LAE - I was in the heart of Lae City this morning, at the centre of the curve of Huon Gulf on the map of Papua New Guinea.
The sun had just come out of the dawn's bilum. It was a promising day with good weather and the people were carrying out their usual early morning activities.
I was escorting an expatriate at the Lae main market: showing him around, giving him a market overview, taking him to various food sections and showing him the various types of local vegetables, spices, protein and fruit.
It was not a laborious task.
When the stranger came up to me holding a needle and string in his hand, I knew he must have been on business.
He smiled at me showing red stained teeth. I returned the smile.
"Young man do you need any help?" he asked.
"Follow me," I said, and winked an eye.
“What’s your name, sir?” I asked the man, smiling.
“It’s Petrus, I’m from Simbu” he replied and smiled back.
“OK angra, holim bag ya.” (“OK bro, hold this bag”) I instructed him.
Petrus took the bag and carried it diagonally across his chest. He was a stocky man and the expatriate wanted to carry his vegetables and fruit inside the bag.
The role of Petrus was to carry the bag for us. It gave me more flexibility to assist my expatriate friend.
We started at the vegetables section. We bought everything we wanted and I gave it to Petrus, who followed us and packed the bag.
We also picked up potatoes, fruits and nuts and our friend Petrus packed them in the bag for us.
Once we were done, Petrus helped us sew the bag's open mouth with a special knot. We paid him for his service and he went off.
As I saw him walking away I thought, this man has a wife, children and family back home to be responsible for.
His services may be small but they were of great help to others. Some of his friends carried kaukau (sweet potato). They had grown muscles overnight by unloading 50 kilogram bags of kaukau from trucks and carrying them to the market arena. They got paid depending on how much work they did.
Another group pushed wheelbarrows and their task was to move bags of coconuts, vegetables and fruit from PMV vehicles for a small amount of money.
As I watched this band of workers, I noticed they were largely unnoticed but their services contributed greatly to PNG’s economy and wealth.
At the end of the day, these workers, mostly men, had something to put on the table for their family, school fees for the children and financial support for anyone within their circle.
Apart from those informal helpers, like Petrus, at the market there were also people – women, men, young old - who came from the rural areas of Morobe.
They kept the Lae market vibrant with their proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts and all sorts of garden foods. But these people were considered ‘formal’ because they pay market taxes to the city council officials before selling anything.
They too are a hard working band of troops. Their effort contributes to wealth creation and economy building.
I sat down and observed the activities and reflected on Petrus and the other helpers. They were all vital.
I remembered that it must have been like this since our ancestors’ time. It takes sweat and effort to create wealth and build an economy, whether in a formal or informal way.
So, if you are from outside Lae and Morobe Province, here for business or pleasure and want to visit our main market, please recognise our talented band of informal labour.
Their services come in handy and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.