Kafka, Beckett, etc

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It appears that the Home Office have taken up permanent residence in the room we have been using since I started working here, the only room suitable for activities – English classes, and the like, as well as our Drama class.  (Though as I have mentioned before, it also serves as a prayer room for the security staff, an overflow dining room, a repository for returned laundry, and sundry other functions, so I don’t know where they have now been moved to either.)  For ourselves, we sort of took over a part of a large open area which serves both as a social area and the only way in to the cafeteria.  So not exactly private.

Though this does have its entertaining side.  During this week’s session, Hamed was in the middle of performing a short improvised scene which involved him peering over a wall, and calling out, in English.  A group of three young women went past, and one of them said, “Let’s kick him off the wall!” to her friends in Farsi, not knowing that Hamed was Iranian and so understood what they were saying.  Roji thought this was hilarious.

I thought for a moment that our Kuwaiti friend from last week was going to join us, but he was just coming to say hello when his phone rang and he had to go.  Just like last week.  Only quicker.  But sort of unsettling, lie our own little piece of Kafka.

It looked as though it was just going to be Hamed and Roji today, with none of the Iranian women coming along this time – I don’t know why.  This would not have been the worst thing in the world, since it would have given us the chance to concentrate on the Godot script.  But as it happened, we were also joined by our old friends Ali and Abdulaziz.  Since I needed to include them, and since their English is pretty basic, I switched first to old favourite zip, zap, boing, just to give me time to think, and then we did some basic mime stuff.  The old wall technique was first (it was this which led to Hamed’s scene), and enabled Roji and I to come up with a magnificently surreal and gory scene in which he chops off my hand and starts to eat it. We then moved on to some rope improvs, and here Ali and Abdulaziz excelled themselves with a series of clever and funny scenes.  One of them, Ali got Hamed to film and he has posted it on Tik-Tok.  I’ll see if I can give you a link.

I did want to move on to the next couple of pages of Godot – I am adding two sides of A4 each week, editing it as I go, so want to continue making progress.  Ali and Abdulaziz were happy enough to sit and watch, as we first read through the new script, then ran through the four pages we now have, blocking it for movement, and adding some basic direction, as regards the underlying emotions at various moments.  I am really pleased with them both, and they work very well together, as a pair of natural clowns.  It was also most encouraging that our small audience also seemed to appreciate the comedy. 

Whether we are able to do anything with this, I have no idea.  The Beckett estate is notoriously picky about what you are allowed to do with the play, but if we were to perform it for Refugee Week. which is what I would like to do, then I will need to get permission.  Still, that bridge is a long way off, and the road to it full of pitfalls, so no crossing required just yet

January 31st 1984

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Bullen and her sister

Caroline had invited us to have breakfast with her today, so we went round there as soon as we awoke.  She had given us each a present yesterday – me a shield, + V al a hat – + I returned the compliment by giving her the bracelet I’d made yesterday.  This seemed to please her greatly, + I taught her how to make them, + gave her the threads to tie her own.

Despite making some strenuous enquiries, we didn’t have any luck finding anyone heading further up-river – there certainly wasn’t any regular service, so it would simply be a matter of finding somebody prepared to take us, or, even better, someone already heading up that way.  To this end, Val waded off to the place where the boaties obtained their petrol, that being the best contact place, to make some enquiries.  I really didn’t expect any good result, so was pleasantly surprised when she re-appeared, drifting along in a long-boat – she had achieved her aim, + the boat was ready to go right now.  This meant a great panic, of course, rushing to collect our things together, + saying a hurried goodbye to as many of our kind hosts as we could find.  Val gave one of her penny whistles away to a lady who’d shown an interest in it the other night, + suddenly we were off.  Just about our only regret was that we barely had any photos of Long Bemang – we had tried the camera again, but it seemed irretrievably fucked.

Once again there were 4 of us in the longboat: the guy at the back was quite young; then Val + I sitting side by side, this being a wider longboat than most; then one other feller up front, working for one of the timber companies, + doing rather well I would judge, being pretty well-dressed.  Our agreement was to go with him as far as Long Huat, the next village up beyond the Punan village.  There had been no mention yet of money, so I didn’t know whether we would be getting a free ride or would be badly stung, but we didn’t feel we had much choice – we had to get out of Long Bemang somehow, + this seemed our best, maybe only, bet. 

There was virtually no conversation – longboats are not made for sociability – but it was a fast + enjoyable enough ride.  At Long Huat we were taken to the Headman’s house, + tho’ he wasn’t in, his wife gave us a carton of chrysanthemum tea – kind gesture, tho’ it was revolting.  Our longboat was going on to Long Bedian, + we were given the opportunity to carry on with them if we wanted.  After a moment’s reflection we agreed to do so – otherwise we could find ourselves stranded here in the same way we had almost been in Long Bemang.  And Long Huat really didn’t look top be anything startlingly different.

So on we pushed, the next longhouse along the rover being Atip.  I don’t know if we had planned to stop there in any case, but we were forced to when our outboard started playing up, + we were forced to call in at the shop there to buy some split pins.  Our friend in the boat also bought us a can of soft drink each.  We had a brief look at the longhouse while we were there – it is the longest longhouse in one building in the area, we were told – it certainly made an impressive sight, looking along the colonnade.  We also chatted with the headmaster of the school, who gave us an interesting different perspective on the West Malaysian teachers being sent to Sarawak.  They don’t want to be in Sarawak, from what we’ve heard; at least so far as he is concerned, he doesn’t want them here either.  Which, if anything, makes their plight even more pitiable.

The final stretch of our journey to Long Bedian was a little bit touch + go, with the outboard continuing to shed a vital split pin every so often.  Each time we would stop, + the guy on the back would put another one in – twice he had to climb out into waist-high water at the bank, + sort things out.  We had bought 6 spare pins from Long Atip – no. 6 went in when we were 400 metres short of Long Bedian.  Fortunately, we made it.

Long Bedian seemed more advanced than other longhouses we have visited.  They have several shops within the kampong, + tho’ this seems to be unnecessary duplication, in that their stock is almost identical, I suppose it is a mark of progress.  The longhouses themselves are tidily kept, + other things, such as a floodlit basketball court indicate a touch more sophistication.  Long Bedian has also turned its back, to a large extent, on the river that flows past it.  They have a road link with the Baram river, originally a logging road, + the village now operates 3 Land Cruisers, which provide a regular service over to connect with the Baram express boats, + can also be chartered on a commercial basis.

