KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN
PORT MORESBY – The Kundiawa airstrip has been out of action and Chimbus working elsewhere in Papua New Guinea and abroad travelling back to their tribal lands must first fly to Mt Hagen or Goroka.
Public motor vehicles, known as PMVs, then ferry these diaspora members to Kundiawa and beyond to even more remote locations.
Travelling home for the festive season, my wife, children and I departed from Port Moresby for Goroka, where we were greeted by the itch of the fresh, cool air of Apo land.
We picked up our luggage only to be mobbed by kids asking to carry it to the bus stop. In case one of them decided to wander off with it, we politely gave a no for an answer.
As usual, Goroka was busy with most people dawdling around town without having showered that morning. Greasy faced and poorly clothed, they obscured the few neat and tidy humans with some money on this government payday Friday.
Outside the bowling club, a mob stood and listened to a frail man with a bible talking about the Pope and the 666 (‘mark of the beast’) staining the Catholic Church.
It seemed he had studied little theology but spent a lot of time reading about the Church’s dark ages.
We then strolled towards the bus stop and the sight was scary. Repugnant youths descended like eagles on every PMV that came to a stop. Some were half drunk and others were surely overcome by marijuana or poverty or most likely both.
The decent passengers had to push and shove through these ruffians to board the bus. The thugs, for their part, expertly frisked bilums and pockets for anything that they could lay their hands on.
The luggage tags from Air Niugini still hung off our bags so they knew we flew into Goroka and may have some money.
I instructed my Aroma (Central Province) wife to look confident and mingle with our highlands mothers at the bus stop to put some distance between her and the thugs.
We attempted to squeeze aboard PMVs a couple of times but were unsuccessful. The lucky ones made it at the cost of mobile phones and money and a few wounds caused by being being wedged in the door.
Forming a single queue is not part of Papua New Guinean culture so, with children and luggage to juggle, our pushing and shoving to make it to the door was like swimming against a strong current.
It was certainly a scary experience for my wife and children; however, I have a bit of bulk and dhow the scars of rugby union, so seemed to scare the thugs a bit. My military cap and boots also probably helped.
Another bus arrived bearing a a hired bully, who had a police haircut but was grubby and drunk. He exited and swung a long bus knife in his right hand as if he was a Mortlock Island sword dancer.
His betel nut-stained moustache and large red bulging eyes made a scary sight and most thugs and passengers obediently deferred to his presence.
The guy demanded that we stand two meters away from the PMV’s door and demanded that only passengers come forward and enter the bus.
The bully was probably a local villain hired to serve as a scarecrow to fend off the thugs.
Anyway, we heeded his call and pushed through the melee into the bus, cradling our children and luggage.
In a moment, the bus had more passengers than its maximum load. A couple of people who could not find seats implored that they be allowed to stand in the bus for the journey.
The bully reminded them of festive season roadblocks by police and told them to exit. They obliged.
We left the thugs’ den unscathed and they stood there defeated. The bully was bragging that because of him our valuables were intact.
We sped across the Zokozoi River and he continued to brag whilst standing in the doorway sucking from the bottle of rum in his hand.
Four kilometres on, the bus came to a halt and the bus crew squeezed some bills into the bully’s palm. The guy pouched the bills without looking at them.
With one final brag he bade us farewell. And we were on our way towards Daulo Pass and Chimbu beyond.
At Asaro, the crew collected the fares and my family paid for the Goroka-Kundiawa leg. It was then that the crew asked the driver to stop and we were forced to exit.
He only wanted passengers for the greater distance to Mt Hagen. We had no choice but pay the fares for Goroka-Mt Hagen.
We encountered three police and civilian road blocks between Watabung and Chuave. Both groups demanded money.
Finally at Kundiawa bus-stop, we encountered a mob who, rummaging for crumbs, swarmed around the PMV.
One cove out-thought the others and managed to climb through the door to help the crew who were summoning passengers travelling further west to Jiwaka and Mt Hagen. The crew told the interloper to go home and plough his land for a living.
The guy heard the comment but decided not to digest it, continuing to call out for passengers as if the derogatory comment had been a permission note.
Upon seeing the mob of soiled thugs surrounding the door, my children refused to exit so I had to instruct the driver to move the bus further to near the provincial government building.
He obliged and parked the bus at a free corner where we exited and thanked the driver.
We were told that the Hagen bus stop is also littered with thugs and is particularly frightening for women and children and dangerous for luggage.
We have our tails between the two legs when we travel on the highlands roads of our fair land.
The Simbu Provincial Government and stakeholders need to speed the opening of Kundiawa Airport for Chimbus to fly directly to their home.
And the respective highlands provincial governments must find a way to rid the bus stops of these marijuana-addled thugs.