An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Ok Tedi Mining Book of the Year
TODAY WE OFFER READERS an extract, Chapter 4, from Francis Nii’s entry in the inaugural Papua New Guinea Book of the Year Award.
The K5,000 award, sponsored by Ok Tedi Mining Ltd, is part of The Crocodile Prize national literary contest.
Francis’s novel is the first entry in this newly-established prize for book-length writing, the first of its kind in PNG. Books published between January 2013 and June 2014 are eligible for the award.
We’re expecting further entries from Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin and Leonard Fong Roka and, we hope, other authors of fiction or non-fiction. You can read more details here about how to enter The Crocodile Prize.
An read John Fowkes' review for Amazon Books at the end of this extract....
Fitman, Raitman & Cooks: Chapter 4 - Working out a strategy
“Do you have any grass with you now?” Knox at last broached the subject that Fitman had been waiting to talk about all the time.
“Yes, we’ve got everything that we brought from home with us. Not plenty, but just enough to make some quick street sales and get out,” Fitman replied quickly.
While Fitman was talking, Raitman opened his sack and pulled out three 500-gram Trukai rice packets packed with sun-dried marijuana and tossed them one by one to Knox. Knox ran an appreciative eye over the dried golden and silver-green drug in the transparent plastic bags.
“So this is marijuana grown right here in the highlands of Papua New Guinea? Can I open it; I’d like to try it out?”
“Sure, you can, but…” Raitman hesitated. “The hotel staff might sniff it out,” he cautioned.
“Don’t worry; only those who are familiar with grass can smell it,” Fitman said quickly. He didn’t want to lose what was looking like an excellent opportunity to increase their business. “Give him one of the silver green rolls,” he told Raitman.
Before he had finished talking Knox had pulled out a pocket knife and had neatly cut open the edge of one of the packets. The fresh odour of the sun-dried marijuana filled his nostrils. He sniffed it for some seconds and said, “M-m-m-m, this is the real stuff.”
Fitman passed him a rolled joint. Knox lit it with his cigarette lighter and took a deep pull. “Ah, this is what I am here for, the green gold of New Guinea!” he exclaimed as he puffed out smoke. He didn't know it but what he was smoking was a top quality silver-green joint.
There are two types of marijuana in Papua New Guinea. There is golden-green and there is silver-green. The effect of golden-green only lasts for an hour or so but the effects of silver-green goon for at least two hours. Those who know their marijuana well go for the silver-green and they love it.
The boys knew the difference well. They had been cultivating and consuming marijuana since primary school. It was Raitman who had introduced the drug to Fitman and Cooks. Raitman and Cooks had been consuming drugs ever since but Fitman only used them off and on. Together with the other village boys they had a drug-party club called the Cooks Club and Raitman was the chairman.
The boys invited druggies from other clubs to their village and entertained them with drugs and music. Their favourite artists were Lucky Dube and Bob Marley. While the visitors smoked and listened to the music, the host club would prepare meals, often rice, chicken or tinned fish with vegetables. At times, they would steal stray dogs and cook them. That was where Ongi got his nick name, ‘Cooks’. The party would normally start at 6:30 pm and go on until midnight or the early hours of the next morning. Then they would knock off. The visiting club would then invite the host club for a return party. Through this the boys got to know everything about marijuana.
They had started selling marijuana a few years ago when they couldn’t continue with their education or find jobs. Dealing in the drug became their main source of income.
The boys had contacts with the other dealers and druggies in most parts of the Simbu and Eastern Highlands Provinces. They had contacts in Lae too.
Knox took another pull on the joint and as he puffed out smoke there was a knock on the door. He shoved the lighted joint into his half-full beer and grabbed the other packets with both hands and sped off into the toilet. On the way he gestured to Fitman to open the door. He kept the toilet door ajar and was peeping out so he could see whoever came in.
Fitman hesitated but the door was hammered on more rapidly. He belched and nervously went to the door and opened it. A waitress was standing outside with a tea trolley loaded with four dishes of food and two big jugs of fruit juice.
He was relieved at the sight of the waitress. “Sorry honey, we’ve had one too many of the down under stuff and it got our brains reeling and we didn’t hear you knocking. Mind if I drive this table of food in?” The waitress willingly obliged because she wanted to get away from the bulging eyes that were penetrating her apron.