When we told our fellow passenger we intended to visit a Punan village, he at first thought his company might be able to help us, but then, citing the coming Chinese New Year holiday as a reason, he suggested we charter one of the village’s Cruisers – $50 for the day he reckoned, the trip out, one hour with the Punans, then back.  Not what we had in mind at all, not only because of the price, but because we had no intention of being one-hour tourists. 

We thought it a matter of form to offer to pay a share of the petrol costs for the trip we had just done, but were a little taken aback when we were asked to pay two-thirds, and greatly so when we were told this would amount to $32.  But we really couldn’t complain, having received so much recently.  And the price of petrol does hit these people pretty heavy.

As usual, we were taken to the Headman’s house.  He wasn’t there – apparently, he’s very old, + is currently in hospital in Marudi – but his grand-daughter, Bullen, looked after us very well.  She is a teacher at the school, + speaks good English.  Discovering we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, she prepared us a fine meal.  It included some fried chicken, which I tucked into greedily.  (For the record, this heavy rice diet is doing me no harm at all – my stomach no longer being violently ill.)  During the afternoon, we were taken on a tour of the kampong, + later chatted with the West Malaysian teacher posted there.  He seems happier with his situation than his 2 colleagues at Tamala Camp, even though (or even because) he is alone.  I joined in a knockabout game of volleyball with him + a few of the older boys, + then I went down to the river to take a bath.

The river is used for washing clothes and people

In the evening, Val, Bullen + another girl were busy teaching each other various crafts, while I, I’m afraid, spent much of the time watching TV.  It was tuned to the Brunei station, which was slightly more interesting than its Malaysian counterpart, tho’ it is still interrupted periodically by calls to pray + readings from the Koran.  Unsurprisingly, the locals are distinctly unimpressed by such antics.

Mostly a day given over to one long journey, which after a while does lose some of its attraction. But we have successfully negotiated our way to another longhouse, with a potential route back to Marudi.

January 30th 1984

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Flooded longhouse

The news that greeted us as we awoke this morning was not unexpected: with the overnight rain, the river had risen an extra few inches, + the bottom floor of the houses throughout the kampong was now awash, the depth from about 1 inch to about a foot.  This wasn’t the disaster it might seem.  The only activity of any importance that takes place on the ground floor is cooking, + that is basically unaffected – one simply gets on with one’s chores ankle-deep or more in water.  The kids’ playing is not affected – they’re half water-babies already, and having water to run in, splash in, slide in just adds to the fun.  So, with no wall-paper, carpets or expensive furniture to ruin, the water causes minimal inconvenience.  Which is just as well – judging by the sang-froid with which the people accepted this act of God, it must happen regularly.

Children at home on the river

We had our usual breakfast of Milo + dry crackers, after which Val went off for a wander.  She re-appeared very briefly to tell me she’d been invited to go off hunting vegetables, then shot off again.  I was, I suppose, mildly peeved that I hadn’t been given the opportunity to go too, but such is the price of closeting myself away, I suppose, so I can’t complain.  Val was gone a very long time, not returning until mid-afternoon, but I amused myself by getting on with a macramed bracelet, for the first time that I can remember, finishing one within a day.  I was also well looked-after for lunch, Caroline coming to fetch me + take me to her house.  We had chicken, which made a very pleasant change, tho’ it wasn’t cooked in a very nice way, to my taste.  There was also a big bowl of soup in the middle of the table, which I was dipping into quite happily, until the Headman, who was eating with us, fished around in it with his fork,+ scooped out the chicken head.  This he deposited on his plate with a great show of relish, + there it sat, its beak wide open, screaming its silent protest at me… or so I thought.  I couldn’t look at it.  Nor could I eat any more soup – the chicken feet made their appearance later.

When Val finally re-appeared – I’d been getting worried about her, I’ll confess – it seemed she’s had an interesting time, wading + scrambling after various vegetables, so she was now wet + tired.  Worst of all, she had slipped off a log when crossing a stream, + had dunked the camera, which most certainly hadn’t done it any good.  I was annoyed + upset, not with Val, since she had obviously done it by accident, + it was a miracle that that or a similar accident hadn’t occurred before, but that it should have happened at all, + more, that it should have happened in a place where we would want our camera particularly, where we wouldn’t be able to have it fixed or, if the worse came to the worst, replace it.  We took the film out, + fiddled with it in all the ways we could, but it clearly wasn’t a well camera.  Still, there was nothing we could do about it for the time being, except fret.

Val’s companions cooked up some of each of the vegetables they had gathered, + we were invited to sample them.  Val made more of an impression on them than I did, partly because she’s more adventurous than I am in that way, partly because she hadn’t had any lunch.  There were 3 types: our old friend the stringy spinach-type leaf, some fern tops (slimy I thought them), + some berries, which tasted like very bitter peas – these are better when younger, we were told.

Compared to last night, the evening was very quiet – we spent much of it watching TV.  For some reason, Malaysian TV seems to have an obligatory bad American comedy on screen at least once every night.  Tonight, the particular disaster was about the staff of an American school.  The staff apparently consists of 5 people, but this hardly matters, since there is hardly a kid in sight.  And really, this is one of the better ones – on other nights I have seen a programme – I should say another programme – with cute American kids, + one in which Merlin the Arthurian wizard reappears in modern-day San Francisco (tho’ why I have no idea.)  Mallory would turn in his grave.  As do I, + I’m not dead yet.  BBC’s sitcoms are Shakespeare in comparison.

Life in a longhouse, with Val having a more adventurous time than me… but the (hopefully temporary) loss of the camera ids a real blow, for the nextfew days at least. Chicken feet and headf seems to be a delicacy in all sorts of places (we have encountered it in South Africe subsequently, where it is called “walkie-talkie”.

January 29th 1984

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With the Headman and his wife in the Punan village

One of the girls sitting around us last night spoke good English – she had worked in Marudi as a waitress.  She was some relation to the Headman, + had access to a boat, + had promised to take us to a Punan village, called Long Buang, the next one along, provided we paid for the petrol.  So we spent much of the day waiting for her, in the meantime savouring the delights of longhouse life.  I should explain, for the benefit of the less knowledgeable, just what a longhouse is.  In some ways, the name is self-explanatory, but it is a social as well as architectural description.  Basically it is the mode of life for those Sarawakians not integrated into towns.  The building is long, either on stilts or in 2 storeys.  In either case, the living is done on the second floor, this being a protection against both flood +, in earlier times, enemies, when the ladders would be drawn up at night – nowadays, the stairways are rather more permanent.  Depending upon the modernity of the building, there is a veranda or corridor running the length of the building, in which people socialise, + make handicrafts etc.  Behind these are the separate living quarters, used only for sleeping.  At least, that is the classic description of the longhouse, + the ones we have seen so far have not conformed to that, but it is difficult to judge, for we have always been housed in the Headman’s quarters, which doesn’t really seem to fit the pattern.

