Thursday 16 April 2015

My Favourite Simplicity

Tepu' [te-puk]
 Family. A greeting commonly used for the elders; someone who loved me very much and only wanted the best for me; someone who fed me endless Nuba Layas. My first and favourite Kelabit word.

Before anything, let me first introduce the lady I was assigned to for 3 weeks - the very grandmother-ly Tepuq Do Ayu! 

When I first knew my pairing, I was told that she's a very shy and reserved person. Perhaps we were paired because I'm generally good with silences and minimal interactions. However, she surprised me with little things like simple conversations with her foreign neighbours - yeah there's this English + Portuguese couple living in Bario yo - and also attempting English during meal times. :)

As I recall my first (Mon)day of following Tepuq to the paddy field, I'm visited by memories of how dead tired I felt from harvesting and how annoyed I was at myself for being so physically unfit. I'm not one to give up or show my weaknesses easily though, so I 'gungho-ed' my way through the day; while wanting to cry a little. I realised how comfortable life at home was.

(No worries, I was good by the next day. Just a slight work culture shock was all.)

On the left is our first ever picture together, taken during one of our breaks.

"Tepuq tau tak ambil gambar sendiri tu apa?"  
"Tak tau."  
"Kita panggil ni Selfie! Haha." 

"Tepuq, do you know what they call it when you take pictures of yourself?
"I don't know." 
"We call it a selfie! Haha."

Yes, I taught her what a selfie was. (Hey, it was Oxford's Word of the Year 2013, okay.) She probably doesn't remember this word anymore, but it was funny trying to get her to pronounce it!

I also have fond memories of my last Monday with Tepuq. 

That morning, I walked the usual rocky yet muddy path to Tepuq's house in the Arur Dalan village. 
What made me really happy was when I entered Tepuq's longhouse, I was greeted by everyone in the family, including Tepuq's grandsons who seemed to always disappear whenever I'm around haha. I usually hung out with members of the family separately, individually, so this was a very delightful change.

I truly enjoyed breakfast with everyone!

I still remember what was served that day, because I remember eating very happily.

We had fish, rice cooked in fish stomach, midin (fern) and wild boar, with padi hitam (black paddy) nuba laya.

As always I would reassure Tepuq in between spoonfuls, "sangat sedap!" (very yummy!) because I eat really slow, heh. More on that in the next post.

After breakfast, Tepuq disappeared into her room and came out with my kaboq, which is a pretty huge deal! I was really surprised by her present, and I also felt extremely blessed because she told me she'd decorated the beads herself.

Taken during my backyard adventure:
Kaboq is a traditional Kelabit necklace. 

This picture doesn't do the details on this Kaboq justice. Up close, you can see the little painted-on patterns of the beads.

I love this necklace very much- it fits me because it's very attention-seeking. :p

Later we (meaning me, Tepuq, and her husband whom I call Tok) went to the paddy field to harvest as usual, but that day they'd let me take my break earlier since we had a beauty session - a special initiative by Project WHEE! - for Arur Dalan in the evening. I doodled while they finished up some work amongst the goldens; I even got to explore their backyard for the first time, alone! 

Xueh Wei Cathrine - your local leaf doodler!

Me painting Sina Supang's nails. (Does anyone notice the pen in my hair?)
After Beauty Session: I love the Arur Dalan people. <3 

Well it sounds like I just described a pretty mundane day, and I guess it is if I'm going to compare it to my life back here in the city, but it was actually a pretty extraordinary day in Bario by comparison. My point is, although nothing totally out of this world happened, it was still a very nice day of good vibin' around. It was in Bario where I learnt, like a parent teaching their infant new words, how to really appreciate the little things again.

I miss my favourite simplicity, yes I do.

# Xueh Wei Cathrine #

Tuesday With Tepuq

Nuba Laya [noo-ba la-ya]
Food. A main course made of rice wrapped in a leaf called Daun Isip (which is the malay word for leaf, I know.) and then steamed to look very much similar to the Chinese traditional rice dumpling; a staple during my lunches with Tepuq, and something I can never finish alone.

