Monday, 18 November 2013

More Important Than A Matter of Life and Death - the story of Atiqah Abdullah, Queen of the Jungle

Jungle Woman leaping into action.
Atiqah receiving her Jungle Woman award from Sabah Tourism Board Chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, who is also Kiulu Assemblyman.

If I were to declare that "the Borneo Safari is not a matter of life and death ... It's much, much more important than that" (mental note of thanks to Bill Shankly for the paraphrase), I know everyone reading this blog will roll your eyes and think that I've gone off my rocker. Sure, it's fun (for some people), even important, maybe ... but, really! Right?
But, really, seriously, it is more important than a matter of life and death for pint-sized Atiqah Norsauzelah Abdullah of Brunei, who was recently bestowed with the inaugural Borneo Safari Jungle Woman Award. 
Atiqah  in the posh rear of Cabby with gal pal Lau Jun Hwa (left)
She risked death, literally, just to take part in the hardcore 4X4 expedition, and she did it like a trooper, leaping out of her Land Rover with straps and tackle to commence recovery operations as soon as it got stuck. She fell in the mud, she got up and got on with the programme. At night, she bathed with hot water and dined and slept like a princess, only to get up in the morning to wallow in the mud again.
When her Jungle Woman award was announced, there were apparently some people who disagreed with the choice and made disparaging remarks about her. I hope these people, whoever they may be, read this.
Atiqah, Noh 'Boy' Halim with Humphrey
 the Camel Trophy wannabe in Brunei.
Personally, I know Atiqah as one half of the most helpful couple I have had the pleasure to meet in over two decades of off-roading. While I was in Bandar Seri Begawan for a trip, she and her partner stopped by to chat and admire my Camel Trophy-replica Discovery. They advised me that it might be a good idea to carry a spare cylinder head gasket. Good advice, but I did not have one handy. So they went off and bought one for me, even paying for it first. Enough said. 
I could have interviewed the 27-year-old Art and Design lecturer and written a story as journalists normally do but hers is such an unusual and powerful story that I feel it's best told in her own words, giggles and all. 
Photo credits are due to Atiqah, Lau Jun Hwa and, of course, myself.

Larger than life ... although petite in stature, especially next to a Borneo Safari car.