A village, or kampong, may consist of one longhouse or several, + the longhouses themselves vary enormously in length, measured by the no. of doors, from just 4 or 5 to over a hundred.  Long Bomang, where we were staying, was in the latter category, about 105, I was told, tho’ I think that was the total of the 5 longhouses that comprised it.  And altho’ the social structure of the longhouses has not changed, they are by no means primitive.  Generator electricity, glass windows, television, are all part of village life.  One thing that has not changed, in our experience so far at any rate, is the hospitality to visitors.  Guests are put up without question, + tho’ presents are accepted, they are not demanded.  And tho’ the food is not lavish, it is provided, + is as good as is available to offer.  Our breakfast was Spartan, dry cream crackers + Milo, but I’m sure no-one else fared better. 

Val went for a stroll around the kampong during the morning, while I took advantage of the unexpected privacy offered to me, + sat + wrote.  The Headman’s quarters in which we were staying had a large room outside the bedrooms.  During the evening it was used for social purposes – it was the room in which our breakfasts + evening meals were served – but by day it was more or less deserted, so I found it something of a haven.  I value my privacy a great deal, + in this situation, having, for me, few of the benefits of communal living + most of its disadvantages, I was grateful to be left alone.  Val returned in due course, + we were given lunch – a similar meal to last night’s, with our processed peas substituting for our sweetcorn.  Afterwards, we were left to our own devices again.

The afternoon was slipping by, + just as we were reaching the stage when it looked as tho’ no excursion would be possible today, Caroline, the English speaker, floated past the doorway in a longboat – the river has risen so much it now laps gently against the doorstep.  It seemed our trip to Long Buang, the Punan village, was on.  So once Val + I had paid for a gallon of petrol ($7 – no wonder things are dear) we were off, zooming up river at high speed.  There were 4 of us, Caroline’s younger brother making up the foursome.  It was about 20 mins to the village – it’s the next settlement up-river – + I’ll confess, when we climbed out of the boat, I didn’t know what to expect.

A short word about the tribal system in Sarawak.  As with Papua New Guinea, which is similar to Borneo in many respects, but chiefly for this purpose in its inaccessibility internally, leading to the formation of many different tribes.  At one stage they would have been frequently at war with each other, but such activities have largely ceased now… or so I understand.  Nowadays, the different peoples seem to try to do each other down in a less violent manner, by doing each other down verbally, + casting aspersions as to the morals, conduct, + personal habits of the tribe in question.  Since they do much the same between the different states in Australia, this is hardly unique.  There is, moreover, a good deal of contact between the tribes, including inter-marriage.

I think the largest tribe is the Iban, followed by the Dayaks, but up in the north of Sarawak, where we are, they are mostly Kayan + Kenyah – at Long Beman, they are Kayan.  At one time, most of the tribal people would have been largely nomadic, but now only one tribe sticks to it s nomadic ways – the Punan.  And even they are gradually being settled in one place, building longhouses, + farming.  It is official + admitted government policy that they become “settled”, or, if you like, the same as everyone else.  Traditionally, the trial group would be very small, + constantly on the move, building very rude shelters, + taking their food from the abundant storehouse of the jungle: fruit, vegetables + mushrooms growing wild, fish from the rivers, animals hunted with spear + blow-pipe (I know nothing, so won’t speculate, about head-hunting + cannibalism).  But now, with the jungle being cut down at an alarming rate, there is no place for nomads.

The Punans of Long Buang have been settled for some time, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Punans we met looked very similar to the Kayans.  They had taken to the permanent way of life so well, in fact, that I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart, had I not known.  Their clothes were shabbier, certainly, + their longhouse system was not the same, but at first glance they were not fierce, almost naked warriors, but gentle + civilised hosts.  We were taken to the Headman’s house, of course, + given tea + biscuits, but after that it was difficult to know what to say.  What does one say when encountering another culture?  Take me to your leader?  We were already there.  We come in peace?  A bit fatuous.  Fortunately, Val had thought to bring our small photo album along – that has proved invaluable many times now – as a starting point for conversation.  It was also good for us that Caroline was there, for these Punans also spoke Kayan, so that was the medium used, neither side’s Malay being up to much.  But working thro’ an interpreter was not entirely satisfactory, especially if one feels the interpreter has her own slant to put upon things.

I gave the kids some sweets, we gave the Headman a photo of us, + then all trooped out – our arrival had brought quite a crowd to the Headman’s place – to take some photos.  The Headman + his wife had been asked, + had agreed, to wear their traditional costume.  The wife had compromised, I think, + just had a sarong, but the man had the traditional loin-cloth, necklaces, + ear decorations, + looked very good indeed.  We took a few photos, + then went on a short walk around the kampong – it was particularly interesting to see rice being pounded by 2 people standing on a flattened log, alternately pistoning down with special heavy pounders.  I had a go myself –as they also kick the rice into a special indentation with their bare feet, it’s a wonder they don’t get their toes crushed.

Afterwards we retired to the Headman’s private living quarters + chatted for a while.  Or rather the Headman (or his brother, equally sharp + impressive) delivered long sentences in Kayan which Caroline precised into short sentences in English.  Rendered in this way, we couldn’t really obtain more than the vague gist of what they were saying, but it seemed to be some sort of plea for greater understanding of the Punan people, I think. 

We returned by way of a small tributary where Caroline or her family have 3 fishing nets, which we checked.  I don’t know much about fishing, but I would have thought any fish stupid enough to get caught in those nets deserved to be eaten.  So far as I could tell, they were laid out much like a net on a tennis court, only underwater of course, + with quite big holes.  So the smaller fish could swim straight thro’, + the bigger ones, once they encountered the net, would simply turn around + swim away.  It would only be those fish unlucky enough to fit into the net without being able to go thro’ who would have any trouble.  I wasn’t at all surprised to discover we hadn’t caught anything, tho’ Caroline thought we were dreadfully unlucky.  It was an interesting trip nonetheless.

