To celebrate 50 000 hits on the blog, I’ve written one part one of a two part story: The second part will be published when I reach 100 000 hits. This is my story. A summary of life in 2010 in Port Moresby.
Picture of me selling betelnut
I am seated on a pink plastic chair torturing the keys of my laptop which I have plugged into the air-conditioners power outlet. I believe the owners of the guest house do not want their power bill to we overloaded. It’s a small room, about 3 by 1.5 meters, located on the ground floor. I’ve switched off the light and the fan is on full blast. It’s hot.
I am a traveler. I go where stories need to be told and I tell people’s stories. But tonight I’ve decided to tell my own story. No campfires, or eager audience, just me speaking from my soul to my flesh. And what you are reading is perhaps what the flesh interpreted and translated into text.
My story oddly enough begins on my birthday - my 24th birthday to be exact. I flew on an afternoon flight on an Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft from Daru to Port Moresby. I was returning to Port Moresby from the holidays at the village. The plane took off over the Oriomo river, past the Fly delta and headed for Port Moresby across the Gulf of Papua. It was a fine day and as the aircraft climbed over the Oriomo River, I could see the islands of the Torres Straits and a long stretch of the TransFly road snaking its way through the vast savannah of the South Fly District of the Western Province.
The evening that I arrived in Port Moresby was pretty ordinary. However, I could sense that something was out of place. My parents seemed unsettled. Everyone did comment about my rugged appearance but that wasn’t what was bugging my parents.
Later that evening they called me out after dinner and we sat on the verandah overlooking Pipigari Street. It was a typical noisy evening with vehicles speeding past our house. My dad spoke first in a calm voice. I wasn’t returning to medical school to complete a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS).
Mum was pretty disappointed. I can’t recall what she said. I did not know how to react to the news. I flunked big-time. This was my biggest failure in my not so long life. There wasn’t much said. I knew I had to move on. But how would I make the transition?
Now, these all happened in 2009. Two years from the time I’m writing this here in Buka. My dad just rang so I had to stop typing. He wanted to know if I was still alive in this former warzone. Back to my story, shall we?
For the first week or two after the bad news, I sort of locked myself most of the time. Soon my siblings were off to school and mum and dad went to work. I stayed alone at home wondering what would happen next.
Initially, I was very optimistic about my chances of moving on in life. I saw many opportunities and tried to get into some of them. I wrote many application letters for all sorts of weird jobs. Several word documents were typed, emailed and snail mailed.
And weeks turned to months without any acknowledgement. As each month ended and a new one approached I’d have increased hopes off something good coming up for me. Then all hope faded and I started drowning in an endless spiral of depression.
I started selling betelnut and cigarettes to pass time. It wasn’t very profitable doing so due to price fluctuations and poor quality of betelnuts. This obviously did not help my fragile state of mind and increased my sense of insecurity about the present and the future.
My saving grace from monotony and boredom was the mobile web. Until one of the mobile networks changed its systems, it was possible to have ‘free’ internet access if one knew how to do so. I joined several chat sites and spent the many lonely hours chatting with strangers. Some became friends and others became ‘friends’ but it was all fun and games. All the ‘Biology Classes’ I had online remained virtual and nothing came to fruition offline.
Indeed, some of these people have defined the way I think and breathe these days. One other legacy of my online frolicking is that I’ve sort of become a nocturnal creature. This was due to the fact that many of my chatting buddies were either online at night only or were in different time-zones. In some ways, it expanded my knowledge of geography while also draining the money I earned from my sales of betelnut.
But despite these online adventures, the dark clouds of the reality of life haunted me. I wasn’t dwelling on the past but my major concern was whether I could get out of the hole I was in. I had hit rock bottom and wasn’t coping well mentally. As time passed I became more and more depressed.
I was afraid of going totally insane. Indeed, I had decided that I’d rather be dead than go cuckoo. As someone who had Darwinian leanings, I felt that as a failure or dropout, it was demanded by natural selection that I should not compete with other more viable genes - aka my siblings. In that sense I knew I had to leave.
But early in January I had promised the Principal of my old school that I would host the school’s 10th Anniversary Celebrations in September. So despite the tendency to end everything, I hung on to fulfill that promise.
However, as fate would have it, September 2009, was the most horrible time of my life. The 10th Anniversary Celebrations were held at Murray Barracks. At the end of the day, I left severely depressed without letting anyone know. I just couldn’t cope with everything that highlighted my devalued state. It’s difficult to put up a brave face when everyone around you is celebrating success and your life is totally screwed.
And as the year came towards the end, my anxiety grew and depression worsened. I was anxious as to whether I would be accepted back to Medical School. To cope with the chaos of my mind, I’d take very long walks throughout the city of Port Moresby and totally wear down my body before arriving home exhausted. I’d simply have a shower and hit the sack.
I began to enjoy the walks which usually involved walking from Korobosea, via Angau Drive to Boroko then to the 5 mile water fountain. I’d rest at the nearby park then slowly walk up the East Boroko road and take the first turn on the right and walk down the road towards Aku Lodge. I’d then walk towards the Lloyd Robson Oval then onwards towards Angau Drive and back home.
Sometimes I’d take a detour to Apex Park and sit under the raintrees, blankly staring at the empty sky and the football teams training in the park. Each week the area surrounding the park changed. All around, properties were being renovated. Towards the north end of the park, a new building was being constructed. In the south, a residential property was being placed on higher post and accommodation constructed below
Port Moresby was seeing a real estate boom triggered by the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Project. On the streets, much of the conversation was dominated by LNG related activities. To me, the Gas Project was just a lot of hot air. It didn’t matter whether jobs were being created as I, like many of my fellow young Papua New Guineans, was unskilled.
The gas condensation facility was being constructed just outside Port Moresby - a city of over half a million people with many living in abject poverty. Workers lived like caged animals in pitiful accommodation with highly inflated rates. Many residents slept on the streets. I don’t know how many but I spent some time with the homeless at 3 mile.
I suppose one of the benefits of being a street vendor was that the nights belonged to me. When the city was in lock-down mode behind barbed wire fences, those of us who existed on the streets were kings of the night. Even at midnight, I’d walk to the 24 hour tucker-boxes at 3 mile to grab a soft drink and buy phone credits. I had no reason to fear anyone as I was known to most people.
Of course it wasn’t easy being a street vendor. I had to deal with a lot of stigma. Usually in so called civilized conversations, jokes were made about ‘buai sellers’. It certainly wasn’t cool to be one. Teachers warned their students against ending up on the street selling betel nuts. Even at Medical School my lecturers did warn about being a ‘buai seller’.
Many were shocked by my spectacular fall from grace. Even I had to deal with my battered ego. My self esteem was in free-fall and crashing faster than stock markets during the Global Financial Crisis. I don’t know how I managed to pull through during 2010.