tepuq Laki is walking 'again', haha :)

There was once when we were washing up, Tepuq Do Ayu actually shrugged me to a corner just so she could spray water at her husband to tease him.

The outcome was laughter and a little bit of Kelabit words that eventually represented seriousness.

At Tepuq Do Ayu's place, she never failed to ask her family to eat first before she starts eating too!

Everyday, ever since day 2 of working with Tepuq Do Ayu, she served me with home cooked food and always, with Nuba Laya - mashed rice wrapped in an Isip leaf.

The last day in the paddy field with Tepuq Do Ayu was special.
We were both very focused with our work and occasionally, she looked to me to see if I was planting my rice correctly and of course, to check my well-being.

She also brought me back to her house for a rest and served me more food -

That day, we finally finished her plot of sawa!

She also performed with her traditional 'toy' she used to play when she was younger! Tepuq Do Ayu is really talented when it comes to arts and music, and that was really cute to witness. 

(Tepuq and I were having this conversation about sports she used to play when she was younger - and she mentioned volleyball and this instrument!)

The last day was when I get to spend more time with Tepuq Do Ayu when we went around her pineapple farm to hunt for pineapples!

It was also that night where unexpected events happened such as tears and a performance together in front of everyone in the longhouse!

That was one day before we were to leave Bario. And I remembered Tepuq Do Ayu silently shrugging my shoulder while I stood next to her saying, "Senyum" , which means "Smile" while we took a group photo together!

Tepuq Do Ayu really taught me to love silently, without boast. Her little actions and her way of being had taught me a lot through these nine days in Bario, where I continued thinking of her even though it was my free day. Thank you Tepuq Do Ayu.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Describe Wind: Tepuq Do' Ribed

Almost immediately after I went up the stairs leading to the longhouse, I was introduced to Tepuq Ngalinuh Karuh do' ribed (which means the beautiful Tepuq Ngalinuh Karuh). She, in all of her grandmotherly charm, commanded us to come to her. So like little kitties, we did so slowly, unsure of what to expect.
“Bila datang?”,
“Berapa lama?”
*A throaty chuckle and something in Kelabit that to this day I still cannot piece together. *

I left thinking, that wasn’t so bad. Soon it became an almost daily routine. Everyday she would call me or another WHEE member over, and coddle us as though we were one of her own grandchildren.

When she was not doing so, it became a past time for me to watch how much a part of the community she was even in her old age. She was still loved by the rest of the long house, serenaded to by Uncle Julian, picking vegetables with the rest of the women in view of cultural night, and being part of fire side talk. I think that definitely makes life worth living.

The aforementioned interactions, and a dozen hand gestures and “pu ayam”s (affectionate term grandparents call their grandchildren) later, I realised I could not love her any less than I loved my own grandmother. In her gentle, almost subtle way, she laid claim to my heart in ways no other elder could and tore it apart the day I left, silently telling me to come back again with tears in her eyes.

I hope to be able to still hear her sing as Uncle Julian plays the guitar for ger the next time I come back.

Tepuq Ngalinuh Karuh - Photo by Rhonwyn