MY Foochow friend and I were unable to book rooms in Bario by phone due to a miscommunication. Fortunately, a kind friend suggested a homestay belonging to her sister-in-law’s family.
And during our stay, we met a really special lady of the highlands which left a remarkable indelible imprint in our minds. In just two days she showed us the importance of being a true woman of value.
We arrived in Bario by Twin Otter, and, to our surprise, there were several familiar faces from Miri. Soon, we were whisked off by a mud-caked and tattooed Toyota Hilux, the normal local mode of transport.
We thought it would be a half-hour ride to the homestay – instead it took only three minutes, costing each one of us RM20.
The driver picked up RM120 for that single trip from the airport.
“Transport in Bario is the most expensive in the whole of Borneo. However, if you can and like, you can go almost everywhere on foot,” a Bario school teacher said.
The Ngimat Ayu Homestay is RM100 per night per person. There are five rooms with either a Queen bed or two single beds.
Water is available 24/7 but electricity is on only at night for a short four to five hours. So it’s more convenient to bring along your own power bank.
Bario – although promised electricity by the government – still has to wait. One could see all sorts of development from the sky as we flew in but the mini-hydro project did not seem to be ready even after several years.
Sina Bued Aren is a very small, fair lady. Her skin is thinned by age but her eyes still twinkle, and we knew from our first handshake, we had found a loving Sina or aunt, without her saying much.
Born Martha Padan in Long Pupung from Kerayan, Kalimantan, she was given in marriage to Gerawat Aren @ Ngimat Ayu @ BelaanTauh.
He was to become the paramount chief of the Kelabits from 1998 to 2005. It was a marriage arranged by relatives. Gerawat Aren paid a huge dowry for this “noble woman.”
Kerayan can be reached by walking across the border from Bario, and in 1955, it was quite common for the Kelabits to walk from Sarawak and Kalimantan and back.
But it was uncommon for a Bario man to marry a young “noble woman” from Kalimantan.
To Martha Padan, the marriage at a young age was “law” from her parents. She would have loved to have gone to school to learn to read and write. But she was obedient and considered her marriage to this young handsome man a kind of education. And she was very right about that.
Her strong values enabled her to be a Biblical Proverb 31 wife – obedience was the value which helped her maintain a sustainable and successful marriage.
She learned about home and village hygiene from her husband who was then the first medical assistant with full government training in Bario.
She was by his side many times when he did simple surgery and stitching, including extracting teeth and delivering babies.
She was in total support of her husband who was credited with raising of awareness of cleanliness in their village.
She has always boiled drinking water for the family from the day she got married. And today, we can still enjoy her boiled water in the patio.
When her husband passed away in 2013, she said in her shy and quiet way “a huge part of my life has gone away.”
She has always held her husband’s community at heart.
As a Lady of Bario, she opened her doors and her kitchen was always full of people, coming and going during her husband’s official term, and after he died, she continued to welcome friends to her home.
Today, it’s slightly different because her son operates the homestay. But to her, it’s not at all different. She will still cook her originals for tourists and friends who come to stay while her son does his part of modern cooking like barbequing or stir frying – culinary arts he learned from the “outside world.”
True traditional food from her kuali is just so natural and delicious.
She is a good hostess because since her marriage in 1955, she has to welcome visitors, sometimes even in the middle of the night. Her role has always been to put cooked food on the table and boil water in the early hours of the morning.
She has in a way to keep the hearth warm and make her visitors feel welcome.
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: A Jewel of Bario.