environment

Malaysian Borneo: Mari Mari Village

I flew in to Kota Kinabalu which is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.  Borneo is occupied by three different countries, Malaysia to the North, Indonesia to the South, and Brunei which is situated right smack in the middle of Sabah on the coast.  If you look at Borneo, KK (as it's called by the locals) is on the northwest side, right on the South China Sea. The city itself is quite modern in comparison, with many American fast food options, as well as British pubs to go along with colossal malls and local food markets.  With so many modern conveniences and city selections I decided to make my first day a step back before the sprawling city was built.  

After scouring the internet and forums I found that a tour of the historic Mari Mari Cultural Village was my best bet.  You can book a tour (which is highly recommended) and you will be picked up right at your hotel or home stay and driven to the entrance.  Once you get to the entrance you will be lead to "registration" which has fresh water, some pet lizards to meet, and a brief waiting period while they assign certain groups to guides.  I was able to secure a discount and tour through the shop I will be working with, but there are numerous tour companies in the city or you can go directly to them at Marimariculturalvillage.com and book a tour which is 180RM ($42 US) per person.  It is well worth the price.  You will be exploring an ancient village that used to house five different tribes and the tour guides are all descendants of these same villagers.  Our guide came here to visit his grandmother as a young child who was still living in their old long house and living off the land.

Once your group is put together you will be greeted by a guide and taken to the entrance of the village and given a brief run down of what you will see, and what to expect.  We were quite lucky as it was cloudy that day, so it wasn't all that hot, although it is quite humid here.  Once your guide has finished his introduction you will follow him into the village.  The guides are incredibly knowledgeable, fun, and all of them provide an English speaking experience.  Don't be afraid to ask them questions or to engage with them whenever you want to, they enjoy answering questions and sharing their heritage with all of us.

The first thing you see is a rope bridge that isn't all that high off the ground for those of you that aren't great with heights, but it is a sight.  It isn't a giant swinging bridge connecting two cliffs but you still need to proceed slowly and with caution.    Taking a picture of my mother on this bridge wasn't easy, you will need both hands to secure your crossing.  There is a rumbling creek below, and beautiful trees and sounds all around.  Once you are over this bridge you will join the rest of your party and proceed down to the first tribes area.

Once you all gather around the first tribal dwelling you will get a glimpse into the simple life that housed these people for generations.  Simple and hand built long houses that protected the entire village all in one domicile.  These villagers lived off of what was around them, so their construction, food, and way of living were unique to this one little area.  You get a nice story explaining how they lived, how they cooked, and more importantly, how they made rice wine.  A tasting is followed after being told how it is made, and you get to take a shot out of cute little bamboo shot glasses!  Rice is so incredibly important here, between the wine and the food, without rice I can't imagine how this tribe would exist, it is that important.  We were brought inside and a local girl was hard at work making the rice wine, getting prepared for all the visitors.  Another fact we were told was how to spot the single ladies, they have no sleeves, so the girl making our wine was available.

After our shots we were lead out of the house to the produce section, where handmade bowls were full of local vegetables.  The villagers go out and pick whatever they can find in the surrounding forest and make eclectic dishes with what they have around them.  Beautiful pottery made specifically for what they hold, all different sizes, and a myriad of designs.  The jungle around is lavish and makes for an easy experiment of different dishes.  Palm leaves are used as a sort of sanitation paper to line the bowls and serving dishes.  Traditionally the women are in charge of the kitchen, the picking, and the making of utensils and dishes.  The men hunt and protect the village, as well as do the heavy lifting and building.  

One of the most fascinating details for me was how the tribe lived in the long house.  The house was just that, long, and housed the entire tribe.  When you walked in there was a long hallway in the middle, bedrooms on the left, and a mildly raised platform on the right with sleeping pads.  The young single girls slept in the same room as the parents, but up high above.  They would climb a ladder to get to their bedroom, then the parents would remove the ladder once they were up there so nobody could reach them (and they couldn't sneak out).  The brothers would sleep outside of the rooms on the raised part on the front of the house to be able to fight if they were invaded.  The homes were all made from bamboo, and raised up off the ground in case of flooding and attack.  A very tricky ladder was used to enter the house which was basically a log with tiny steps carved into it that could be brought up once the whole village was inside.  There was also a kitchen in the house that was a flame grill with logs that could keep food fresh and eatable for a day or longer.  The also had "air-conditioning" which consisted of pushing the roof up and placing a stick strategically to pull in excess air from outside when it was windy and not raining.

