Tuesday 14 July 2015

Authentic Hospitality

I was facing trouble narrowing down my university choices recently, and though I had already made my decision before going to Bario, my mind still wandered back to the time when someone asked me “What are you looking for in a university experience?”

My answer came without hesitationlike instinct. I felt more sure about it than any decisions I had made regarding university in the past couple of months. “A sense of community,” was my reply.

Now, I’m wishing for a university in Bario.

View of Bario from atop Arur Dalan's Prayer Mountain.
Panoramic view during our hot afternoon walk.
On the right is 'tortoise' Rui Ci walking towards us while we were waiting under trees with minimal shade.
Rainbow shot while walking between Arur Dalan and Bario Asal.
Turu comes into the long house once in a while to hunt for food.
I saw it eat a cotton bud once :O

Everyone in Bario felt like family. Everyone knew everyone and even if they didn’t know someone, they knew someone who knew that someone. In the long house and on the streets, people waved and smiled at each other. There was just no walking past anyone without some kind of acknowledgment from either party. In my three weeks in Bario, I found myself waving and smiling at people I didn’t know and feeling the warmth in their reciprocating smiles.

The sense of community in Bario is so strong. During my time there, I saw the ladies preparing for functions and receiving important guests. I saw how everyone would help in cooking and even share their eating utensils from home for the guests to use!

In countless moments in Bario, I felt the hospitality of the community and saw how generosity was so effortless and second nature to them.

One hot afternoon, my friends and I were roasting in the heat for some time before one of us (thank you Nithya!) was shameless enough to flag down a truck for a ride which they gladly gave.

There was also another time when my tepuq and I were walking from Bario Asal to Arur Dalan (kampung to kampung). A truck stopped next to us, and the driver greeted us before offering us a ride without us even asking.

I once walked from Arur Dalan to Bario Asal alone and was offered a ride on a motorcycle by a guy whom I had never met but had only waved to minutes before!

I know that what I’ve experienced and listed are limited to free rides, but their hospitality extends to so much more than that. Even Turo, Bario Asal’s resident hornbill is hospitable! It followed me and Nithya all the way from Bario Asal to Arur Dalan on the day before our flight! On many occasions we were offered drinks, fish, chicken, wild boar, BBQ etc... the list is unending!

I love the sincerity that comes with their generosity; they are under no obligation, and yet they expect nothing in return. In Bario, I felt accepted; I felt a sense of belonging.

It wasn’t until I got home that I TRULY appreciated how beautiful the people and the atmosphere was in Bario and what a stark contrast it is to the city environment. As I walked through KL Sentral, hauling my heavy bag that was exploding with the weight of Bario’s generosity, I caught myself smiling and waving to strangers who didn’t wave back.

Coming back from Bario after three weeks felt like returning to the cold, unsmiling reality from a fantasy world far, far away.

The locals there like to joke that Bario has its own air conditioning system without a switch, because it gets really chilly at night. But walking through KL Sentral, the air inside Malaysia’s concrete jungle felt colder than the air of warmth and hospitality surrounding Bario, which now feels like its own idyllic country, tucked away behind towering hills and the magnificent rain forests of Borneo.

Officially, my task in Bario was to teach the local Kelabit women English, but really, in my short three weeks there, I learnt so much more than any knowledge I could have imparted.

Lim Hooi Ju

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