"Makan. Habiskan." (Eat it. Finish it.) Tepuq would always say to me in her sing-song voice. But Tepuq! I would always manja, I don't eat a lot :( I really don't.

My favourite set of dishes: cherry tomatoes + catfish,
with my legs soaking in the paddy field.

Here's a not-so secret: I'm always the last one to finish my food during lunch. Not only that, I also eat very slowly because I tend to get full easily - and Tepuq notices too! Eventually after many days of her observation (and me convincing that her food is really good! + it's just me!), she came to accept that I'm a small eater and lets me give half of my nuba laya to Tok. Yay! I really appreciate little gestures like that, because God knows how seriously people in Bario take their food.

This happened on a slightly gloomy Tuesday with Tepuq.

I'm not sure why I was feeling both sad and stressed out that morning. Heck, finally being able to visit Tepuq's sawah near Bario Asal for the first time was supposed to be an exciting adventure for me, but I couldn't help it and secretly whined about the heat. I forgot to bring my gloves as well; another downer.

The beauty though.

Luckily for me, Tepuq was ever patient and loving. She wasn't fazed by my slight moodiness, and served breakfast by the paddy field as usual. That day, she was more initiative in asking me questions, and practicing pronounciations with me. It always makes me super glad to see an eagerness in learning language - something that keeps me going.

"What is XXX in English?" I especially love it when she asks me things in English itself!

 I taught her the word "picnic".

My mood lightened up soon enough (before noon). Thank goodness.

We ended work later than usual that day as there was more to do, and I'd forgotten my phone so I couldn't keep track of time anyway. Being so used to the fast-paced life here in the city, I relished in the luxury of a timeless atmosphere during my stay in Bario (after taking some time to get used to it); perhaps that is why I love the place so much.

I enjoy Tepuq and Tok's company, the way they'd always bicker (lovingly) about paddy things and how Tok would just give me his best smile like he was amused by Tepuq's words. Maybe he was, I'm not sure, I still don't speak fluent Kelabit, haha.

A couple that took me as their own grandchild, they named me Cathrine - not exactly the most Kelabit name (in fact, it's Christian) but I love it. They had given me their daughter's name.

Interesting fact: Names for new family members are to be chosen from exisitng names in the family. I'm honoured to be part of this Kelabit culture. :)

# Xueh Wei Cathrine #

Last Thursday

Mudan [moo-dan 
Something to (secretly, guilt-riddenly) look forward to when working in the field; when water droplets fall from the sky. It means "rain" in Kelabit; Tok likes to say nangeh ("cry" in Kelabit) alternatively cause he's a hippie old man.

It was my third and last Thursday with the folks of Bario.

I decided to walk alone earlier (usually I walked with my Arur Dalan homies, Shu Anne Liging & Rui Ci Ganit) to Tepuq's house that morning to make up for leaving work earlier the day before. I'm really glad I did, because I got to enjoy a nice breakfast with their daughter-in-law and her baby girl, Nora!

 Here's a picture of Parthiban with little Nora! 
She's really cute when she isn't crying the roof off and making me look bad.

We dried paddy for the day, which wasn't much of a job for me since Tepuq did most of the work - technical skills I couldn't pick up instantaneously. Thus, she gave me the most important job in the world- "Kejarkan ayam" (chase the chickens away) she said, as she handed me a stick. This is so the chickens won't eat the paddy laid out for drying!

Let's be real, I was using the long stick as a microphone to sing We Are The Champions + as a light saber/any other weapon + messing with the cobwebs under the longhouse (until I see a spider and get scared), 80% of the time, heh. I hope Tepuq was amused!?

