Reporting from the loop…

Well another week has gone by here in Borneo. Time is flying ridiculously fast! Can’t believe that I only have a month left here! If that really.


I would say that last week was truly the highlight of my time here so far. Myself, kris and Linda headed out in the good old land rover to visit each alpha group and project site over the course of a week. This included an awful lot of driving all over the region. From off-roading through the jungle to driving through huge palm oil plantations or driving underneath mount Kinabalu the 4th highest peak in Malaysia and the highest mountain in Borneo itself. Stunning views and just incredibly diverse scenery was probably, for me, one of the main highlights.


I’ve never been to a place like this before. The closest I have come is in the summer when I was in the Olympic peninsula in Washington state USA where I walked through some rainforest. I think that it really finally hit me last week as to where I actually am and what I have been seeing and being part of. Of course being primarily city based has meant that trips into the jungle wilderness have been very infrequent. In essence this is why they have a loop, so that field base staff can get out and about; provide re-supplies and get treated like royalty with the best dinner each team can provide and also entertainment.


So, I think the easiest way to blog about his is to go through the week and go project by project.


Firstly we were going to alpha 2. Usually we would go to alpha 1 first which is situated in a village called togudon just an hour out of the city. However alpha 2 had been experiencing some heavy rain and the drive into alpha two is some extreme off roading. About 20km worth that takes about 3 hours to drive! Therefore we changed our schedule and drove up to kota Marudu in the north of Sabah on Saturday afternoon. The drive to kota Marudu is about three hours. When we arrived there we presumed that we could just walk into a hotel and sleep the night before setting off at 7am to drive into the jungle mountains to the village where alpha 2 are working. However, when we arrived at the hotel that Raleigh usually stay at, and where zed and I had stayed before, they were fully booked! This was the case at two other hotels. Apparently there was yet what seemed to be another festival the next day. Eventually we decided to go a little out of the town to a place called the northern inn. This had 2 rooms left. We were extremely lucky! Would have been pretty pants to have had to have slept in the land rover on our first night. The hotel was actually really pleasant. Air con, internet, duvets, Luke warm showers! What more could you ask for.


After a very comfortable nights sleep we headed out into the jungle. Linda was driving us in and she did the most incredible job. Although there was some deep mud at times, Linda ploughed on through and we never got stuck. We arrived at alpha 2 at just gone 10am. Bravo to Linda who did an amazing job!! Especially with me as I am such a nervous passenger anyway!! I think it safe to say that that drive has been the biggest fear/excitement of my time here.


The alpha 2 project site has been building gravity water feed systems into the village and also building 2 toilets. Both these things were non-existent to the village prior to Raleigh’s arrival.


When zed and I visited in the last phase they had just finished the first gravity water feed, and after almost 2 weeks with no constant supply of water the group had then been revelling in an outside shower! This time when we arrived they had already built one toilet in a week. I was seriously impressed  with their accomplishment.


The team welcomed us well and we got straight away involved in their day. It was their day off as it was a Sunday and that morning they had attended the village for a church service. I would definitely like to go visit a church service whilst I’m out here. Think it would be really interesting. For the rest of the day they had dedicated it to filming their music video. They had seemingly not realised that there was a loop competition between each alpha project site as no entertainment was really provided and the food although it was delicious was not plentiful. And desert was half a peach from a tin of peaches… So they didn’t win massive loop brownie points but we did have an absolutely awesome day. The team seemed to be getting on really well and they had some real characters in there. It looked and sounded like they had been having a lot of fun working together, and this was great to see.


The village overlooks jungle mountain terrain and on a clear day you can see mount Kinabalu on the horizon line. We slept in the same hut that I did with zed last time. No mattress, just straight onto wooden floor. After a few games of cards we headed to bed as the aim as to be up and out of the Village by 6am to avoid the rain expected later on in the morning that could dramatically affect our journey out! I didn’t have the best nights sleep. It would appear that this was the first of many rubbish nights sleep to come.


Before we left though we got to be part of their music video which was really fun. The morning view is spectacular. Waking up to that everyday must be a beautiful feeling.




We spent the most amount of time with alpha two out of all the alpha group project sites because of this rescheduling. It was a really great day, but even though it had been practically a whole day I could have stayed longer.


Kris drove us out of the village on the 3 hour drive back down to kota Marudu. Again he did an incredible job. We didn’t get stuck, but there were definitly some tricky parts to negotiate the land rover over. It was exciting! We had also picked up Kat our comms manager who had been with alpha 2 for the first week of phase. Kat had obviously had a great first week and everyone at alpha 2 were sad to see her leave!! Was great to catch up with her on the journey back though.


