My favourite part about this jungle trip (other than helping the trees) was that we got to stay with a local family in the village. I was lucky enough to be welcomed into the most amazing family, who happened to be the best homestay cooks (according to our guide – winning)!
Culturally things were quite different, as we were part of a Muslim community, so needed to be respectful of this. This included covering our shoulders and knees at all times, only using our right hand for things such as waving, greeting people and even eating (which was very hard when faced with eggs or fish and no cutlery), being careful what we spoke about (for example no politics, religion etc), as well as strictly no alcohol in the village (just to name a few).
The majority of time we spent at the house was during the evenings, where we ate far too much yummy food (which was encouraged by the grandfather), watched dramatic Malay soaps, as well as played games with three of the adorable grandkids.The only thing which I found off putting during my stay (the shower situation of a bucket with cold water didn’t even bother me), was that I had to eat with my hands. I don’t like my hands dirty at the best of times 🙈! It’s also much harder than it looks to eat this way (especially one handed). However this aside, overall it was a truly special experience to be part of such a lovely family. I could go on and on about this, but we will be here for days, so I’ll leave it there.
Every day after work the local adults and kids would get together to play sports. The evening we joined in, football and volleyball were on the cards. Noticing no other woman were playing football (and knowing how competitive I get), I decided to try my hand at volleyball instead.
Honestly, I don’t know the slightest rules in volleyball so ended up looking like a spare part wandering around the court and occasionally whacking the ball. It was still good fun though. In hindsight it was nice that everyone came together to play sports. Being part of these villages, it does reveal a lost sense of community now within the UK. Do most of us even know our next door neighbours, let alone the people in our street? Food for thought, but it does seem such a shame we’ve lost that, especially as in Asia it appears to be the foundation of daily life.
On the last night, generally all volunteers and their homestay families get together for food and a little party to say thank you and goodbye. Things were a little different on our allocated evening as there was a wedding taking place in the communal area. Instead of relocating, we were very kindly invited to the evening ceremony by the bride and groom 😮.
Going to a traditional Malay wedding, we of course had to be dressed in the correct attire. Because of this we were given baju kurungs, which are beautiful knee length blouse/long skirt combinations to wear by the grandmother and aunt.
With four colourful outfits to chose from, as well as finely decorated broaches, we were spoilt for choice. I picked a golden coloured baju kurung, as well as a gold broach, which I put on my chest as I finally finished getting ready. Walking out into the living room, it quickly became apparent (from the grandfather) that the broach was not so much for decoration, but rather to pin the top of my blouse shut (oopsy 🙈). We ventured off to the wedding with our grandfather and two of the grandchildren. When we arrived we were given buffet style food and told to sit down in one of the rows of chairs all facing towards a overly decorated looking throne. The bride and groom then entered the room and sat on the throne, as people came up to congratulate them. Afterwards there were local dances from adults and kids before the couple ate dinner with their close family (while the guests sang karaoke). It was an incredible experience to see a Malay style ceremony, however honestly I think we all felt a bit awkward and out of place as were unsure exactly what was going on. But I suppose this is all part of travelling 😊.
This post may be (very) delayed, however this was the end of my time volunteering in Borneo. It was an incredible, rewarding and highly exhausting adventure, which I’m so glad I decided to embark on. I’m happy however my volunteering journey doesn’t stop there. The whole Borneo experience has only made me even more excited for what Cambodia may offer.
So until then, this is my volunteering over and out.
Jessica Storm ✌️