It is a little unbelievable that I am actually here. It is also unbelievable that it has been three weeks since I first arrived. In a way it feels like the longest three weeks of my life, but at the same time I can’t believe it’s coming up to a month of me being here. The first week was hard. I knew that this experience was going to be difficult and that I would be uncomfortable. However I didn’t think that it would hit me right away. I assumed that it would take a week or two for things to sink in. I was wrong. In fact, being homesick hit me like a truck. Every part of me ached to go home and I longed to go back to the familiar. To go back to the known. The thought that I had six months stretched out in front of me was overwhelming. It felt as if time would never pass.

There was nothing in Sabah that was familiar to me. I had no idea where to go for anything. Even a simple thing like grocery shopping was overwhelming, looking at the shelves not knowing what anything was or how much it cost in Canadian dollars. I longed for familiarity. I longed for comfort. To know where to go for things and to not feel like I was wandering around the streets of Sabah like a chicken with its head cut off. All of this is a long winded way of saying that I was freaking out the first week. Not only that, the heat took it out of me. The heat is an entirely different thing in itself. It is impossible to go out in the middle of the day as it is too hot. Taking a shower feels great until you are soaked in sweat five minutes later. People have asked me if I have gotten used to the heat. A little. I know how to avoid the hottest part of the day and when to go out and run my errands. However, I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully adjusted to it.

Kippi

During the first week I doubted my ability to create a life here. I thought I wasn’t capable. I was wrong (again). In the three weeks that I have been here I have made friends at PACOS and DAP and have settled into a routine. I have been to street markets and restaurants and go to the local market after work to get fresh produce (dragon fruit is my new obsession). I have made good friends with a dog on our block named Kippi. He is half street dog, half domesticated dog. He used to wander the streets of our neighbourhood but then a family took him in, only to leave him once they moved. Shortly after that, the house beside us took him in and he’s been with them ever since. He spends 95% of his time wandering the streets and is always there whenever I come home. I have gotten used to him running up to my Grab to greet me and giving him belly rubs for half an hour before going inside. My spare time is spent going to different restaurants with the friends I have made or going to karaoke. Am I completely settled? No I’m not, but thinking back to where I was that first week I think I have made pretty good progress and shown myself that it is possible. I have found some familiarity in an unknown place.

Marcus and I have been welcomed whole heartedly by the Lasimbang family. Anne is the director of PACOS Trust and Jannie runs DAP (the organization Marcus is working for). They are sisters and all together there are 12 Lasimbang siblings who are incredibly successful. Rita (who is the second oldest sibling) is our landlord and has decided that she is our mother away from home, referring to herself as Mama whenever she comes over to check on us.

The Lasimbangs are Indigenous, belonging to the Kadazan ethnic group. They are steeped in tradition and culture and have so much knowledge to offer. Last week, an event was hosted called the Rights of Passage, where the mother of the Lasimbang family talked about the Kadazan traditions of birth, marriage, and death. I learned so much about Kadazan beliefs. For example, when two people get married it is seen as a partnership, both the man and the woman are seen as equal. During the marriage ceremony, the couple have to walk on a rock together, representing a strong foundation for marriage.

Mother of the Lasimbangs during Rights of Passage

I had a discussion with Yogi (sibling #7) who said that when she was younger she purchased social insurance in case anything happened to her. She paid money to her insurance company month after month. However, she learned that social insurance does nothing to protect a person. The best insurance is family and community. If anything ever happened to her, her family and community would be there to look after her. She said with that kind of insurance she has nothing to worry about. This is so different from the individualistic society back home. Everyone is focused on themselves and segregated from one another that we have lost sight of the value that community holds.

Marcus and I often find ourselves at various events and workshops held by the Lasimbangs. These gatherings always involve food (lots of food), rice wine, and community. They end in everyone gathered around a table drinking rice wine and eating until late. Being involved in a collective like this has made me realize that I have longed to be apart of something like this for a long time. My soul has craved it and I plan to soak it all in before my time here is up.

Over the weekend I was out and about exploring Kota Kinabalu and ended up at a Mexican restaurant, where I met a couple of tourists. We got to talking and I asked them what advice they would give to their 24 year old self. Their advice was this: “Just relax. Don’t overthink. But push through at the same time.” I have had my difficult moments since being here but as difficult as it has been I would not change my decision to come here. I want to go straight through. Straight through the ups and downs. I do not know who I will be or what I will have learned at the end of my six months. However, in the time that I have spent here I already feel different. I already feel a shift inside myself and although I cannot pinpoint exactly what has changed, I know something has and there is beauty in that.

Marcus and I at Tanjun Aru Beach during sunset