Friday, 30 January 2015

A wedding anniversary in Brunei

It is ten years since my daughter Judy married Christiaan in the English Reformed Church in Amsterdam. It was a rather chilly day but managed not to rain most of the time. A warm and wonderful occasion, and followed by ten years full of discovery and travel, interspersed with moments of repose!
All very different here in humid Brunei, where their elder son Isaac plays football at school in the heat of the afternoon. And apparently loves it!
David and I left Amsterdam on 8 January and flew here via Singapore. We have been living in hottish climes these past years so the temperature shock wasn't too great, but the humidity here is excessive... one really needs to walk round with a towel. Which would soon grown damp.
Now there is so much to tell. Twelve days ago we drove off from Bandar Seri Begawan along the Borneo coast westwards to Sarawak. Just across the border is the small city of Miri, which we reached after about three hours' drive. My dearest daughter had reserved us all rooms in the Marriott Hotel which turned out to be a really friendly place and perfect for the kiddies. We liked it a lot; sorry I hadn't brought my swimming costume, because the temperature was perfect and the families there had a fine time splashing and swimming about. Very good food too, special arrangement at weekends. Everyone very happy. Most helpful staff on the front desk and in the restaurant. Found a Kelabit lady waitress, and told her we are going up to Bario. She told us she left Bario a long time ago... Later, when we reached Bario, we were looked after by Lian Tarawe, in the Tarawe's house; he had studied in Miri and then worked for many years for Shell. Oh small world...
We flew up to Bario on a Sunday morning, in a very small MASWings plane, along with about half a dozen others. Fortunately it didn't rain. I was somewhat scared in that little plane; we were so small and the sky around us, filled with floating white clouds, so immense. We flew over thickly forested folded hills, cut through by red strips that represented the roads scarring the face of the jungle. We saw a few landing strips, white amid the dark green background. The flight took around an hour, and we were me in the airport by Lian Terawe, the brother of John, with whom I'd corresponded. Lian was to look after us for the next few days, cook us the most delicious meals (including a tender young wild boar caught by the hunters of the village on their nightly expedition the day before we ate it!) and be our guide and interpreter regarding life and customs of Bario. We couldn't have made a better choice.
Bario is the most remote place I have ever visited, hours from any form of civilization. The electric lighting is provided by generators which begin to hum as dusk falls. For cooking there are gas bottles and paraffin. The water we drank was first boiled and then poured into litre plastic bottles, or into a thermos flask from which we drank endless cups of green tea, using the same tea bag for six cups (we have grown used to not-too-strong tea). The sanitary conditions were simple, a porcelain hole in the floor  which flushed adequately, or a sit-down toilet which was unpleasantly odorous (!) so I opted for the stand-and-squat system. Water was collected in huge plastic barrels with a plastic saucepan for rinsing soap off. I didn't venture to shower, though that possibility was present.
It is the monsoon season in January in this part of Borneo. Frequent flooding along the banks of the many rivers. I suppose that's (partly) why the longhouses are built on stilts. I took many pictures on this expedition into Sarawak, see my Gmail posts, and have also put some on Facebook, although have decided not to write on Facebook any more, it was using up too much time. Time is precious, I realize more and more. I don't manage to accomplish half of what I would like to, each day. so many books to read and write! So many words to learn... still aiming to get a little basic Arabic onder de knie as the Dutch saying goes (under the knee, literally!). I have one month in Bari to study with Autoor, friend from Iraq married to an Italian from Bari.
So in Bario we walked, we talked (Lian told us many stories about the place, past and present), we read and wrote, we consumed delicious fruit (the famous pineapple of Bario) and the equally famous rice, small-grained and nutty, we sat and gazed out at the wide green space and the huge cloud-filled sky and listened to the sound of many birds. I walked up to the school and talked to some of the pupils (Victoria and Gerrald, big brother of Grace) and was shown round by one of the English teachers, Supang Shially, who turned out to be the second cousin of Rona Twang, whom we were to meet on the plane returning to Miri, and thence with us to Kuching.

Back now in Bandar s.b. I feel the silence all around, and the soft voices of Judy teaching Nathan (now aged five) Dutch (quite a tricky job for her, but he understands about people having more than one language) ... though he found it really strange when I spoke Dutch with him, so I stopped.
That's it for now ... am going to read Dutch with grandson Isaak!
(typed in by grandson: a Wendie Shaffer production)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Off to Sarawak

No internet for a while ... we are travelling to the Kelabit Highlands, high tranquillity (I hope) and then to Kuching on the coast of Sarawak. Lots of photos to fly to Google and more tales to tell on or return. It's very rainy here (what can you expect from the monsoon season?!) but pleasantly warm. Lovely people. We are happy!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Borneo continued...

