My father’s advice
You deserve happiness

Hagen ‘market taxis’ offer an important lesson to our country

Mt Hagen marketAUGUST BERITA

An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony

OVER the last few years there has been an increase in the number of boys who roam in and out of Mt Hagen’s town market, some from as far as Southern Highlands and Enga.

They are not men who wander around looking for opportunities to rob people, nor are they street vendors. They do not carry knives to threaten people; just a roll of string and a needle.

They are known as ‘market taxis’ and they assist people to carry or sew their market bags. In return, people pay them between 50 toea and two kina. Some people generously give a bit extra.

After helping you, the market taxis just wait around without demanding compensation. They do not quarrel if they are not paid. Instead they say simply, “Em orait, mi helpim yu tasol” (it’s OK. I’m just helping you) and walk away.

They aren’t bothered what people think of them but they are enthusiastic and focused on what they are doing. They never went to business school to learn techniques of good salesmanship, but their customer service is much better than some of the shop assistants in Mt Hagen.

These boys are smarter than the men who hang around the shopfronts, the bus stops and the public parks waiting to snatch wallets and handbags.

I was curious to know more about these friendly boys and asked them to tell their story.

Their parents are poor and some live in the squatter settlements around town. Their parents don’t have a regular income and don’t earn enough money to support the boys.

Since they have nothing else to do, they come to the market to work. They say they earn good money from the services they provide.

Some of them go to school in the morning and, in their free time after school and at weekends and holidays, come to the market to work.

Mondays, Fridays and sometimes Saturdays are good days. Sometimes they make up to K20 a day. In a week up to K150.

They use the money at their discretion “to buy anything we want”. Sometimes they help out parents or friends.

The biggest challenge is that the number of taxis is increasing, putting pressure on their daily income. There’s also the threat of bigger boys and men who hang around the market beating them up and taking their money.

One of the causes of poverty in PNG is laziness. Unlike some other countries, PNG is full of business opportunities. But there seems to be laziness in our towns and villages. People wait for the government or people with money to give them handouts.

The majority of the people in PNG think that many people are poor because of the government, which is partly true, but maybe it is also because of our laziness.

A lot of people are not willing to work hard to earn a living. If you travel along the highways, go to town or visit the markets, there are people sitting or standing and doing nothing. When asked, they tell you, “Mi pasim taim tasol” (we’re passing the time).

If we are to overcome poverty, we must take personal responsibility and use our time productively. The taxi boys never went to college. They don’t blame their parents. They took responsibility for their own lives.

When we talk about poverty, we tend to think in terms of wealth. But there are different aspects of poverty; physical, spiritual, psychological, social and economic. The main aspect of poverty in PNG is poverty of the mind.

There is no greater poverty and it is often expressed in phrases like ‘I can’t’ or ‘it’s impossible’.  It is amazing how the average Papua New Guinean does not expect to succeed.

Instead of saying, ‘I cannot afford it’ these little taxi boys asked ‘How can I afford it?’  The statement lets you off the hook, while the question forces you to think.

When you say, I can’t afford it, your brain stops working.  By asking how can I afford it? the brain is put to work.

PNG is a rich nation and we are a resourceful people. Yet, I’m struck by our widespread pessimism. The worrying aspect is that pessimistic people spread their ideas that others are the cause of their poverty.

We are where we are now after 40 years because of the way we think. If we change our thinking, life will get better.  When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.

In traditional society, people were taught to be self-reliant and productive members of society. Sadly, our current education system no longer prepares young people to mind their own business. Instead it prepares them to look to others to give them a job and a hope in life.

They spend their lives minding someone else’s business.

If you insist on having poverty mentality, fine, but please do not bequeath it to our children. Do not infect the next generation with this sort of mentality. 


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Arthur Williams

As well as being manger of Steamships one million a year rural store in Baimuru in the mid eighties, I was also agent for Douglas Airways and the PNG Banking Corporation. In those days the muddy government station was also home to Steamship's sawmill and Baimuru Fisheries, who were agent for Talair.

Every fortnight we would have a Steamships coastal vessel deliver groceries, fuels and general tradestore type sundries with a waiting backload of sawn timbers, many empty 200L drums along with passengers going to join their Gulf wantoks in the growing squatter settlements of Moresby.

The limited commercial amenities of the riverside station made it a hub for the area's public servants and the forty odd rural primary schools spread throughout the mangrove channels of the area.

Every fortnight payday teachers from almost all of these schools would reach Baimuru by fibreglass dinghy. After collecting their pay cheques from government office they would soon be crowding into my tiny plank walled store to cash those cheques.

