The mountains are shrouded in fog as we leave Kuching, leaving behind civilization.
We arrived into Malaysia less than three days ago and we are just beginning to adjust to the smells, the tastes and the diverse and rich culture that is within Kuching. We are following our contact, around winding roads closer and closer to the Malay mountains. The air is cooler here than in muggy Kuching. We go about an hour before turning onto a gravel road and soon arrive in Rayu. It is the middle of the day, a Wednesday. The kids are off at school and everyone else, except for our host, was farming or was away at work. It is amazing how quiet things are away from the noise of the highway and the bustle of the city. We meet our hosts who happen to be the village chief and his wife. Though they don’t speak English, they welcome us and motion for us to unload our oversized hiking backpacks into their living room, where later tonight we will spread our sleeping mats out to sleep.
Rayu is a small village located an hour east of Kuching, nestled alongside Kubah National Park.The “long house” that we stay in is only big enough to house a few families. Before I came to Malaysia, I knew that we would be making village visits as part of our ministry while in Malaysia but I only had a vague idea of what a long house would be like.
From missionary stories that I had read throughout my growing up years, I expected that a long house would be a thatched house suspended on bamboo stilts in the jungle. But as it turns out, most of the Malaysian longhouses that we stayed at were not on stilts, neither were did they have thatched roofs (except for in the last village that we stayed in) but they were in the jungle. I’ve visited villages before; circular huts made out of mud and thatch in Africa, tin roofed houses with cement floors in Central America. But these “long houses” were a new concept for me. Long houses are simply a lot of houses connected together by a long porch with communities of relatives and friends, all living under one roof in rural parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.
I take in the culture, the climate and the people as we drive past countless villages.
I wonder what our first village experience will be like.
Who will we meet? What will the food be like? What will it be like to stay in a long house?
After we settle in, we go to visit their “grandpa” who lives 200 meters away, across the gravel road. He invites us to sit on the veranda outside of his home. He keeps bringing us stacks of family albums to look through. The photos in the albums are full of adventure and travel. I’m fascinated. Faded photos of him and his wife as tourists smiling together. Singapore. The Philippines. Bali. Thailand. Vietnam. But he seems sad now as he shows us the photos. Did his wife die? I wish that we could communicate better but his English is limited and our Malay is even more limited. So the stories inside of those albums is left untold. He shows us his hospitality by bringing us snacks. Cakes, fried jackfruit, coke. He ushers the guys inside to show them something. They come out beaming and armed with blow darts. We all take turns trying to hit the bulls eye of the target. Some of us are good at it, some of us are not so good. It’s not about that, it’s about connecting with this man, it’s about finding common interest. Our host seems amused and delighted with how much we enjoyed his blow-dart hobby.
We were invited back to our host’s and they motion for us to sit down in a circle on the living room floor, where they spread a meal in front of us. Rice, fish, greens, more fish, bamboo reeds. “Maccan, Maccan!” They say, anytime one of us would so much as stop taking bites. Which essentially means, “Eat, eat!” One thing is for sure, Malay are extremely hospitable people.
After lunch, BlowDart man takes us down to the river to bathe. There’s a “crocodile warning” sign but he shrugged as if to say, “You’ll be fine.” We looked warily at the water and back at the warning sign and then shrug and splash into the shallow water and bathed in the river while being fully clothed. No crocodiles were sighted.
They took us fruit picking and we came home, loaded with jackfruit and starfruit and lychees.
We got to visit Matang Wildlife Center, which is essentially a recovery place for animals that haven’t thrived in the wild. There, we got to see Orangoutangs! George, the biggest one flexed and showed off from inside his cage and as we began walking away, he followed us, swinging from one post to another.
That evening we set about to have a service on the porch of the long house. Big amps and microphones were brought in and set up on one end of the porch and guitars and drums were brought out. We had a lively time of worship which turned into a time of dancing. At first, we were separated; the locals swayed and danced and sang in one section of the porch but they had very specifically told us to stand over on this other side. But at one point while we were singing and dancing, we joined them and they joined us and then it was all just a beautiful mix of people and cultures worshipping our God together. There was so much joy in the atmosphere as we shifted into a time of testimonies and ended up praying over this group of people.
During our time in Rayu, Blow Dart Man tried to teach us a traditional Malay tribal dance. The son of our hosts, Tyson, came home from work on our first evening and saw his grandpa teaching us the tribal dance. Tyson spoke English fluently. He was able to recognize some of our frustrations in trying to learn the tribal dance but failing to do it perfectly and stepped right in and explained the technique in a way that we were able to understand. It ended up being a really fun thing, as we slowly caught on to the intricate steps and graceful movements of the dance.
As our three days played out in Rayu, we used our cameras a lot to take some video and photos. We let Tyson use our camera too, since we wanted a few group photos. “I wish that I could take photos. I’ve been saving up for a camera for a while but it just takes so long to save up enough.” Tyson said.
When we got ready to leave, we realized, as a team, that we had enough extra cash on hand. The money that we had budgeted for lodging wasn’t as much as we’d originally been told. We agreed to donate that amount to surprise Tyson and hopefully enable him to buy a camera. After we left, we received a message from Tyson saying, “You all didn’t have to do this. I am so thankful that I am crying.”
It was really incredible to get to help towards someone else towards embarking on their very own photography journey. I know how much photography has impacted me and I’m thrilled that Tyson gets to do it too!
Here’s a video that we made about our time in Rayu. C L I C K H E R E T O W A T C H I T.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of a remote village in Malaysia. One thing that we quickly discovered was that each village was so unique and so we had different experiences in each village visit. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon.
Until next time, Gretta