I was exhausted when we returned, + as soon as we had eaten I collapsed in our room on the bed.  The only reason I was able to rouse myself was that there was tuak out in the living-room – should she make some excuse for me?  Booze? I thought.  I’d make it somehow.  And was pleased I did, since it turned out to be a splendid evening.  The tuak was very strong, so both Val + I got rather drunk.  As, I imagine, did the other ladies present, unless they have very strong stomachs.  Val played her penny whistle, I sang some songs, they brought out a sort of bamboo bass, + one lady danced for us, while another sang the most beautiful song.  For some reason, the generator had been switched off early, so the whole thing was by lantern light.  Quite, quite magic.

A fascinating day, even if it did only come to life in the afternoon. Our Punan expedition was fascinating, and the evening concert, especially when giventhe extra sauce of some alcoholic accompaniment, was, indeed, thoroughly magical.

January 28th 1984

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Logging camp

I had a most disturbed night.  In case you were wondering, my tummy trouble has not deserted me, + I was up + down several times.  It was even more annoying in that the toilet was so far away.  So by the time Val saw fit to disturb me in the morning, when I was finally getting some rest, everybody else had finished their breakfast, so we ate alone.  It was a strange meal.  In some ways, it was very lavishly provided; in others, because of transportation difficulties or local taste, it failed.  There was instant coffee, tea bags + Milo provided with a flask of hot water – I had a cup of each – + one could forgive the condensed milk.  To eat, tho’, it was crackers, tinned margarine, + egg + coconut jam.  The first two were forgivable + edible – the last was neither.  However, we ate as much as we could, + then prepared to leave.

We took our bag to the office first of all, to see whether there was any means of transport going across.  The man we spoke to seemed to think there might be some possibility this afternoon, + told us that he would contact us.  Not a very satisfactory arrangement, but we weren’t in a position to dictate.  To kill time for the rest of the morning, + on the off-chance that we might find someone else to ask, we went for a stroll round the camp.  It was a blend of shanty-town + traditional longhouse settlement, with a few touches of technology – TV aerials could be seen sprouting above the rooftops, for example.  Not surprisingly, it was all made of wood, suiting both tradition + the company that owned it.  Sporting facilities weren’t bad, with a football pitch + basketball + badminton courts, but there was nothing else.  Certainly no leisure facilities – cinema,  library – but not even things one would regard as basic – shops, for example, or even gardens to grow food.  The only things along such lines were a canteen, which we were told was expensive, and a store boat, which called on a regular basis.  When one thinks that, with the base-camp + the saw-mill, that is a more or less permanent home for 1000 people, one shudders.

We strolled a little way along the road, but I soon fell victim to the heat, + what has become a perpetual languor, + turned back.  Within not very long, it was lunch-time.  While we were eating, the personnel officer arrived, + was both surprised + a little peeved that we hadn’t taken his advice, even tho’ we explained how difficult to know whose advice to take.  Tho’ he was still doubtful about there being any transport, he said he would see what he could find out, but we settled ourselves down to spending another afternoon + evening there.  I must say I wasn’t too distressed, since this would give me the opportunity to see some British football, shown on TV every Saturday.  It was not to be, however, not this week at any rate, for at about 2.15 Henry, the personnel man, came rushing in to tell us there was some transport, not to Long Bedian itself but to another longhouse a little downstream from it.  It was his family longhouse, he told us, his father being the Headman there.

We gathered our bag + rushed out to climb into the back if a Totota pick-up.  It was already jam-packed with local people, but they made a bit of room for us, + so, with me perched on top of a truck battery, + Val sat on our bag, off we went.  Or off we went as soon as we’d been given a bump-start by one of the trucks.  It soon appeared that 2 or 3 of our fellow-passengers were very drunk, + one of them in particular I took an instant dislike to.  He was blind, + the cataracts in his eyes were very unattractive, but worse than that he tried to force himself upon us.  He spoke some English, + kept telling us he would look after us.  Personally I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.  I don’t like drunks at the best of times.  When they try to ingratiate themselves with me, inbetween bouts of touching up the girls + giggling, they’re even more repugnant.

This was, however, the least of our troubles for the time being, since the road was a  nightmare, + it took all our concentration to keep us from being thrown out, or breaking a hip, or something.  Once, I was sure we were going to topple right over, + twice we had to get out + walk.  Not that it was necessary to lighten the load particularly, but the slewing + jolting were so violent over those stretches that there was a serious danger someone could have been hurled out.

And finally the inevitable occurred – we slithered to the side when trying to race thro’ a particularly deep stretch of mud, + found ourselves with our axle buried in even deeper mud at the side of the road.  The driver tried both fo0rward + reverse, but the only effect was to di an even deeper grave, so everybody climbed out – he tried again.  Was this a mistake?  Wouldn’t greater weight give greater traction?  I don’t know much about such things (or, indeed, about anything much at all).  The result was no different in any case – we were well + truly stuck.  In the circumstances, it was remarkable good fortune that we could hear some heavy traffic at work not too far away.  One of the more sober men went to seek aid, + in 10 mins or so a great bulldozer came lumbering out of the undergrowth.  Naturally, that had no trouble at all extricating our Land Cruiser, + we were soon underway again.

Mud
Mud
Glorious mud

We hadn’t been given any information about this trip, there hadn’t been time, so it was a surprise to us when we came to a stop, apparently in the middle of nowhere.  There was a large plank sticking up out of a hole in the middle of the road, + the driver got out + peered down at it, so I assumed it was some sort of clever arrangement for telling the depth of flood water up ahead, or something like that, but then everybody starting climbing out.  We now discovered that the truck was turning round + returning to camp at this point, and that we would be continuing our journey by long-boat, along a small river.

There was a canoe overturned on the bank, semi-concealed, + the first task was to drag that down to the water.  I lent an ineffectual hand, being careful, I’ll admit, not to step into the deeper patches of mud – the other guys had bare feet so could cope better.  With a little struggle it was done, + then we loaded ourselves in.  No easy matter – Val shared a seat with another girl, + we were very low in the water.  I discovered later that I had one of the few seats that didn’t have water pouring in over it.  However, once the small outboard motor that had been brought along was fitted on the back…

Setting the canoe in the water

The trip that followed can only be described as an adventure, perhaps the greatest adventure of the trip so far.  The fear + excitement of the white water rafting trip were greater, but those emotions were deliberately + calculatingly aroused.  This was clearly rather an everyday trip for these people, + so the experience was more authentic, more real.  If the scenes one sees of jungle-boat trips in the movies seem romantic, that is far from the truth.  At least, from my limited experience, so I would judge.  The river down which we travelled was very narrow, + with all sorts of obstacles to make things even trickier.  There were trees growing up out of the water, plus occasional logs which had somehow found their way in there, + become jammed, so that at times we had no more room to get thro’ than the boat width.  Branches from the banks + creepers from the overhanging trees reached put to clutch at you, + drop insects in your hair, + one’s behind soon became numb + bruised from the battering, tho’ after about an hour we both lost most of our fear of being toppled in, even tho’ we came close a couple of times, bouncing against semi-submerged logs.

