Thursday 24 July 2014

My Kelabit "Paati"!

I am sure that some of you might be wondering what is paati and to clear your doubt to proceed to read the next line! Paati is grandmother in Tamil. As simple as ABC.

10th May 2014, turned out to be one of my most memorable nights in my life. I met my Tepu’ Bulan. I asked Dan, Project WHEE!'s 2nd coordinator, who is my Tepu then he pointed to a short and plump lady wearing a blue Ambank beanie, blue t-shirt beneath a striped orange sweater and a pair of gray socks. I nodded him with thanks and walked to my Tepu.

 Honestly, I was very nervous and told about it to one of my closest friends Jon. I sat on the sofa beside my Tepu and introduced myself. I told her that I am going to be with her for two weeks and she is stuck with me. She laughed! I wanted her to feel comfortable with me and I know that it will take some time. I was patient about it.
Being nervous...when I first met my tepu!

At first, Tepu Bulan was shy to talk to me and I know that it is hard for her to come out from her personal bubble. So, I was cracking more jokes with her and other Tepus. Phew! It is quite hard to make jokes when you are nervous. I held her hands and rubbed soothing circles on her palm with my thumb to make her feel that my intentions are sincere and genuine. We instantly clicked and started having normal conversations along with a bunch of my friends.

During my 16 days of spending time with Tepu Bulan, I learnt a lot of things about Tepu. She was so comfortable talking to me and she even shared some of her teenage life secrets. It was interesting and I really did a good job at teasing her about it. My relationship with Tepu became so close that I felt like I have known Tepu Bulan for more than 2 weeks.

 I could feel an extremely close grandmother and granddaughter bonding whenever I am with Tepu Bulan. We talked all the time and it never get bored. Some things happen for some reasons and I guess that’s why Tepu Bulan existed in my life. I tried to spend time as much as I can with Tepu as some people say,  “treasure the moment when it is still available”.

Teaching Tepu English was completely fun together with Xara and Tepu treated her as her own granddaughter too. I used many drillings and role-plays to keep Tepu Bulan engaged in the learning. Tepu’s English was good enough to communicate with tourists so I just had to tweak her grammar and sentence structure mistakes. I felt like it was my responsibility to keep her happy and making jokes with her even if it makes me look like a fool. Who cares about it man?

One day before sleeping, I was thinking of my past days with Tepu Bulan and I remembered a memorable conversation with her. It goes like this…

Me:    “Tepu, what age did you get married?”

Tepu: “I got married when I was 20 years old la Divya!”

Me:    “Waaa…so early?? Tepu was it an arranged marriage or love marriage and was Tepu handsome??Haha.

Tepu: “ Eh, arranged marriage la! Nanti bapa tepu pergi jatuh sakit dan pergi hospital la! Ha-ha! When are      you going to get married?

Me: “ Haha..urm!ehem!haha! I think when I am 27 years old.

Tepu: “ Ya..ya..Do not get married so early! Will you visit me with your husband and children? Send me you wedding picture ok, I want to keep it in my album.

Me: “ Haiya Tepu! Buat apa nak tunggu lama-lama?! I will come before that and send you a wedding invitation too!

Tepu: “Oh ya! You can spend your honeymoon here! You and your husband can stay at my house. I will cook chicken wings for both of you!Haha.But, you will come to visit me right? Jangan- jangan lepas 2 minggu, lupa tepu pula!

Me: “ Tepu Bulan,I promise punya promise that I never ever forget my doh ribet Kelabit granny at any cost!

Tepu: “God bless you… ”

A simple “God bless you,” sounded so meaningful and I am blessed with it. Not everyone can mean a simple “God bless you” sincerely but I truly felt the sincerity, love and genuine in it. The day before I left Bario, I told to Tepu Bulan that I am going to miss her and gave a bone-crushing hug. I could feel my eyes tearing and she noticed it. She told me “ Divya, don’t cry, we are going to meet soon,we can always call each other ok. Kalau rindu,call je!”
Me and Tepu at her tapioca farm!

