Wednesday, April 13, 2011
THE STREET VENDOR
Dedicated to all street vendors in Port Moresby
John had completed year 12 at De La Salle Secondary School. He did not receive an offer for further tertiary or technical education and was living at 9 mile squatter settlement with his parents and five siblings. The family had no access to running water or electricity. They shared a pit toilet with three other families. The family earned its income by raising chickens which they sold at Gordons Market.
John had built a hut for himself while his family shared the family shack with his two uncles and three cousins. His flimsy hut was built of pieces of timber, scrap metal and cardboard he had scavenged from the city of Port Moresby. The earth floor was lined with plastic sheets and an old discarded carpet. It was a colourful work of art. Like a bower bird’s nest, it reflected the bits and pieces that he had collected to create this shelter.
John woke one morning after having spent the previous evening drinking home brew. He peered through a gap in the wall of the hut and he could see the fog covered Owen Stanley Range in the distance. In the valley below, the terraced hillside contained plots of cabbages, peanuts, beans and corn. He could see some men and women collecting water from the swamp to water their vegetable plots. Others harvested and packed their crops into their bilums. These crops were destined for sale at the markets in the city.
He picked up his mobile phone from the floor. There was a message and 3 missed calls from Agnes. “Kaikai Curry rice!” he exclaimed. Agnes was his phone pal from Rabaul. Like most phone pals in Papua New Guinea their relationship started when John just decided one day to dial a random number on his phone. Agnes answered and one thing led to another.
It was 6 am and John had to leave for the bus stop to catch bus number 16 to Gordons. John collected his cigarette packets, mustard, phone cards, betel nuts, and lime. He placed them into his bilum and walked to the bus stop at 9 mile market. There he met up with a crowd of workers, drug dealers, vegetable sellers, pick-pocketers and students all headed for the big smoke.
Everyone was rushing for the buses as they arrived at the bus stop. People were climbing in through the bus windows as commuters made their way out through the door. By the time the last passenger had hopped off a bus, the bus was full. For women and children, completing against acrobatic guys was an impossible task.
John wasn’t in a hurry; he was doing a roaring trade at the bus stop while frustrated passengers and bus crew traded insults. Many passengers who wanted to change their money came and bought his betel nuts, cigarettes and phone cards.
Amongst the choir of chaos John the soloist sang to the crowd, “5 lus! 5 lus! K1 buai! Flex stap! Wanbel stap!”
Translation of Tok Pisin to English
Kaikai curry rice – eat curried rice; an expression of frustration
5 lus – 5 loose; means 50 toea (cents) for a single cigarette
K1 buai – K1 betel nut; means 1 Kina (dollar) for a betel nut includes free mustard (betel nuts are also known as areca nuts – they contain arecholine which acts as a stimulant drug)
Flex stap – Phone cards on sale
Wanbel stap – Peace
Bilum – a string bag