While singing, one must not forget our purpose in Bario! I tried English teaching with a song by teaching her how to sing the Barney I Love You song (I love youuuu, you love meeee, we are happy familyyyy) and you know what? It was pretty okay. She knows "I love you" and "family"! :D

Suddenly, as we were jamming our hearts out, a wild (and colour coordinated) Tok appeared.

"Tok! Nak ambil gambar Tok boleh?" He nods. He poses. #OOTD?

I could see how my Tepuq and Tok match each other - with Tepuq's love for singing and Tok with dancing, it's no wonder!

Later on it rained slightly, and after three weeks of doing this, I took the liberty of warning: "Mudan, Tepuq!" before Tok started his usual nangeh chant haha. I really didn't like moving the tikars (mats) in and out due to the fluctuating weather, but at least I got to take a short nap - a rarity and luxury during harvesting season! - at one point with Tepuq. Though my slumber was cut short when Rui Ci dropped by to invite us for tea over at Sina Mayda's place.

It was a very chill day; the only weekday that I didn't spend in a paddy field; a different kind of nice.

# Xueh Wei Cathrine #

Saturday Shenanigans

Petabi Lekedang [petabik-leketang 
Greeting. It means "Good Morning"; one of the very first few phrases I learnt that's very useful in building good rapport; say this to everyone in the morning to receive amused smiles (applies to non-Kelabits only).

For our first Saturday, I was looking forward to both community service and visiting tamu (the market).

Tamu is basically a morning market, where villages take turns to sell goods - like crops or cooked porridge - each week. It is held near a stretch of shop lots around the slightly more urban area of Bario, where the hospital is.

Where there is urbanisation, there is Internet. Let me introduce eBario to you; a telecentre where my friends and I attempted (not in vain!) to get in touch with "the outside world". It was there that I used the free wifi to post my first tweet from Bario.

Replies for my tweets were just: Wow you're alive!

Since it was our first visit, our homestay host, Tepuq Sinah Rang decided to kindly treat us breakfast! I had porridge and laksa to go with a warm cup of Milo, happy tummy. :)

Project Coordinator, Daniel Agan on the left with the lively Tepuq Sinah Rang!
Sitting across Shu Anne with her porridge and me with my Laksa + Milo.
Tamu sightings: I think it's safe to say wild boar meat is a typical Bario staple.

Later, we returned to the longhouse for a short break before getting up and running again for community service - cleaning the Bario Asal church! My first thought when we stepped onto the holy grounds was - "Woah, this place is dusty." Then, I was enlightened that due to the nature of the church's surroundings, dusty floors are practically inevitable.

So why are we cleaning it? Well, that's like asking why you keep eating rice when you'll get hungry anyway, right? Haha.

We borrowed cleaning equipments from helpful residents of the longhouse and the local pastor before we started sweeping and mopping away! The most fun for me was definitely cleaning up the cobwebs, an oddly satisfying chore, even though I knew it would soon be back in the next 24 hours (according to the locals); GG spiders!

Look at them tall peeps Kee Kiat & Dev go!

Cleaning with everyone while John Mayer played from Dev's playlist on his speakers was really rather nice! Like I keep saying, so many little things to appreciate. It's crazy how easily we just got along and worked together in making this inevitably-dusty church as clean as possible - some things just happen, some people just click.

Later in the day, we dropped by the hydrodam for a dip to cool down. Even though the water was freeeezing cold and the walk there was waaaaaay longer than I thought, at least it happened with the best bunch.

Grateful for these wackos.
From left: Cathrine, Jangin, Sria, Ganit, Liging, Gerawat, Lian. 

# Xueh Wei Cathrine #

This Is Not The End

Naam Kelik [am-kelik 
Phrase. It means "I don't know" in Kelabit; very useful at times, especially when Bario people forget you aren't Kelabit and speak a full sentence in it- eg. "jfkjdfkdjfdk" "....naam kelik?"

I remember writing in my journal on the morning of 6th February, thinking to myself: "WOW IT'S MY LAST FULL DAY IN BARIO ALREADY." Then I laughed, at all those times we'd talk about how we have so much time left here, and now the last day has come.
[Context: We (Batch 5) were the first batch of Project WHEE! participants to have 3 weeks in Bario.]

