“Dency, I’m behind of you now. Follow me from behind. Ok.” she called me to let me know her plan to bring me to Mawao Estate. I followed her order and before I know, we already reached the estate. It was so dark and the only sight that I could see was six brick houses and oil palm trees planted at the edge of the housing area. Imelda parked her big car next to one of the big houses on the top of a hill while she asked me to park my car in front of a big houe. I figured out that the big house is belonged to Imelda.
“Welcome to my not so beautiful house. Actually it was an old office before we moved to our current office at the foot of this hill. Did you see a big white building at the side of road just now?” asked Imelda.
“Yes. Is that the Mawao Estate office?” She nodded her head agreeing with my reply.
We transferred my things to her house and I proceeded to have a bath before taking my supper. After settling everything, Imelda and I talked about my helpers. One of my helpers would be her staff’s son who has just finished his form 5 last year. She also mentioned that she released one of her worker to assist me. The conversation between two old good friends ended at 11.00pm and we drifted to sleep in cold raining night.
A sunny morning embraced the day. Imelda and I went to her office. There we met Michael, Imelda’s research assistant. Michael is a funny stout man. When he saw me, he was astounded to find out that I am a woman. “Boss Imel, saya pikir kawan ko lelaki. Ba perempuan ya. Tadi saya kasi tau sama budak-budak dua orang tu yang kawan bos ni laki. Ala salah lagi saya.” said Michael to Imelda. Both of us just laughed at what he said. I could understand him for saying like that as there are still few Malaysian women involve themselves in this wildlife field that has been dominated by men. We went to her office room. It is a big room equipped with a big table, a sofa set and a long closet. A white board was hanged on the right wall. I could see Imelda’s handwriting written on the board. There were numbers and words that I could not understand. By only guessing, the numbers could be estimation of oil palm fruits in tonne.
“Boss, boleh masuk.” Two young men entered into Imelda’s room.
“Duduk kamu dua. Safwan kamu tau kan ko dilepaskan dari kerja kamu di blok mulai hari ini sampai Sabtu.” Imelda informed to a young man with a dark complexion. I immediately knew his name is Safwan. The other man has a white complexion and pair of eyes that are exactly similar to Michael. I could say he must be Michael’s son.
“Safwan, Mac, saya kenalkan kawan saya, Miss Dency. Mengenai kerja tu Miss Dency akan jelaskan kat kamu nanti. Bayaran satu ari lapan jam ialah RM35 skali dengan lunch RM5 lah. Yang RM5 tu Miss Dency akan bayar esok sampai hari terakhir. Waktu mula kerja bergantung kepada arahan Miss Dency lah. Ada apa-apa soalan dari kamu dua?” Imelda asked from both of them.
“OK. Dency both of them under you now. Safwan boleh ko tolong bawa Miss Dency ke estate kita di Klias tu. Ko tau kan tempat tu?”
“Yang kat ujung tu ka Boss?.”
“Ya. Jadi ko kasi tunjuk tempat tu sama Miss Dency nanti. Jangan kasi sesat tau.”
I looked at both of them and made an assumption that they are between 19 and 22 years old. They are very young and have kind of childish looks. Without further ado, I asked both of them to follow me to my car that was parked behind of Imelda’s Hilux. Before proceeding to the intended place, I went to Pekan Membakut to buy two packs of nasi putih with fried fishes for their lunch. By 9am, I drove my car out of Membakut area and entered to Klias-Pelijau area. Safwan became my guide. He showed me the way to go to the estate. We went through villages and small estates belonged to small holders. At 10.30am, we arrived at the Pelinjau Estate. What I could see was a big land planted with 2 years old palm trees. The other side of the Pelijau Estate is belonged to small holders planted with 10 years old trees. I parked my car and did survey looking for magpie-robins. Suddenly, I saw a pair of black birds flew among fruit trees next to the 10 years old oil palm trees. I told my helpers to look for 20 bamboo poles and set up 10 mist-nets at the selected locations. Once done, we took rest near to our mist-nets. The day was so hot and I was sweating a lot. I lay on ground next to an old palm tree and dozed off. The two of them did the same thing while waiting for any birds entered into our traps. Three of us stayed at the estate until dark clouds covered the Pelinjau, Klias sky. We quickly put down all mist-nets. Rain started to pour down when we pulled down the last mist net. Once all done, everybody got wet and we left the area without catching any magpie-robins.
