KUNDIAWA - In 2004 I was visiting sick kids in the isolation ward at Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial General Hospital when I met Francis Nii.
What intrigued me was that he had written a book, ‘Paradise in Peril’, while on his sick bed.
I had never before come across anyone publishing anything in such circumstances.
Francis told me about the struggles he went through, such as collecting scrap papers from the hospital so he could write his manuscript.
His words challenged me and from that moment we stood side by side in our pursuit of literature and I introduced Francis to PNG Attitude.
Our literary passion took off in 2011 thanks to Keith Jackson and Phil Fitzpatrick who initiated the Crocodile Prize.
The awards took place at the Australian High Commission and Francis and I flew to Port Moresby from Simbu, the only two writers to fly in. The other writers were from the National Capital District (NCD).
These efforts were not in vain, as I was awarded the inaugural poetry prize. When my name was announced by Russel Soaba, Francis pinched me and congratulated me.
The award lifted our spirits and spread interest in the Crocodile Prize across Simbu.
When Francis won the Crocodile Prize for essay writing in 2013, the urge to start a writers’ club gained momentum and a number of good writers started popping up in Simbu. Among them were Arnold Mundua, Mathias Kin, Jimmy Awagl and Philip Kai.
We started visiting schools and spread the flame of the Crocodile Prize, encouraging students and teachers to participate in the nationwide literary competition.
Simbu is mostly rugged and we didn’t have a car so we would hire police vans, ambulances, government vehicles or whatever was available to make awareness visits to schools, especially those in remote areas.
The roads were rough, we would slip and slide and Francis would ride with us. We forgot he was a paraplegic because he showed no sign of hurt or of being a hospital patient.
This passion resulted in us forming the Simbu Writers Association (SWA) the following year.
In 2014 the newly formed SWA team flew to Port Moresby to attend the Crocodile Prize awards, as usual hosted by the Australian High Commission.
I was appointed master of ceremonies and, after awarding the prizes to the winners, I announced to the dignitaries that SWA would host the 2015 awards in Kundiawa.
This drew puzzled looks from the rest of the SWA team but not Francis, who was smiling. We had never held a meeting prior to the announcement.
So in 2015 SWA successfully hosted the Crocodile Prize awards at the Mt Wilhelm Hotel in Kundiawa. All the winners from across PNG were flown to Mt. Hagen, ferried by road to Simbu, toured Mt Wilhelm and held the awards ceremony in Kundiawa.
SWA was to publish many books with Francis himself leading the number of publications. SWA also won the Highlands Regional Think Tank Quiz in Mt Hagen and hosted it the following year at Lutheran Day High School in Kundiawa.
While all this activity occurred, Francis was the heartbeat and he went on to many more accomplishments that he managed from his hospital bed. This was a feat without equal.
Francis was not only smart but had a very strong will. He knew what he wanted to do and wouldn’t let pain of any kind overtake him.
Even we, his very close friends, never saw signs of any of his struggles as he successfully tucked them away from us, always wearing his trademark smile - a contagious smile that you could never walk away from.
His kind heart, smartness and humour comprised a true gentleman in every sense.
The manifestation of his willpower gave hope to humanity that nothing is ever impossible.
Thank you Francis Nii for your indomitable spirit.
Rest Easy My Friend