Previously I only had one grandmother but now I have many and thanks to Project WHEE! for making this to happen. Honestly, I am not saying this to make my piece of writing interesting or to capture the reader’s attention but it is from my heart. Tepu Bulan gave me a Kelabit name, which is Sigang, and she considered me as her eldest granddaughter. So, here comes Divya Sigang Paramasewa! Just throw the “Devi” out from name dude!(hope so la..haha)

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Tough Bario Woman : Aunty Tagung

Cultural night, the day before we left
It has been a great night bonding with my aunty at her place. (Yes, she likes people to call her aunty, tepu' sounds too old for her she complained. Haha just like my dad) Instead of joining the others at Tepu' Sinah Rang's place, she invited me to check out her house. She brought me on a tour at her homestay, her home stay is amazing! I am not kidding, the design of her homestay looks exactly like a chalet. She hugged my waist and introduced me to her neighbours and relatives next door. Later on, she invited me to her house and told me about her life stories and her family as well. I love listening to one's life stories, especially the elderly. They remind me of my grandmother.
At aunty's kebun (what she usually does in the morning)

I was really surprised to know that she lives alone and every single morning she wakes up to her radio alarm without anyone's company. She told me about her sinah(mother) who just passed away a few weeks ago which I have heard about before I landed in Bario. At that moment, I felt really bad and I wish I could do something for her in the remaining 14 days to make her feel better. I held her hand and told her that everything will be fine. She looked at me emotionless which made me blush and wondered if I had said something wrong. Haha I guess not.

My favorite fried chicken! She asked me if I wanted fried chicken or steam soy sauce chicken, so obviously I still went for fried chicken even though I had been eating it almost everyday. She fried it and I asked her why didn't you eat the chicken and she said: "the chicken is too hard for me to bite, my teeth may break if I eat them but since you like fried chicken, you can finish them all :)" ahhh, aunty :'))

Funny thing is that she asked me whether or not I'm her daughter in law's sister. I asked her why and she replied, both of you are tall and fair so I assumed you're her sister, are you?" She pointed at her daughter in law's photo. (yeah, she speaks good English :)) Not to mention, one of the most interesting things about Bario is that most of the locals have blood relations and they are all related. So it is not surprising for the locals to ask questions like this.

I have to say that she is such a wonderful lady and the toughest woman I have ever met. I couldn't imagine how my life would be without my family members but she made it. As a single mother, she made it for her children. She did anything for her children to make sure they are well educated and able to live a better life. They are now grown up and are successful in their lives. She taught me that life may seems really hard but if you want to make a good change, go and fulfill it. But, before that, learn to overcome life obstacles and challenges with positive thinking. Believe in yourself, believe in God.

Xara, Jia Yi 

Day 6: Jemur Season!

See the white fuzzy dot near the middle of the screen? That's Tepu' Ribet! 

Today marked the sixth day I spent with my Tepu'. It's really cool & touching hearing how she says she'll miss me when I leave on the 24th. She won't be seeing me on my walk home from the shed.
(Funny story: She says 'Bye Vio' to me when I walk on the mountain road leading to the main village, but I can never hear her until the very last day, after she told me this.)

Aw, 6 days can really make you connect with someone if you open your heart. I really hope my orang putih stories (of how Westerners eat with forks, wear shoes at home, and not every one of them speak English) can make my Tepu' feel more connected to them although they are "foreigners". My Chinese tales (of how life is at home for me) and also my random analogies (well, we both dislike the cray cray KL traffic jams :)), I really hope she finds them helpful & memorable to her one day.

Daniel & Tepu'
The swag that comes with a batik shirt, at a paddy field.
So, today, one of the Project Coordinators, Daniel, came to join my daily sawah padi adventures. We left for Tepu's house around 8.30ish AM & was greeted with Tepu' as usual, by the kitchen table. Usually, her stocky son (who works as a local security guard at SMK Bario) would blast jazz tunes in the morning. That was how I could recognise her house at first. 

We couldn't hear any music coming from her house today. So, no AM jazz to serenade our daily sawah padi adventures today. 

Surprisingly, Tepu' cooked early today. We would usually cook in the kitchen, before heading out to the paddy field. So, skipping cooking meant skipping revising the vocab associated with the cooking: soy sauce, salt, seasoning, wok, pot, etc. 

But, we did manage to rehearse what would become my Tepu's favourite line:-

I: What are you doing, Tepu?
Tepu: Tepu' put the vegetable in the container~~ 

As a teacher to my Tepu, it makes me soooo happy when she can answer me. Constant drilling, and also dedication (mostly from her part), that's the key to success :)

Soon after, we got changed into our paddy field work gear, and then lepaked a bit, before leaving for the paddy field. 

Where are we going? 
*Clap, clap, clap*
Paddy field~
Where are we going? 
*Clap, clap, clap*
Paddy field~

(An actual song I taught my Tepu, inspired by Dora the Explorer!)

