Greetings from Brunei!
Not sure where Brunei is? Maybe you’ve heard of Borneo. It’s an island that is home to three countries – Brunei, and portions of Malaysia and Indonesia. It sits on the South China sea. And people say there’s nothing to do there.
But, as you would expect, I didn’t believe that. There aren’t “things” to do (amusement parks, etc.), but it’s another country, and another worth seeing. It is a Sultanate, meaning that it is run by a sultan. How cool is that? I did less exploring than I wanted to, namely because we’re currently in the “wet” of their two seasons – hot and wet. Though, I would argue, it seems that the seasons are currently combined.
Brunei is remarkably conservative and I was a bit worried about how a newly bright red-head would be received. Not only would I be walking around as a female, without a head scarf, but with brightly dyed hair. Of course my worries were misplaced – yes, I stood out like a sore thumb on a unicorn, but everyone who saw my hair lit up, smiled and wanted to see it.
The country is conservative, yes. But what’s delightful about it is that they are conservative by choice. They aren’t regulated into it. The women who wear head scarves choose to do so. The women who don’t enjoy the same freedom of choice, and aren’t looked at any differently for it.
In terms of wildlife, Brunei was one of the most abundant places I’ve visited. So many unique birds. I did see a croc. Aaahhhh!! It was actually funny timing because I was on a boat tour to see the proboscis monkeys (native to Borneo and super cute) and I was laughing at myself (in my head) for thinking that every log we passed was a crocodile. I was thinking how silly that was. That Timor Leste and the program I saw with a man getting attacked by a crocodile really did a number on me. I looked at a log and laughed and though, “see, that’s a log.” And the guide pointed at it, to make sure I saw the crocodile.
I do not have a future in “Log or Crocodile?”
I explored by water, seeing not only wildlife, but the largest water village in the world. Where there is still a significant population living on the water, though their lives are much more modern than their fishing-village-subsistence-living ancestors. You can also see some of the sights from the water – namely the Sultan’s palace and the main mosque in the city. Which is, stunning.
But then you go to the Masjid Jame ‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque (say that 1 time fast). I happened to go in the evening, at sunset, in a thunderstorm. And got to sit and watch the most incredible show. It was so beautiful the way the sky and rain lit the place up.
And a trip to Brunei would NOT be complete without a visit to the night market where you decide what to eat by walking around and seeing what looks good? What’s that? I don’t know. I’ll have it. Brunei continues in SE Asia’s legacy of incredible street food.
I intended to spend my last day in Brunei exploring the city. Visiting by day the mosques I had visited by night. Checking out the Royal Regalia building and museum. But, I took a quick walk over to the coffee shop to get internet – hopefully sort out a last visit with my new Brunei friend, Zul, and check my flight status. I saw a profile picture changed to an eye with a tear and a French flag. I thought it was weird, but scrolled on. Among “normal” status updates, I kept seeing the word “Paris,” with vague context. So I Googled Paris. Just that. And I was sucked in to the story. I knew immediately I wouldn’t be doing any exploring that day. I went up to the barista asking if they could try to find CNN or an international news station.
I watched and learned as much as I could and then knew I should head back and get my things and get to the airport early, not knowing what impact the prior evening’s events might have on a small airport in Brunei (for the record, none). As I walked back, I passed beautiful buildings and beautiful people of a predominantly Muslim country and I started to tear up. Partly because in a way I think that the Paris news opened Aurora wounds, but more because I was surrounded by the warmth and love from Muslims. I had spent the week in awe of the kindness and generosity of everyone I met. And I knew that these people, most of whom had no clue what happened in Paris the night before, were about to fall under attack. Not actual attack, but that because of their religion and a whole lot of people who jump to conclusions, they would be marked terrorists. And it’s heart-breaking.
I know admittedly still very little about the Muslim and Islam. But I know enough to know better than to make a direct connection between the actions of extremists and terrorists and those who practice their faith with love. And I can’t wait for the day that the rest of the world does too.