“Please yourself and leave the dishes with the trolley in the corridor once you are done and I will take care of them,” the waitress said loudly and disappeared towards the top bar. Fitman pushed the trolley into the room and locked the door.
Knox presently came out, cradling the marijuana packets in his hands and chuckling sheepishly. The boys burst into laughter and they all laughed with great humour.
“What were you going to do if she was a cop?” Cooks asked jokingly.
“I was going to cut open the marijuana packets, empty the contents into the toilet pan and flush it; simple as that,” Knox replied coolly.
“Not a bad idea,” Cooks replied. The others made some funny remarks and they all chuckled.
“Hey guys, stop laughing. I was carried away with the New Guinea green gold and forgot all about the food I had ordered. I couldn’t wait so I went ahead and ordered beef steaks and rice for dinner. Are they any good to you?” Knox asked.
“Thank you very much Mr Kimberley. We were going to fill our bellies with biscuits and black tea for the night. This is much better so let’s not waste time,” Fitman said and took one of the dishes. Cooks and Raitman murmured in agreement and helped themselves to the other dishes. Knox got the remaining one and they all ate hungrily.
While they were eating Knox said, “Gentlemen, there is something else which I haven’t told you yet. I’m going to tell you now because from what you have told me and what I have learnt from you in our short encounter I truly trust you. You are a bunch of intelligent human beings driven into the crime world by your circumstances.
“Evidently education is not a right in your country any more. Education has become a privilege and a costly commodity. You have money and you buy yourselves good education and you get employment. You have no money and you can’t afford good education and you have no employment. This is what your government’s user-pay policy is all about. It’s discrimination against the poor grassroots who make up most of the total population of the country. You have all experienced it. I understand that you are trying to do something for yourselves now so that your children, at least, can have a better future. Otherwise they will be worse off than you.
“I understand too that you have broken laws to achieve what you wanted. I believe in my heart that you are ready to break more laws, even to betray your own government, to obtain what you need in life and for your children’s future.
“The big shots are getting what they want by manipulating and rigging the system. They preach to people not to rob and uphold the laws etc. etc. but they are the worst robbers and law-breakers. They are a bunch of hypocrites deserving nothing less than public flogging and hanging. Instead, they are immune to prosecution. And you know why? They have their own cronies in key positions and they cover up each other’s wrongdoings.
“The big shots can manipulate or rig the system to rob and get away with it because they are the system. By the same token anyone outside the system can get what they want by beating their system.
“I know the gap between the rich and the poor is widening in this country. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. You have to choose which side of the gap you want to be on. You can’t be fence-sitters or spectators because there is no future for fence-sitters and spectators in this tough competitive world.
“If you are unable to participate meaningfully and gainfully through the established system to work your way up into the upper class the next quickest way is to break or beat the system. This is what is happening in many societies around the world. The Mafias, the KKKs and the Chinese Triads, to name a few have been doing this to achieve political and economic independence for a long time. I bet you can do the same in this business,” Knox lectured on.
“There is no need for you to preach to us, we already know Mr Kimberley. We are not a bunch of new recruits that you need to brainwash with all this psycho stuff. Just tell us what you have in mind,” Fitman retorted.
“Alright gentlemen,” Knox said and went on. “I have been told by Alex Ominefa about high quality cannabis grown in the Simbu and Eastern Highlands Provinces of Papua New Guinea. Alex described it as Niugini Green Gold.
“The name Niugini Green Gold aroused my interest. I did some scouting around and confirmed that your cannabis is of an extremely high quality. I have experimented with the Caribbean cannabis, particularly the Jamaican pot, as well as the Indian hemp. I understand that Niugini Green Gold is a hybrid of the Jamaican pot and the Indian hemp.
“Unlike the Jamaican and the Indian cannabis, which produces only one kind of effect, Niugini Green Gold produces three different kinds of effects. First, it has an indefatigable effect, like bionic strength or energy, and makes physical tasks like sport or construction work seem easy. Secondly, it increases the appetite. Users feel like eating and once they start eating they don’t know when to stop. The last effect and the best of the three are hallucinations. They make people feel like they are on another planet.
“Gentlemen, I came up here purposely to establish a cannabis business; to be specific, to find a supplier. You have travelled many kilometres to find a buyer for your cannabis. I trust we can strike a business deal tonight.