The walk up the mountain was no easy feat. For the unfrequent gym visitor, every step felt like a cardio workout on the treadmill. haha Sometimes, if it rained on the night before, your shoes can get stuck in the mud. So, one mis-step, you can kiss even your Kampung Adidas goodbye, as it returns to mother nature. 

We walked to the paddy field with "Careful, Daniel, walk slow slow. Soft road

Yup, you've guessed it, it rained the night before. (Actually, it rained everyday we were in Bario) So, walked slowly indeed. 

Today, Tepu' took advantage of the warm sun, to dry her rice, by the shed. It didn't look like it was about to rain until later in the evening. Guess what? ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED :) New words of the day: Dry rice, spread rice. 

It's Mr Sun, sun, Mr Golden Sun~

Haha, we teach and learn as we go along. I taught my Tepu' new vocab, and she in turn taught me that she's one hell of a superwoman! One gunny sack of rice is 50Kgs and without us, she would manually climb up her shed (via a ladder), and empty out the contents of the gunny sack, all by herself. Even Daniel said it was a tough job, so it must be something in the Bario rice that makes my Tepu' so strong. 
After that, we went on with the usual cutting grass, and had lunch. Went home around 1.30ish. 
All in a day's work of slaying grass, and lepaking with by the paddy field with Bario rice & midin.

xoxo Mariam aka. Vio

The Bario Pineapple

Pineapple was once was the fruit I hated the most in my life because it cuts my tongue when I eat it. My 'hate' for pineapple changed when I reached Bario.

The first fruit I ate in Bario was pineapple. I had it when I followed my lady, Tepu' Sinah Supang, to her pineapple farm. My mission there was to remove the grass that surrounded the pineapple plants.

At first, I thought it was an easy job but it really wasn't! Pineapple plants have spiked leaves so whenever I tried to remove the grass around it, the leaf will attack my poor and thin skin. 

My sinah and I worked for a few hours before taking a break. She opened one pineapple for me to try! Oh my... I tell you, the taste was so unbelievable! It tasted like sweet and so juicy that you don't need to bring water when you go there work! I fell in love with the pineapple here so much that it became one of my favorite fruits. 

My sinah holding a Bario pineapple before opening it. 

I followed my sinah to her pineapple farm for the next two days and helped her remove the grass around the area. The cruel pineapple plant's sharp leaf continued to abuse my poor hand but it was fine for me! Just like when you love someone, you will be willing to do everything for him/her. The same went for me with the pineapples!

I was willing to be abused by the spiky leaves as long as I could eat the pineapple. I found it so crazy because I once hated it but now... I don't!

My first time cutting a pineapple! 



Beads are an important artefact in the Kelabit culture. The art of Kelabit beading is an extremely intricate process, involving up to a few thousand glass beads of various different colors, shapes and sizes. These beaded adornments are usually done by the womenfolk during their free time and takes long hours of labour and skill to produce traditional Kelabit beaded caps, waistbands, necklaces and bracelets. These beads were also traditionally sewn onto the traditional garb as embellishment, however, there are few Kelabit ladies who still have this skill.

Some of these beads are extremely precious and are considered heirloom possessions passed from one generation down to the next. Such pieces are extremely valuable and are worn on very special occasions. 

An image from Tepu' Sinah Rang's Bead Shop

This is where Tepu' normally works on her beadwork. It's on the verandah of the longhouse, facing the beautiful mountains. 

Look at all the beads! 

During my visit in Bario, I was paired with Tepu' Sinah Rang, who showed me her entire bead collection and also let those who were interested meddle around with the beads. Tepu' is known for her beautiful handicraft and her skill with beads. She has tonnes of beadwork jewellery in her bead shop. From her, I learned about the basics of beading. 

All sorts of beads! These were relatively easier to differentiate because of the distinct colors. 
Photo credit: Ho Ji Bee 

My first task assigned to me was to separate the beads according to their colors. Frankly, that was an incredibly agonizing 4 hours for my eyes. One color might have up to 10 shades which are so incredibly close to each other! I really really learned the intricacy of the whole beadwork process just by separating those beads. 

Aunty Nicole telling me a bit about the beads. Look at the bottom right corner of the picture, see the round pan of red beads? There are at least 8 different shades in there. 
yup. jeremy.

Tepu' working on making a Peta' Bao Rawir - The traditional Kelabit cap for women 

While we worked, I took the opportunity to learn more about beading. I learned that the beads are extremely expensive and each Peta Bao Rawir can cost up to RM1,200 for ones which are made of standard 'newer' beads. These beads are imported from either China, Indonesia and France. Those made with heirloom beads can go up to RM5,000-RM6,000 each. The beads are made from glass, making these products very heavy. 

