Part of the process of settling in Sabah

I have been thinking about how it really feels to me to be living in Sabah – for now. I am not strictly an expat: someone said expats go back to Europe/Australia etc for months at a time – I don’t, so that disqualifies me. Not so bad, that. There is something about living somewhere just for the benefits you get and not committing to the place that is somehow off putting.

I know I am not a Sabahan and do not pretend to be, but we are here because of my husband’s job, which is to be very involved with conservation of nature and natural resources.  I am here because I am married to him, but also because I want to learn about the country I am living in for two years.  Two years is short in the general scheme of things, but I can tell you that when you arrive and it is stretching in front of you, friendless and unfamiliar, it seems a very long time indeed.

It is less long now – partly because, after four months, it’s actually less long, but also because I am feeling more part of the place.  I am meeting people , I have found a wonderful potter to teach me, I am beginning to be able to write and to cook and to spend time alone without panicking that nothing is going to change.  I knew it would, I always knew it would, but you don’t believe it when you are in the throes of being anywhere for the first time.

Something else that has struck me is that when there are only a few foreigners who have come to live in a country, for a long or short time, like here and very unlike Kenya (where people bought land and came to settle), they  band together and either close ranks against newcomers, or they make themselves more available to experiences. I have met both kinds here, and I hope I lean towards the latter. I have not been here long enough to be able to speak with authority about everyone, but I notice that being in the minority, instead of being convinced that the British (or Dutch, or American or whatever) way of life is the best, people are curious, and work on being less judgemental – and enjoying what they come across. And integrate more.

I am not aiming to pepper my conversation with Malay words, but I accept that it is expected that I take my shoes off when entering someone’s house, and that people don’t like you to put your bag on the floor, but prefer it to be on a chair… I find the slow pace of life at times infuriating, the changes in appointments annoying, but I appreciate not being shouted at by other drivers if I do something stupid or confused on the road.  Of course my flat is full of the familiar – I like watching BBC news, and I make a pot of (decaf) coffee every morning, with beans brought from The Old Country – but I am not trying to impose it on others.

It is foreign here.  And so it should be. It’s a long way from Tunbridge Wells. But I find I am not  trying to live as though I am still there. TW is still there, and that’s comforting, but I am working hard to open to the world around me here, without trying to make it fit what I think it should be.  Nothing very profound in that, I recognise, but it confers a sort of release, a freedom to see what there is, and a removal of resistance. Does that make sense?

A busy couple of weeks: book research, treatments and an issue with transport…

Today I bought a whiteboard and have been plotting my book on it.  At last.  And I have been dong lots of research into the local Kadazan tribe and their rituals which is also research, so I feel pleased with myself. I may even start writing soon!

I have also been exploring body treatments, familiar and less so. Whenever my crusty hooves need their poor cracked skin dealt with I go for what is euphemistically called a foot scrub. The little knife comes out and the person pokes and snips and scrapes and scratches and I emerge with smooth soft skin after about an hour.  And they throw in a serious reflexology treatment too, which makes me yelp. That’s the familiar stuff. I also go to a wonderful lady who understands where bones should be and puts them back in place.  And I have started Meridian Clearing.  Settle down, you at the back.  I go every day, except next week when I am busy and so is the clearer, and I spend about half an hour on my back with a lovely smelling oil being rubbed along my meridians, followed by hard little fingers digging away and finding sore bits which all mean something. I am apparently strong but I have trouble with my spleen. And my heart wasn’t beating as hard as it should be, and the chi was having problems, so she worked on that, and lo, my hands and my face became suddenly very hot. Who knows, eh? But it’s fascinating, if painful at times. I have to go fifteen times in all, so I will summarise the results when the course is finished.

So that’s all the good stuff. Not all of it, actually.  I have met Mr Kiong, who is the nicest garage mechanic in the world.

I did a splendidly wholeheartedly stupid thing – I put diesel in my petrol tank, and my car ground gracefully to a halt on the side of the road pretty soon afterwards. It was a very hot day and I spent three quarters of an hour sitting on a tree trunk in the shade waiting for the tow truck to appear.  It did, and I tried to use the Malay I am learning, but was too often reduced to saying ‘tidak faham‘, which means – you guessed it – ‘I don’t understand’.

Eventually I ended up, a day later (it was a public holiday, did I say?), at Toyota’s headquarters. Breathing a sigh of relief. They’d sort it, wouldn’t they?

They said they would, but soon I got a phone call talking about genuine parts and getting them from Japan, which would take two months, and how it was their policy to do this, and they couldn’t confirm whether the car would work if they didn’t do this, and I became frantic with worry that we would be reliant on Grab cars for the foreseeable future.

This is where Mr Kiong comes in. A friend introduced us, and he said those wonderful words: ‘no problem. Can fix. No problem. I collect and do it.’ I told Toyota, and do you know, they called me back almost instantly to say that they had nearly finished the work and I could collect the car the next morning. Hmm.

I went there at 9 am and hung around, as you always do in these places, and eventually my car was brought round. It sounded fine, it looked fine, and even the hefty bill didn’t depress me too much. It was alive and well, and the Toyota man told me that the mechanic had said it was absolutely back to normal.  So I took it to Mr Kiong with a long list of all the things I have been avoiding doing to it for a while, and he continues to say ‘Can’, which is the very best sound in the world.

Tomorrow I am going to the Kadazan-Dusun Cultural Centre Kadazan Society Harvest Festival celebration at their community centre. There will be some Bobohizan (priests and priestesses) to do the blessing of the rice ritual.  I am much excited, especially as I have been invited to join a Kadazan family table. Watch this space!