Sunday, January 23, 2022

Living in the village among the clouds

Here, more than 1,200 feet above sea level, some 60 families work on their farms to make a living.

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The village is home to about 60 families from the Bidayuh Biatah tribe, a minority group in Sarawak.

To reach Kampung Sapit requires a long journey through eight other villages on a narrow tar road that winds its way through the misty mountains. By car, the trip takes about 40 minutes.

A villager carries a basket of farming equipment over a steel bridge, which is already decorated with the flags of political parties ahead of the Sarawak state election on Dec 18.

Not far off, another villager puts up more flags bearing the logo of the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition.

An elderly woman, Didun Sikau, looks out through her window across the small fruit and vegetable plot in her garden where papayas are already hanging on the trees.

Inside, Didun’s house is simple. Pillows and bolsters are piled to the side during the day as she sits on a small wooden stool cooking rice over a wood fire. Gas is expensive here at RM45 a cylinder compared to the normal RM26.60, with the extra costs factored into its transportation from the town.

While waiting for the rice to cook, Didun puts the finishing touches on a shrimp net which she has made herself from braided nylon cords.

Her daughter, Paulina Kedau, who lives in a house nearby, starts each morning with a good breakfast before heading out to the fields for a long day’s work.

Paulina’s dog waits as she puts on her shoes which have studs at the bottom to give her a better grip as she makes her way through the hills.

Even the steps outside her house require careful navigation. In all, it takes about 15 minutes to reach the farm itself.

Most mornings it’s a peaceful stroll – today, past the flags that signal the start of the election period.

Paulina makes her way through a long stretch of lush green padi plants which thrive in the cool mountain air.

Her mother, Didun, is already there, cleaning the mud from the stalks of ripe serai plants which will be sold to help supplement the family’s lean income. One kilo of serai goes for about RM1.

Many of the paths are just mud with logs or sticks laid over it to provide a better foothold.

Paulina settles in for a morning of harvesting the cucumbers which grow amid the padi, and clearing areas that have become overrun with grass and weeds. After that, she harvests the chilli padi plants and sets out other vegetable plants including brinjal, ginger and turmeric.

She piles the harvested ginger in a heap at a small hut.

There’s still work to be done, harvesting some of the spinach to be cooked and eaten at home.

Her sister cooks the family’s lunch over a stove which runs on some of their precious cooking gas.

Some of the villagers are also involved in eco-tourism, renting out camp sites such as this to those who are interested in such activities.

In the evening, as the sun sets in a flame of colour through a layer of mist, the view is stunning.

The next day, Paulina loads her harvest into her trusty Kembara.

While she may wear her muddy boots around the farm, she also keeps a pair of heels in her car to be worn when she goes into town.

The road into Padawan town is long and winding. The whole trip takes about an hour.

When Paulina arrives, the middleman is waiting to receive her produce which he places on a scale to see how much it weighs.

After that, he hands over her money – a welcome reward for her long hours of work.

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