Here's the women in their traditional Kelabit outfits. Complete with the caps, necklaces and waistbands. 

Here's a video of tepu' explaining a little bit about beading. It took us a bit of practice to get her English right and she learns really quick! Whee~! 

The wonders of jungle vegetables

        Today was my first day teaching the lady that I was assigned to, Sinah Supang.
To start our day, she took me to look for jungle vegetables. The first vegetable we got was bamboo shoot. I was so surprised that bamboo shoot can be eaten. I also learnt how to cut the bamboo from my sinah.

My sinah asked me to pick 'paku pakis' for her. Unbelievable! I didn't even know how 'paku pakis' looked like although I like to eat it. I ended up picking all different kinds of green leaves for her but none of them were 'paku pakis'!

My sinah was laughing on the leaves I gave her. Then, she gave me a sample (of 'paku pakis'), but still the first three leaves I gave to her were the wrong ones. On the fourth, I finally got the correct 'paku pakis' which made me very happy!

Later on, we went to pick tapioca leaves. At first, I thought that it looked like a papaya tree leaf. Then, my sinah started to pick the tapioca leaf and told me it can be cooked and eaten. I was so shocked! (What? Papaya leaves can be eaten?) but I still followed her silently, and I managed to clarify later on that they were tapioca leaves. Phew! I tried to get the leaves for her but when I got back I was met with "This no good", "No good", "No"... I was so curious how she could differentiate which leaf is good and which is bad. After few more tries, I still could not get it and my sinah ended up picking the tapioca leaf by herself while I stood and wondered how she did it.

All the different leaves I got!

We went back home when we finished picking the leaves. Then, we cooked the leaves that we collected. It tasted so good! 

It was a very joyful day picking jungle vegetables with her, and I learnt more from her today than I could ever teach her! 

Project WHEE!

I am so blessed to be given the opportunity to participate in Project WHEE! Moreover, I am so happy that I can participate in this project with my course mates – my friends. I had the chance to get to know them better, and become closer to some of them as well.

15th: The Project Coordinators

Today is Rhon's last day with us. She has to go back to attend another event. I really am grateful to have such a great Project Coordinator together with Daniel that has guided us so far. Dan and Rhon are only 20 this year! They really complement each other so well. Rhon is more towards the strict side whilst Dan is the lenient one. Rhon will make sure that things get done, Dan will help make the things get done. Rhon "Bad Cop", Dan "Good Cop". It is not one better than the other; together they are the best. And the best thing about each of them is how they both accept and love themselves. From now on, we will only have Dan as our Project Coordinator. We are confident that he will still be a great leader without Rhon. Also, he has Jeremy from Astro to supervise us.
Dan and Rhon

19th: My Birthday

I am celebrating my 18th birthday here at Bario. It was so thoughtful of the team to surprise me with Apollo cakes and also the random gifts I received. Dan was so sweet to get everyone to say something to me during our debriefing.

Tepu Sina Doh Ayu

12th: Teaching Day 1

Day 1 - check!
My tepu''s name is Sina' Doh Ayu. She is a beautiful woman both then and now. She is one of the women that still has her long earlobes. Tepu' is a little shy and conservative. She does not talk a lot or laugh loudly. She works in her kebun that consists mainly of pineapples. 

My first day of teaching her English was more of a relationship building session. Before coming for this project, I was seriously worried. I had many questions and doubts on how I was going to be an effective teacher. I asked one of my church leaders as she has spent a lot of time doing Mission Trips like this. She told me that the key was relationships with people. Building relationships is the first and most important step in helping others.
Tepu' is so beautiful!

14th: Pineapple Farming

Tepu' Sina Doh Ayu is very lively today. She greeted me with a "Good Morning!” and a warm smile as I walked in. When we had a chat with the Tepu' and others at the other end of the rumah kadang (longhouse), we were laughing so much. She still complains that she is old so it is difficult for her to pronounce English words but I am so happy to see her speaking the English words as we converse. 

My tepu' was teaching me about her pineapple farming. We went to part of her garden and removed the grass so that the pineapples can grow healthily and with less "competition" - I remember learning about this in Kemahiran Hidup class when I was in secondary school. She explained to me that growing pineapple plants from young can take one to two years. For a small pineapple to grow into an edible one, it will take a few months.
Tepu's pineapple farm

Tepu' also likes to feed me instant coffee. I have had coffee twice a day both today and yesterday. She drinks the 3-in-1 instant coffees like Nescafe and Kopiko. They cost RM17 for one packet of maybe 20 sachets. It's pretty pricey for them. Things in Bario can be double the cost because of the shipping costs and what not.