As I also ran the bank agency a few would deposit a small portion of their K130+ wages into their passbook accounts; but the majority of their pay was spent in the store on family groceries except for the kina necessary to buy premix outboard fuel not only for the journey home but enough for the next payday return to Baimuru in the two weekly pay cycle.

John Bird a previous longtime manager had persuaded the public servants and teachers to make a written list of their purchases.

As the small customer area in the store got crowded to capacity with others queuing up the wooden steps I and two other experienced shop assistants would then grab one of many long grocery lists together with their pay-cheque waved over the tops of the jostling people at the counters. We would then prepare several cartons of their food items together with bags of rice and flour etc.

Firstly I would give them a special till receipt for their required quantity of outboard motor pre-mixed petrol. This they would pass out to a relative or friend to give to my 'fuel-boy' who would be filling containers non-stop from about mid-day onwards.

Many needed perhaps five or even more 20 litre containers to be filled. I still smile as I recall seeing my worker shouting upto me from the fuel store holding his groin and gesturing for a comfort break after a few of hours non-stop pumping outboard fuel.

Thus each teacher and aidpost orderly would end up with often eight or more assorted and quite heavy items to be carried by hand the one or two hundred yards to their dinghies anchored along the grey muddy banks of the Purari.

It was here that Taxi an ex-sawmill labourer came into his own and earned himself a very good income for one day's strenuous effort. He was very strong and would respond rapidly to the shout, “Taxi!”

Through the stores barred windows I would glimpse him steadying a load of several cartons with one muscled arm on his shoulder whilst the other strained to hold two handles of plastic fuel containers.

He would speed off to the owner's dinghy before rapidly reappearing to finish carrying the remaining items along the muddy track to the riverside. By the time he had solved a puny teachers' cartage problems he would be bathed in sweat and looked almost breathless but was always ready for the next person and certainly to grow the bundle of kina nestling in his pocket.

Some of that very hard earned cash would end up that afternoon in my till but the rest would ensure a steady supply of rice and corned beef or tinned fish for his dietary needs in the next two weeks.

Taxi performed a much-needed service at Baimuru for several years. Sadly he was destined to not to perform it much longer.

His brutally beaten body was found in the early hours of a drizzling grey morning on the greasy muddy bank of the river at the site of his regular payday exertions.

His murderer and the motive, when I last enquired, were still unknown. Missed by many, no more runs for you Taxi.
Taxi - Rest In Peace.

Bessielah David

Reality in PNG today is more than meets the eye. The measure of quantity/quality to living is defined by how much a person has/earns.

In PNG, whether a self-taught entrepreneur, public/private worker or bested business scholar, money has become the dominant root to all types of communal problems today. Be it social, mental, physical, moral what have you.

And this is a bit hard to pardon as we seemed to intertwine money to be the cause of poverty in all forms. It's a psychological warfare.

If you don't own/have money you're poor. If you don't do something to earn your keep, you'll be poor; living on hand-outs it's laziness.

If you have an academic degree and you're not starting your own company/business, it's laziness. Blah blah blah etc etc.

What some won't realize is that our cultural and traditional context of extended family life plays a partial role to how we perceive life to what it should be for everyone in a society.

(If anyone hasn't read Phil's write up - cross-cultural awareness in PNG - I suggest you do). Phil touched on the differences to the society of an expatriate to that of PNGn.

Most PNGns are rapidly adapting the individualistic way of living that such parallel cultural/traditional norm is merely forecast as inferior or "lazy".

This proverbial "laziness" is cultivated with the familiarity of our legal tender (kina and toea). It's never been this way since ten-fifteen years ago.

When the love of money becomes the root of all things (good or otherwise), nothing else matters but money. It can make one lazy.

August, although I commend your gap analysis on PNG's impoverished population, I reckon so called "poverty of the mind" isn't necessarily lazy.

Sometimes "circumstantial poverty" plays a pivotal role in this so-called "poverty of the mind", it's never a choice as you may have suggested.

Laziness in all its conforming truth, however distorted, is rooted in the love of money. The love of money propels laziness and greed. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

Karl Aina

Well said, August. The young generation of today don't work the land and support themselves like our parents and forefathers use to do but they rather hang around and expect free handouts or go around begging. If everyone of us try to do something for ourselves to live and survive independently, PNG will be better off than where we are now.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Excellent article August.

As an expatriate it is something we observe but don't comment on because of political correctness.

Michael Dom

Good one August!

"The mind is the key to changing the nature of your reality".

Raymond Sigimet

Well written and argued August. It's a mind game. I solemnly wish for our people to rise up out of this negativity and for our leaders to exercise appropriate qualities to realise our country's potential. If we want a better life, we have to get up and do something about it. If we wait for someone to do it, nothing's going to happen.

Philip G Kaupa

Mine boggling literature we all need to be taught a lesson. Beautiful August.

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