>THE best part about joining a homestay programme is that one can get close to the people. In the case of foreigners, it can be a real contact with another culture and lifestyle.
My first homestay experience was in Kampung Belimbing in the Bidayuh heartland of Kuching Division, Sarawak. It's is the only Muslim Bidayuh enclave.
I was in a group of about 70 people visiting three communities in the village as well as in Kampung Pueh and Kampung Anna Rais.
When we arrived, the locals came to greet us, clad in their best batik and baju kurung.
As there were so many of us, our room arrangements were mixed up but this was settled in good spirit. We decided to "book" our own "papa and mama" among our hosts. It was funny for many of them looked much younger than us.
After I gave my "adopted parents" two packets of biscuits as gifts, the organiser told me I was to stay with another family. It was quite embarrassing as my "adopted parents" gave me back the biscuits. So I insisted on staying with them and finally, the organiser relented and I happily followed my "parents" home.
The first thing I discovered was to not ask for too much so long as the basic necessities of food and lodging were met.
Six of us were packed into a two-storey unit in a modern longhouse which, thankfully, had piped water and electricity. The women stayed on the first floor while the men shared the ground floor. While the rest of the men occupied the living room, I had to sleep on the kitchen floor, together with the son of our host.
The house decor is Malay with some items bearing Islamic calligraphy. There was a television set and a comfortable sofa set.
Unfortunately, in the toilet, pails of soaked clothes gave off a terrible odour and the pipe dripped.
There was no basin for me to clean my face and brush my teeth. I had to make do with water from a pail.
As for food, we were served plenty of canned food. Thank goodness for salted fish, traditional Malay kuih and lemang.
The evenings we spent chatting with our "parents" who spoke good Bahasa Malaysia. Bidayuhs from different areas speak to each other in Bahasa Malaysia because their own dialects are different.
Saying goodbye was difficult. Although our stay was short, we were touched by our hosts' warmth and friendliness. It was as if we had known each other for years.