My last full day in Bario; my last working day; my last day with Tepuq.

I put on jeans that morning because, a) I thought we were going to chill at her house on our last day together (silly me) and also, b) I was running out of clean pants. But as always, Tepuq surprised me by appearing in the Bario Asal longhouse, right at the junction where the road to Arur Dalan would have started.

My assumptions were wrong and we went to the paddy field after all, aha. Tepuq said my jeans were fine though since we were only going to dry paddy for the day.

Off we go.

Note: Drying paddy was like the only activity where my Tepuq was in an ultra chill mode because it's harvest season and she's really hardworking! Often times, she would continue away with her sabit (sickle) in hand even after I've left at 4pm, the time we usually leave work.

Admittedly, I was starting to feel that worn-out sensation after 3 weeks of working in Bario. (I've never worked so physically hard in my life!) Thus I took more breaks in between helping Tepuq with the paddy - I was making artificial wind by fanning yo - yet I couldn't just sit still idly.

Doodle I did.

The basis of my sketch that was later the drawing for a card I made for Tepuq. :) 

When she took her breaks, I would ask her to tell me more stories of the past while she showed me pictures from her extremely small Nokia screen, as if to soak up more of Tepuq before I left this beautiful highlands for more than a short while. She would tell me about who was a warrior, who fought hard, and who had left this world in glory. 

We drank tea as I thought about what I would miss.

I would miss these people I walked, laughed, ate and lived in the same longhouse with for the past three weeks in Bario; people I call my family during our pre-meal prayers.
It was a funny journey with you lot, my friends. I wouldn't have it any other way, thank you!

I would miss my Tepuq, and how she lent me her green long sleeve shirt that protected me from paddy cuts + her trusty red socks that protected me from scary bug bites; miss our shared moments of laughter over tea.

When we sat in Aunty Dayang's shed for a tea break.

I would miss Tok and the funny dances he did whenever he felt like it - whether for fun or to cheer up little crying Nora. The way he'd try to make me dance with him as well!

I'll teach you my contemporary moves next time!

I would miss Tepuq, again, very much and the times that we got to spend with each other. It really is a luxury to hang out without work during harvesting season, so I really appreciated those moments.

I took the picture below before I left on my little adventure (notebook and pen in hand!) to explore her backyard that day, leaving my red cup by my favourite window. I did a wave before I ventured off as if to say, "I will be back Tepuq!"

And I will be. 

# Xueh Wei Cathrine #

Monday 6 April 2015

On the Back of the 4WD

Before leaving to Bario, I heard so much about sitting on the back of the 4WD (Four Wheel Drive) from many of the alumni and the coordinators.

"It's a really nice experience! You get to feel the wind rushing through your hair!"
"The scenery in Bario is best enjoyed when you are riding on the back of a 4WD!"
"Remember to sit on the back of the 4WD when you are in Bario!"

When we landed in Bario, we were picked up by Uncle Julian, our home-stay host (Tepuq Sina Rang)'s son. He fetched us from the airport back to the homestay. I was excited when I saw him loading our luggage onto the back of the 4WD. Will this be my first ride on the back of the 4WD? I wondered excitedly.

Unfortunately, after loading our luggage, there was very limited space for all of us to stand at the back. So, I sat inside the car instead while my other batch members sat behind.

Xueh Wei, Thriya and Parthiban had the opportunity to ride behind the 4WD after we landed in Bario.
To be honest, the view I saw out of the window of the 4WD didn't exactly blow me away. Maybe it was because the view was obstructed by the car frame, or maybe the lack of wind in my hair greatly diminished the 'wow' factor. In short, my first ride on the 4WD was disappointing.

