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)

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