In less than a month, our family will celebrate 5 years in Malaysia. Yet for many reasons, we haven’t really learned the language. I can jabber in the market, but often don’t know basic words (move, change, and light are three examples), and have a hard time understanding what I hear. The boys take the easy road and assume others will work and play in English. But I decided, “it’s TIME!” A post of Facebook offering to pay anyone who can let us sleep on their floor and help us speak Bahasa, and voila, an invitation to a village. I think I could write a book about our last 48 hours. But I’ll try to hit the high points here.
First, we had the wrong Maps pin and so a 1-hour trip turned into a three-hour tour (a three-hour tour!) of rural roads, including an accidental 30 minutes on gravel/dirt/ancient mossy cement bridge, getting car stuck and unstuck, and stopping every person we saw to get directions to the next turn. Comically, the erroneous gravel road turned out to lead us to where we were going – but the actual place was just 100 metres from lovely sealed asphalt, which meant we got back home almost entirely on great roads!
We got there and had the lovely surprise that one of Cade’s teachers had seen our post on Facebook and came to see us. She got there way before us even though she hadn’t been there for “twenty-over” years. Sabahan people are, in general, heartwarming, and this was a great welcome after our slightly harrowing three-hour tour (our three-hour tour)!
We hiked about 10 minutes to a river with our host, Terrence (though we just called him “Uncle,” per local tradition), and a local boy named Daziel, who was 11 and agreed to help our boys try to speak BM. Terrence taught us a river game where he built a stone tower and we all threw rocks at it, trying to topple it. This lasted for a looooooong time, and was super fun. Simple games “rock”!
The building we stayed in had been handed down through generations, rebuilt and remodelled, into a hostel with many bunk beds. For dinner, they fed us, and fed us, and fed us, and then we all fell asleep.
The next morning we hiked to some local homes, where we encountered:
- A bird that can mimic you (but we were told in Bahasa, “burung ini cacap Dusun” – this bird speaks Dusun – the local tribal language.
- We saw leaves drying – once dry, you boil them, then use the water to bathe. Bath & Body Works, eat your heart out. The leaves smelled fabulous!
- We found out that our guide had helped choose the place here in Sabah for the first season of Survivor – he name-dropped Mark Burnett and my jaw dropped! I love Survivor!
- We were taught a game with a local segmented plant called “ribu-ribu” (thousands). You take a little segment and hide it in the rest of the plant and others try to find it. Again, super fun.
- Next we went to a family house and met the father of the tribe’s Chief. There we were relieved when their dogs went from howling and growling to helping the boys chase chickens. Right near the house were pineapple plants and rice padi, which shared irrigation with three tiny fish ponds. We learned about where kids go to school, the extended family that lives all over and comes home for the weekend, and even how to make rice wine! I had to water mine down (a lot!) but it was truly relaxing to be in their home, half-understanding their stories, and thanking them profusely. Oh, and we learned how to modulate our voice to yell “Keeeeee-hoi!” after drinking the rice wine.
- In the afternoon, after school Daziel joined us for a hike to a waterfall. We hiked in the gentle rain, found fresh papayas, trekked through two rivers, and swam in the chilly waterfall. Daziel taught me to open my eyes underwater (which later I thought, “hmmmmm, maybe not the wisest place for that”). All was well until the sound of the waterfall changed – FLASH FLOOD! Our guide shouted, “RRRRRRUN!” He grabbed Daziel, I hopped out with Dante and Caedmon, and we were safe on dry land – except that we had to fjord that river several times downstream. Ankle-deep water became waist-deep cascades, but Terrence kept us safe as we raced the rising waters – but we did not lose our papayas! When we got back we had hot tea and cooked the one unripe papaya – shredded and in oil, it was SO good, with chopped chicken, white rice, and leaves Terrence had gathered on the hike. The kids played some language games and my boys quickly fell asleep.
- Daziel stayed up with his mom, as kids here don’t go to bed until 9:30, even though school starts at 6 am six days a week. He read a BM copy of “Finding Dory” with me and helped me translate bit by bit, then he kindly wrote the Lord’s Prayer in BM into our notebook. To say thank you (or “terima kasih”), we passed on to him Cade’s hardly-used roller blades. Kids here are very polite when given gifts, but this boy’s face lit up and he even danced, he was so delighted. (Next time I go, I will bring a helmet and wrist guards!)
- Our last morning, we woke up early and headed to a place in the river that has lots of fun rapids. Three wonderful things: the boys could remodel the river with rocks, building and destroying dams all they wanted; the rapids were a jacuzzi for me, and there were no leeches! (I haven’t actually had a leech here, but I am due.) Hiking back we found a giant centipede (7 inches – bite would send you to hospital) right by Cade, and we gathered more food for lunch so the boys could eat and play with Daziel before we left.
- When it came time to leave, there was a massive rainstorm. I was nervous about the drive – the 100 metres getting to the sealed road, then the parts that even locals called steep (at least 14% grade). Terrance took pity on me (after my three-hour tour) and drove us ½ hour to the main road, meeting up with a friend to bring him back. It only took us 90 minutes to get home. After Terrence hopped out of our car, coming home was all downhill – staying in 2nd gear almost all the way! Only 12% grade there, but when we approached town, the skies turned black (at 3:00 pm) and we got to navigate more flooding as the city roads were almost a foot deep in many places. What a relief to get home!
- And as a result of our adventure, we have new friends, invitations to return (and bring Daziel back to stay with us for a few days, we hope!), and a new 1-inch pile of flashcards from our practical language experience. Everything from “can I have more rice” to “Disengage!” to “pet the friendly dog” to “ouch” to “poop.” The boys can now say simple sentences and we learned about the modern life of Dusun people. I also prayed in BM for the first time (blessing the meal) and I think we all felt blessed to be able to meet, help each other, and celebrate life in Sabah.