One of the things that I was curious about was activities, what do they do for fun?  They have to do something to pass the time, much like we drink and watch Netflix or check Facebook and post cat videos right?  They actually have a bunch of entertainment to pass the time, and their interests are quite interesting.  They make beads and turn them into beautiful bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.  Henna is made for tattoos, musical instruments (especially drums and gongs), pottery, blowguns and darts, tobacco cigarettes (just the plant, no additives or chemicals), armored vests that can protect them from opposing darts, pots for cooking, and clothing.  Their hobbies and fun create functional items for the village.  

Once you have finished up with the history and making your way through the whole village you will go to lunch.  A buffet of local food prepared by the villagers will await you in the bamboo dining hall equipped with a gift shop of course.  Roasted chicken, rice, local vegetables and fruit, a delicious lunch in a tranquil setting before the show.  The main event is what follows the lunch, and it is a traditional dance that has been passed down for generations.  They have a band that consists of different types of drums, and a singer for a few numbers, but all the young ones celebrate with a number of dance routines.  Obviously they have grown a bit and have lighting, speakers, and a microphone to make the experience a bit more modern, but it is still full of tradition and incredible.  They always welcome photography and video, and at the end invite everyone up to try their dance routines with some minimal instruction.  

If you ever make your way to Borneo and find yourself in KK this is #1 on my list of things to do.  There is so much culture, and so much to learn if you are interested in learning about an ancient tribe you would have otherwise never known about.  The people are so nice and accommodating and incredibly happy to share their ancestry with you as you would be them.  I have been to many countries and experienced many cultures but this was an experience I will never forget because of how it was presented.  I know that most of the performers albeit genuine and descendants are just that, performers, and you are likely to see them in jeans and a t-shirt at the bar later, but does that make it any less genuine?  They still dress up in their parents and grandparents garb and perform the same dances, and show us exactly how their family lived not all that long ago, so it is just as palpable.  I left some things out of the experience as I think certain aspects are better experienced firsthand and didn't want to ruin the reality.  This was such an amazing event, and I'm so happy I was able to experience Sabah in this manner, and will recommend this village and tour to everyone every time I speak about KK.

5 Small Things That Make a Big Difference For The Environment

If you are like me you try to do as many little things as you can, even the smallest change can make an impact.  Now, we can't stop oil pipeline leaks, or nuclear waste being pumped into the ocean, but there are a few things we can do to make the world a better place.  Some of these things aren't easy, and changing your behavior is never easy, especially when you are so used to certain habits, but it is imperative and necessary right now given our oceans current state.

1) SKIP THE STRAW

Plastic is bad, we all know this, but straws are worse because of their unique shape and weight. I'm going to include a video with this post that is very hard to watch, but if you care at all about our underwater friends, it might just change your nature.  Straws are streamlined and can get stuck in the nostrils of turtles, and other similar creatures that are just trying to breath. I know it isn't easy to skip the straw when most of the time you receive one without asking, but when you have a choice, skip it.  If you are given one that is still wrapped, leave it and get used to sipping out of the glass or cup directly.  You can also purchase a reusable and dishwasher safe one you can carry around in your pocket or purse that's made from stainless steel!  Is it weird to get used to drinking out of the cup at fast food and lunch places, as well as restaurants?  Yes, but it's totally worth it, and that many straws won't go into our waterways.  If you do end up with straws in your possession there is a way to dispose of them correctly.  Look up Earth911.com and see where there are recycle spots in your area for them.