Houses we saw on the way to the home-stay

The living quarters of the Bario clinic
Two of our batch mates, Dev and Shu Anne, arrived a day later. We went to the airport with Uncle Julian to pick them up. This time, I finally had the chance to ride on the back of the 4WD. Boy, it was such a good experience! Take this from me, the view of Bario is really best enjoyed when riding on the back of the 4WD. You get to see how the mountains envelop the settlement, how the seemingly endless cemented road keeps extending as you move along, the golden plots of paddy field ready to be harvested, the clouds floating ever so lightly in the light blue sky. It was picture perfect. That was when I fell in love with Bario.

Golden paddy fields ready for harvesting
MASwings in the sky

Those who have visited Bario before will agree that the locals are very friendly, warm and hospitable. For me, the occasions where I had the chance to witness these characteristics were the 4WD rides.

One Saturday morning, when we were walking to the town centre for Tamu Riah, something similar to a morning market, a 4WD pulled up next to us and we were offered a ride without much hesitation.

On the way to Tamu Riah
Another morning, when I walked with Shu Anne to our assigned ladies' houses, which was in another village called Arur Dalan, a local man also offered us a ride to their longhouse. That is how friendly the locals are, offering outsiders rides on their 4WD so easily.

The muddy road to Arur Dalan
It is a pity that nowadays, city dwellers are less friendly and warm compared to rural folks. I opine that this is due to evolution.

The pace of life in cities is rapid. Most of us are rushing. Rushing to finish education, rushing to complete a professional paper, rushing to get married, rushing to earn a million dollars, rushing to climb the social ladder, rushing...  The city is a jungle and those inhabiting it will have to obey the laws of the jungle.

In such a competitive situation, it is no wonder that many city dwellers are focused on working towards their aim and have stopped to smell the roses. We evolve, gradually losing warmth and friendliness along this rat race.

However, I also believe this is not the only reason why offering help to strangers is not a common sight in the cities, especially Kuala Lumpur. It is no secret that Malaysia's capital city is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Even if there are people who have the heart to lend a helping hand to a stranger, they may think twice because of the possible crime risks. The stranger may turn out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, ready to rob, kidnap, or cheat his saviour. 

View captured in Arur Dalan. I had the privilege of enjoying views like these every day for three weeks.
Selfie taken during our ride offered by the local man
On a lighter note: Now that I have been to Bario, would I recommend you to sit on the back of a 4WD when you pay a visit to Bario? A hundred times yes! 


The last couple of years haven't exactly been the best for Malaysia. Politically, economically, socially. A question I constantly hear is "Don't you want to migrate? Find a job elsewhere and not look back?"  While I do not fault those who live elsewhere for their decision, I think that my experience in Bario is one of the reasons why I don't think that leaving this country is an option. Living with the Kelabits has made me realize that we do have a responsibility to give back. Malaysia is home after all.

This blog post isn’t so much about Bario. It is a plea to anyone reading this that we can learn so much just by going out there and doing something new instead of just reading about the negativity that we see everyday. When I first signed up for Project WHEE!, I had been on the fence about my future, whether I should stay or consider ‘greener pastures’ because I was tired of the way things were.

Having met Tepuq Sinah Doh Ayu and all the other people that have touched the project participants' lives in one way or another, I know for sure that there is no other place that I’d rather serve than this country I call home. Why? Simply because of the people. Learning about the Kelabit culture and way of life made me see them as real living individuals. Sure, I knew of the Kadazans and the Ibans and a few other communities, all of which we learnt about in our textbooks, but having experienced Bario, I think that it is important as Malaysians to know that these people are so much more than the pictures in our books of colourful clothes and longhouses. 

It isn't enough to just read about something only to forget about it in the days or months or years to come. I choose to believe that complaining about the way things are and running away from it isn’t the best way to deal with it. Bario showed me, that equipped only with the language I speak and the strength in my back, I could make a small difference and for that, I will forever be grateful for my time there.

