Today, I heard on the radio, “If you would like to travel in Malaysia, there are only two major questions that you need to ask: Where to go? What to eat?” This shows how important food is to us as Malaysians, because to us, FOOD IS LOVE. FOOD IS LIFE. FOOD IS ALL YOU NEED.
Going to Bario under Project WHEE and as a General Electric (GE) volunteer was an eye opening experience. To begin with, there was a unique taste to Bario food. As a student who used to study in a boarding school, Kari Nanas (pineapple curry) was a dish that I used to enjoy and ate all the time in KL. To many of us, rice is just rice, no matter where we go, no matter how we cook it. It is still rice. Now that I am back from Bario, I am here to say that it is not the same.
Every meal that we had in Bario, we were intrigued and amazed by the
different tastes of food. Food in Bario has this unique taste to it, it is
truly something that I can never find in KL. Each meal came as a surprise, and
each meal was tasty in its own way. The cooking style there is very different, where they use local flavoring and local produce. Besides, they produce and
consume a lot of pineapples here. Back home, I usually do not eat pineapples
due to certain past unpleasant experiences. However, as the local pineapples
were served, I took a bite, and I fell in love. Every subsequent meal after
that could not and would not be complete without pineapple. Pineapple in any
form, be it sliced, made into jam, or even curry. Besides, the pineapple curry here was way sweeter and nicer than the one I used to have in KL.
|General Electric, my sponsor for the trip, without whom all these would not be possible|
|My first meal in the field: Nuba Tu'ah, Chicken curry, Crushed Daun Keladi and Buah Kabar|
|Our first meal in Tepuq Sina Rang's homestay: nuba' laya', wild boar, imported chicken, buah kabar and midin!|
Food is amazing, but have you ever wondered how much goes into the process of getting food on our table? Along with the thrust of our batch that is “Growing food, sustaining culture” we managed to explore what really happens in the background, and why we should treasure food even more.
Throughout the project, I was paired with Tepuq Supang, who stayed in Arur Dalan village. She is very friendly and was very nice to me. She guided me through the process of harvesting rice, and allowed me to join her in doing it. The best part of my experience, is that she allowed me to try the full process of harvesting, from cutting the paddy with the Eyo (sickle), to threshing, winnowing, drying, as well as carrying the grains from the paddy field to her house. The experience was tiring, but totally worth it.
Throughout the day while we were in the farm, she would work quietly, without complaint and without much rest. She was really caring too, as she always asked if I had enough water out in the field, or if I was tired, knowing that we “city kids” do not usually do such intense work. Similar to the experience of Kylie with Tepuq Supang in the previous batch, I think I told her once about how much I liked the pineapples from her farm, and the pineapples kept coming in. While resting, she would quietly walk over to her pineapple farm behind the shack, and come back with pineapples for me to eat.
Truth be told, farming is not simple, and it is something that really requires passion, long hours under the sun, real perseverance, and it is really tiring. Tepuq has a huge farm, and she used to work on it on her own, just like a true survivor.
As we worked on the farm and while I collected data for our research on traditional vs mechanised farming, she would tell me stories of her passion for farming, and the activities her family used to do in the paddy field. Thankfully, her son, Bobby and his wife Celia also joined in on harvesting, and they have also inherited the passion for farming.
So now one may ask... what has this experience taught you?
This is what the experience taught me: when your mama tells you to finish your rice so that your future girlfriend does not have pimples, it is not really about that. It is because some Tepuq (or farmer) out there has spent hours in the paddy fields to ensure that we get to enjoy rice. Every grain of it.
The sweat, pain, and passion put into producing food is something that I never realized until now, I will cherish and enjoy my rice, knowing how much has been put into that small plate of rice. Through this project, I found the new meaning to rice, and why achieving the UN Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDG) of food security is so important.
Will I go back to plant or harvest paddy? Sure. Why wouldn't I?