2) PLASTIC SILVERWARE

Anything that is one use and thrown away is bad, very bad, it just goes into landfills and oceans.  Now I know it isn't possible to completely cut these things out of your every day life, but making better decisions based on these items would be best.  It's just like a diet, skip the fast food and order a salad instead, similar programming.  I know it's so much easier at barbecues and gatherings to just have plastic utensils for everyone to use, but it's a horrible practice in the long run.  They have disposable alternatives, and you can always just wash normal silverware after the party, it's not that hard to make the switch.  The overall consensus here is just to skip the plastic, and find an easy substitute.  There are some places you will go to that will only have plastic ware available, and it really isn't the end of the world to carry your own.  Bring some recycled disposable utensils with you if you can, you have a purse full of random stuff right?  What else are you going to put in your satchel buddy?

3) GROCERY SHOP MORE OFTEN

I know I know, this sounds like an odd idea to help the environment, but bare with me.  In Europe they typically shop four times a week, and you should to for a myriad of reasons, most of which will cut down on waste.  If you do one big bulk shopping trip you will typically buy a bunch of frozen and lengthy shelf life products that will stay in their prospective places for months, maybe longer and end up being thrown away.  If you go shopping a few times a week, not only will your food be fresher, you will cut down on so much waste.  Canned goods, frozen items, boxed foods that last forever end up sitting around for so much time, and many times never end up being eaten.  Outside of condiments, you don't need as much as you think, only enough for a couple of days.  If you go to the store three or four times a week you will be healthier, have fresher foods, and you will massively cut down on waste.  It's in good practice for so many reasons, and you will enjoy it once you get in the habit of going so often.  It will also be easier only getting a few items, as well as saving some bucks!

4) VISIT YOUR RECYCLING CENTER

Do you know what's recycled in your area?  I don't, I just assume most things are if they are made from paper, cardboard, certain plastics, etc.  Going to the local recycling center can be enlightening and beneficial, and you can share that knowledge with your friends, roomies, and neighbors.  Less than forty percent of all plastics are recycled, not because they can't be, but because they aren't properly placed where they can be taken care of.  I know it can be a hassle, and many people don't have the means to, but bringing items to the recycling center can make a difference.  Also, if you have a MOMs Organic Market nearby, they have a long line of bins in their store to recycle everything from batteries to water bottles.  Grocery stores themselves will typically take excess plastic bags and reuse them as well, before you trash it, you most likely can get it reused.  If you throw an old printer in the trash it gets put in a landfill, if you take it to the recycling center it gets broken down and reused, this article is about the little steps, and this is one.  Very few things CAN'T be recycled these days, so take some steps.

5) STOP USING SUNSCREEN

Okay now I know you need to protect your skin from the damaging rays, and you can still do that but you need to check out what you are putting on your skin.  Our reefs are being destroyed by many things, and sunscreen and tanning lotions are a big part of it.  I'm not saying that you can't use it all, but you need to make sure you are buying ocean-friendly lotions that won't damage and kill our life below the sea.  More than seventy five percent of all sunscreens are harmful, but there are alternatives if you just take a minute to look into it.  The best sunscreen is a hat and a coverup, or mild exposure.  I haven't used lotions for years, and I lived in the Caribbean, worked on a boat for a living, and was constantly on the beach and in the sun.  Not only are these lotions bad for the environment, they might not offer the protection they promise, and can cause skin irritations and worse.  Get an umbrella, wear a rash guard if need be, limit your sun exposure to twenty minutes at a time and you will be good.  For children it is different of course, but just be choosy and do your research before purchasing any harmful lotions.   

SUMMARY

It takes a lot to change habits, to refuse things everyone else seems to think of as normal.  You will get awkward looks when you refuse the straw, or bring a bunch of bags to the store to return, but you are educating everyone else that you know.  It really is the little things that we can all do everyday and spread it to our friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors.  These little steps might not change the world, but if millions of people do this it can, and we can see cleaner waterways, less damage to animals, and overall a better feeling in the world.  Education is key, and at one point I was sub-consciously throwing multiple plastic items into the trash with no regard.  I know better now, and I am hoping to reach more people with what I have learned.  Do I carry around a set of silverware?  No, but I always have my refillable water bottle, reusable grocery bags, and my silver straw with me at all times.  Again, small steps to make a big difference.