February 19, 2006: Headlines: COS - Malaysia: Humor: Return to our Country of Service - Malaysia: Winston-Salem Journal: Dressing up as a headhunter was just something Bill Deck did as a lark during the time that he taught science at a secondary school in Malaysian Borneo as a Peace Corps volunteer

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Malaysia: Peace Corps Malaysia : The Peace Corps in Malaysia: February 19, 2006: Headlines: COS - Malaysia: Humor: Return to our Country of Service - Malaysia: Winston-Salem Journal: Dressing up as a headhunter was just something Bill Deck did as a lark during the time that he taught science at a secondary school in Malaysian Borneo as a Peace Corps volunteer

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Dressing up as a headhunter was just something Bill Deck did as a lark during the time that he taught science at a secondary school in Malaysian Borneo as a Peace Corps volunteer

Dressing up as a headhunter was just something Bill Deck did as a lark during the time that he taught science at a secondary school in Malaysian Borneo as a Peace Corps volunteer

Bill Deck entered the Peace Corps after graduating from East Carolina University with a degree in biology. The corps taught him "bazaar Malay" - a combination language that the country's numerous ethnic groups use in common - and sent him to a teaching compound 24 miles from the nearest city. At community gatherings, the men sat with the men and the women sat with the women. He learned that, if he bucked custom and sat with the women, they would smile and move away.

Dressing up as a headhunter was just something Bill Deck did as a lark during the time that he taught science at a secondary school in Malaysian Borneo as a Peace Corps volunteer

Back to Borneo
A visit to the country finds the people and the land still a delight

By Kim Underwood
JOURNAL REPORTER

Caption:Rita and Bill Deck look over items that he collected during his time in the Peace Corps. (Journal Photo by Bruce Chapman)

LEWISVILLE - Back in the early 1970s, Bill Deck went to Borneo and became a headhunter for a day. Fear not. He took no heads.

Headhunting has been outlawed in Borneo for more than 100 years, although the practice was resurrected briefly during World War II as a way to fight back against the Japanese occupiers. Dressing up as a headhunter was just something Deck did as a lark during the time that he taught science at a secondary school in Malaysian Borneo as a Peace Corps volunteer.

When he returned to North Carolina after two years there, a friend dragged him to a hair stylist to get his long hair shorn so that he would look spiffy when he applied for a job. That haircut worked out well. Rita was the name of the woman who cut his hair. In 1975, she became Rita Deck. Today, she can be found at Plaza West Hairstyling in Winston-Salem, and he does engineering work as an independent contractor.

As the Decks' 30th anniversary approached, they began talking about taking a celebratory trip. Through the years, Rita Deck has enjoyed listening to her husband's stories about the jungle, the rubber-tree groves, the beautifully manicured pepper plants and the people.

His experience of the people was that they were open and affectionate.

She suggested Borneo.

At first, he was reluctant. He worried that the extensive logging of exotic woods and other developments would have undermined the magical place he remembered.

"He was like, 'No way, it would break my heart, all the changes,'" Rita Deck said.

After talking about it more, though, they decided it was the thing to do.

If you're like me, you have Borneo mentally filed under "Exotic Locales" but you would be hard-pressed to say where, exactly, it is. Well, it's an island southwest of the Philippines. The third-largest island in the world - after Greenland and New Guinea - it is divided among Malaysia, Indonesia and the sultanate of Brunei.

Bill Deck entered the Peace Corps after graduating from East Carolina University with a degree in biology. The corps taught him "bazaar Malay" - a combination language that the country's numerous ethnic groups use in common - and sent him to a teaching compound 24 miles from the nearest city.

At night, the temperature would go down to the mid-70s. The high might be 88. Parts of Borneo receive up to 200 inches of rain a year. The primary difference between the rainy season and the "dry" season, Bill Deck said, is that it doesn't rain every single day during the dry season.

Much of the time he wore a short-sleeved shirt and what the locals called Peace Corps shorts - shorts with lots of pockets similar to today's cargo shorts.

He taught in English to students who stood up when he came into the room. The students' ideas about the United States came largely from movies, and they would ask how big his ranch was, how many horses he owned and how many swimming pools he had.

Discipline problems were nonexistent. The students knew that if they were disruptive or failed in their studies, they would be sent back to their villages and that would be that.

A local "Oh, the Peace Corps guy will do it" attitude sent other responsibilities his way, such as coaching rugby - a sport he had to learn as he went.

At community gatherings, the men sat with the men and the women sat with the women. He learned that, if he bucked custom and sat with the women, they would smile and move away. When he rode his motorcycle to a nearby village to buy supplies, the Chinese merchants would call out in Chinese that the "red-haired devil" or "red-haired monkey" was coming. (Red was a catchall color for any hair that wasn't Asian black. The terms were not nearly as harsh as they sound to our ears, he learned.)

He liked the place and the people from the beginning. Once the newness wore off, he noticed that he missed a few things from home.

"After a while, you start thinking about Oreo cookies and a glass of milk," he said.

When he went back with his wife in November, he was pleasantly surprised. It was a comfortable mix of civilization and wildness, they said. Many of the changes were welcome - better roads, Internet access - and the jungle has reclaimed areas that had been logged.

"It still has a jungle that is constantly beating at your back door wanting to overtake you," he said.

They had plenty of adventures. They saw bearded pigs and monitor lizards and vipers and orangutans up close. They ate fish lips, duck tongue and prawns so big that it takes only three to make a pound.

What Rita Deck has been talking to her friends about most, though, is how wonderful the people there are. It gave her new insight into her husband, she said. She always knew that he had a big heart, but she didn't realize that some of that was a gift from his days in the Peace Corps.

"I think the Malaysian people had a great influence," she said.

Kim Underwood can be reached at (336) 727-7389 or at kunderwood@wsjournal.com





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Story Source: Winston-Salem Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Malaysia; Humor; Return to our Country of Service - Malaysia

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