Friday, September 30, 2011

The Dead Weeks

(The third day after the end of Fall Semester, 2010)

Unexpected news

I pack few clothes and put inside my big, purple luggage bag. I cannot wait to go to Houston, meeting my Facebook friends there. Suddenly, I hear knocking on my apartment door. Who is might be? I open my door, and I see Qing. She smiles at me, and I let her in. Then, she says to me that she is going to move into my apartment next week and stay temporarily until she can move to her own apartment next month. I am so surprised to hear that news, as she will move out from her current apartment by the end of December. I know that she has a problem with her landlord. She tells me that her landlord already found someone to take over her room. I am pity with her, and I make a decision let her move in next week. She is so happy and hugs me for helping her. She mentions that the second fantastic news she received today. I wonder what is the first news, and I ask her to tell me.

“Dency, I got all As for this semester. How about you? Did you check your result?” Qing wants to know my exam results.

“No, not yet. I’m not ready to see my results.”

I am afraid to know my results. I choose to check my results, after my trip to Houston. However, Qing persuades me as she wants to know my results. I open my student account and click the link where I can check my result. I am speechless for a moment. I see As for all my courses. I shouted happily and jumping around in my bedroom. Qing smiles at me. Both of us cannot believe we manage to survive the population genetic course. Many students in Department of Biological Science know that the course is the hardest course to get an A. We express our happiness, we chat for almost an hour. Then, she excuses herself, as she needs to call her boyfriend in Nebraska. I send her to the door and then continue with my packing. While sorting my winter clothes, I refresh back my mind remembering the three weeks of suffer finishing all my assignments and studying for two exams.

Weeks of suffer

I started my assignments for the population genetic course beginning of the semester. Qing’s friend, Josh did advise both of us earlier to try to finish our assignments before the end of the semester. He was right as I managed to cover all assignments and finish by early of November. It was not the ending of my torture. I needed to finish two genetic projects that would be presented on the first week of December. I used several programs that I have learned from the course for the two projects. I worked day and night nonstop in order to finish everything before the December 2. I finished all on the last day before the presentation. A bit tired, but I must go on. On the presentation day, I presented my first project for the population genetic course. Everything went well, and I was happy. I did not receive so many questions from my Prof and students. There was certain part I needed to adjust. After the class, I continued with my last presentation for the systematic class. My second presentation I did not present exceptionally well. I had to talk fast as each student was allotted with 10 minutes presentation. I just went ahead and finished all. By 6 pm, the last student finished presenting her project. I was a bit relief, but it was not the end of my struggles. I needed to work on with software demo presentation that would be presented on the next day. Preparing the presentation was quite easy, and again I knew how to use the program before. On the afternoon of the next day, I geared up all my efforts to demo to all students in the population genetic class. Even thought there was a technical problem while demonstrating the software, I was happy to execute my work well.

God help me

The sufferings were not over yet. I needed to study for my two exams. My first exam would be the final exam for the population genetic class and the other exam for the curatorship course. Both exams were held on two consecutive days; on Tuesday and Wednesday. Which subject did I want to study first? I chose to study and read one inch-notes of population genetic course, and after the first exam I would start studying the notes for the curatorship course. I non-stop studied all my notes until morning on the exam day. I sat for the population genetic exam and finished answering all four essay questions within two hours. It was a hard exam for me. After the first exam, I continued on revising notes for my second exam. The problem arose at midnight. After reading the whole notes, I tried to recall all the things that I have memorized. However, I could not make it. I did not want to admit that I had a panic attack, and I tried to read the whole notes repeatedly until 3 am. However, none of my efforts worked well. I started to burst out. Suddenly, I imagined that I failed, and my sponsor pulled my scholarship away from me. I remembered what my mom said to me. There was a person that I could ask for help. He was my God. I started to pray, and talked asking help from Him.

While praying, my instinct kept telling me to ask my Prof who taught curatorship course to let me sit the exam on another day, but I was afraid to do that. Twenty minutes thinking, I decided to try asking an exemption for not taking the final exam in the morning, but to do it on Friday instead. I opened my email and started writing an email to him.

