“Should I go? Maybe I should stay home.”
One night before our Bario trip, I was battling with a very difficult decision - to go or not to go. I had gotten a bad throat infection (tonsillitis) three days before the trip and my condition was getting worse. I called Rhon (our mama boss) to get her advice - she encouraged me to go and gave assurance that there is a clinic available in Bario if I needed more medical attention and most importantly, the 10-day experience would be unforgettable.
So I went, and yes, Bario, was amazing.
In 10 days, I met so many new people, forged great friendships with my batchmates and the Tepuqs (respected elders), learnt about the Kelabit culture, understood the problems associated with traditional paddy farming and ultimately, experienced the village life in Bario which has changed my perspective towards life.
There are too many things to say and write about Bario. For this post, I’ll cover my five favorite memories and takeaways:
1. Mountains, Clouds, Land, Breeze - Nature’s Wonder
The evening sky on our first day in Bario
It was our first day in Bario and I was already blown away by the beauty of this place. Because I was not in my best condition, I had to opt out on many farming activities that my batchmates were doing and rest at the homestay. In other words, for a few days, I was spending my mornings and afternoons staring at the sky. Yup, just staring and staring and staring... Until someone shouts, “Jien Yue, we’re back!”.
BUT HEY, the view was absolutely breathtaking. I loved the alone time spent looking at God’s wonder - it gave me so much peace, helped me think about life from different perspectives. How nice it would be if I could wake up every morning to such a beautiful sight!
2. A Heart of Gratitude
Living in the city, many times we take things for granted. Many of us do not even know where our food is produced or how difficult it is to grow them; we just eat. Sometimes we even complain that the food we have doesn't taste good and stop eating them.
What surprised me in Bario was how everyone in the village was grateful for the food placed on the table. I remember when we arrived, Tepuq Sinah Rang (our homestay host) had all of us hold hands to say grace, giving thanks to God for the food. A few days in, she taught us to sing the song - “Aku Mengucapkan Syukur” (in English it means “I Give Thanks”) it was really catchy and all of us sang it happily before most of our meals.
Tepuq Sinah Rang roasting wild boar for dinner
The simple act of giving thanks before our food reminded me to always be appreciative and grateful of what we have - our food, our health, our family, our friends, our homes and our lives.
3. Fully Engaging in the Present
There was no internet connection where we stayed; hence, my batchmates and I had to live without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp for 10 days (difficult for a millennial). The beauty of disconnecting from technology was the bond formed while connecting with one another, face-to-face.
During our free time, all of us would sit down for hours talking, jamming, singing songs, exchanging experiences and lessons learnt on the field. It was amazing how much we have grown to be closer and comfortable with each other through the time spent together. We have also bonded immensely with the Tepuqs by working alongside them in their respective paddy fields and listening to their interesting life stories during meal times.
Having breakfast with Tepuqs on our second last day in Bario (Photo credits: Project WHEE)
There was so much happiness when we were fully engaged in conversations and jokes without distractions from technology. It dawned upon me that the key to happiness isn’t in wealth or material things; it is in having great relationships with people you care about through spending quality time together.
4. Always Better to Give than to Receive
In the business world, nothing comes free. When we give, we are taught to expect something in return. I came from a finance background and the concept of having good “return on investment” is a key requirement for any decisions - often times, helping someone comes with an ulterior motive. In Bario, people are so genuine with one another and there isn’t anything like this.
I was amazed by how the villagers helped one another in so many ways. For example, when someone in the long house catches a wild boar, the owner would share the meat so everyone gets a piece of the catch. When farming, they would help one another with planting or harvesting so the pace of getting things done is faster.
Receiving souvenirs from Tepuq Bulan Radu on cultural night (Photo credits: Project WHEE)
On our final night, we had a time of appreciation where us volunteers presented small tokens from KL to our respective Tepuqs. Instead, it was the Tepuqs who were blessing us generously with the fruits of their hard labour. We went home with bags of rice, salt, pineapples, pineapple jams, and a beautiful piece of Kelabit necklace known as “Kaboq”. They gave without reservations and Tepuq Bulan Radu told me she found great joy in doing so.
5. Love and be Loved
I remember during the introductory meet-and-greet session on our first night, Tepuq Sinah Rang gave a welcome speech saying how grateful she was to have nine of us from KL visiting and helping them with farming activities. She said, we aren’t just volunteers; we are like grandchildren sent from Heaven. Instantly, the Bario Asal (the long house we stayed in) community took us in like family and showered us with so much love and care.
With Tepuq Sinah Rang in her traditional Kelabit head gear
When Daniel, our Project Coordinator, told the Tepuqs I wasn’t in my best shape, instantly, Tepuq Bulan Radu took me to the clinic for a checkup - she made sure I had proper medical attention and was always hydrated. Tepuq Sinah Rang cooked porridge for me so my throat could heal faster and Tepuq Ratu made lemon water for me to make me feel better. They cared for me like their very own child and I was truly touched by their love.
A picture with the Tepuqs on cultural night (Photo credits: Project WHEE)
When we were leaving Bario, many tears were shed and I believe it is because of the bond formed through love over 10 days. There was a feeling of sadness leaving the place but a greater joy of getting to know these amazing, genuine and loving Tepuqs. When I hugged them goodbye, I know one day I’ll be back to visit again.
Words could only express so much, the rest are left to be experienced personally. If you are thinking whether you should sign up for the upcoming project, do it! Trust me, you will gain so much more than you expect. Bario has left a mark on me and will always have a place in my heart.