Midweek Reflections #1: By Juvita Tatan Wan

Reading Time: 5 minutes
“Midweek Reflections” is a space for team members and cultural practitioners of The Tuyang Initiative to share their thoughts, fears and dreams.

I have been holding off writing anything about the global situation we are all currently facing. It just felt like whatever that needed to be said about the pandemic or how badly it is affecting anyone and everyone, had already been expressed. I imagine, like most people, it’s a mixed bag of emotions – fear, anxiety, sadness. And so many questions.

Personally, I have also never really been a person to say or do things, just for the sake of it. I’m one of those who believe that if you have something positive or constructive to say for general betterment, say it. If you don’t, just don’t. We truly don’t need any more pessimists, virtual pseudo experts or commentators, do we?

I guess it’s because I’m one of those who feel things too deeply, in any scenario (music swells in a documentary with people hugging – tears. Reading animal cruelty stories – tears. You get the drift). If you’re one of those too, chances are, everything you have been reading online especially these days, whether real or fake, can overwhelm and in some way affect you, whether you want it to or not.

(Maybe that explains why I’m so bad at engaging in small talk, or trash talk, or telling jokes. Just maybe.)

Anyway, today I am writing more to get things off my chest as an individual as well as the lead in a small social business, who feels very deeply about what has been happening in the past month or so. And also just give a glimpse into how and what we’re doing. If you’re curious to know, of course!

As a company, the moment we realised the pandemic was at our doorstep and as the Movement Control Order (MCO) kicked in, we didn’t rush out to sew masks, or produce items for frontliners, nor did we start a food donation drive. We didn’t launch a #stayathome campaign, nor did we pivot quickly to sell new things online.

The core part of the working team and I are focal members for our own families, as well as our extended family – our beneficiaries. My team, like me, are also people who feel very deeply, so even despite having put up a strong face during our virtual weekly team updates via Skype, the scale of what is happening around us, and being holed up either in a house full of family, or in a room away from home can be overwhelming. The quiet sense of fear and (or from) the uncertainty, looms over each and every one of us, whether we want to admit it out loud or not.

There’s also some form of irrational guilt that exists within us – for the amazing touring and travel plans we had for our beneficiaries for Kelunan this year. We were supposed to be staging our shows in Kuching, Japan, Singapore, possibly even Thailand. It was for something that not only will generate revenue, but also give our cast and crew a chance to see the world. And for some of our elders who are part of the cast, God knows how many times opportunities like these will ever come by again. And even if we secure venues in the future, will we ever reach a time where it can be safe for especially our elders to travel again?

We had also just spent some money and time to set up and launch an online platform to make it easier for those who want to discover our cultural practitioners (and what cultural skill sets they would like to share) and book your in-person private or group classes with them. Now, we do not know when the MCO will be lifted and what the appetite will be for in-person classes anymore, so that will definitely affect another planned revenue stream.

It’s been trying, both emotionally and financially especially because we kicked off 2020 so optimistic and full of hope! I can only imagine, so did so many people and businesses.

So we’ve made the decision that while we’re currently feeling a mixed bag of emotions for everything that’s happening around us, we’re going to just take this time to breathe. We chose to take steps forward with a lot of intent and care. Taking the time to reflect about who we are, our role as individuals, roles in our organisations, roles to our beneficiaries – and not forgetting, our roles as human beings in this world we inhabit.

We are not going to utilise this time to jump into things to score brownie points or praises on social media, or go into areas that we have zero clue about because everyone around us is. We won’t be participating in the toxic positivity (I just learnt about the term during this MCO – it now explains a lot of things I’ve been feeling!), seen everywhere on social media especially. Our personal, and perhaps hardened circumstances are different, and we choose to be okay to sit with it. To cut ourselves some slack.

We are one of those against-the-odds, self funded (arts, gasp!) companies that utilised whatever little cash we had to start. We have managed to turn it into a celebrated business in less than 3 years. And now, growing from a 2 person to a 5 person operation, where we get to not only groom young people from our community, but expand and grow the number of cultural practitioners from different communities – we already have a little something to be grateful for. We should be able to take a breather and sit with this awhile, right?

We also appreciate that we have a kind of privilege to maintain our current pace (our overheads are low – so we have enough to eat for now, everyone has shelter and is safe with their loved ones). We do not have the luxury or emotional capacity, to rush out to do something for the sake of doing something – especially not for money or recognition. Especially not right now.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we’re incapable of trudging forward if we wanted to. We’ve got a very capable and committed team. I’m saying that in the context of the current circumstances, it is more important that we mindfully support each other, and walk together through this very strange and painful time, to feel every part of it, so we can hopefully come out of this even more empathic. I want us to truly feel what’s going on inside and around us – to be able to remember at the end of this that we are ultimately Kelunan (people) first, a business second.

That way, we can all hopefully come out of this no longer fearful or anxious, but more aware of how we can better serve our beneficiaries, and humankind – in a pretty different world. We’d still have questions, yes, but we would know how to answer them in a way that is right by us.

Bottom line is – we will be okay.

So that’s why the only things you will likely see coming out of Tuyang at this current time is the sharing of stories from our elders, or lighthearted things to maybe serve as a pick-me-up in our odd time of physical separation. We hope that will help to warm your spirits as much as it warmed our hearts preparing it – from the remote calls to our elders which also served as a chat and check in, to uncovering talents in getting sketches for the stories on the website done, to thinking about our simpler, longhouse village lives.

We will also be rejigging ways we offer products and services by our cultural practitioners – including our shows, classes, arts or crafts. If you’re keen to follow us and our cultural practitioners, do sign up for updates at the bottom of our website, or follow us on our social media channels. We are of course, also open to meaningful partnerships and collaborations.

Bottom line is – we’ll be okay. We do hope to come out of this feeling more alive, and especially in continuing our mission of creating meaningful livelihood opportunities for our cultural practitioners through the arts, and contribute to the continuity of our traditions, arts and culture. 

Take care and please go at your own pace if you can, friends. It is a truly unusual time, perhaps a potentially special one too.

Also, stay safe and healthy.

Tiga tawai.

Juvita

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