The guy up in the bow, just ahead of me, had a very important role.  He acted as watchdog for obstacles, + also helped to steer, using a stick to push us off from the bank of tree-trunks that we passed close to.  When the out board stalled, as it did frequently, he would paddle or punt us along.  And perhaps most important of all, he showed us the way, indicating to the guy manning the engine the best course, + frequently the right turning too – this was no simple river to follow, for there were many side-channels, all looking to me equally likely.

After a while, when the trip was becoming a little tedious, it was quite encouraging to see someone else on the river, just a couple in a longboat, equipped with a much larger outboard than ours.  They zipped past, with much exchange of jokes + laughter – were we at last getting close to home?  But we still puttered on, with no sign of a change ahead – we were cutting thro’ some of the side-channels now, short-cutting the meandering loops of the main river.  And then the rain began, soon becoming a downpour, + then increased.  I have never known rain like it.  Val + I had our ponchos on, but they were effectively useless, never having been meant to cope with much more than a shower, + the others all had pieces of plastic or umbrellas (except for my friend in the bow, sticking manfully to his task), but nothing could do much good.  I couldn’t even look forward, the rain was so fierce.

And then, right on cue, our outboard coughed, spluttered, + stalled, + refused to start again.  I couldn’t say that I blamed it, but it left us in a most unhappy situation, drifting gently downstream, while the rain poured + poured.  I thought for a moment that I heard another outboard fire, some way away, but the noise does +  no boat appeared, so I thought I must have been mistaken.  But then, angel of mercy, the boat that had passed us suddenly appeared alongside – only from behind us.  I do not know how that could be – I can only imagine that they came back to look for us, but had missed us when we went down one of the side-channels.  Such speculation did not concern me then however – the important thing was that we were soon tied together + speeding towards warmth, safety, + the dry.

The longhouse was another 10 or 15 mins away, so soon enough we were staggering out of the boat, splashing thro’ the shallow water overlapping the bank.  This was our first longhouse, but we understood the first thing to do was to see the Headman.  Sure enough, we were taken there without delay, though, being such a big longhouse, it was a very long way.  We were shown upstairs when we finally reached the right place, + then, somewhat to our surprise, were left entirely alone.  This did at least allow us the opportunity to dry ourselves + change into so0me drier clothes – nothing had entirely escaped the soaking.  Eventually, the Headman made his appearance, a large, old, + ponderous –looking gentleman.  He did not speak English, but Val was able to convey some basic information in Malay (near as dammit to Indonesian), + then we presented him with some gifts – a tin of corn, a tin of peas, + a plastic jar of sugar, with which he disappeared.  Shortly after that, some food appeared – rice, fish, spinach… + our corn, + gradually an audience assembled to watch us eat.

Later, some  of the ladies began to prepare some leaves for making into hats, so, to reciprocate, Val got out her bilum, + showed them how to make that.  They were very interested, + soon she had a couple of them trying their hand at it.  They were, apparently, very good, soon outstripping their teacher.  I don’t know what anthropological damage Val has done by introducing the New Guinea bilum to Sarawak – it’ll give the scholars something to think about anyway.  It was very late by now – we had arrived just before dark – + I was tired, so was delighted to be told our sleeping quarters were ready.  Very comfortable they were too – our own room, a mattress on the floor, clean sheets.  I climbed between them hungrily.

And if we thought our previous travel had been varied and interrsting, then this was even more so, especially the extraordinary trip in the canoe. Despite the fact that we’dtransferred to it from a Land Cruiser, it really was a throwback to an earlier type of travelling and exploring.

January 27th 1984

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Tamala logging camp

Out of bed + the usual routine: packing the bags.  A bit different this time, as we were doing it in a slightly different way, one big pack being left behind, the smaller one containing the presents + a change of clothes to come with us… it was still a chore.  The airport is just up the hill out of town, so that was an easy trip.  I paused on the way to post a couple of post-cards, + when I reached the airport I found Val waiting in the departure lounge, so I assumed the news was good.  Not so, however.  They didn’t yet know whether the flight to Bario would be leaving – they had to wait for the man in the control-tower to arrive to ask him! 

When he arrived, the word was that Bario airport was out of operation, had been for many days, + would be for some days yet.  So no flight.  Why the man at the desk, or the lady in the MAS office, hadn’t been able to give us the same information, when everybody seemed to know it, I have no idea.  We weren’t entirely disconsolate, having been warned from the very beginning that we might not be able to get there.  Our alternative plan was to head further up river by express boat, + visit some of the longhouses there.  Not quite as satisfactory, but with the advantage of being probably cheaper.  Except that we probably would not be able to walk around, + the cost of a few trips by longboat would soon mount up. 

We didn’t really know much about it, however, so it was a good thing, on our way back down the hill, that Val had the bright idea of asking for information at the office of the Dept of Agriculture.  They were not the right people to ask, but they took us to the people who were (I still don’t know the name of that dept.  Forestry perhaps?) + the man there was very helpful indeed, drawing a sketch map of the area, writing the name of the more important settlements + longhouses’ + suggesting a couple of routes.   One of these we decided to adopt, circumstances allowing.  This was to take the main express-boat up-river, + get off at the logging camp belonging to Sarawak Plywood.  They had a guest-house here, or, even better, we might be able to stay with the people there.  From there, we should be able to catch a ride in a Land Cruiser or logging truck across to Long Bedian, a longhouse on the banks of a large Eastern tributary of the main Baram river, + then could visit other long-houses along the river, + perhaps see the nomadic Punan people, located in that area, before returning to Marudi by express boat.

The boat left at 1 this afternoon, which was just about right, giving us time to re-orientate ourselves over a bottle of Coke (I admit I’ve become more of a Coke freak than ever just recently.  We played a game of chess while we sat, which was enjoyable – I hope I can maintain Val’s interest in playing the game.  And then to the boat.  We were welcomed by pop music on the video – apparently a standard fixture on these boats – which was of slightly better standard than the one yesterday… or was it the day before?  It was drowned out, however, immediately the engines fired, so it made no difference when they switched to showing episode after episode of some appalling Kung Fu series.  Ah well.

