Greetings from Borneo

Published by Giles Goddard on Sun, 29 Oct 2017 03:05
Vicar's Blog

Dear all

Tuhan bersama-samu! The Lord be with you! 

I've just returned from a very solid sung Eucharist in the Anglican Cathedral here in Kuching, full high liturgy with robed choir (and five hymns I didn't know). They, too, were celebrating Bible Sunday. The service was in English and it felt very like St John's, except that it was rather better attended. 

As it's nearly half way through my sabbatical already I thought it would be good to send an update. The headline is that it's all going very well. I am spending a lot of time thinking, praying, reading, reflecting, drawing and of course writing - the weeks are turning into a retreat in the fullest sense of the word, and it's a joy to have the time to allow my imagination to flow in many new directions. 

I'm in Kuching, which is the capital city of the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Because of the history of the area, people here are drawn from all over Asia. About half the population are from indigenous peoples from the rainforest - Bidayuh, Iban, Kenyah and so on - the rest were originally drawn from China, India, Indonesia, Europe or are Malay from Borneo or West Malaysia... The city is proud of its integration and celebrates the fusion of cultures. That means, of course, that the food here is fantastic. I'm trying all sorts of things I've never had before like ferns from the forest and fermented fish, as well as more usual things like nasi goreng kampur, fried rice from the village, and delicious Chinese vegetables.  

Because it's so diverse, all faiths are represented, so every day I hear the Angelus rung on one side of the apartment and the Muslim call to prayer on the other, and there is a Sikh temple round the corner  and a Chinese temple up the road. I'm attending Morning Prayer every day, too, which is in English and the clergy are very welcoming, so in that sense it feels quite homely! But it is a long way away - I haven't spoken to another white person since I left Heathrow on 5th October.  

Before we arrived in Kuching Shanon and I had a very inspiring (and hard) four day trek through the rainforest. We went to somewhere which is about as remote as it's possible to get - the Maliau Basin - which has only been accessible for about twenty years and is being kept very untouched. It really did feel at times as though we were the first people to be there - the rainforest regenerates very quickly so paths are easily lost - and although I knew that of course we weren't, it did drive home how vital it is to preserve these extraordinary wildernesses. 

But I'm not here just to go to far away places. The main purpose of the sabbatical was to try and allow my creative side to emerge and that is working. The writing is going well - the characters are starting to become real and live in my head and, I hope, on the page. I am also working through the Gospel of Mark, very slowly, putting myself in the heads of everyone who is mentioned, which is proving revelatory. And I am teaching myself to draw, using a very good book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  Here's an early picture, which - as my dogs usually look like ducks - I was happy with! 

I'm also learning Malay - slowly, because it's very different to European languages. Here's the first few lines of the Lord's Prayer:

Bapa kami di syurga, kuduskaniah namaMu,

Wujudlah kerajaan Mu, 

Jadilah kehendak Mu. 

But it's starting to make sense.  

So overall I think the time is being used well. I am off on another extended trip into the forest on Wednesday - to the Mulu Caves and then to Bario, which can only be reached by a 90 minute flight in a six seater plane .. and then back for a final three weeks before returning, refreshed and renewed for a new year, on Advent Sunday. 

Here, finally, is an orang-utan I met last week. I love her friendly expression. 

There are a few more photos on the St John's facebook page - scroll down to Posts.' 

I hope all is going well - I'm sure it is. You are very much in my thoughts and prayers and I am looking forward to seeing everyone again on Advent Sunday.  

Until then, this comes with love,

Giles 

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