February 6th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
Preparing for the journey; Val aboard the longboat

At 10 am, much to our surprise exactly the predicted time of departure, we were down at the wharf climbing into a longboat.  The boat was already heavily laden, with everything from schoolbooks to dustbins, + there were 9 people to be fitted in as well.  Even so, it didn’t look like being the frightful ordeal we had anticipated.  The boat was very big, wide enough for us to fit across it – what was more, there were thick + soft cushions to sit on.  It was a long journey, true, but so preferable to the hideous express boats.  Val + I had a game of chess, which killed an hour or so.  There was brief stop or 2 along the way, once to stretch our legs, once to stop off at a kampong with a remarkably well-stocked series of shops to have a coke + for the teachers to buy some last supplies.  So one way + another the journey went by very quick, very easy.

The school field

We had branched off the Baram to the Tinja, a large tributary, then again to a small one, narrow + winding, with heavy overhanging bushes – obviously the loggers hadn’t got here.  But here we encountered our only problems, for in 2 separate places a tree had toppled across the river + caused a blockage, but a combination of good rivermanship + brute strength saw us thro’ alright.  The biggest shock, not for us but for everyone else – came when we arrived at the school + discovered that the river had risen about 3 ft in the 3 days or so they’d been away.  We were able to take the boat across the football pitch + right up to Lihan’s house – luckily it was built on stilts, so was up out of harm.  Not so the school itself.  This was built on 2 storeys, + the bow of classrooms on the ground floor were under 18 ins of water.  Things were a bit chaotic at first, unloading supplies etc, so we didn’t have the smoothest of introductions – even so, we were disappointed with Telun, Lihan’s wife.  She spoke no English, or next to none, + was shy + retiring.  Especially in comparison with Lihan, a real live-wire both socially + intellectually, she was really dead – an altogether unlikely  companion, I’d have said, but one’s friends have the most unlikely partners. 

Lihan’s living-room was decorated more like the bedroom of an English schoolboy than anything else, with posters from “Shoot”, the English football magazine, interspersed with a few, very old album covers – Cliff Richard, Lobo, other stars of the 80s.  Some straw hats, decorated with the local bead-work, looked out of place in that company.  Telun served us an evening meal, but she declined to eat with us – simple but tasty.  And then an evening of TV – quiet + relaxed.

After our previous river trip, this was luxury itself. Though it was a pity to see the scholl and village in such a state.

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