There were some interesting fellow-passengers aboard, tribal ladies who had stretched their ear-lobes by attaching weights to them.  The men do it too, tho’ to a lesser extent.  For them, an extra inch or so is the norm; for the ladies, the ears often reach 9 inches or more.  To me, it makes them look more like spaniels rather than enhancing their beauty, but such things are in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

Kayan lady
… though some were embarrassed about their ear-lobes

We sat thro’ the journey in something like dazed torpor – we have agreed that these journeys are numbing, unpleasant experiences.  The conductor told us when we’d reached the camp, + off we hopped.  The boats don’t bother to tie up or anything – they just power up to the bank or landing-stage, pause there long enough for the people to jump off – in most cases, a second or 2 – and then throw the craft into a powerful reverse.

And so we found ourselves at the camp.  There was obviously no office to report to, so we had to play it by ear.  Fortunately we were approached, + then taken in hand by a succession of individuals of varying degrees of authority, + were taken from the saw-mill, the part by the river, to base camp, a couple of miles away, catching a ride with  a truck.  And we were then installed in the guest-house – not what we had hoped, but we could hardly complain.  At something of a loss now, I asked where the school was, + we wandered over there.  I thought I could at least with the headmaster.    This I did, but altho’ he was pleasant enough, and answered the questions I had to put, we did not develop a greater relationship than that.

So we wandered back to eat our dinner, to be served, we were told, at 6.  Chatted for a short while with the personnel officer – he seemed to think it unlikely we would be able to get land transport across to Long Bedian, + suggested we take a longboat a short way down the river to the next camp, from where there were regular Land Cruisers across.

Over dinner, we also chatted with 2 young fellows we’d seen playing badminton by the school.  They were young teachers, +  not in a very happy situation.  They had just qualified, + had recently been posted out here to the camp, from their homes in mainland Malaysia.  They had nothing in common with the local people – one was of Chinese extraction, one of Tamil – + were now cut off from all social, cultural + sporting ties, away from friends + families.  They had no choice in the matter, being under contract to the govt for 5 years, their only option being to buy themselves out, which would cut them off from their chosen profession, + cost them $25,000.  Just about the only thing they had to look forward to was a trip home during their long holiday – for which they would have to pay themselves – and the end of their contract or a transfer, whichever came first.  Their one consolation was that things could be worse.  A few of their colleagues had found themselves in remote longhouses, having to shower in the river, etc.  At least in terms of the material aspects of their accommodation, they weren’t too badly off.  They were housed + fed by the company – which was under no obligation to do so – + tho’ the rooms were barren, they were clean, + the food out of tins, but edible.  But, Man cannot live by bread (or rice, or spam) alone, + so far as these other necessaries of life were concerned, they weren’t doing too well.  Which makes one thankful – yet again – one was born in England.

So it appears we have an alternative means of travelling inland. And it does appear that we have managed to obtain some hospitality and accommodation simply by asking for it. I cannot imagine that that is a situation which will survive long, but for the time being it is serving us very well.

January 26th 1984

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Otherwise, an undisturbed night, + we managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep.  We left on the dot of 8.30, with the video providing in-flight entertainment.  But as one couldn’t hear it above the roar of the engines, it was fairly useless.  All in all, it was a tedious journey, + uncomfortable too, being very crowded, + having a gale rushing in at us thro’ the open front door.  The Yellow Guide describes these express launches as “monster speed boats” + that is as good a description as any.  They plough thro’ the water at, I would estimate, 20 knots or so, which has the decided virtue of keeping the journey-time down.  Even so, it was getting on for 1 before we arrived in Marudi – we were pleased to be off.

We went first to the hotel that Tom + Jan had recommended, + it was indeed a mere $14 for a double room.  Seeing as that room had a large double bed, a fan, + its own bathroom, it was remarkable value.  We were both pretty tired by now, + as many of the shops appeared to be shut in any case, we took a siesta.  I’m not sure this was a good idea, however, since we dragged ourselves from the bed a couple of hours later feeling as tho’ we had  barely laid down our heads.  But we wanted to leave tomorrow, so had business to attend to.  The MAS office was first, where we were confirmed for the flight with no trouble at all.  There were only 2 names down for it in fact, which made us suspicious – did everybody else know something that we didn’t?  We would have to wait + see.  In the meantime, we trekked around the shops, buying things to give as presents in the longhouses we hoped to visit.  The final tally was: 6 tins of vegetables, 2 tins of fruit, 1 bottle of Dettol, 1 large bag of sweets, 2 packs of cigarettes, 2 mirrors with stands, + 1 large bag of sugar.  This last we divided among the various plastic containers we had decided we had no further use for.  In addition, there were a few things that we already has that we were happy to part with – a couple of shirts, some jewellery + badges that we had bought at a jumble sale in Sydney, + (vanity) pictures of ourselves.  We were also able to buy Val a wedding ring for $2 – one never knows when such things may not prove useful.  And by the time we had bought a meal + treated ourselves to an ice cream, it was time to head back to the hotel.

Street in Marudi

There they told us that there hadn’t been any flights to Bario for days, so Val trotted up to the airport to check, but there was no-one about, so we would still have to report at the correct time tomorrow, + find out.  We liked Marudi – it was a pleasant little town, with its own quiet charm.  And having a reasonably-priced hotel is a big advantage too, of course.

And suddenly our flight into the interior seems to be in doubt, leaving us with… no plans at all, really. We certainly want to see more of Sarawak, so will have to find a way to travel inland, if the flight does not transpire.

January 25th 1984

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Express boat

We had to leave today, something which did not please us at all.  Another day, for rest + recuperation, would have been welcome, particularly as the other 4 were staying at least another day.  We’d enjoyed their company very much, especially Joe + Sue – we must be very parochial, but when it comes down to it, we get on best, have more cultural contact, with the English in general + Londoners in particular.  But we were on the waiting list for Friday’s flight from Marudi to Bario, so had to leave ourselves enough time to get to Marudi.  We took our time over breakfast, not bothering to rush to be in time for the bus, since we had already decided to hitch, + then said our goodbyes (or rather, I hope, farewells) + set off on the river trail back to Batu Niah.  It seemed longer than I remembered, tho’ I don’t know why that should be.