Ah yes, the refugees... first encountered really first-hand when we were in eastern Turkey in November 2013, and met people who had fled across the border with Syria. Saw several films a couple of months ago in the 2014 Torino Film Festival, addressing the subject on a wide scale. I am always occupied by this question: what or where is home, how much does a person need in order to feel "at home"; is it really, as is said, "where your heart is" and can it be that everywhere is home, and that you can carry a sense of being in the right place, wherever you go?
In recent years I have rarely felt "alienated" and in fact have usually felt I brought/took with me my own feeling of home. We have recently visited Oman, Dubai, Turkey, the lands of the Kurds, Greece, Italy and now Borneo, not to mention of course, our familiar civilizations of France, England or the Netherlands. In each place I watch and listen (well, I try to!) and piece together all the growing information. Think this is a kind of cultural anthropology, but perhaps that's giving it too high-falutin' a name! All fascinating, anyway.
It's pouring outside (an evening downpour). Happily this sluicing wetness quickly dries. Mist hangs over the treetops in the morning but evaporates as the hours pass. Judy my daughter has just fixed a boat trip for us tomorrow afternoon. With a covered seat, just in case one of the downpours chooses to descend between four and six p.m.
Almost time for bed now ... I have to lay me down before 10 p.m. because this house awakes at six, fumbling out of sleep into a usually sunny morning; the boys' school starts at seven. Different patterns from that other world, in Europe.
Today David and I fixed some of our programme for the next two weeks, including trekking in Sarawak in the Kelabit Highlands, followed by several days in Kuching (urban culture exchanged for the orangoutans and proboscis monkeys...)
Such a different world; the nearest I have been to this is the couple of weeks spent in Bali, around thirty years ago, working on a book about a Dutch painter who worked in Ubud. But that was in the summer; hotter and the heat more oppressive. Here in Brunei in January I find the climate more or less acceptable.
And today we climbed a strenuous hill (ha ha) at the end of the morning. Breaking in my wonderful new boots (bought in Amsterdam) and reminding my muscles about climbing on and off the boat. Felt wonderfully exhilarated (the walk/climb took an hour and a half) and David and I conclude we are both fitter now than we were ten years ago. (And only got a few mosquito bites, despite a spraying of Deet before we set out.)
The next topic will be the delights of being a granny; or rather, the delights of young children when one doesn't have to be with them hour in, hour out.

From the jungles of Borneo

Almost a month since my last entry. Meanwhile, Christmas has been and gone, another year has arrived, no snow has fallen in Amsterdam (though enough for a snowball or two in The Hague), and we have packed our cases and flown to Brunei. So here I sit and write, in a totally different world from that of northwestern Europe. I am trying to acclimatize.
Yes, climate: we are in the rainy season and every day and often every night, torrential downpours beat upon the roofs and cause rivers to flow down the hillsides. Every day it clears up, the sun comes out, a gentle breeze blows, it is positively delightful, the temperature around 30 degrees Celsius.
But it remains muggy or should I say, sultry? Much changing of clothes required and more than one shower a day is most acceptable. We won't get this, since part of our planned itinerary is the Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak, and there it seems that some of what we consider modern necessities remain sparse...
Retracking a little...
David and I spent Christmas in The Hague with Daniel and many family members; it was all most delightfully harmonious. Our little granddaughter Ise unfortunately was ill some of the time, but with a one-year-old's remarkable ability to chirp even with a fever, she remained with the family company much of the time. Yara, her big sister, danced and sang and was a great delight. Some of her cousins also came (that was during the snowy days) and grandpas and grannies abounded. Daniel took some atmospheric pix: I especially recall one of Ahed (Nadia's dad) in the living room late at night, beside the glowing embers of the fire. Great quietness...
David and I were back in our house for New Year's Eve, after a visit the day before to beautiful Friesland. David rented a car and we drove across the Afsluidijk together with Martin and Mary (friends through more than 50 years) north into the wide flat watery lands, where the occasional windmill stands and the Frisian cows stand immobile against the huge sky. We went to Hindeloopen, the home of Stroemhella, our aluminum yacht, and stood on the dyke that borders the IJsselmeer, and gulped the cool wind. Then via Leeuwarden (full of traffic!) to the dreamy town of Harlingen. Something like a film set, narrow canals lined with small old houses, and in one of them lives our friend Anja. I would like to spend at least a month staying in her house ... it has a huge sense of space and light, and her bookshelves are lined with many volumes I would love to read. She made a delicious meal for us and we chatted (about boats and sailing and the difference between the Med and the North Sea, and she passed on some of her store of marine knowledge) and then we drove back along the darkened Afsluidijk and found all the correct signposts along the way, and reached home before midnight.
I pass over the absurdity of the New Year's Eve banging in Amsterdam (throughout the Netherlands there is an inexplicable explosion on 31 December, as if there were something to celebrate) while in many countries refugees are streaming across borders, exhausted, famished, grasping at hope ... (to be continued).