“Will you be able to supply at least 500 kilograms of Niugini Green Gold to me in Cairns monthly, commencing next month?” Knox asked.
Knox didn't mention anything about the amount of money that would be involved. That was what the boys were interested to know. They were not interested in the effects of Niugini Green Gold which the boys knew all about or the quantities to be supplied. The boys were gazing at each other with heavy red eyes and continued to guzzle their beer. Knox thought the boys were drunk and didn’t hear him. “Gentlemen are you with me?” he said.
“We are with you, we have been with you all along,” Fitman shot back but didn’t say anything more. The atmosphere in the room had suddenly changed. Knox began to perspire.
“Gentlemen, did I affront you or did I miss something?” he asked.
“There is one thing you’ve missed,” Fitman replied casually.
“Why didn’t you tell me partners? Come on tell me now,” Knox begged.
The boys became quite shy, almost reluctant. However, Knox persisted and Fitman told him that he hadn’t mentioned the financial value of the drug and how the boys would stand to benefit from the deal.
Knox sighed with relief and told the boys that a lot of money would be involved and they would all be rich. But their biggest obstacle was the mode of transport that they would use to ship the marijuana out safely without being detected. Knox really hadn’t a clue about how the drug could be shipped safely out of the country and down to Australia.
The boys had already been wondering how Knox would beat the customs and police in both Papua New Guinea and Australia. They were all thinking deeply until Fitman broke the silence.
“Bros, we need time to think up a mode of transport. We are not talking about transporting a few kilograms from one province to another. We are talking about long term exportation of large amounts from Papua New Guinea to Australia. We have the combined forces of the army, the police and the customs of two countries to beat. This is no joke. We have to come up with a strategy that will beat all their surveillance systems and be sustainable.
“We’ve had too much of the kangaroo beer and our brains aren’t working properly. I don't want us to delude ourselves with flawed judgments on this crucial factor. I suggest, we sleep on it tonight and meet again tomorrow afternoon to discuss it further. Unless Knox already has a plan in mind,” Fitman said.
Knox shook his head. “You’re right. We have to be in a normal state of mind to discuss this important factor clearly. We can defer the launching of our new enterprise till tomorrow. Tonight we can get finish getting rid of some of our old brain cells,” he added benignly and ordered more beer from room service.
The boys had travelled a long way and they were too happy to get rid of their body aches by drinking. They all agreed to defer the meeting to the following afternoon. They got down to serious drinking with lots of smutty jokes and fun that night.
In a review for Amazon Books, John Fowke wrote of this novel:
This is a first novel with all the blemishes which characterize the earliest offering of any writer. The author is not only deeply-immersed within the society he writes about, but also witty, happy, and truthful in a way which is to be admired. He acknowledges a debt to his editor which is further indication that he is a realist and a truth-teller.
This reviewer knows the inside story of the actual drug-running enterprise which Francis Nii treats as a fictional portrayal, so this was added relish to a dish already savoury!
Although the big crops of PNG-grown marijuana no longer find a market in Australia, which produces masses of its own, potent, high-strength, hydroponically-grown "butt," to use the PNG term, the so-called "spark-brus" or "drunken tobacco" is still a major source of cash and consolation to many thousands of educated but physically and economically-marooned young men.
These live at home just as the three heroes of this story, marooned by a negligence which repairs no roads, allows small airstrips to fall into terminal disrepair, and makes no effort to encourage the re-planting of the old coffee-trees which used to provide a reliable if moderate cash income in even the most isolated of Highland districts.
Locked in material poverty in a lovely land, provided with a view of a tantalizingly-prosperous outside world, one characterized occasional by access to traveling video-providers with their little petrol gen-sets and VCRs; and by news of the lifestyle and antics of the nation's own new political class; as wealthy, as lordly and as dismissive of the little people as any ancient European oligarchy.
Fitman, Raitman & Cooks are PNG today. You will remember them time and again, long after you have passed this book on to another reader.
Fitman, Raitman & Cooks: Paradise in Peril (paperback) by Francis Nii. 270 pages. Paperback $9.00. Kindle e-book $4.97. Pacifica Sene, 2013. ISBN-10: 098713213X. ISBN-13: 978-0987132130. Available from Amazon Books here