My Three Borneo Ghosts
In 2012 my wife, Cedar, and I spent the first six months of the year as volunteer teachers at an international school in Indonesian Central Borneo. So, what were an elderly Caucasian couple from Boulder, Colorado, doing in the middle of the jungle on the world’s third largest island? Well, she and I had always wanted to be Peace Corps volunteers, but the most we had managed were junior years abroad in the very tame wilds of Copenhagen, Denmark (Cedar) and Heidelberg, Germany (me). Now friends had established this English-language 1st-12th-grade private school outside the capital of Indonesian Central Borneo, or Kalimantan Tengah, where we went as volunteers...
Story #1: One afternoon two of our fellow teachers came for tea. These young women were both Dayaks, members of the indigenous people of Borneo. After one had visited our bathroom, she mentioned that there was an old woman living there. “Really?” I thought. “You see,” our colleague explained, “the old woman used to live in a tree that had been removed when our house was built. It was where the bathroom is now, so she decided to stay. But don’t worry. She likes you both and won’t do anything.” I’ll admit that for about a week I limited my bathroom trips to daylight hours only.
Story #2: We had a small TV in the living room. We used it to watch DVDs supplied by our neighbor from her large collection. (Just imagine seeing the first seasons of “Downton Abbey” in the wilds of Borneo!) Anyway, one night we detected a strange smell, part organic, part metallic. It was located only where we were sitting. When we moved a few feet away, it was gone. When we returned, there it was. For some reason I got that we were being sought out by the spirit of the English woman who had built our cottage and who had lived and died there. I remembered that our backdoor key had a leather keyring with her initials burnt into it. I somehow knew we needed to remove the key from the ring and bury that keyring outside, away from the house, with a ritual for the spirit’s well-being. After doing that the next morning, the smell disappeared and never returned.
Story #3: One night I was awakened in the middle of the night and moved to go to our second bedroom which we both used as our office. In a semi-altered state, still half asleep, I found myself having a silent conversation “in my head” with a spirit that introduced itself as the chair of the Association of Orangutangs of Kalimantan. He wanted to make sure that Cedar and I were not corrupting the children of their island with foreign ideas. I argued that the Western world had now come, for better or worse, to Borneo and that we were giving the local children a kind of cultural flu shot so that they could deal with the West from a position of strength (and English) and not be corrupted by it. “All right,” the spirit said, “but know that we’ll be watching you.” “I understand,” I replied, “and I promise to do my best for your youth.” With that, the spirit left, and I went back to bed.
Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” I could say this was not Kansas, or even Boulder, Colorado!
Outside our torrentially rain-soaked cottage, where all three sightings took place.
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