One thing we’ve found is that, because everyone’s family is so large, so many things stay in the family. But for some reason, people don’t like to share that with Western visitors and instead you slowly realize it. For example, when we went fishing in Mabul, Matt the bartender told us his “friend” had a boat. Turns out it was his father in law’s and his brother in law drove it.
Same thing at the homestay. We booked through a guy named Dzul. He told us that our guide would be “Lim”. Never said that it was his brother. When we got to Bilit, Lim just walked us up to the house and said that we would be staying here. Only after some prodding did we realize that he lived 2 doors away and that Dzul was very close with the family we stayed with (and possibly related to them).
The family was very nice, but also shy and deferential. We ate all of our meals alone, with just one member of the family (almost always male). The women ate separately and usually long after everyone else. Meals were very authentic–we ate with our hands, which is a challenge when you are eating rice. Shawnee was much better at it than I was.
The food was very, very good. We had fresh prawns in some kind of sauce on rice one night with stir fried veggies, fried sweet potatoes for breakfast, and other great dishes that Shawnee had them write down.
We had a room to ourselves, which was nice. When we got there, the family pretty much left us alone, but the kids watched us from a distance. We decided to go outside and join the kids. Shawnee went first while I unpacked. I came out less than 5 minutes later, and Shawnee already had 10 kids playing hide and seek in the front yard. They had a little trouble with the concept of being the person who was “it”, but figured it out in a few minutes and we had a blast playing for more than thirty minutes.
At one point, Shawnee tried to teach two young girls how to play paper/rock/scissors. They never understood how you win, so instead they just went “one, two, three” and then made some sort of hand gesture and shrieked with excitement.
Because of the gender differences, the kids were slower to warm up to me. I was often forced to sit around with the men and watch TV while Shawnee was able to play with the kids. But I was able to play with them at some points and they liked sitting on my shoulders. I was about a foot taller than all of the men, which I was reminded of over and over when I hit my head on the doorway or got clotheslined (literally) in the backyard.
There were also some awkward moments when we tried to figure out what to do in the house. Where do we shower/wash our hands/etc.? If I go to the bathroom late at night, will I step on someone sleeping on the floor? Since everyone takes there shoes off at the front door, what do I wear on my feet when I go to the squat toilet in the back yard?
We figured out all of these things in time, and found the house fairly comfortable. We would get so hot and sweaty during the day that the bucket shower with cold rainwater actually felt good.