Above: Remnants of a lamb flabs and buai stall at 5 mile
The recent demolishing of the street stalls at 5 mile is blow to those of us who believe its better to make our own money than to beg for handouts. To me the 5 mile markets were fast becoming a cultural icon as they where redefining the city nightscape. They were a means of people from various parts of the city connecting with each other.
The street vendors in various parts of the city are respected by the youth in those suburbs because they help them out when these young people don’t have enough koins long baim buai na smuk. Indeed, one of the reasons I feel safe walking the streets of Port Moresby is the luksave I get from the street vendors. As a buai kastoma I feel protected by the influence of the street vendors over the youth in the suburbs. Ol i save lukautim kastoma blong ol.
The fact that he 5 mile buai market operated 24/7 also indicated that the area had a low crime risk. Indeed, that’s exactly the case at 3 mile area around Port Moresby General Hospital. Spots like the 5 mile buai market and the 3 mile bus stop canteens are a night oasis where city residents feel safe to venture out at night.
If indeed Governor Parkop was genuine about residents of Port Moresby reclaiming the nights, it will come from community initiatives like the 5 mile buai markets as opposed to the tokenism of NCD’s Jack Pidik Park garage sales. It is a fallacy to think that such night markets fuel crime. Let’s face it; if crime was prevalent, customers would be deterred and no vending could occur.
There is also an important consideration of the economic empowerment of so called unskilled Papua New Guineans who for various reasons are unable to participate in the formal economy. The informal economy allows them to participate in the prosperity of Papua New Guinea. The unchecked population growth and burgeoning urban youth demography pose serious threats to stability and security of our nation. To prevent this vulnerable demography from participating in the informal economy is to fuel the growing sense of disenfranchisement amongst the youth.
Indeed, the recent Lae riots highlight the disenfranchisement felt by Morobean youth. The Morobeans felt that their opportunities to participate in the informal economy were being undermined by the deals made between Chinese shop owners and nonMorobean street vendors. This growing sense of disenfranchisement coupled with a growing crime rate and the lack of political will to address these issues, fuelled the rioting in Lae.
With current inflationary pressures being created by the LNG Project, many urban families need to participate in the informal economy; in order to make ends meets. No doubt, the families at 5 mile did so via their street stalls. It was therefore an economic injustice to have their stalls destroyed and thousands of Kina worth of goods lost.
I’m sure the policemen who did the damage would relate to the plight of these 5 mile families. I recently bought fried lamb flabs and banana from the folks at Gordons Police Barracks opposite Wardstrip Primary School.
I must say also that I do have a rather sentimental attachment to the 5 mile buai markets. I’ve been a street vendor myself these past couple of years after dropping out of school. I saw the 5 mile markets as the epitome of street vending; a class of its own whose splendor and elegance at night shone in proud contrast to that of Governor Parkop’s water fountain. Indeed, in my opinion it was an enhancement of the 5 mile nightscape albeit with betelnut husks strewn along the sewage-filled footpath.
I nicknamed it the 5 mile buai Market “Bangkok” because at night it reflected one of those night markets one would see in South East Asia. I’ve never been to South East Asia, I’m just drawing about hours of Television viewing. It was my little piece of overseas just as in the darkness of the settlement nights; the settlers of Kaugere refer to brightness of the Touaguba lights as overseas.
5 mile Bangkok was to me an antithesis to the commercialized image of the Governors water fountain. We the ordinary people’s (The 99%s) practical response to the capitalist’s (The 1 %s) expensive water fountain of little practical value to the ordinary citizen other than a purely ascetic function. Perhaps the money used to maintain an expensive water fountain could have been diverted to assisting street vendors at 5 mile keep the vending area clean.
The benefits of a water fountain are not easily quantifiable but the benefits of assisting street vendors keep the city clean are numerous. Betelnut markets are a meeting places for many city residents and a lot of friendships a formed there. People discuss politics or local gossip and indeed a sense of community develops around the buai market. It is more of a social networking experience than a commercial one. Street vendors humanize what is a dehumanizing, commercialized city experience that ekes out an existence in a concrete and steel jungle.
Unfortunately, street vendors have a major image problem – Litter. Littering is definitely an issue that is difficult to resolve. There are some snobs who dedicate their Facebook status updates to bashing the buai sellers and chewers for olgeta buai spet that tarnishes the glorious concrete and corrugated iron structures of modernity.
I walked past the 5 mile road on Tuesday 3rd of January. The place just doesn’t feel the same. It’s as if life has been sucked out. I may go as far as to say that 5 mile without its street markets is like Romeo without his Juliet –dead. I hope Governor Parkop brings back the 5 Mile’s Bangkok. If not permanently, just open it one last time for old time’s sake. Mr. Parkop as a Social Democrat should be concerned about putting people before profits.