I’m sitting in Lahad Datu on the east coast of Borneo. We’ve just driven along 250km of road lined with Oil Palm trees, and that’s only a snapshot of the industry. When you get to any viewpoint, all you can see is oil palm plantations as far as the eye can see.
I’ve just spent a week at a tiny kampong with 15 small homes making a productive start to a gravity water feed system. I spent the first morning there, which was my birthday, planting rice in the paddy fields for 3 hours. The men walked ahead making holes in the ground, while the women (and me!) threw the seeds in after them. This was a fantastic experience as no-one around me spoke any English, and I spent 3 hours thinking of nothing else except whether I had put the correct number of seeds in the hole – not too much, not too little, and hoping that I won’t screw up their harvest!! As an ‘orang-putty’ I was getting laughed at a bit as it was probably the first time some of them had had such close contact with a white man, or possible even seen on, but I just laughed along.
It was a superb setting with a very small community, and some fantastic kids. We layed around 3km of plastic piping along some treacherous jungle like terrain, across massive fallen logs, and felled large clearings with the locals and their parangs. The JKK (head of the kampong) made us feel very welcome there. I must confess I pretty much had tears in my eyes leaving the project. I’ll really miss completing the project, and getting more involved in the community as I think that was just about to turn the corner. I had tried getting invited to some local sing songs as there were always noisy houses every night. A few nights ago, we were lighting an open fire, and a couple of locals emerged from the darkness and helped us along. Through one of the host country participants, we had a conversation with them which was an experience. A couple of us tried their ‘jungle baccy’ (no, it’s legitimate, not dodgy!), while I tried to get an invite to a house…unfortunately my time on the project was running out. Maybe it’s because I got the high score on his mobile phone’s driving game….
From there I was picked up by the loop land rover that resupplies the teams mid phase, drops of mail, and basically checks all is well. We headed to Imbak Canyon which involved 2 hours of driving off the main road, along logging tracks, once again surrounded by oil palm plantations. The journey was broken up now and again by massive logging trucks creating dust sprays over the trees, and us. There’s only been about 300 people entered Imbak. We stayed at a camp used by the BBC when filming a forthcoming documentary. Just under the camp is an amazing waterfall which is used for washing, so we had a quick dip in there, and swam behind the fall.
At night I went out in a small group with two rangers on a night jungle trek. Despite not seeing much (only Mouse Deer) the sounds were amazing, and it was a tad bizarre when we switched off torches and stood in the silence, in the dark, for 5 minutes. I think under 150 people have been into this area so it’s quite a priviledge.
From here we left and drove to Mangkuwagu, which is a larger kampong than Linapasan. To access here there is a 2.5-3hr journey along a road that many people would pay hundreds of pounds to off road on. To say it was bumpy would be an understatement – I was all over the place in the Land Rover. Unbelievably, 2hrs into it we stumbled across an oil tanker that was stranded in the mud. I couldn’t believe he tried to get that far! The road was really enjoyable though. Everyone we passed either greeted us with a wave or waved back at us. If I was driving and we didn’t have the time pressures I would have been stopping every 15 minutes for pictures of the locals.
When we rolled into the house where the project team are staying we had a welcoming committee of around 20 kids running towards us singing with the team – you can’t get much better than that.
This morning we went to the school for 40 mins taking pictures, and getting sung to. They were so friendly and welcoming, and they must be the most happy children I’ve ever met by the looks of it. I was really reluctant to leave here and wanted to stay the rest of the phase.
After this we visited the work site of the new kindergarten briefly then left to head to Lahad Datu. Back along the 3hr off road…. then a 3hr trip on the main road.
Tomorrow we meet some officials from the Ministry of Sport and Finance and head to Danum Valley for a day of show and tell, and some official ceremonies. On Saturday morning I’ll wave goodbye to the loop vehicle and stay in Danum until Wednesday before flying back to KK just before the next changeover.
Already it feels like the end of the programme is looming – unbelievable! In a way I look forward to having days to do what I want to but I’m loving it at the moment. I wish I had more community work, but it’s great heading around Sabah and seeing the projects. Despite heading back to the field base office in under a week, a real office seems a million miles away, and not something I wish to return to if I can help it (although I’m happy to accept that may change with time!). Unfortunately I remember I’m not getting paid any more, but then a fried rice does only cost 80p if you eat at the right places..! Tonight’s meal for 3 was 30RM – less than five pounds for 3 dishes, 2 coffees, 3 smoothies, and a coke!
Off back to our hotel (yes, amazing) as it’s a big day tomorrow. I had my first shower for a week and a half this evening. It’s only when you hit everyday things like this I realise I’ve been bathing and chilling in rivers once or twice a day, looking across from the community hall towards the paddy fields, and jungle, and bouncing around Sabah in a 4×4.