IT was well past the usual dinner hour when two vanloads of travel-weary medical camp volunteers stumbled up the rocky gravel path into a two-storey, one-bathroom wooden house in Kampung Sinua.
The second half of the six-hour journey from the Kota Kinabalu airport, across the Crocker Range, passing by Keningau and Sook was uneventful except for the many unpredictable stops to negotiate around herds of village cows and buffaloes settling down for the night, which was cold, on the warm road surface.
Dinner was simple but good with loads of steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables and a melon-chicken soup shared among the many of us and the host family. Our kind hosts, including the children, had
waited many hours for us to arrive. In keeping with custom, they would only eat after the guests had done so.
The chilly night breeze carried tales of those who had made great fortunes harvesting the rich low-lying jungles leading to the mighty Mt Trusmadi, the second highest peak in Borneo.
The landscape, once clean and green, is now scarred by the crude, muddy tracks of timber-laden lorries and tractors. The once pristine streams of the lower slopes are now polluted and their water unfit for humans.
Life is indeed difficult for the village folk who now depend on subsistence farming and foraging the secondary jungles for their daily fare. The monkeys, deer and wild boars that once roamed in abundance are now gone. All that is left are a scant variety of edible plants and the occasional jungle fowl.
The wealth of the land is no more. The wealthy tycoons and the short-term jobs they offer are gone as well. All that is left are those who have no other resources and nowhere else to go.
Villages are mainly populated by children and old folk. The able-bodied have left for work in the distant towns and cities, coming back only for traditional festivals or when their finances permit. Such is the sad tale across many of the remote villages in today’s Borneo.
Like many of the villages that we have visited, should you should have the misfortune to fall ill, the journey to the nearest health facility is long and arduous. It may take you a day or even two to get there on foot or with a ride on the occasional passing vehicle. It is thus not surprising that many would rather suffer the illness until it is too late. If one survives, one lives to fight another day.
In many villages, children adapt to chronic malnutrition, worm infestation and non-ending skin infections. Scrawny kids with dry and brittle yellowed hair play with one another in nearby muddy fields and rivers, or practise shooting their homemade catapults on the the many emaciated village dogs. The smell of cow, cat, and dog excrement permeates the air.
Many have responded to the call to reach out to these marginalised communities. We lift our hats to salute them. These selfless folk, young and old, professionals and from all walks of life, have come to offer what little they can. But their efforts are but a drop of water in an ocean of need. There must be change in order to make things better.
In the coolness of the night under a clear, star-studded, moonlit sky, you ask, why should this be so?
Sabah is a vast and rich state. It is not some arid desolate desert in Africa. The wealth of Sabah’s land, water and surrounding seas is tremendous. The answer is clear. The wealth once extracted never came back to enrich the land and its people. It has been taken to foreign places far away – Switzerland, London, New York, Australia and the Caymans, to name just a few.
The people left behind will have to make do in the impoverished landscape of polluted rivers and secondary forests depleted of its natural resources. Life is hard and will continue to be hard unless
those with power are willing to stop their selfish pursuits or those with the vote are no longer willing to be cheated for a mere RM50 every five years. Those offering this pittance should be ashamed of their treachery to their own kin. Status quo is clearly not the path to their salvation.
Change it has to be. Change now and not five years down the road.
Such are the echoes from the jungles in the Land Beneath the Wind.
Change, change with your vote.
In the stillness of the night, one can almost hear each and every tree whisper the word “Ubah”.
With the rising sun, you can hear the call carried by the hornbills from one hill to another. With each gushing river, the voice goes louder until it reaches the sea and a tsunami of change will then sweep through the land.
* ‘Steven Shakingspear’ reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.