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05 March 2018

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Gary thanks for a marvellously emotional tale. Death is so sanitised in the UK, in fact you hardly ever hear the word ‘died’. It is often ‘passed away’ - ‘has left us’– ‘gone to a better place’.

My dad was of a more unsophisticated background and I liked his phrase, ‘Charlie’s thrown a double six!’

Christianity hasn’t helped with Priest and pastors doing their bit to comfort the bereaved family, ‘gone to be with The Lord’. A lovely theological image that some say is biblically sound as Christ on the cross told the inquiring robber, “I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’ Luke chapter 23 verses 42-43.

As always among the denominations some disagree and they state the comma should be not before ‘Today’ but after which would of course mean Uncle Joe would be with Jesus but only sometime in the future.

To me the second way of writing the sentence appears more authentic as it fits in with the later writing of 1 Thessalonians Ch. 4 V 16 - ‘And the dead in Christ will rise first.’

It was only when my paternal Grandfather died that I saw my first dead body. He was lying in his open coffin in the so called ‘front parlour’ where I had only ever been allowed once or twice before. It was kept clean and tidy like a museum for just such an event as Johnna Williams’ death.
The one thing that sticks in my memory is he had a full set of teeth something I had never seen when he was alive when he had never worn his false teeth.

The events of my maternal grandfather’s death are worth recalling when put into the context of my 30 plus years in PNG. I was working for Lloyds bank in Bristol which necessitated rising pre-dawn to catch the first train from Cardiff to Lawrence Hill then a bus up the hill to Kingswood.

That particular day about 0530 I was shaving in the bathroom when I though mum or dad had got up and had walked past the open door as a shadow passed across my image in the mirror. I turned around, nobody there. My family were still sound asleep.

I thought no more of it until I was given the phone in the bank and was surprised to hear my father’s voice. “Sorry son you grandfather passed away this morning at 0530!”
I would never see the old soldier as he was already screwed down in his coffin when I got home that evening.

It would be twenty years or so later just after drifting off into a beautiful sleep that I was awoken on a beautiful moonlight Lavongai Island night when Uncle Mog came to speak quietly to me.

He had awoken me by talking through the open doorway of our hut on the hillside overlooking our two streams. I couldn’t understand a word he said as he was using the local language. I asked him in Pidgin and quite loudly,”Olsem wanem?”

My wife who was sitting on a mat on the ground around the corner of the hut with parents must have heard me and she ran up the steps to our bedroom.‘ “What’s a matter Arthur?”

I told of the man who had disappeared when she had mounted the steps. “What did he look like?”

I told her of his narrow sharp featured face with one very very long pierced earlobe. By now her parent had appeared in the same spot as my night visitor and they and my wife spoke briefly in their tokples.

Then my wife spoke to me, “Don’t worry it must have been Uncle Mog who had come to see the stranger living in our clan’s land.”

“Where does he live?” I asked.

“Oh he doesn’t he died many years ago!”

Fascinating writing. Well done, namesake.

Rashmii, this is my favourite Gary Juffa piece from 2014.

Be interesting whether the APEC heavies get a taste of Mosbi traffic.

Tricks and traps on the Queen’s highway: givim 60 lo Posmosbi!
GARY JUFFA

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 the wheel is unusually higher in Port Moresby than 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 because so many motorists do it.

Then there are the falling-apart trucks carting rubbish commanded by a character who looks like he could barely walk upright let alone speak.

This Captain of Chaos wears a filthy singlet and spits betel nut juice 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 and 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 curb side with copious volumes of blood red betel nut juice. Spitting is an art form – betel nut 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 slowly 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 need 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 Papua New Guinea? (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 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 short-change 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!” he stated in irritating teen-speak.

“Na yu mangi?” retorted the boss crew, “Yu smuk olsem man tru yah!” 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 on PMV buses 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, 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!” 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!”

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 with 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 I 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, Papua New Guinea 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.

Whereas 'Sumi, okari nuts and the life of my childhood' brought some great laughs for my Saturday morning, and this a somber, heart wrenching reflection - both are so well written. I see traces of the marvellous descriptive writing I adore of Helen Garner and Trish Nicholson.

I agree with Phil's comment (previous piece) - hope there's a book on the way.

I empathize with you Gary. I too miss my Grandfather who returned from WW1 as a TPI. He taught me many things including a love of nature.

I too as a child used to stand and watch him shave. Money was not easily come by and he used to sharpen his safety razor blades by rotating them horizontally with his finger on both sides inside a drinking glass with a little water for lubrication. Each blade lasted a long time until it wore down.

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