15th: Penan people

Tepu' brought me to see the Penan people. Their settlements are deep into the jungle. Tepu' and I went on a hike with a walking stick each. This got me wondering about why people use walking sticks. Does it really help with walking?  After completing our expedition to the Penan settlement, I discovered the wonders of a walking stick. A walking stick does help with walking; it helps to check if a place can be walked through, it can support oneself when coming down a steep hill, it can fend off dangerous insects, and many more. My tepu, knowing my fear of butterflies, warded off those creatures as we passed through the jungle. Also, another interesting event I encountered was that I saw the biggest chicken ever. I am not exaggerating when I say that the chicken was as big as a normal sized dog!

16th: Sawah

Today tepu' brought me to her sawah - paddy field. She was telling us whose land belongs to whom. I think that every household has a paddy field of their own. Dan, our project coordinator, was commenting on how she would make a fantastic tour guide.

21st: Intense Farming

Our days left at Bario are coming to an end. We only have two days left with our Tepu until we leave on Saturday. Even our Tepus realise this and have been counting the days to our departure. I am feeling excited to return home and sad as well to leave beautiful Bario.

Today was a very "healthy" day with my Tepu. We went to her kebun again but this time further up the steep hill to tend to the pineapples. She gave me a parang in addition to the tool that we normally use to remove the grass. Yay, upgraded! I really admire my Tepu because she is so strong and fit. She swung her parang with so much strength and  precision when she was clearing the tall grass and plants. She was on her feet the whole time, bending low to clear the grass under the pineapple plants. As for me, I was on my feet, squating, on my knees, and sitting down whilst I removed the grass. I got tired easily. I also became dizzy when I stood up after being in the various positions. I think that that is why it is better to always be on your feet,  like Tepu. Although it was hot and sunny, I thank God for the bario (wind) that made work much easier.
Battle scars

Did I mention how amazing pineapples are here?  They are super sweet and juicy. I have never tasted pineapples like Bario's. In addition to that, the pineapple skin here is much easier to cut off. The people here do not eat many types of fruits, the pineapples suffice.

Teaching Tepu felt very doh (good) today. I love Tepu so much. I am so sad that I will be leaving soon. Nonetheless, I am happy to have this opportunity to be with a beautiful and loving woman.

22nd: Cement work

Today I earned RM 15, sweet! We cemented the path outside Tepu house on the way to the solar station. The solar station is part of the government project to develop the villages in Bario. I have never done, or even seen cement work before in my life. Now, here I am making cement! It was a new experience that I will surely cherish. First, we put the wire then we cover the road with rocks. Next, we made the cement by unloading heavy bags of sand and cement powder then mixed them together with water. It is work that is definitely for the strong. After that, a sina suddenly handed me money because I helped out.

I gave my Tepu the RM 15 because I felt undeserving of the gaji (pay). I told her that I will use that money to buy pineapples from her!

At night, we came up with a song to present to the Tepu and Sinas for tomorrow's Cultural Night. We used the Bitter Heart melody. Honestly, we did an amazing job - it sounds fantastic!  Here's a snip bit:
(Insert song)

23rd: Jangan Takut

Too cute. Leandra's friend who is probably six told me not to be afraid of butterflies. I was using her as my shield then she said "jangan Takut". Now, they are chasing butterflies. I am just here, keeping my distance. How cute, they are protecting the butterflies from me!

Two of them were also playing with a spider. They seriously are brave. I think it is good exposure for kids.
Just now, Tepu gave me a traditional Kelabit necklace. It can cost about RM 30. I also gave her my gifts: the scarf from Thailand, bookmarks, a drawing of her, and a simple note. I hope she can read it easily.


Well, today we had our last walk to and fro Arur Dalan. I will certainly miss it. I will miss Tepu. I will miss Leandra and Silan. I will miss the pineapples!  I will miss farming. I will miss the weather. I will miss Bario!

Monday 21 July 2014


The Kelabit and Penan people that I met at Bario were so nice and lovely. I am so blessed to meet them and be among them for the short two weeks that we were there. I am really amazed at how awesome they are and especially how they are, for sure, fitter than me!

