I heard his voice from time to time over the phone while he was working with the Ok Tedi Development Foundation in 2007.
He was born, raised and educated and attended Rosary High School in the 1970s with my stepfather, Raphael Witne.
After school, he went to study for the priesthood and later agriculture, after which he joined the Department of Primary Industry in the Simbu Provincial Government. He also had other work experiences before joining the Foundation.
Dina-nem Norbert Bomai knew my name and would address me in his usual soft voice as, “Dina nem” (namesake) and I would also respond in the same way.
From time to time we would spend long hours on the phone and he would share with me his plans for his daughters. I knew he had educated his four daughters to Grade 12 and was planning to assist them pursue studies at tertiary institutions.
He paid for Patricia’s certificate in accounting at Lae Commercial College; Martina attended Goroka Business College; Melinda nursing college in Rabaul; and Betty Don Bosco Technical School in Simbu.
I learned that Norbert was a special dad. He would call Patricia and her siblings each day to say hello and check that they were OK.
I met this true gentleman in person in October 2008. He turned up at Goroka Base Hospital, where Patricia and I were waiting on the lawn behind the main entrance to go home with our lovely new daughter. You can see him in the picture, gently holding her.
He smiled from a distance, approached Patricia and I with open arms and hugged us together with our little two-day old queen.
After the hug, he said, “Dina-nem, I am happy for you, Patricia and the baby. I am relieved and delighted that there were no birth complications and all is well.”
At that moment, I knew my father-in-law was unique and a one-of-a-kind Simbu. He asked me what I was doing and how he could give us a hand to help raise our daughter.
We continued our conversation in the bus all the way to our house outside Goroka. Dina-Nem dined with us and went to sleep in a guesthouse he had booked for the night.
The next day, Dina-Nem left us for Kundiawa and travelled to Taia-Dumo near Gembogl station. A few weeks later, my family hosted a small feast to give thanks for the safe delivery of our baby and to give a name to her.
Dina-nem and his Gembogl wife at this gathering, where the onus of naming the child was left to my stepmother who named her Bomailyn. The announcement of this name brought a smile that came from within Dina-nem’s heart.
In his gentle voice, he thanked everyone at the gathering and expressed his gratitude for the name that sounded like his namesake. He joked that the child’s father is my namesake so it’s good to expand the network of namesakes within the family.
Dina-nem and his wife departed once again for Gembogl the next day, where he was building a permanent house for his family. He had resigned from the Ok Tedi Development Foundation and was going to settle in Gembogl.
We would at times spend weeks with Dina-nem at Gembogl. He would allow me to sleep in his bed. He enjoyed his Marlboro and brus (tobacco) while sipping a cold SP beer in the company of his in-laws. He would call every person by name and always had good things to say about each of them.
In 2009 word reached my father, Nembare, at Omdara village that Patricia’s father had finally come home to settle in Gembogl. Nembare sent word for me and Patricia to arrange with Dina-nem to pick up a huge pig he had raised at Omdara.
On the arranged day, Nemabre, with help from his wife and a Nulai-kia young man, walked the pig from Goma da’an in Omdara to Pildima, along the Kubor range and down to the main road at Si’kola along the Gumine road where Dina-nem went with his car and took it to Gembogl.
A few weeks later, Dina-nem slaughtered the huge pig and hosted a party at Gembogl and invited many people including Patricia’s maternal uncles to share the fork with.
On 9 September 2009, at around 10 in the night, Patricia received a text message from Betty in Gembogl, urging her to come to Kundiawa the next day. Patricia called Betty the same night. Betty was sobbing and struggled to tell her something.
Patricia told me of the phone conversation and we knew something serious was wrong, but it was not within the reach of our minds to think that Dina-nem would have died in a car accident.
The next morning we learned that Dina-nem had been run over on the road in front of his home at Gembogl and died as a result of serious injuries to his head, chest and legs.
Patricia was shocked and collapsed. I helped her and encouraged her to be strong. We had to take the first bus from Goroka to Kundiawa. We arrived at Kundiawa hospital and found Dina-nem’s badly bruised and bloodstained body among three other corpses.
We asked for assistance from hospital staff to clean Dina-nem’s body so we could take it in an ambulance to a funeral home in Goroka.
The staff at the morgue were very helpful in thoroughly cleaning Dina-nem’s body. A few hours later, Patricia’s uncle, Mathew Tine, and his wife Lency turned up at the hospital with an ambulance.
We drove to Goroka where we left the body at the funeral home for about a week. Mathew and I arranged transportation and other logistics with assistance from my step parents and then took Dina-nem’s corpse from the funeral home in Goroka to his adopted village at Ul’mle, his tribal land of Bari Nimaikane in the Kerowagi District of Simbu.
Norbert Bomai (Dina-nem) was a good father to his family and more than an in-law to me. Patricia and I continue to cherish the moments we shared together with this fine man.
Our three year-old son points to Norbert’s photo and asks, “Em husait?”(Who is he?).
And Bomaily, who is now heading for six, responds to her brother, “Em bubu, em stap wanatim ol angels long heven.”(That’s grandpa, he is with angels in Heaven).