Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Brunei Town

Balik Kampung: The long wait is finally over

Lyna Mohamad & Fadley Faisal

Fervid excitement, anticipation, gratitude and relief are but some of the emotions permeating across the Sultanate as the clock ticks down to the August 1 re-opening of land and sea borders.

The move comes following an almost two-and-a-half year closure, shortly after the coronavirus reared its head in late 2019.

“The re-opening is very much welcomed, particularly for those who have families living across the borders in Limbang, Lawas, Sabah, Miri and Labuan and long to balik kampung (return home),” Sarawakian Haji Mohamad Daud bin Haji Ismail told the Bulletin.

He added, “This will allow families to reunite after a long separation driven by the border closures. Additionally, the business community in the neighbouring towns will certainly be looking forward to the return of Bruneian shoppers.”

He also shared, “After waiting for over two years, I am eager to visit my mother, who is in her 80s, as well as other relatives back home in Sarawak.”

Haji Mohamad Daud bin Haji Ismail speaks to the Bulletin. PHOTOS: LYNA MOHAMAD
Mark Paren and his son

The Malaysian lawyer explained that he was unable to apply for the essential travel permit, and that foreigners working in Brunei Darussalam had anxiously awaited the re-opening of land and sea borders.

Meanwhile, a marketing manager at a car dealership, Mark Paren, said, “I would like to thank His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and the government as this is something we have all been hoping for.”

Paren, who has worked in the Sultanate for 11 years, said the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a “challenging time”, denying him the opportunity to welcome his newborn into the world.

The allowance of only essential travel and higher air fares meant that he was only able to meet his child several months after.

“I was sad and lonely, being away from my family and not being able to see them in person. I was constantly plagued by worry over the well-being of my family, especially my parents and grandparents.

“Countless Malaysians, especially Sabahans and Sarawakians, have not seen their families back home ever since the first wave hit the country. The border re-opening will undoubtedly allow for a joyous reunion, and they will finally get to embrace one another after being apart for so long,” he said.

Fellow Malaysian Haji Az, who has resided in the Sultanate for over 34 years, lauded the move, explaining that not everyone is able to afford pricey air tickets to visit families or vacation in neighbouring countries.

This also allows Malaysians who have been stuck here for nearly three years to personally attend to official matters such as passport renewal, he said.

“On a different note, let’s hope the resumption of economic activities will help to bring down the price of imported goods in the Sultanate. I am also looking forward to the enhancement of bilateral activities between neighbouring countries,” Haji Az added.

To Kathy, the re-opening brings a sigh of relief and a cheaper alternative to get home – by land. It also means her family will be able to come for a visit, similar to the pre-COVID days.

Tied to the hospitality industry, Kathy hopes Brunei Daurssalam, Sabah and Sarawak will continue to offer hotel and hotspot visit packages to boost their respective tourism industries.

“The involvement of stakeholders and strategic partners in helping respective governments boost tourism will also be something to consider in helping to contribute towards national economic growth,” she explained.

Meanwhile, a former expat living in the Sultanate said, “I am elated that Brunei is finally opening its land borders after almost two and a half years. Now I can renew my passport, driving licence and update my banking matters.”

Choosing to remain anonymous, the Sabahan expressed hopes that the border re-opening will bring with it a slight drop in the price of goods at supermarkets in the Sultanate.

Meanwhile, for Sarawakian Sahadi Maidin, earlier reports of the land and sea border re-opening left him unconvinced. So when the eventual press conference confirmed the news, he was brought close to tears, with heart racing.

Expressing gratitude to Allah the Almighty, His Majesty and the government, Sahadi said that he has families in Kampong Talaha Limbang, and among them is an elder sister with whom he shares a special bond with, one who has taken on the maternal role after the passing of their mother.

“Coincidentally, my day off falls on a Sunday. I can’t wait to reunite with my sister and her children.

“Although we have very much been in contact through video calls and WhatsApp, it is not the same as getting to see them in the flesh,” he said.

Sahadi is married to Bruneian Hajah Siti, with whom he has three children.

Hajah Siti said, “My children and I are very close with my in-laws back in the village. It broke my heart to see my husband play it cool when I knew just how much it pained him to not be able to spend the festivities with his elder sister and other family members.”