11th: Mother’s Day

I have learnt that Bario is a very Christian village. We made our way to the church with Sina' Nicole. The church service starts around 9:30 at a building nearby the villages. It was a large hall with a simple layout and well facilitated equipments. 

Today also happens to be Mother's Day. At church, there were several performances: first by the Fathers, then all the children, then the women. After that, we the Project WHEE! presented two songs. I am so happy that my friends were willing to sing Christian songs on stage in front of the whole church despite being of different religions. It was a very humbling act and I am so glad to have friends who are so willing.

At the end, all the mothers and potential mothers went on stage as the church sang Selamat Hari Ibu. It was quite funny when some of the men/pastor of the church took the decoration flowers and handed them to the women.

15th: Because the weather is awesome!

Wow, we have been in Sarawak for a week. I really am enjoying my stay here in Bario. People of Bario love it too. They prefer their own simple village compared to the busy and hot city lifestyles.

Weather is a hot topic here among the Kelabits. Every time I meet people, they will ask me where I am from. I will tell them that I come from KL and our conversation easily steers into complaining how KL is so hot, especially compared to Bario, the land of the wind. A lady once told me that in KL, one has to shower to get rid of the heat. After he finished showering, he has to shower again because it is hot again!

Truly the weather here is amazing. Back home, KL heat makes it hard for us to be energetic in anything we do. I always feel very lethargic especially during the day. Air-conditioning cannot substitute for this type of air. It is so much easier to do work and be active here in Bario. This is surely a factor to why the elderly Kelabit men and women are so strong and fit. Like I have mentioned, I love the lifestyle in Bario but I still would choose to live in the city. However, when I am older and looking for a relaxing yet productive lifestyle, moving to Bario would be perfect. It has the weather, it has serenity, and I can do things rather than staying at home watching TV.

Ps. I still love KL. Everything has its goods and bad.

Bario is so beautiful

10th: Saturday

Bario has mist, thick heavy mist - how cool! Literally. It was very cold as we all woke around about 6+ this morning.  Ji Bee and I went for a short walk around the village, embracing the cold air and making our way through the fog.

Can you see the mist?

This is a lifestyle that I really enjoy. The atmosphere is so peaceful and the weather is so blissful. Also, I don't feel scared here like I do in the city. People seem much more content here than they do back in KL. They do not need much to make them happy. However, I am not so sure if I can live here for the rest of my life; firstly, I do not like insects, and secondly, I like absolute cleanliness. #citygirl

Now, we are doing our community service by cleaning up the longhouse. It is very, very dusty. So far, we are about done cleaning the community area. The other half of the batch is helping out in Nicole's kebun (garden).

After lunch, Rhon took Felice and I for a walk before resuming our cleaning. We went up to Tom Harrison's monument where we had a view of the Prayer Mountain. More than that, we had a breathtaking view that simply left me with an urge to come back. I will. It was so pretty. I could see the whole Bario - I think that was the whole of Bario. I saw villages, mountains, mountains, mountains, clouds, field, and mountains. It is so peaceful.

At night, some of us went outside and stared at the sky. It was very beautiful spending the night looking at the stars and planets. With the super cool Google Sky Map, we managed to identify Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. Then I thought about it, there is no one that is better: city or kampung. It was nice to have a mix between the advanced technologies that allowed me to identify constellations as well as the peaceful life here at Bario.

18th: Sunrise Sunday

I am catching the sunrise now with Keller and Kim. We are up on Tom Harrison's monument.  We didn't see a sunrise but the sky changed color from dark blue to lighter blue with strips of pink, yellow, and fog.

Couldn't catch the beautiful sunrise with my phone camera

Before coming to Bario, my Mom bought me a book titled 'Bario Revival'. Once, I was talking with Sina' Nicole and told her about this book. Then, she knew about it. When I showed her the book, she told me that the woman on the front page is actually her mother!  #cool. Today, some of my friends and I were walking to church. We met a woman who was dressed very beautifully. She greeted us and told us that she was also on her way to church. We introduced ourselves, and guess who she was? Nicole's mother!  I should get my book signed.

After church, five of us went to Gloria's ladies place - Aunty Catherine. Gloria is the only person who has a Penan woman to teach. Aunty Catherine makes accessories for a living. Together we bought RM260 worth of bracelets and necklaces! The accessories are all handmade and carefully carved. They have unique designs and come in two colours: light brown and dark brown. I loved them so much that I bought seven bracelets for myself (and as souvenirs, obviously). It was so funny and sweet how Divya bought me one more as a birthday gift for me! We are very happy that we are able to help support her. She was very grateful towards us, and especially to her anak penan, Gloria.