On the second day of sampling, we moved to Selinsing, Klias. The destination would be an oil palm plantation belonged to a joint venture company in Sabah. There, I saw a pair of magpie-robins roamed among palm trees of 5 years old and rubber trees. We surveyed the plantation and found a good place for us to put up mist-nets. By afternoon, we managed to catch one magpie-robin. Hoping to get two more birds, we waited again until thick dark clouds blocked the sun. It was a sign of rain and we pulled down all mist-nets before we got drenched.
On the way back to Membakut, I tried to get to know my two helpers. We chat as follows.
“Safwan, what is your race?”
“I’m mix. My father is a Bisaya and my mum is a Kadazan.”
“Mac, how about you? I guess you are Dusun. Am I right?”
“Nope Miss, I’m Kadazan.”
“No. Kadazan Buddish.”
“What? Am I deaf?”
“Miss, yes I’m kadazan Buddhish.”
“Ok. This is the first time I met a Kadazan Buddhish. All this while I thought that all Kadazans are Christian and majority of them are Roman Catholic.”
“Now you know Miss. Ba 1 Malaysia ba.”
I just smiled at Mac for his comical answer.
“Ah we almost arrive now. Tomorrow I picked both of you at 5.00 in the morning.”
Once I stopped my car, they jumped out and walked to their own vehicles. I sat down in my car for a while to relax my feet. It was a heavy rain in the evening. I was hoping tomorrow will be a perfect day. A perfect day for everything.
Jokes from two Membakut boys
For the next two days, we did not catch any magpie-robins. I tried not to let my spirit down and hoping to get at least two more magpie-robins on the next day. Being a researcher, I needed to figure out a way to solve this problem. I asked Mac to follow me while Safwan would look after the mist-nets. We surveyed an area covered with one to two years oil palm trees. There, we noticed a pair of magpie-robins perched on branches of a dead tree and roamed among oil palm leaves. The observation led me to make a decision to change the location of mist-nets to the new area. I also heard knocking sounds made by a woodpecker. The sounds would be like repeated knocks on a hard wood.
During break, all of us sat down together behind of my car. When Mac and Safwan saw my gloomy face, they knew, how stressed I was with my works. Both of them would like to speak Malay language the way British officers spoke during colonial time.
“Mac, boleh kasi itu air sama saya. Saya dahaga. Kamu tahu dahaga.”
“Tuan, saya tahu. Ini ayer untuk Tuan.”
“Trima kasih. Kamu memang bagus. Tahu apa Tuan kamu mahu.”
I just laughed at them and followed their acts.
Language barrier was not a problem to me. Mac and Safwan thought me a few Sabah Malay words. For example, “keling” is for Indian people, “Om” for Timor Leste workers while “bangas” is spoiled food. When works were over, we would venture to other places beside Selinsing. We went to Bisaya villagers, the Bornea Golf Club, Safwan’s village and other oil palm plantations within the Klias area. Mac and Safwan would be my tourist guides explaining many things about the places. Along the way back to Membakut, we saw the mighty Padas River. The yellow river is famous with its Grade 3 and 4 rapids. Given that I was near to the mouth of the Padas River, I could not see those swelling current rapids. Decorated Bisaya houses attracted me so much. Through Safwan, I already knew that there would be many wedding ceremonies within the Klias area. Coincidently, the week was a school holidays in Malaysia. Newly engaged couple especially those who work as teachers like to tie the knot during school holidays and greeting seasons. My adventure never concentrated at Membakut. I did go to Pekan Beufort together with Imelda. When I arrived there, I saw many government buildings and a row of wooden shops surrounded by concrete shops. It is matched with Imelda description that Beufort is the centre of administration and businesses for Sipitang and Beufort people.
On the last day, we put up ten mist-nests along the road near to the new area. That day, Safwan did not join us. He was replaced by Mac’s cousin, Jason. Through Mac, I knew that he is a Kadazan Catholic. His appearance looked like a punk kid and he is not a chatty person like Mac. By 10.30 in the morning, we managed to catch four magpie-robins. It was the biggest catch for a day in Klias-Membakut. At 11.00 p.m., we put down the ten mist-nets and sent those two boys back in Membakut. Finally, it was the end of my works in Klias. But, there is still a long way to go for me to achieve my research objectives.