North Borneo Sojourns: Finding Myself in Sabah (working title)
This book recounts the life as a young North American man—a product of the 1960s—recruited by a Canadian volunteer agency (CUSO) to teach in a small town, Kota Belud, Sabah, Malaysia on the coast of Borneo—the third largest island in the world located just south of the volatile South China Sea, now claimed by China and many other countries. There, the author experiences a vivid personal, cultural, and sexual awakening; encounters a foreign bureaucracy and systems; and has many adventures, including a psychedelic escapade with his American Peace Corps buddy, leading to the creation of the North Borneo Frodo Society (NBFS), which J.R.R. Tolkien, himself, joins. (See Chapter 4.) In Sabah, he also starts, in an unusual way, a career as an international filmmaker and media producer (See Chapter 8).
In the words of one of many pre-publication reviewers (see opening pages of MS), the book “is a highly readable flashback to…a time when big changes were just starting to sweep across a land full of eager communities and unspoiled tropical forest. In the closing chapters, McKee makes bitter-sweet visits back to Sabah. As a filmmaker, he surveys the land by helicopter to find much of what he remembered has gone—vast stretches of forest felled by political and economic forces. But in Kota Belud, he is reunited with some of his students and is delighted that they have all succeed in life and contributed in positive ways, in spite of recent trends.” The book ends in a magical way through a description of the author settling in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he reinvigorates the NBFS and begins to write his memoir.
THE REAL STORY
Finding Myself in Borneo:
Sojourns in Sabah
...continued. McKee has a maturing second Sabah sojourn (1973-74) while supervising the volunteer program but happily resumes a career in filmmaking. In 1987, he witnesses and films Borneo’s devastating deforestation and resolves never to go back. But in 2006, he returns, reuniting with his former students, now all accomplished adults. The book ends in a magical way through a description of the author settling in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2015 where he reinvigorates the NBFS and begins to write his memoir.
Borneo's myths, descriptions of its people, religions, politics, social conditions, ecology and environment are woven into the stories through the first-hand experience of the author. For instance, he discovers old records of the creation myths of the Kadazan people centered on Mount Kinabalu, which is clearly visible from his town, Kota Belud. He participates in the Muslim burial of his school headmaster from Australia, a man who converted to Islam and took a second, local wife.
As the stories unfold, McKee explains the postion of Sabah and Borneo Island in the historical context of Southeast Asia and brings the reader up to date with recent events, such as the migration of thousands of people from the Southern Philippines, and attacks on the peaceful land by Muslim militants, connected to El Quaeda and Islamic State, as well as the growing political struggle to the territory of the South China Sea, claimed by China and most neighboring countries.
North Borneo Frodo Society
It all started under the shadow of Sabah’s Mount Kinabalu (the “Lonely Mountain”), the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, during the waning months of 1968. It was here that the Society was created after the Founding Fathers, Neill McKee and Peter Ragan, experienced an overpowering revelation. In the small town of Kota Belud (most likely Rivendell), they developed their main theory—North Borneo is really Middle-Earth. People joined their Society from all around the world. They carried on their research for the next two years: developing comparative maps, discovering the remains of Mount Doom, uncovering stories of an “oily man” (Gollum) who slinks in shadows on moonlit nights, frightening local residents. They employed a Bajau man to forge small NBFS swords, still used by natives who live in the hills near the mountain. They wrote to J. R. R. Tolkien’s publisher and the great author joined and patronized the NBFS.
Books Under Development
I am working on a creative nonfiction memoir on my childhood and youth in my industrially polluted home town of Elmira, Ontario, Canada and my dreams and strategies to find greener pastures, in spite of the happiness I found there. At the end of the memoir, I leave for Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo). This book will be released in late 2019.
Another travel memoir I am writing, to be released in 2020, is about searching for the stories of my ancestors. It starts with my Scots-Irish forbearers near my hometown in Ontario, but makes a surprising turn, through my maternal grandmother, to the US and its guns and gods, wars and conflicts, taking the reader with me through American history: the Civil War, the American Revolution, and as far back as the world of my Pilgrim ancestors in New England and the first Indian wars. As I travel, I reflect on how and why the US and Canada evolved so differently.