An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
THIRTY MINUTES TO GO. I cautiously took the risk of clambering my way up the side of my house, each step causing the rusted metal roof to clink. I needed that perfect view of Lae City.
Some air lanterns were already making their way into the night sky, dotting the pitch black heavens with tints of amber. This New Year’s Eve felt very different. I could feel it. It was quite obvious as well, noting that a fireworks craze had been flooding the city months prior.
Children were out on the street running about with little fire crackers tossing them at each other, the neighborhood residents unhindered by the sharp repetitive bangs of the crackers. Who would be? We were into the final hour of 2013 and at that moment it seemed that all of the worries and heartache that had stood present in the atmosphere had somehow dissipated.
It seemed that for that moment all problems were forgotten, that for some this was the marking of change, the refreshing of the slate that for many of us had accumulated far too many worries. And indeed it was certainly present.
Twenty minutes to go. My new model Nokia phone in hand, I bravely crossed the somewhat wet surface of the roof. I was going to film the sky and try to capture a full length documentary of the fireworks show that was about to unfold, knowing very well that my five mega pixel camera and amateur filming skills would never be able to capture the essence of the atmosphere of the event there and then. I found a good spot, laid on the slope of the roof and prepared to mount the phone in my hand.
My big brother and a cousin uncle had gone all out to prepare some of our very own fireworks. Even the airspace above our house was going to light up, how exciting! They continued to move about our backyard fixing and fine-tuning the five round of fireworks they prepared, making sure the rather dangerous substances were not going to shoot anywhere other than up into the night sky.
I was preparing my camera, when it became certain that I needed to clear some space in my mobile memory to make way for the video. Stumbling across my 'pictures' folder I found pictures of my year. Pictures of my parting. Pictures of my family. Pictures that reflected my rather sporadic journey through the year.
It was overwhelming to be honest. It hit me. It hit me that I had made it through the year. Flashback, late January I had departed for my first year in boarding school. I can remember how terrified I was of the change. The sudden independency and the rapid adaption I had to undergo. Then December. Here and now. I had made it. I scrolled through the pictures straying off my purpose on the roof taking a concise walk through my year. My 2013 was of no doubt riddled with many challenges and obstacles, given I became the subject of cultural shock but me being here and now gave me a sense of achievement. I was ready to begin a new chapter.
Ten minutes to go. Time was not a friend here, so I quickly erased the necessary files and mounted the camera in a comfortable position in my palm. My elder cousins were out in the yard ready to ignite the fireworks. All my relatives came flowing out of the house all in exuberant mood and the children were scrambling through chasing each other with sparklers. I was happy.
Eight minutes to go. Despite having had strained relationships with some of my relatives, for that one moment we could enjoy the company of each other. I reunited with family, a cousin sister whom came up from Port Moresby with her baby girl. So much had happened.
Six minutes to go. A cousin had let off this red flare which began pumping out red smoke, galloping through the yard coloring the air. Three minutes to go. 2014 was seconds away. With time 2013 will be history. Laying there I was ready.
One minute to go. The countdown was on. I pressed the record button and sat back eager in anticipation. I looked around the yard from my point and I saw all my family and relatives, all cheery and pumped. Thirty seconds to go. Twenty-five seconds to go. Twenty seconds to go. Fifteen seconds to go.
Uncle set fire to the first firework. All together in unison, our neighborhood joined Lae city in the countdown. Of all places, I, Axel Rice, was spending my New Year’s up on a tin roof in Lae filming the skies. It was perfect. Eight seconds. The firework in our yard went up, flaring dangerously close past the roof, bursting in the night sky.
Six seconds. Another firework went off in the distance the large boom echoing through the stagnant air. Four seconds. Three seconds. It was quite for a second, then all around me the sight and shrill sounds of the elevating firework shells took to the heavens, 2, 1, 0.
The night sky erupted in color, like no other fireworks display I had ever witnessed. The fireworks in our yard were set off as well, climbing into the sky adding to the monumental fireworks show that was taking place - 360 degrees of fireworks, in the distance as far as the landscape let me see, above me exploding uncomfortably close to my body but who cared. I didn't.
I stood up, camera in hand trying my best to capture as much of what was happening around me. It was chilling. It felt dangerous, it felt real, this was one New Year’s I would never forget.
I know it sounds silly, but at the moment I felt a sudden sense of relief and refreshment. Perhaps this was a positive start for Lae city to the year. Perhaps this was a chance for us to tidy up our habits and start anew. I guess that’s what I like about a New Year’s turnover, inhaling that feeling of a sense of motivation to change for the better.
As the world pushes on through 2014, I'd like to wish everyone in Papua New Guinea a belated Happy New Year, summing up my short recount with a quote from Albert Einstein, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving", so here’s to embracing our rather unconventional past and looking forward to a year of prosperity and hopefully, positive change. I urge people to stop talking about change and be the change. Go Lae!