Dear Prof.,

I am so tired pushing myself to finish all my assignments and study hard for my first exam that held yesterday evening. I studied all notes for your exam till late night. However, I could not recall what I already read. I am afraid I got a panic attack. I don’t want to take your exam when I am not ready mentally and physically. I don’t want to jeopardize my scholarship. I hope you can consider me to let me sit the exam on another day, probably this Friday. Help me, please.



After sending the email, I prayed to God that I would receive a satisfactory answer from my Prof. The time was 4 am. I brought myself to my bed and set my hand phone timer to 7.30 am. The exam would start at 8.30 am. I just got ready for anything. At 7.30 am, I woke up and took a bath. I reached at my office by 8.05 am, and I opened my email. My Prof replied my email, and I read his email to me.

Dear Dency,

Don’t stress yourself. I understand your condition. You can take the exam on another day with the other student. He is away in London now. Once he comes back here, both of you can take the exam. Take a rest OK.



Suddenly there was a teardrop flowing on my check. I happily cried. Without further ado, I packed my bag and went back to my apartment. I slept the whole morning and woke up in the afternoon to attend the skin preparation exam. On Monday, I sat for the curatorial exam together with my colleague, Cabel. I answered all the questions except the last question, which asked me to name the founder of the LSU museum. It did not matter to me as I confidently answered the other questions. I sent my exam sheet to Prof. JV, and said sorry for not answering the last question. He said not to worry so much for the last question.

Looking back at that time and the fantastic news I received just now, have made me realize that I shall let my Professors or my close friends know and help to lessen my problems. I love my University and the people in the museum. It is not an easy to be a student in a foreign country, but I am quite happy that many people help me to achieve my aim to get a scroll of PhD and bring all new knowledge to my back beloved country.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I did not know! (The Dayak's Taboo)

(Last Day of November 2010)

The Dream

I had a dream that I was standing at the edge of a swampy lake. I saw three Mississippi alligators swan towards to where I stood. I tried to run away, but I could not lift up my legs. When all the three alligators surrounded me, the next thing I knew, they opened their mouths. I closed my eyes and waited for them to attack me. After 10 minutes waiting, they did not attack me. One of the alligators stood up.

“Dency, where are the turkeys? We are hungry now. Faster gets the turkeys for us.” The alligator told me to get the turkeys for them.

“Ah, I thought you are going to eat me, because I ate your friends.” I said to the alligator.

“Nah, we know people will eat us. Hence, we just enjoy our life as much as I can. This is America, no body care about taboo. They just eat us. We are hungry now; please get ready the turkeys for us.” I told to them, I did not bring the turkeys for them.

They suddenly pissed off with me, and started to harass me. I screamed helplessly, and suddenly I heard a screeching beeping sound of my Blackberry phone. I woke up from my sleep. I realized that I only had a dream. I recalled the day I ate the alligator meat for the first time.

The first taste

It was the day, we received a visit from a prospective student. Her name is Vivian, and she is from Ipoh, Perak Malaysia, and staying in Las Vegas City. She came to my University as she wanted to see Fred and other graduate students in museum department. It was almost lunchtime, when I met her. She is a petite girl with a dark, long hair. There was a lanky, tall American girl stood next to her. I guessed she must be Vivian’s best friend.

“Apa khabar? So you are Vivian. Nice to meet you.” I greeted her in Bahasa Malaysia and English.

“Ya khabar baik. And you must be Dency from Sarawak. Gembira jumpa kamu.” She greeted me back. I could not believe that she still can speak in perfect Bahasa Malaysia.

“Wow, your still know how to speak in Bahasa Malaysia very well.” I complemented her.

“Yes, I’m still a Malaysian, and I must know how to speak Bahasa Malaysia very well even though I already stayed here since five years ago.” She smiled at me. Then, she introduced her friend, Patricia to me.

While Vivian, Patricia and I talked about my life in my University, Fred interrupted our conversation, and told us that he wanted to bring all of us to have a lunch at the Chime Varsity Restaurant. The restaurant is only eight-minute walk from the museum. Along the way to the restaurant, Vivian and I exchanged opinions about Ph.D programs, the Biological Department, and graduate students in my department. Vivian did mention to me that LSU was her first choice and Kansas University would be the second choice.