There is so much to be done and so much to learn just by taking a leap of faith and doing something small to help out. Trust me when I say that the moment you start, it will not seem like work at all. All it took for me to make up my mind to stay was this tiny little town called Bario that we the participants can’t ever seem to stop talking about and we have the Kelabits to thank for that. We consider them family – not by blood but in all the other ways that matter. Malaysians, just like ourselves. Part of the country we call home. 

I Heart Tepuq!

Tepuq Sinah Rang & I 
The first lady I was assigned to was Tepuq Sinah Rang, our home-stay host. I considered myself lucky to work with Tepuq Sinah Rang because she is one of the most genuine person I met in Bario. She has a BIG heart and she looked after us like her own 'cucu' (grandchildren). Tepuq and I clicked almost instantly and because I was spending a lot of time with her, I developed a special bond with Tepuq Sinah Rang. <3 On days I was not sent to 'sawah' (paddy field), Tepuq and I would stay indoors and bead. At the end of our trip, Tepuq presented each of us a 'kaboq' that she made herself.
The 'kaboq' each one of us in Batch 5 received
Before leaving to Bario, Rhon and Daniel were speaking of the long term effects we would have on our tepuqs. They were telling us to not be discouraged when we do not see the fruits of our labour when we teach our tepuqs English. I did not fully understand this until Renai (Kim from Batch 1) called Tepuq Sina Rang one day. I listened to tepuq speaking almost fluent English and it got me thinking how far tepuq must have come from where she started. At that moment I realised we do leave a mark in our tepuqs' lives although we may not be able to see it.

I'm not good at goodbyes, and saying goodbye to Tepuq Sina Rang was really difficult. I got very attached to her. I remember tepuq received a new smartphone as a gift and she used the sound recorder to record our conversations. She would play it again and again and laugh out loud (literally). I loved it whenever she called us 'puq ayam' (my darling) and I loved how she whispered 'I love you' into my ear every time I gave her a hug and I loved how her hugs felt like coming home. I loved how she insisted I sit and rest instead of following her everywhere. I loved listening to her stories during breakfast and dinner. I loved how we danced together during our banana leaf night and again on cultural night. I loved every moment spent with Tepuq Sinah Rang.

Till we meet again Tepuq. Uih buloh iko <3

Thriya Sria Maria

Saturday 4 April 2015

I'm going on an adventure!!! (Bario style)

For 20 days, I woke up every morning to the sound of Tepuq Sina Rang and my fellow WHEE-ans' laughter as they had their breakfast. I would make my way to the dining area and greet Tepuq 'petabi lekedang' and hear her replying me with a 'good morning'. After breakfast, I changed into my paddy clothes and walked to the paddy field with my 'sawah padi' buddy, Dev. On some mornings, Parthiban and Kee Kiat would join us but most days it was just Dev and I.

Due to the rainy season, Bario Asal had a muddy terrain. So if you're wearing slippers like me, you'll have a hard time walking to the paddy field (or like me, you'll give up halfway and walk barefoot). The walk to the sawah is no ordinary walk. As a city kid, have you ever experienced hungry chickens chasing after you for food? Or... do you wave and greet the random guy that passed you on his bike? (Bet you don't. I've tried it in the city and all I got was weird looks). In Bario, you get both and so much more! All these little things in addition to the freshness of the morning air just makes you feel very alive, if you know what I mean - but guess you won't unless you've been to Bario yourself.

Muddy roads in Bario 
During our (Batch 5) time in Bario, it was the harvesting season. So shadowing the ladies meant harvesting paddy with them. Wearing our knee-length socks and gloves, geared with 'sabits' (sickles), food and drinks, we made our way into the sawah (paddy field) to start 'ketam padi' (harvesting paddy). I'll be honest with you, 'sawah' work is tough. It's fun when you do it for the first few times but then it gets tiring and you'll be waiting for it to be over (salute to the ladies for doing it all year long!). As exhausted as I was, I found working in the paddy field sort of fun, especially when we had Tepuq Bulan, Parthiban and Kee Kiat around. The more the merrier right? Right. There was a lot of random singing, and occasional shouts of 'Maju! Maju!'.

