BY SEIK PITOI
DESPITE ALL THE HYPE about liquefied natural gas and the mineral boom, times are still tough for most people in Papua New Guinea.
One can see from a stroll through any neighbourhood in the capital city how the informal sector plays its part in enhancing the livelihood of the people.
Most back or front yards of homes have little tables where families sell everything from buai (betel nut) and cigarettes to the more appetising fresh fruits, kumu (greens) and vegetables.
In fact, some of what you can get at most designated markets are just at your (or your neighbour’s) doorstep.
For many people, certain markets have become unsafe due to the unchallenged presence of criminals, thus other alternatives are sought.
Home front selling I suppose is permissible, but it is the ‘markets of convenience’ at certain city bus stops or shop fronts that have been a concern to many city residents.
Such unplanned and undesignated locations for buying and selling are usually unhygienic and hazardous to the health of residents. In fact, I have just heard that the our national capital district council has banned such markets of convenience, but whether people adhere to it is another thing altogether.
Taking a route 11 PMV bus from Tabari\4 Mile will lead you to the bus stop just outside the North Waigani Stop and Shop supermarket.
The bus will stop right at a thriving market place where stalls are lined up along the side of the road and the usual cheap Chinese products like perfumes, batteries, torches and other interesting items are sold.
The aroma of sizzling barbeques entice your tastebuds, not unlike the spicy scents of the famous hawker centres in Singapore where fried noodles and other delicacies fill the air.
Back at the North Waigani bus stop, though, you will notice 44-gallon drum ovens lined side by side as vendors fry lamb flaps, sausages, pork, kaukau (sweet potatoes) and banana to sell to their hungry customers.
The cheapest drinks are also to be found there as canned Coke sells for just K2 while the 500ml plastic bottles will go for K3. Other items on the menu usually include boiled eggs, scones and hot dogs. Then of course, there is the ever present buai, PNG’s very own dessert!
While the provision of such cheap food is welcome, a quick look around the vicinity is enough to make one sick.
The place is littered with rubbish like plastic bags, newspapers that were used to wrap food in, plastic bottles, decaying food and buai spittle.
The drain that runs behind the market also acts as a toilet, especially for small children, thus bringing a stench to the nostrils.
Walking across the nearby bridge, one will notice more food stalls on the opposite side, right adjacent to the second hand clothes market. Once again, the appearance of filth and garbage is obvious.
However, a visit to the properly designated Waigani market just a few metres away will yield a completely different picture. The market car park is secure and the market is clean and tidy. Vendors sell fresh fruit and vegetables in clean stalls and the presence of security personnel is quite comforting. Indeed, a vast difference.
The market at the North Waigani bus stop is not an isolated case. Many such markets of convenience are to be found all over the city.
They help vendors make a living and give customers a chance to buy cheap lunch. But the problem is that the price for such convenience will be paid by the detriment in health of both vendor and customer.
While it may seem that the danger of that deadly sickness, cholera, that ravaged through the country has subsided, people should never forget the ferocity of its attack and should therefore be always on guard.
While the National Capital District is beginning to deal with the situation, some provinces have taken a step ahead. One such province is the East New Britain Province whose standards in hygiene and the public selling of food are enviable.
Firstly, public chewing and spitting of buai is not allowed and one will always risk being caught by the authorities and charged. Even at markets like Kokopo Market where betel nut is sold, the chewing of the nuts is outlawed.
You buy, and then go home and chew in the privacy of your house. This is important as buai spittle can transmit germs and cause sickness.
However, it is in the area of fish sales that I admire the people of East New Britain. Vendors follow strict rules when selling fish. Smoked fish has to be wrapped in plastic prior to displaying for sale, while fresh fish is kept in an esky which is opened when the customer makes inquiries.
Their smoked fish, which the locals call solpis, are the best I’ve ever tasted. I recently went to Malaoro market in Port Moresby and, because I love smoked fish, bought some.
They are not wrapped in plastic and flies are kept at bay depending on the reflexes of the vendor (though you will notice she’s not always successful).
Because they were still quite warm (maybe due to the sun), I delved into one. When I got to the head, I found it was full of worms. That ruined my lunch and after I hastily regurgitated, a prompt decision was made ruling out any further purchases of smoked fish from all Port Moresby markets hitherto.
Moving to kaibars (local fast food restaurants), those in East New Britain are ventilated and have fly screen doors which are always kept shut, or they use curtains made out of strips of plastic or rubber to keep the flies out. These are some practices that should be enforced here in the capital.
In any case, the choice for a healthy future should be the concern of every Papua New Guinean. While the authorities need to assess and act on the hygiene situations at the proper markets, markets of convenience and kaibars, people must realise that their health should not be sacrificed on the altar of the pursuance of wealth.
Simply put, we cannot enjoy our wealth if we are not healthy. With a bit of common sense and adherence to basic hygiene rules and practices, we can enjoy both.
Seik Pitoi (50) was born in Port Moresby. He was a public servant but is now a pastor with the United Church. He has always had a passion to write and spent his spare time writing short stories and poems. He contributed to the now defunct weekly newspaper The Independent, which had a section for short stories and poems, and also did freelancing, writing for both daily newspapers, the Post Courier and The National, doing personality profiles, travel articles and other articles of interest. While now a full time minister he still makes time available to write