Hmmm... Let's see. I'm relatively new to the offroading world/community - only started proper off-roading few years ago. Mostly I do Sunday offroad trips to the "ulu" here in Brunei as I work on Saturdays so I am deprived of proper 2 day weekend (so BS2013 was my first ever "long" offroad trip).
Why I like it... Hmm I suppose after I graduated, I came back to Brunei to start my teaching career which restricts me from leaving the state at any time I want so I felt the need to find a hobby that I can do locally. Travelling was my passion so I had to stop jet-setting and find something new to scratch the itch.
I started to visit workshops with my partner (Noh Halim, better known to all and sundry as simply Boy) almost every day after working hours to check on his project cars.
At that time, I couldn't understand what the joy was all about - you fix your car, you test it out, you wreck it, you rebuild it again and the cycle goes on and on and on.
But, I just had to see what the deal was about so I still continued on tagging along with Boy to the workshops and things.
Four months after settling down in Brunei, I made one of my many impromptu purchases - a Land Rover Discovery 1 - it was offered to me cheaper than a Prada bag so I thought "why not?"
Twenty minutes after looking at the car, I convinced myself that I was going to buy it just because I can make a profit by selling it so I made the decision to buy my first ever Land Rover vehicle.
Many years later, I still own the Disco, didn't make a profit obviously as I couldn't let it go; and ended up spending more on LRs than I could ever imagine as we now have 7 LRs.
That's how it started - wanted to make profit - yeah right. I've turned into a LR owner and hoarder since and maybe mechanic in the making haha! LRs, workshops and spare parts shopping became my hobby.
What I like about it? Hmmm ... I think when you start building your car, as opposed to buying it, you tend to get more attached to it. So the satisfaction you get when your project cars turn out to be successful becomes something you constantly look for if that makes sense?
I never stopped restoring LRs since my first one. But that was about it - owning LRs, restoring them and Sunday trips. Never longer offroad trips.
So people asked me: "Why now? Why Borneo Safari 2013? Why not BS 2011?"
Last year (2012) I lost my dear sister, who just died suddenly at the age of just 34. She was perfectly healthy when she died so I never got the chance to say my goodbye. She was still young, and I imagine she could've enjoyed life more in this world had she known.
I was very devastated by her demise as we were very close. I began to question and review my priorities and I finally told myself I have to do things I love before it's too late.
I have always wanted to join BS but never got the chance to do it or rather my cars were not ready for it so after the life changing event,
I was very determined to do things I like so I decided that I must join next BS (2013). I gathered all my sources - cars, mechanics, parts and support to build a machine I could take to BS - the Cabby.
I never looked back, never turned back. I was so determined that Cabby and BS were the only things I could think of throughout the 12 months of its completion. Talk about obsession hehehe!
Three months after the start of project Cabby, I was diagnosed positive for Brugada Syndrome (a very rare heart disease which might have caused the sudden death of my sister).
I went through a very difficult time deciding what to do as there is no known cure for the disease. I was only offered a preventive measure - implantation of a defibrillator - the ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) - that acts as a life saving device just in case my heart fails.
It was almost unbelievable to everyone and cardiologists that I had initially decided to do the implantation of my defibrillator in December 2013, after the Borneo Safari, because I desperately needed to complete Cabby and prepare myself for the safari, so much so I could not afford to be "sick" and not be able to do normal activities after the surgery (hahahaha!!)
My cardiologist was not convinced with my reason for doing the surgery later as he feared my heart would fail during the Safari! Now that's a clever argument.
I then told myself I had to do the surgery as soon as possible so I won't die during the Safari hahaha. I then decided to have the operation two days later. I remembered Boy was furious with my decision as I didn't discuss it with anyone but my cardiologist. I just told him when he fetched me from my hospital appointment.
"I'm doing the surgery in 2 days time cos if I don't do it now, I might not be able to recover in time for BS so let's go home and pack our things and go camping as I will need at least three months to recover, i.e., cannot lift my arm, cannot drive, cannot carry things, basically cannot be normal during recovery period so I want to go camping for the last time".
I stayed strong, everybody else around me stayed strong. Mechanic stayed strong too - he continued working on Cabby to ensure I get to join BS before my heart fails. At that time, going to BS was like my final wish before I die hahaha. Not going to BS was clearly not an option as I did the surgery just for BS.
Everybody got emotional. Several months later, I recovered from the most painful times with the help of morphine, painkillers, yoga and support from Cabby team. Cardiologists declared I was then fit for BS, yeay!
Cabby is a Land Rover Defender truck cab (hence the name Cabby) produced in 1988. Again, it was one of my impromptu LR purchases. It used to serve a construction company as a workers' carrier.
When I first bought it, it was in a very undesirable state (no floor, broken axles, seized engine, no seat base and everything bad you can think of from a BND500 worth of car) but being a LR enthusiast, I was blindly optimistic that I could turn it into a decent car for my first ever BS.
Even Boy thought I needed to be more realistic with my vision but I think I have made it clear that no one can stop me when I'm that determined.
Boy reluctantly took up the challenge of building another "trash" and became Cabby's project manager.
Everyone who had seen the state of the car when I first bought it didn't think Cabby would be done in time for BS2013. I refused to agree with them. Instead, that gave me more reasons to prove them wrong.
Yes, it's pink underneath ... got a problem with that?
Building Cabby was relatively easy compared to our other LR projects as I had decided that it would still run on genuine Land Rover engine, axles, transmission, etc so I won't have to deal with a lot of fabrication had I gone for Japanese specs and "kahwin" the parts.
Having direct bolt-on stuffs also meant that we can replace parts easily in the jungle if need be so we don't have to worry about fabrication/welding/etc.
In order to accommodate the "princess" owner during the safari, Cabby was designed to have flat surface at the back so it could be turned into a bed at night with a canvas over the hood sticks to serve as the bed's roof in case it rains.
Cabby has built in compartment to store spare parts and drawers to store dry food to ensure easy access during brief stops in the jungle.
To ensure I enjoy the experience of my first ever BS, Cabby's project manager prepared a bespoke "room" at the back of Cabby in such a way that it would be easy for me to set up my toilet tent and effortlessly plug in the electric shower, the freezer to store frozen meat which can last for the whole trip, electric fans for sleeping in, laptops and mobile phones and other luxuries.
As for driving needs, Cabby was equipped with basic stuffs such as spotlights, reverse led lights, camping lights on both sides of the car, winching light behind the front grill, RPM meter, turbo boost meter, VHF radio, dual battery monitor, smaller steering wheel for easier control, raised shifter to accomodate the petite driver, GPS(es), GoPro camera, new seat base for comfort, and pink interior for the feminine feel hehehe.
Cabby runs on a 300TDi engine, with an automatic transmission gearbox, 24 splines rover axles, new offset steel rims, 6 degree corrected arms, heavy duty steering rods, heavy duty steering guards, front and rear differential guards, lamp guards, electric winch, dual batteries, new seals for all doors and windscreens and window channels, new intercooler, new transmission oil cooler, thicker radiator, new this new that all new until bankrupt hahaha.
Now that I have done BS, I'm looking at a different international event for 2014. The plan is to join RFC next year. New experiences related to offroad activities excite me - whether it's a competition or an expedition. So at the moment, I believe in making full use of the lifespan of my ICD's battery as I will need to go through surgeries every seven years to get it replaced. Awful but that's life  ;)