National Geographic : 1964 Sep
scholarships to the son and two friends in the same situation. Within a year they cost me a month's Peace Corps subsistence allowance. When villagers finally let me go to bed, it is still not easy to rest. Bed is a bamboo floor five feet above the murk of the under-house pigsty, chicken pen, community dump, and toilet. Nightly the mangy dog packs trot the long porches where we sleep, and occasion ally stop by for a friendly sniff and scratch. Light sleep is sometimes possible just prior to 5 a.m., the beginning of a new day. People ask if life here is hard and strange. If ever I took time to think, things would seem hard and strange. But the day's tasks leave little time for thinking, and the Iban ways quietly become my own. By new defini tion, a floor becomes a bed, and rice a meal. Fifteen miles per hour becomes a reasonable speed for travel, and a loincloth is accepted dress for an Iban. Some have also asked if the Ibans' law and customs interfere with my work. Often they have, but there have always been ways around the tribal taboos. A young Iban chief once agreed with great reason and in the spirit of progress that he should try to plant a corn patch. Unfortunate ly, however, his best cornland was under an old curse. His grandfather had been told in a dream many years ago that anyone clearing the land would have a death in his family. 336 KODACHROME(ABOVE) AND HS EKTACHROMEBY TOR EIGELAN "But," the chief pointed out, "if you Chris tians are brave, you may do the clearing." I did it, and no one died. Later, again in the spirit of progress, he told me, "Iban law is too hard to follow. Someday when my chil dren finish school, I'm going to become a Christian." Volunteer Pays Toll in Health "You will not live here long," District Of ficer Bruen told me, "without falling in love with the Ibans." He proved right. It was ironic, for their land and culture have been rough on me. Or perhaps I've been heedless of too many rules of health. Muddy digging for a fishpond gave me one tropical disease; a year later, unboiled water gave me another. Now, near the end of my term, the reserve built up by training in Hawaii is gone. The Ibans say my bones have gotten soft. It will be harder to leave here than it was to leave home to come here. Soon I will attend a Peace Corps end-of-service conference. My packed souvenirs will be sent, my plane tick et to Palatka, Florida, will be written, and I will start the three-day journey home. Sarawak will become a memory of rushing water, tangled jungle, and wild rhythms. In vacant hours, streams I have traveled will wind into rivers. The tangled jungle will show paths I walked-and my determination to return to Sarawak will burn deeper. Okra adds spice to the rice diet of the Sea Dyaks and helps the former "wild men" of Borneo improve their lives. Forested hills and coastal swamps leave them little farmland; new growing practices and better crops can free them from their struggle for food. Price taught the people to build chicken coops and to dig fish ponds near their longhouses. Furious paddling averts a dunking. Price and his companions fight to keep their praufrom wallowing broad side as the boat teeters across a cata ract on the Ngemah River. Travel means adventure in Sara wak, where the highways are rivers and streams. In the rainy season, floods can smash boats to kindling. In low water, praus must be unload ed and portaged. Matted vegetation nourished by 150 inches of rain a year blocks traffic on foot. ND© N.G.S.