When the clock strikes 10 am, Aunty Jenette would always call for break time which meant chilling by the paddy field eating 'senape' or 'roti telinga' (my favourite by the way) and having orange juice/tea/water while listening to the tepuqs' never ending jokes. After a while, we would go back to 'ketam padi' till 12 pm, when we would have our lunch. We would go back to the shack and the tepuqs would lay out the food they brought for us. We would pray and then, the feasting would begin. The food was always good and after working under the sun, we would all be hungry (more like starving!). I'm always in awe at how the tepuqs managed to prepare food before coming to the 'sawah' to work. Imagine waking up super early everyday to prepare food and then work in sawah the whole day! Now that's hard work. #superwoman Following lunch is nap time and the tepuqs being such sweet people, always allowed Dev and I to sleep in. Waking up feeling guilty, Dev and I would work our backs off for the next few hours before we were told to go back by the tepuqs. Although hesitant, we always complied because we would be dead tired by then. #citykids

Living in Bario was like living in wonderland, away from technology, away from stress. It was a worry-free life. Maybe that's why I sometimes find myself wishing I could ditch all responsibilities and take the next flight back to Bario. 

Bario got me like...

Being An Inspiration

In Project WHEE!, besides training and equipping the Bario women with skills and knowledge for ecotourism activities, we the participants also teach in SK and SMK Bario after school. We organise activities there to brush up the students' English and hopefully, inspire them.

When Batch 5 was told by Daniel and Rhon, our project coordinators, about this task, I was worried. How exactly will I be an inspiration to these students, when in reality, I'm not exactly the most inspirational person around? 

SK sessions went well for me and my partner, Abang KK. We were tasked with the Standard 6 class. The students were absolutely adorable. They greeted us very formally (Goooood eeevehneeng aahbaang KK aand kaakak Gaaneet) every time we entered the class. They listened to everything we said in class, and cooperated with us for all the activities. Needless to say, we adored them to bits. 

After a session in SK
SMK on the other hand, was a real challenge - for me at least. In SMK, I was tasked with Form 1B. The difference between the SMK and SK students were, even though the SMK students cooperated with me in our session, I could clearly see that they weren't as enthusiastic as the SK students. Their faces showed what they really thought about my session: boring, not exactly helpful, uninteresting.

After my first session with SMK, I went back to the home-stay feeling dispirited. I thought I had failed to be an inspiration for the students. 

That night during debrief, I shared my disheartening experience with the rest of the batch and wallowed in misery. I was upset for not being able to live up to the expectations I had set for myself. However, Rhon said something that made me look at the entire situation differently.
''You may not think that you have been an inspiration to them, but just seeing Project WHEE! around in school is already an inspiration for the students. They don't see many outsiders in school most of the time, and you don't know this, but they are very excited to see us whenever we come to Bario. Just because you don't feel like an inspiration does not mean you don't leave an impact on them. You may not have inspired them to learn English, but you have inspired them on something else.'' 
For me, what she said rang a bell. In my life, there have been many events that inspired me to do something that was not the original objective or goal of that event. One example would be a contest I participated back in secondary school. My team was the First Runner Up for this national level contest. It was about producing a professional magazine. Winning that spot did not inspire me to become a journalist, nor did it inspire me to pick up graphic designing. Instead, it inspired me to believe in myself - believe that I have the potential to achieve amazing things in life. I trust that the organisers of that contest had no clue or foresight that they would motivate a participant to be more confident in herself, and yet they did.

