The Malay Way

Selamat Datang World,

As I’ve been staying with a local family in a homestay here in Batu Puteh, I thought that I would attempt to paint a picture of life in a typical Borneo village for you all.

grandfathers-shop

To reach our house you start at the volleyball pitch under the flyover and walk away from the wifi zone, crossing over the little stream as you go (preferably stepping on the big stone and not the pipe as the pipe is deceptively slippy). Once you’ve ducked under the washing line at the end of the little alley with all the planks to walk on, our house will be opposite you. The house is a typical Malay structure: one storey, raised on stilts and made entirely of wood. Quite excitingly, whereas other houses have cars or storage under their floorboards, we have a collection of goats, chickens and the village shop. On entering our house, ensuring that you have removed your shoes, the first thing that hits you is the simplicity of life here. Aside from the surprisingly large Samsung TV, great-grandmother’s chair and the Liverpool FC scarf hanging on the wall, the main room is pretty much empty. All the bedrooms lead off from this square space including the hamster-wee-scented wooden box where I’ve been sleeping under my magically protective mosquito net. Connected to the main room is also a lean-to where the sink-less kitchen (a real puzzler there) and the ‘facilities’ are. With a squat toilet and bucket room as opposed to a shower room the facilities are basic yet bearable.

my-malay-home

What the accommodation lacks in decor it certainly makes up for in food. Every meal we eat out on the veranda at the front of the house. After washing our hands with a plastic red teapot we dig into whatever wonders await us whether it be pumpkin, fish or crab. It turns out that there is an art to shovelling rice using your bare hands and I would be blatantly lying if I said I had mastered this technique. After dinner entertainment includes tag, balancing a cup on top of your head and a cultural evening spent dancing and trying not to rip our traditional outfits. All of these enthral the two little boys who live here even if our communication is limited to their only English word: “Hello!”.

My favourite thing about the village is the sense of community. Living in a house with four generations, the importance of family is obvious here. There always seems to be a cousin or a distant aunt round, sat chatting with great-grandmother or buying something from grandfather’s shop. One night there seemed to be at least three times the normal number of people in the little house and more kept appearing from every corner.

view-of-the-village

There simply aren’t enough words to tell you all there is to be said about everything I’ve learnt and experienced over the last few days. It’s a way of life that has taken years to develop. But there are enough words to tell you that travel truly does open the mind. Only once you’ve walked the road of another will you be able to appreciate all the blessings in your own life yet at the same time realise how pure and simple happiness can be. Money isn’t essential to be able to have a good life, it’s about the people around you and not the possessions. Even so, money could buy a scent diffuser and that could greatly improve our little box bedroom. Money could also buy some earplugs to stop the call for prayer from the village Mosque waking us all up at 5am.

I’ll keep you posted,
Joanna x

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