Greetings from Brunei Darussalam
I best introduce myself as some of you might be wondering who I am, and what am I doing in Brunei! My name is Karalaini Riley (nee Rokovada) and I am employed by Her Majesty’s British Forces assigned to Brunei with the Army Welfare Service. I am married to Paul and have two beautiful step children Lauren and Oliver.
I hope to share with you my experiences and reflections as I get to know this region of Borneo better. Brunei is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is bounded to the north by the South China Sea and on all other sides by the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, which also divides the state into two disconnected segments of unequal size. The western segment is the larger of the two and contains the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan. Brunei achieved independence in 1984, after having been a British protectorate since 1888. (www.britannica.com/place/Brunei)
It is always difficult moving to another country especially as you leave loved ones behind and those close to me know that I can be an emotional person. To further add to my apprehension of moving, I had expected or really wanted to be assigned to our Wiltshire office as it is near our home. When I was told that Wiltshire was not available and Brunei was where they would like me to go, I had to have a serious conversation with my husband. I remember the day clearly, the reaction on our faces when I relayed the news to my husband and it does not help when he can be an emotional person too!! As Paul likes to say we are both messes…
The choice that I had to make was either remain in the UK and work in another part of the country which meant being a “weekend wife” where I get to see my husband at weekends or move to Brunei, make it an adventure with Paul joining me full time in April 2020. I went with the latter as we knew we would not get this opportunity again.
On Friday 3 August 2019, I departed London Heathrow with Paul on a flight with Royal Brunei Airline that took almost 14 hours. Paul is a serving officer with 32 Regiment Royal Artillery and we were fortunate that his 3 weeks summer break coincided with my departure for Brunei. I initially had reservations of flying for such a long time as normally I would transit through a country before arriving into my final destination however it was a great flight and one I would recommend if you do get the chance to experience it.
We landed safely and was transported to our new abode. Prior to travelling to Brunei, I had requested to live in a flat close to my new work location. On reflection, I should have specified which flat. To my surprise our flat was on the fourth floor with no lift, thank goodness Paul travelled with me as he lifted all our luggage up the steep flights of stairs. Paul says it is a good workout for my rear, not sure if that is a compliment!! The best greeting we received was the view that evening from the front balcony, the night sky danced for us welcoming us to our home for the next 3 years with a beautiful sunset.
So far I have noticed that the pace of life in Brunei is wonderful and laid back, the locals that I have met are friendly and respectful. Car drivers are courteous and I still have not heard a car horn yet. I was wondering why the majority of the people drive to places here even if it is short distance and realised the necessity when I walked to work from my flat (5 mins) at 8am, my clothes stuck to my body from the humidity and high temperature coupled with the unattractive sweats I was producing.
Most outdoor physical activity is normally done early in the morning or late in the evenings to avoid the heat or in an indoor air conditioned gym. It is advisable to own a car here if you can afford one to get you around comfortably and the price of fuel is ridiculously cheap. The first time we filled our car up was for less than £20, we looked at each other and burst out laughing more of shock and the amusement comparing it to what we paid in the UK.
The first week and I am embarrassed to admit it, is that we found ourselves eating dinner most nights at Chautari, the Naafi bar as they served food like back in Fiji and offered free wifi. The first night we walked to dinner there was a pack of stray dogs near our destination and it brought back memories of being chased by dogs in Fiji when I was at school. I told Paul that there is one dog that will be their leader and it is the dog that will lead the charge towards us. There was a brown dog that looked like the leader of the pack and as it ran towards us the rest followed. Well, my instinct kicked in and just like my Fiji days, I picked up a stick nearby and ran towards the brown dog! Not sure who was more scared the dog or Paul..Kaila!
August has been quite manic for us, today marks my first full month in Brunei and my first week on my own since Paul’s return to the UK last week. I have missed him terribly and he has been a huge blessing in ensuring that I settled in during our first few weeks here. I have missed coming back to a clean flat and all my shopping carried up to the flat for me. Such is life in the Army, if both are serving members of the Forces being located in the same location is never guaranteed. However, I am determined to keep myself busy and try to enjoy what my new environment has to offer.
Until next time...
Lots of love,