When we arrived, we treated ourselves to an ice-cream, wiped the worst of the mud from our boots, + positioned ourselves on the road.  Not a long wait, + then we were picked up by a young guy + girl in a Toyota station wagon.  Very comfortable.  He also had an expensive + sounding stereo, with cassette player, equalizer, + amp – car stereos have certainly become more sophisticated since we left – technological overkill once again?  I suppose it keeps the wheels of industry turning.  Once we’d established we were going to Miri, we had no further conversation with the driver.  We tried 2 opening gambits, + they were both ignored, so we reckoned to have done our duty + sat back to enjoy the ride.  It was certainly interesting.  At first, tho’ it wasn’t a sealed road, the road was reasonably smooth + even, but Val put the kiss of death on that by remarking that it was much better than the stretch from Bibtulu to Batu Niah.  Almost immediately it began to deteriorate, + soon we were ploughing thro’ thick mud, skirting pot-holes big enough to swallow up the whole front axle.  This would have been a tough ride in a 4WD – in a standard car it seemed almost suicidal, + on at least 2 occasions I couldn’t see any possible way thro’.  The guy was a fine driver however, + even tho’ we bumped our exhaust pretty violently a couple of times, we kept going forward.  He even turned the stereo off for a time to help him concentrate.  We became nervous a little way along when, on being hailed from the side of the road by a woman with her baby, he stopped + piled her in too.  Had we inadvertently climbed into a share taxi?  Did this mean forking out a lot of money?

These feelings were further increased when we stopped for another guy, + tho’ the negotiations broke down + we drove on without him, there clearly had been negotiations + discussion of money.  We asked him, “Is this a taxi?” but rec’d the answer, “No, no,” so were pacified for a time, but our fears were re-awoken when, before our co-rider got out, she handed over $7.  I assumed that at this point we were on the outskirts of Miri, but there was a good half-hour’s journey yet.  We pulled up in the car park, behind a big hotel, + the driver, Val + I got out to pull the bags out of the back.  Perhaps I am being over-sensitive, or harbouring feelings of guilt, but it was an awkward situation.  The driver didn’t ask for money, but it seemed as tho’ he might be waiting to be offered, + we chattered on with false gaiety, as tho’ to forestall any negotiations.  Ultimately, we said farewell, + strolled away, happy to have arrived safely at Miri, not so happy if we had caused offence.

By chance we had been dropped by an MAS agent, but they were unable to help us with our flight reservation for Bario.  All they could do was phone Marudi (+ charge us for the service) + seeing as we were going there ourselves, it would have served little purpose.  We took it in turns to mind the bags while we went off on errands.  We tried several times to call Mr Wong, the gentleman who’d given us the ride to Niah, but the line was constantly engaged, + in the end we had to give up.  We also went looking for food, but couldn’t believe the cost of things.  A bag of chips was two and a half times the price it had been in Kuching, so I settled for a doughnut.  Very nice, but twice the price.

Then, accommodation too being very high, we decided to try to make it to Kuala Baram, the town further along the coast from which one could catch boats up-river to Marudi.  If possible, we would take a boat tonight – if not, find somewhere to stay there.  We were lucky – there was a boat leaving in about 20 mins, so we further fortified ourselves with some spam buns, then climbed aboard.  It was a very bumpy ride, following the coast for much of the way, following it so close that in places the sea had washed the road away entirely.

Leaving Miri, it was clear to see how fast Miri was growing, with large, modern, + on the whole attractive housing estates springing up all over the place.  It would be a shame if all Borneo were to be seized by such a fever of development, but one hesitates to criticise the people for doing exactly as we would do, if given the same circumstances.  They needn’t stay picturesque for the benefits of tourism.

When we arrived in Kuala Baram, it struck us as a right middle-of-nowhere town, with 3 or 4 cafes, + 2 or 3 general stores.  We immediately established that there was no boat tonight, as well as no hotel, guest-house, or even church at which we could beg lodging.  On the other hand, the boat left at 8.30 in the morning, + we were given permission to sleep on board.  This, being free accommodation, was even better.  We left our bags there + went to eat.  I had a large piece of fried chicken, which I ate with some delicious bread we’d brought from Miri, while Val had soup.  On board the boat, they had a very expensive-looking video system which was switched on during the evening, + I was hoping to be able to while away some time watching that.  It wasn’t, however, very inspiring.  First, there was an hour of British wrestling, which I haven’t been able to watch since |I was 9, then 2 appalling pop programmes, one from Germany, one home-grown, + finally an amazingly bad kung fu film.  It was a relief when it was over.

We laid down to sleep on 2 of the benches, using life-jackets as pillows.  They were a little too short, however, + I found it difficult to sleep.  Which was just as well, since before long I was jolted out of a slight doze by a cry for help from Val.  I rushed round to see 2 guys disappear thro’ a window.  It turned out to be more a clumsy attempt at seduction than sexual assault, but unpleasant all the same.  They were polite tho’ – one of them yelled “sorry” as they left.

Quite a day, one way and another – travelling through all sorts of conditions, and in a variety of methods. But we certainly made good progress, starting the day in Niah, and making it back to the coast, and a fair way north along the coastal road.  And as for Val’s “encounter” – well, in the end, no cgreat harm, except to our peace of mind.

January 24th 1984

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The permit!

Joe + Sue also had a permit to visit the Painted Cave (the cave with primitive cave paintings) so we had agreed to hire a guide between us, + so halve the cost.  We thought we had it all arranged, but it appeared there had been some misunderstanding, + the only available guide had disappeared into town.  We all sat around for a while, in case he appeared, but eventually Joe + Sue walked into town to try to raise him – they had business to do there in any case.   They had been gone about 10 mins when naturally Bujang the guide appeared in his motor-boat.  As is usual nowadays, I was not well enough to go sprinting after them, so off Val trotted.  She must have gone off at a good lick, for it wasn’t long before she returned with the others in tow.  Norbert too wanted to come with us, + we were able to bluff the Ranger into thinking he had a permit as well.  The more the merrier, we thought; certainly the more the cheaper.

We were a jolly little crew when we first set out, only Bujang remaining strong + silent, setting a cracking pace up front.  Joe was very lively verbally – he had us all in stitches.  The Chinese couple across the river he dubbed Mr + Mrs Surly – they ran the only store for the settlement, + assuredly weren’t happy souls.  Physically, he wasn’t doing so well.  He’s a big fellow, rather fat +, as he + Sue freely admit, they’re not very keen on walking, not when it can be avoided.  By the end of the 3 kms, we’d more or less divided into 2 halves, fit + unfit.

