Laitebo lived near newly built Komo International Airport, in the Hela Province. The massive airport was located in a valley surrounded by mountain ridges. He’s family had moved in from Tent City settlement in Lae, in search of the glow of the new gas economy. The family moved into some vacant State land near the airport where they squatted.
He’s dad soon found out that the promises of the gas economy were just hot air. After the initial construction phase where ten thousands were employed, only less than a thousand jobs were available with the LNG Project. He could not find a job elsewhere as other sectors of the economy had been adversely affected by the soaring value of the Kina caused by massive revenue inflows from the sale of gas.
Laitebo’s mum understood these effects which economists called the Dutch Disease. She herself had studied economics at the University of Papua New Guinea and had a Masters from Deakin University in Australia. She had lost her job as a financial analyst at an oil palm company after it was forced to shut down because it could not sell its product competitively. The high value of the Kina had made Papua New Guinea’s export too expensive on the global markets. The company was making huge loses and was forced to shut down.
Laitebo’s dad now travelled to and from the Markham Valley to buy betelnut, which his mom sold at K5 a nut. She earned about K1000 per day but that wasn’t enough for the family.
Everything was very expensive. A rice bag cost K200 kina, a can of corned beef cost K30 and she had to pay K50 000 to send her kids primary to school. It seemed that everything had to be imported. Inflation was running high and the gas economy had gassed the local agriculture and manufacturing sectors of the economy.
Laitebo’s dad’s frequent travels put a strain on his relationship with Laitebo’s mum. Sometimes she would find numbers of strange women on his phone contacts. They would argue and fight at the buai maket. There, the family’s entire dirty laundry would be hung out in public view.
One afternoon Laitebo came home to the family shack and saw his mum sobbing. “Mama, olsem wanem?” he asked. “Pikinini kam sindaun?” she gave a weak smile and gave him a space to sit near her. Laitebo was tense. He walked over and sat next to her and put his arm over her neck.
“Laitebo, nau yu mas kamap man,” she said. “Lo belo bus I kapsait lo Daulo Pass na papa em kisim bakarap,” she continued with a louder wail that was drowned by an Air Niugini Dreamliner landing on the Airport.
Laitebo cried loud, he was lost. He ran towards the mountains but could only get as far as the airport fence when he collapsed in grief. The guards on the other side of the fence came to check out the situation and swore at him. “Kain pipia pikinini nambaut yah laik go we, huh?” one of the guards said and the others laughed.
He’s mum realized the situation and wiped her tears before walking over to preserve her son’s dignity. The guards saw her walking over to carry her son and began teasing her. “Ayo, resa mama oh! Igat o nogat oh!” they teased her. She picked up her son and walked back to the shack.
That night after she had tucked the kids to sleep, dug out a tin from under the shack. The family savings and documents were kept there. She had a funeral and a future to plan.
Tok pisin to English Translation
Buai maket – betelnut market
“Pikinini kam sindaun?” – child, come and take a seat
“Laitebo, nau yu mas kamap man,” – Laitebo, you have to grow up now
“Lo belo bus I kapsait lo Daulo Pass na papa em kisim bakarap,” – at about lunch time the bus crashed at Daulo Pass and dad was killed
“Kain pipia pikinini nambaut yah laik go we, huh?” – where is that stupid kid trying to go?
“Ayo, resa mama oh! Igat o! nogat oh!” – hey sexy mama, anything or nothing