Carefully crafted bamboo bracelets

At night, we had our second spa session for the longhouse women. We had an unexpected dance session taught by the tepu's and Sina Nicole. It was pretty intense but it looked so graceful. It is so wonderful to have such fun and sporting grandmas.

Hello Bario

9th: Touchdown!
Twin Otter plane
We have reached Bario! After about an hour's journey on the MASwings flight, we arrived at Bario's airport. The airplane was a small Twin Otter plane. The ceiling was too low to stand upright but it was fine. We are grateful to experience this interesting flight, sitting so close to the cockpit. The airport is a small house-like building in the middle of mountains and trees. The weather is very cooling even when the sun is bright. It is now 10am and we will wait for our friends on the second flight to arrive.
The sun has gone down, and so has our food. Lunch and dinner was deliciously cooked by Tepu Sinah Rang. She is very loving to us and is such a sincere woman. Before dinner, we all held hands and Tepu prayed for the food and for us too. She thanked God for his blessings of the food and also for us coming to help the women here. She was the sweetest and most genuine.

We had a lovely day sightseeing around the village. First, we had to walk a 45 minute walk to our village. It didn't feel too long, though. In the late afternoon, we walked around to other homestays, visited their art galleries, as well as went to this longhouse that was burnt down before - twice. The view here is absolutely beautiful. There is no wonder why tourists do make visits here. Even though it is quiet and bland here, it is a nice quiet and bland.

After dinner, we met some of the Kelabit woman that we will be teaching English to. The woman that I will be teaching is Tepu' (Grandma) Sina' (mother/aunt) Doh Ayu. She is very sweet too . She was willing to make the effort to speak with us even though she is more of a shy character. Also, she is the only lady among the women that has the long ear lobes, famous here at Bario. It is famous but becoming a dying tradition because many outsiders look at the women funnily. Therefore, some have had their ear lobes cut.

I am very happy with Tepu' Sina' Doh Ayu. She says that she likes to speak English but she is not good at it. I introduced my name numerous times but she couldn't remember. It's okay,  I couldn't remember Ngadan Kode (my name is) though repeating it throughout the day. In the end, I decided to ask her to call me Ann - like 'N'. Well, I hope I can help her sikit by sikit. I do hope that we can build a strong relationship and have fun with each other's company.

Tomorrow we begin our Community Service work and on Sunday,  we will be going to their church. I have learnt that this place is a very Christian village. I'd like to thank you God for blessing us with such beautiful women and a wonderful time so far.

Good night for now. Petabi de dhum!

Friday 18 July 2014

My Work in the Paddy Field

It all started when my lady, Sinah Supang told me that she has a paddy field and she wanted to bring me there on Thursday. I was so excited! Unfortunately, that day I went to her house late and she already went to her paddy field. I did not know where it was so I spent the morning emo-ing until she came back. She decided to bring me to her paddy field after lunch.

The journey to our destination wasn't easy... you have to go up and down, left and right before you reach her paddy fields. The first thing that caught my eye was the square shaped land and brown and green grass in it. The scenery was so beautiful, you can never find this in the city!

 The journey to the paddy field.

The view of the paddy field from resting area (on a hill)

She hired a worker to help her to remove the grass in the paddy field, and that was the first time I saw people cutting grass in real life. I watched him cut so fast and with such ease. I thought it would be an easy job so I asked my sinah if I could join her tomorrow to help. At first, she rejected my offer because she thought that I cannot do it. After my persuasion she finally agreed to let me go down to the paddy field the next day.

The worker cutting the grass in the paddy field

The next day, I was very excited to go to the paddy field. The water in the paddy field seemed shallow so I just jumped into it. But the next moment I regretted what I had done. The actual water level in the paddy field was quite deep. Not only that, all the mud made it difficult to walk but I just bared with it. Then, I started to cut the grass. It went very smooth and well (in my view), but suddenly my sinah stopped me. Then she told me that I didn't really cut off the grass (all the grass was actually still there, just stuck in the water), she then showed me the actual way to remove it (you have to remove the root of the grass) and then I realised it was actually difficult work! 

When I took a break and looked around, I saw my sinah already did 7 times the work of what I have done. I tried my best to catch up to her but the grass just seemed like it hated me so much that they just wanted to be stuck in the soil. I ended up having my first 'mandi kerbau' (mud bath) in the paddy field. 