After dropping Kat off at field base back in the city some 6 hours later, we then had a quick turnaround before we drove an hour up and out of the city to the village of togudon where alpha one have been building a community learning centre for the village.


Here they had clearly not forgotten the loop competition. We were greeted as princesses and princes of togudon (literally!) we were sent through a glorious ceremony where we were crowned and given skirts made of foliage and then we had to limbo underneath a stick before receiving delicious homemade chocolate donuts. We were very impressed 🙂


This village is where I will be spending just over a week at the beginning of the third phase. It really is rather special. High up on the mountains you look down to see the twinkling lights of kota Kinabalu and beyond that the ocean. At alpha one they sleep in dormitory type bedrooms with double bunk beds. Compared to the other project sites it is pretty luxurious. Electricity, toilets -admittedly still squat toilets but nevertheless…- and they are also not far from a local shop and weekend markets where they can purchase fresh fruit and veg. There is also increasing relationships with the local villagers. At then d of phase one they were invited to a wedding at took place at the beginning of this phase 2.


Dickie and Hugh, the leaders/PM’s of this project group showed me pictures of their visit to the wedding and Hugh showed me his blog/writings about the village of togudon and it’s people. He has allowed me to share his writings on my blog to which I am extremely grateful. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did. It’s a whole world away from what I know. I found it very interesting….


It’s a Family affair


Life on the Togudon Community Learning centre (CLC) is very much a family affair. In fact most of Togudon appears to be the Gosungkit Family. Everybody we meet; be it the men on the site, or the women who come to our English classes, are all related. The family is headed up by “Mum” who had 10 children and lives at the top of the stairs to the site in Domissin’s house. Domissin is her 8th child and the main carpenter on the project.


We didn’t appreciate how inter-related everybody was until we were all invited to the wedding of one of Domissin’s nieces (the daughter of the 4th son) where the full extent of the Gosungkit Family were present.


To the best of our understanding “Mum’s” family is as follows:


1. Gokusing (son with 15 children) who lives in the next village down the hill. Jay, his 12th child comes to the site to translate.


2. Mukin (son with 8 Children) lives in Togudon


3. Jupinis (daughter with 12 children) Gelina and Florence (married to Thomas who works on the site) come to our lessons and take us to the market and they are two of her children and also all live in Togudon with their 5 children. 


4. Mikin (son with 10 children) was the father of the bride (Jourin). 


5. Justin (son with 5 children) lives in the village. One of which Raymond helps on the site and plays guitar really well.


6. Agnes (daughter with children) married and moved to her husband’s village. One of her sons has returned to Togudon and helps on the project.


7. Marina (daughter with 11 children) lives between Domissin and Zita at the top of the steps.


8. Domissin (son with 6 children under the age of 8) He controls everything on the site.


9. Andrew (son with 2 children) He is affectionately known in the family as King Kong because he was a very big baby. He drives a minibus which we hire on Sunday, our day off, to take us to the river to swim or to the market. 


10. That leaves Zita the youngest who only has 2 children and teaches in the Kindergarten. Zita has been the driving force to getting the Community Learning Centre built.


So “Mum” has 10 children, 78 grandchildren and we lost count of the great grand children but we met them all at the wedding.


The wedding itself was held in one of the sheds the village usually use for growing mushrooms (a speciality of the areawhich was adjacent to Mikin’s house. You would never have known, as it was beautifully decorated with a dais for the bride, groom, best man and bridesmaid. The party was in full swing when we arrived, just in time for the food; a buffet arrangement with 8 different local dishes which were constantly replenished much to the delight of the ravenous venturers who stayed manfully within the culturally acceptable limits while still managing to sample all the dishes. We witnessed the custom of Bride and groom drinking through a long straw, the local home brew from a decorated large storage pot. Other members of the family and guests are then invited to also drink from the pot (all the venturers followed Raleigh rules and politely declined all attempts to get them to drink which at time was very insistent). Then it was time to dance. We were now quite good at the local dance but were still the cause of much laughter at our enthusiastic but ungainly style. Good fun was had by all. The locals getting more friendly as the party went on and the more drink they consumed, which was delivered onto the dance floor in short lengths of bamboo dangled on the end of long poles held by waiters who stayed on the edge of the dance floor.

We left the party after 6pm and were entertained by the music all night and said good morning to the remnants’ of the party as we went up the road to church the next morning.







I will continue the rest of my loop stories in the next blog…..


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