At the Great Cave, we began by following a well-worn route, but soon it was clear why we needed a guide.  The path began to twist + turn, + for a time we walked along a fairly low + narrow tunnel, + if we hadn’t been following a guide, I would have been very nervous indeed.  Eventually we emerged into daylight once more, + from there we walked along a plankwalk above a swamp, before a steep climb up a stepped walkway to the Cave itself – once again, Joe, Sue + I were soon left behind.  The Cave was interesting, tho’ the paintings weren’t spectacular, + were protected from vandals by a wire fence.  Some distinguishable figures, however, + one doesn’t tend to look at such things for their intrinsic artistic merit.  This being directly under the charge of Kuching Museum, as well as off the beaten track for guano + birds’ nest collectors, there was little or no rubbish, but we were amazed to see, thrown into a pile as tho’ about to be burnt in a bonfire, some pieces of old wood.  Very old wood, actually, because on closer examination we realised were pieces from ships of the dead, or coffins, built by the cave’s primitive owners.

Soon after, we encountered a horror of a different kind, when in walked a middle-aged woman + her husband, accompanied by 3 or 4 Asian blokes.  We were amazed she had made it at all, being dressed to the nines in heeled shoes + a very smart dress.  Her husband, lugging 2 expensive cameras, one still, one movie, had  not fared so well, the back of his shirt + trousers were very muddy.  I imagine the young assistants had sprung more swiftly to the lady’s aid than to his.  They were both European, + both spoke English with a foreign accent.  The lady stood, looking severe, in the middle of the cave.  “Is this it?” she demanded.  On receiving an affirmative answer, she nearly stamped her foot.  “I’m very disappointed,” she told us, + then told us that in some other cave that she had visited, the paintings were so much clearer.  We tried to explain that one should approach rather closely to the walls rather than stand in the middle, but she seemed determined to be disappointed, so we left her to it.  Eventually, one of her young assistants coaxed her up to the fence at the far end, + having finally got close enough to see the things, she was more impressed.  “Have you seen them up there?” she accused.  Yes, we had.  “Much better,” she announced firmly, clearly the last word on the subject.  I hope for her sake she felt she had got her money’s worth.

Joe + Sue had been staying with a wealthy family in Miri, + when they announced they wanted to visit Niah, those people had tried to arrange a tour for them.  The cost for 2 people for one day was $500.  Naturally, Joe + Sue had put a stop to that.  We returned to the hostel in a more subdued manner than for the trip out, partly because we were tired, partly because it had been raining quite heavily, making the plankwalk much more slippery – it took all our concentration to prevent ourselves falling off.

When we returned, Joe + Norbert walked into town, while the rest of us relaxed, showered, etc.  When they returned they brought a bottle of arak – rice wine – + that went sown very well indeed, especially when accompanied by 7-Up.  The only regret was that they hadn’t brought 2 bottles.  Joe, Sue, Val + I chatted about England – Greenham Common, Maggie T + Spiny Norman, the Falklands, English football, + 2 London innovations.  One is a space-age public toilet, one cubicle size.  One inserts 10p into a slot, + the door flies open automatically.  It’s intended to prevent cottaging, but sounds to me like technological overkill.  Besides, one woman was locked inside, + killed by the fumes given out by the cleaning fluids which sluice the things out automatically. 

The other development is much healthier.  A guy called Bruce has been buying up derelict or closed down pubs, + not so much renovating as denovating them, ripping out carpets if they had them, banning juke boxed, one-armed bandits, + other items of technology.  A back to basics approach.  Each pub brews its own beer in its own cellar, + the food is good too.  A cheese roll costs 95p, which sounds a lot until one sees the size of it.  And they’re all called the Something + Firkin – Frog + Firkin, Ferret + Firkin, etc.  I’m looking forward to visiting one… or more.

And visit them we did indeed. At their height, there were lots – Oxford even had its own, the Philosopher and Firkin, but my impression they have now gone out of business; the Oxford one has reverted to its original name.

A fascinating encounter in the caves, and I’m pleased I took the trouble to describe it in detail.

A drum, some Beckett, some machines and a bit of slow-motion mayhem

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I had brought a drum back from Lebanon, from the summer my wife Val and I volunteered at a school for Syrian refugees there, with the intention that I would learn, or be taught, how to play it.  But it has remained, unused, gathering dust in a corner of our bedroom since then.  So when I discovered that Roji was a percussionist, I brought it in so that it could be put to use. 

But before there were enough people to make it so, I decided to use the time while Roji and Hamed were the only ones there to give them the first page or two of Godot, a little edited, for them to work on.  Their English is very good, and they are both natural performers, natural clowns even, so this is perhaps a good vehicle for them.  And if the experience of the asylum-seeker is anything, it is waiting, so there could scarcely be a more relevant play.  And they made an excellent start.  We read through it, I explained those words they did not know, gave them an idea of the tone of voice implied by the text, and we blocked it out.  And at the end of the session they ran through it again, this time with a bit of an audience.

But between their two run-throughs, we had acquired some more participants, so I used an idea I have kept in reserve for a week or two, especially since it was much enhanced by the use of the drum.  It was “machine” type work, building up rhythms, first with sounds , then a word in their own language, then in English, then a sentence in English, in each case running through a repeating cycle.  And in the final attempt, an accelerating rhythm, which was really effective.

I should explain that, with the Home Office once again taking over our usual space, we were in the dining room entrance, a space which acts as a sort of informal lounge.  It does mean that we have to share it with children rampaging around on scooters, people passing through on their way to eat, and others sitting around, whiling away the time, staring at phones.  It does allow us to impact a wider group, and on this occasion we attracted the attention of a Kuwaiti man and his daughter, who happened to be sitting near us, and was persuaded to join us.  He spoke virtually no English, only Arabic, so this did pose some challenges, but he was cheerful enough, and both of them joined in with the machine idea (though, as is common here, when a phone call came through, he had to leave the group to take it.)

In addition, we had the return pf Fahime, who has been missing for a week or two, plus Bahar, the girl who came last week, plus another Iranian young woman, another newcomer (sorry, can’t recall the name) who seemed to enjoy the work.

We tried out some slow-motion ideas at this point, in my attempt to do some work that is purely physical.  There is no real method to my choice of work.  I usually have an idea or two that I might use, but it very much depends on who turns up (and at what stage) so I am forced to be flexible (or, more often, to draw on my limited repertoire of ideas.)  Nonetheless, it was a good class; we made some progress, and there was lots of laughter. 

Some moves too, towards finding an alternative space, more open to a wider range of participants, less dependent on the whims of the Home Office.