''We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.'' - Stephen King, 11/22/63

My experience with the SMK students did not inspire me to become a teacher, but it did inspire me to understand the way teenagers think and learn. I sincerely hope that my session with the SMK students did spark some sort of inspiration in them, and I hope this story has inspired you with something! :)

The Random Work Post

A typical work day in Bario for me was something like this: waking up at 6.45 AM and getting ready, helping tepuq a little bit in the kitchen, having breakfast, and walking to Arur Dalan with Xueh Wei and Shu Anne. The three of us were assigned to ladies who lived in a different village from where we stayed (Bario Asal), unlike the other volunteers. One thing worth mentioning about our walk to Arur Dalan is everytime, without fail, a flock of white chickens trailed behind us! At first, it scared us because we thought we were about to be attacked by the chickens. After three weeks of the same thing happening, we got used to it.

The walk took around 15 minutes and the scenery we took in was absolutely gorgeous.

The lady I was assigned to was Sina Mayda Pitan. She is the youngest Bario woman to participate in Project WHEE!. An advantage of being paired with her is that she is very considerate and accommodating towards her assigned volunteers. She does not overwork them and makes sure that they are very well fed. However,  this advantage worked against me. Many times, I felt that she thought I was a city kid incapable of helping her. I spent quite some time convincing her that I am in fact able to work in the paddy field, get dirty and muddy, and sweat it out. Sometimes, it is really funny how things work out.

January is harvesting season in Bario. Hence, aside from brushing up Sina's English, most of the work I did was drying (midang) and harvesting (ranih) paddy.

The field Sina works in in Arur Dalan is very, very beautiful. The walk to the field was somewhat an adventure for me. First, we entered a house, walked through the backyard of the house, and ended up at a river. Next, we crossed the river using a bamboo bridge and passed by somebody else's paddy field. After that, we walked through a narrow trail with bushy ferns on both sides. Oh, did I mention, we went up and down a hill before finally reaching her field? The entire journey took about 10 minutes.

Crossing the first paddy field

The narrow trail with bushy ferns on both sides
Reaching the destination after walking over a hill
For a few times, I tried role playing with Sina Mayda. I played the tourist, while she played the guide. I made her guide me to the paddy field, name the different kinds of jungle vegetables we saw on the way and explain their uses, and point out Prayer Mountain from where we were. I also taught her simple sentences to caution tourists, such as "Be careful, the road is very muddy and slippery". However, the challenge I faced was she kept speaking to me in Malay instead of English. This is because I can speak Malay moderately well (I hope I didn't disappoint all of you too much, my BM teachers!) and language wasn't really a barrier for us. Therefore she always slipped back to speaking in Malay. Actually, she understands English quite well, but lacks the confidence to converse in it.

In Bario, for every paddy field, there is a hut. This hut functions as a storage space to keep harvested paddy, tools, sawah clothes... As for Sina's hut, it is mainly used as a place to chill and have lunch after working. There is also a fireplace for cooking. 

Inside the hut

The story behind this chair: On my first day at the sawah (paddy field), Tama Ricky, Sina's husband, decided to build a chair from scratch out of the blue. He sawed the wood, assembled and nailed them together. It was a really random little DIY project. 

A blowpipe (sumpit)
The one on the right is padi adan, the famous Bario rice whereas the one on the left is padi hitam.

Winnowing paddy
Removing the stalks from the paddy 

Spreading out the paddy with a rake for optimum drying
Harvesting paddy together
There is one thing I really appreciate about Sina: she took the initiative to work close by me in the paddy field, so that I was able to chat with her and work on improving her English. It was the little things like these that she did that touched my heart a lot.

Some Instagram-worthy shots:

Sunglasses embedded in the ground.

Normally, if we went to the field on day one, Sina preferred to stay at home on day two. When we stayed at home, the things we did were drying paddy and cleaning the house. I always looked forward to days when we would go to the field, because I got to be more physical.

The official time for the volunteers to end work is 4 PM. Around this time, I walked back to Bario Asal together with Shu Anne and Xueh Wei. 

Shu Anne walking back to Arur Dalan from the field. On the left is the solar farm that supplies electricity to Arur Dalan.
Xueh Wei washing her socks after work
Werk it, gurl.