Both of us talked until we did not realize that we already reached the restaurant. Inside the restaurant, we have to wait for waiters to bring us to our table. It is a common practice in America, different from what we have in Malaysia, where we just straight sit down and wait for the waiters to come to us. A young waiter showed us our table and took our order. We continued our conversation that was mostly about my life in LSU and Baton Rouge, as well as other attractions in Louisiana. It is usual for any prospective students to ask many questions from their prospective Professor and graduate students. Within 20 minutes, the waiter served all ordered food on the table. Fred explained each Louisianan food to three of us. I did not concentrate on what he said as my eyes focused on the black pepper meat.

“Dency, do you ever try this black pepper alligator meat before?” I directed my focus from the meat to Fred and answered him.

"No, I never try this meat when I'm in Borneo." I shook my head side to side while answering him.

He asked me to try the alligator meat. I took my fork to pierce a small piece of the meat, and directly put it in my mouth. I chewed the meat, and I could say that the alligator meat taste and texture are similar to the chicken meat. I told to Fred that the meat was so delicious and tender. Fred smiled, and he as well as the other girls took a piece of the meat each. My experience of eating the alligator meat did not stop there. A week after that, my colleagues in the museum and I went for the last discussion group at the Chimes Restaurant. I ordered the same black pepper alligator meat. I finished all the six pieces of the meat within 25 minutes, once the waiter put my order on my table.

Dayung felt guilty

The great feeling of devouring my sweet time eating the alligator meat promoted me to take a picture of the meat. I uploaded and shared the picture with my Facebook friends. To my surprise, I received so many comments. Few of my friends were not interested looking at the picture, some were wondering how was the taste and others did mention their experiences eating alligator eggs in Borneo. However, from all the comments, I found out that Dayak Ibans could not eat the alligator meat. It is a taboo for them. My Iban friend mentioned that they already made an agreement with the King of Bornean Alligator that they were not going to eat and kill its members. The same wentto the King Alligator. A deal is a deal , and even until now, the Dayak Ibans restrain themselves for not killing and eating the Bornean alligators. If they did, the alligators could smell those who ate their family members. Blood must pay with blood.

Thinking about that had made me enquire my friends from my own tribe, the Dayak Bidayuh, whether we can eat the alligator. Few said yes, and few said no. It was quite surprising that, few Bidayuh groups from Sadong River or Serian District do eat alligators. As for my mother’s people, the Biatahs that live in Siburan area, they have the same taboo as Ibans. I was not sure why the Biatah could not eat alligators. Perhaps, they also made the same agreement with the King Alligator. I did not satisfy with their comments. Hence, I asked from the oldies in the Bijagoi Facebook group, whether they know anything about the pact or any old story that has a connection with the Dayak Bidayuh and the King Alligator.

I just put up a post ‘Should we kill and eat Alligators?’ The post attracted many Bidayuh oldies to give their comments. Most of them said that Dayak Bidayuh from wherever they are from should not kill and eat alligators. I gasped for a while, and suddenly a panic surged into me. I already ate the alligator meat. What I was supposed to do? Would the alligators of Louisiana put a curse on me? Would they and the Bornean alligators hunt me down? I did not mean to eat their brothers or sisters, because I did not know about the old taboo. I wrote a comment to confess that I did eat the alligator meat. One of the elder wrote a comment after reading my guilt-ridden comment.

“Don’t worry about that. You do not know the old taboo. You all are not exposed knowing this old taboo. We could not blame you for the mistake that you did. It’s our duty to let the young generation to know about this taboo. The King Alligator may forgive you, but please do not eat his people again in the future.”

The elder gave an assurance to me. I was a bit relief after reading his comment. From that on, I stop eating the alligator meat. Every time, my friends invite me to eat the alligator meat in the Chimes Restaurant, I will nicely say no and tell to them why.

“It’s my tribe taboo that we cannot kill and eat alligators. They can smell the alligator killers, and take revenge by chasing and killing them. It’s blood revenge.”

They are speechless after listening to my explanation.