At the end of the day, my sinah finished almost the whole paddy field while I just did a small part. It was fun and at the same time, I now understand how hard it is to grow rice.

The Days We Spent Walking

These days, I take a train to get anywhere. While watching KL rushing by from outside the window gives me this almost atavistic sense of belonging, there was a time in Bario when my feet could take me anywhere. All I had to do was grab a friend and walk down those familiar, creaky steps.

Photo: Stairs to work, Who's in Arur Dalan Team? :) #onlyinbario

On the first day itself, we had to walk from Bario airport to Bario Asal. Our little walking bus was pretty euphoric for people who had just gotten off a flying tin can of a plane. As we walked, we passed by sights that would eventually become more familiar to us than we expected. We walked and chatted with a noise that must have disturbed all the buffaloes we passed. Our tourist-ey "oohs" and "ahhhh"s would eventually die down in the following weeks but our awe and love for Bario only grew from there. I can assure you that my volume never died down. (I've been told you can hear my laughs from the other side of the longhouse, much to my dismay)

For a while, Tepu Uloh had gone off to Miri and I was left to float around with my friends and their ladies. After spending a day or two with some of the ladies in Bario Asal, I decided to join Jess with her lady for a bit.This lead me on my first walk to Arur Dalan. It's a trail that I miss taking, though for the first day, I spent most of my time watching the muddy ground and keeping my balance. It's a fifteen minute walk that immerses you in gorgeous scenery. We were chatting along when the Arur Dalan regulars suddenly told me to look up a hill.

"Look, Felice. That's our friend!"

I couldn't see anyone amongst that dense shrubbery. I was pretty perplexed.

"There!" They said. When I looked again, I realized they were pointing a tough, burly, grey buffalo.

Turns out, this buffalo would be there at the same spot, at the same time, every day.

"I'm gonna name him Bob!" I said.

"Why?" Dan had to ask.

"She names everything Bob."  My classmates know me too well.

At the end of the day, Dan tells me that after talking to Aunty Dayang, he found out that the buffalo's name really is Bob. Go figure!


Our weekly excursions to church are also pretty fun. It's an early morning walk that leads you to a blue building with a cross on it. Mass is always upbeat and fun, with lots of singing. Once, we even got an awesome meal at the end.

With all the cheerfulness that you leave with, it's not surprising to meet new people on the way back. On one of our trips, it started drizzling lightly. As Xara and I were sharing an umbrella on our way, we noticed this old lady in a beautiful Kelabit outfit walking in the drizzle. 

Knowing that we couldn't let her walk in the drizzle like that, we offered to walk her home with her umbrella. She was extremely chatty and friendly, with a sweet, toothy smile. She asked us where we were from and what we were doing in Bario. She told us about her children in KL and how she also owns a pineapple farm. We chatted with her all the way back to her home.

It was really pleasant how we could just be walking and so easily meet new people on the way. A friendliness you wouldn't find in KL!

That wasn't the first time we had to walk in the rain though, and it certainly wasn't our last. In fact, that was probably the only time I got to walk with an umbrella! 

Vio had the misfortune of always being caught in the rain after she washed her hair. This happened again when we were heading back home from Joe's Cafe, our favourite (and only) spot to get ABC and noodles. Vio, being Vio, managed to convince us to pick up a piece of scrap metal to cover her with. It probably didn't help that Dan accidentally stepped on the Daiso slippers everyone complimented her on and it definitely didn't help that instead of rushing to help her, we all burst into laughter. 

That was probably one of the most entertaining sights to see....

....though, I have to say that Jon won most ridiculous alternative for an umbrella.

Of course, while all the walking is good and fun, it doesn't stop us from cheating every once in a while! It seems that if you have a car in Bario, it has to be a four wheel drive with a convenient place to chuck all the hitch hikers you pick up. 

Like I said, the people of Bario are so welcoming, you can get a ride almost any time. At one point, while we were in the back of a truck, the guy who was sending us home shouted from his window in the driver seat "Are you people rushing back?"

Assuming that he had to pick up some stuff from somewhere else, we said no and that we wouldn't mind following him. What he really ended up doing was taking us on the long way round where we got to see so much more than we would ever have seen otherwise. The view was so breathtaking, it made me really thankful that he did that for us because he really didn't need to. It just shows the little bits of kindness the people of Bario are used to performing. 

Maybe it's something in the air or the cheerfulness that spans throughout Bario, but I realize I was never tired from all that walking. If you set me on those familiar roads again, I think my feet could bring me anywhere.