As the morning sun beams down on a winding tarmac road, the members of my team sit in various vehicles gazing out of the windows. Looking back from the train of volunteer laden minibuses, you can see a flash of blue from the other side of the valley, representing the community centre that for three weeks we called a home. The village of Kiau Nuluh clings to the hillside, a patchwork of multi-coloured corrugated iron roofs against the red earth and green fringes of the jungle. Mount Kinabalu stands, as always, protectively in the background, a faint veil of cloud brushing its peak.
It is sad to drive away from this panorama, especially for our group for whom it represented so many memories: happy, sad, frustrating, funny. At the beginning of the phase, we weren’t sure what it was going to be like but we all hoped that we’d be able to integrate into the community of Nuluh. And in the end, we really feel we did, which is what made community phase something special for us. It was a privilege, actually, to become part of the community in the little pocket of time in which we were their guests.
We learnt a lot from our hosts. In our last few days, we had the opportunity to go on a mini trek into the jungle to the base camp from which the mountain guides of Nuluh take hikers up the steep slopes of Mount Kinabalu. Beside a pebbly mountain river, our two guides showed us how to use a parang to make a floor and cups from the bamboo growing around us. A skill which will surely come in useful for those of us going on trek phase next. We were also shown how to extract latex from rubber trees, one of the main forms of income for the villagers of Nuluh. Standing in the forest clearing, there was something incredibly satisfying about watching Mr George (a senior community member) scrape away the bark in a spiral around the tree and watching the creamy latex flow around the groove and into a metal tin. Mr George was involved in pretty much all stages of our phase and was a fountain of wisdom as well as a bit of a legend. After taking us to see the rubber trees, he took us to a huge langsat tree and told us to fill our pockets and bags, knowing how we’d become addicted to the small orange-like fruits. This was typical of the villagers of Nuluh. They were such a generous people, from sharing their produce to giving us their time.
We learnt how to make Dusun food, the food of the mountain people, during a cooking masterclass from the women of the village. We made parcels of rice wrapped in leaves and stir-fries with wild ginger, local spring onions and yellow citrus-y chillies. They taught us their local dances, the bird-like dance of the Dusun people, our arms becoming wings as we strutted our stuff (badly). They taught us how to play local instruments, echo-y gongs which made haunting tunes, melodies of the past reverberating in the air around us.
Singing was definitely a theme for the team. We sang pretty much all the time, to the great amusement of the villagers, which is probably why they invited us for a singing lesson. A lady called Rita taught us a song in Dusun, the village dialect, called Gunung Kinabalu about the mountain. It stuck in our heads for the rest of the phase and caused us at regular intervals to break into Dusun song. It was a memorable moment for everyone, sitting in a circle sipping Milo and eating banana fritters (the best things ever in the whole world!) to the sound of a guitar and Rita’s voice. We sang our rendition of Gunung Kinabalu at least four times at the karaoke night that the villagers invited us to. After singing all day throughout the phase we rocked that karaoke party and even managed to persuade our project managers Sally and JP to sing ‘Sexyback’ and ‘My Humps’, which can only be described as hilarious. Some other singing highlights involved the children of the village performing a song in Malay for us, during the treasure hunt that we organised for the community event we hosted. Their sweet voices together in song lifted our spirits and melted our hearts.
The children were a big part of community phase for us. ‘It was interesting how our relationship with the children changed,’ remembers Lucas. When we first arrived, the children were pretty shy, peering out from houses as we walked past. But before too long, they were pretty much wherever we went in the village, smiling and waving and shouting our names and writing them on the road as we walked down from the hill from the work site. ‘It was funny the way they shouted our names,’ says Lucas. ‘Not to say anything in particular, but just to show they knew our names’. You couldn’t walk down to the football pitch without being completely surrounded by children within about five minutes. ‘Their ball was completely deflated but they still had so much fun just running around,’ smiles Lucas.
It was a different story for the village football team, whom we challenged to four games. Football was a really good way to get in touch with the community, as it meant we recognised them when walking around Nuluh and could stop and chat to them and arrange more games. The first game we lost but Team Raleigh obviously had to have a rematch and we won all subsequent games. Often we didn’t have a complete team, but the villagers always pitched in so that the teams were even, which really made us feel part of the group. The atmosphere was so friendly and games always ended with handshakes all round.
Getting to know the villagers of Nuluh made the phase for Alpha 2. We may have departed but the small village has definitely made its mark on us and left us with countless memories of community life and laughter.