DRIVING in Port Moresby is stressful at any time for motorists with common sense. (I can hear you scream that this is an understatement.)
Anyway, the number of idiots who sit behind wheels is unusually higher in Port Moresby then in any other town in Papua New Guinea, possibly the world.
Turning with no indication and stopping anywhere to chat are apparently not traffic offences since so many motorists do it.
Then there are the falling apart trucks driving carting rubbish commanded by a character who looks like he barely could walk upright let alone speak.
This Captain of Chaos wears a filthy singlet and spits betelnut streams at will as he drives at snail’s pace strewing rubbish from his death mobile, oblivious to the carnage he leaves in his wake as he turns anywhere, anytime with no warning.
Oftentimes this Major of Mayhem is accompanied by Neanderthals who are crammed into the cabin, hanging off the side of the truck or sleeping atop the pile of rubbish.
They are equally effective in painting the road and curbsides with copious volumes of blood red betelnut juice. Spitting is an art form – betelnut juice decorates road signs, unsuspecting young girls and stray dogs with amazing accuracy.
I saw one such Colonel of Carnage driving haltingly to Motokea, sliding all over the road as if on ice. As I overtook, readying myself to spew forth a string of expletives, I was dumbstruck. This shirtless guy was eating a bowl of soup! With a spoon! He grinned as I passed and waved his elbow at me.
Then there are the taxis. Don’t mention the taxis. These guys drive in the middle of the road so slow you could crawl faster. When they realise you’re trying to get past, they offer a lazy wave of a grubby paw as you seethe in their dust.
You glare as you finally overtake and they smile sweetly and call out “Kanda catch”, “Rightman!” or “Yu tu yah!” all the while thinking they are God’s gift to Papua New Guinea traffic.
They drive with an entire arm hanging through the window as they saunter along unconscious of time. Sometimes their knuckles drag on the bitumen below. You can’t report them. They don’t have number plates.
The most notorious, of course, are PMV drivers. These oddities are graduates of the Rambo School of Dangerous and Suicidal Driving. They passed with flying colours and are contemplating a PhD.
To pass the entrance test to this prestigious driving school you needed to get through a final exam which poses questions like: Do you have a sense of road responsibility (No); Do you know the road rules of PNG? (No); Do you know how to drive? (No); Are you able to infuriate motorists, passengers and pedestrians simultaneously? (Yes).
Correctly answering these complex questions ensures graduation and simultaneously measures your IQ which is given to you in the form of a single-digit bus route number which you immediately ignore and drive wherever you want.
Funnily enough, PMV drivers in every province share the same behavioural traits. During my semester breaks as a university student I was once boss crew once on such a vehicle, collecting fares from passengers.
I slowly realised why these pirates of the road behave the way they do. It is the boredom. Driving the same old rattling mangle every day. Dealing with passengers who always try to shortchange you, children who graffiti your seats and drunks down the back who vomit and urinate.
Then there are the Traffic Officers who try to extort money from you or fine you for some minor infringement like a bald tyre or dead headlight. And don’t mention the state of the roads.
So the PMV driver and his crew create ingenious ways to entertain themselves and create excitement to stave off the monotony. They take different routes. They stop wherever and whenever. They charge school kids adult fares.
I was on a bus going to work and a group of high school kids boarded. All boys, they stood at the entrance, one with a cigarette dangling from his lip.
He pushed K5 into the hands of the boss crew who gave him change after extracting the adult fare. “Olsem wanem yah! Em wrong change yah!” (“Hey what’s this? This is the wrong change!”) he stated in irritating teenspeak.
“Na yu mangi?” (Are you a child?”) retorted the boss crew, “Yu smuk olsem man tru yah!” (You smoke like a man!”). The youth looked away sullenly, having learned more in that brief moment than he ever would in his entire time at high school.
Like many Papua New Guineans, I travelled the PMV bus often in my early years through to when I got my first job. There are always moments of drama and humour. Arguments and fights and general banter are guaranteed.
A giant woman once climbed on my bus carting a cooler and sweating profusely. She sat beside an old, skinny man occupying three-quarters of the seat and nearly squashing the lapun to death.
He didn’t seem to mind though and smiled seedily all through the ride. Just before she got off the woman turned on the guy and punched him on the side of the head almost knocking out his three teeth and rattling his eyeballs so they spun in opposite directions.
“Yu holim susu blo mi yu blary longlong het sting lapu yah!” (You touched my breasts you senile old man with dirty thoughts!”). The old guy regained his poise, his eyeballs settling down, and focussed on his gargantuan seat mate.
In a throaty near whisper, he responded: “Pikinini, ino mi, susu blo yu em yet bamin han blo mi!” “Child, it was not me; your breasts touched my hand!”
Everyone roared and the behemoth scowled and got off at the next stop raising her hand at the old man threatening to hit him again as he cringed, closing his eyes and holding his skinny hand over his head.
Everyone roared in laughter again. You had to be there.
In all seriousness though, the lot of the PMV owner and operator in PNG is not easy. They struggle to repay loans, repair their vehicles and deal with errant passengers and poor roads. They are not guided by a policy on how to operate or protocols on what to do.
I once dreamt of being a PMV owner. That was my plan. I never wanted to be an accountant or lawyer or pilot. I dreamt of being a PMV owner.
I dreamt of owning a PMV that played the best music and where people could get a comfortable ride from Kokoda to Popondetta and back.
Sometimes think my life would have been far simpler, perhaps more rewarding if I’d done this. Who knows where I would be now?
In due time, PNG will no doubt regulate and improve the transport sector. Taxis and PMVs will have strict criteria to adhere to with stringent licensing laws to abide by. Certainly they will be required to wear uniforms and have reasonable vehicles that meet the expectations of the Transport Department and the travelling public.
In the meantime, we have their drivers to thank for exciting times on the road as they cart around people going about their daily business in the young economy of Papua New Guinea…just 40 years old.
Gary Juffa MP is a national parliamentarian and Governor of Oro Province