ORO - Some years ago - in the mid-eighties, I was this skinny kid growing up in Arawa on Bougainville.
I had a great friend at school, Wayne Grieshaber. I met him the day I entered Bovo Primary School.
I’d just transferred from Kokoda, where I spent three years schooling and living with my grandmother on our small cocoa plantation. No electricity and a hefty dose of challenge and difficulty.
At Bovo, I knew no one and found it adjustment hard. Still I was still thrilled at being in a city once more and able to sit in a car after three years of walking to and from school and everywhere else.
Now I had electricity, lights, hot water, radio, music, and my own room.
But I missed my grandmother, my dog Santo, my rooster and the creeks and streams and picnic spots of Kokoda.
I missed my cousins and knocking down coconuts and searching for wild honey and mushrooms. I missed the forest.
Wayne invited me to his house soon after we met and became instant friends.
We became like brothers and spent most of our free time in together.
That’s Wayne in the picture. His family were like my family. That’s his lovely mother and sister Rosina (in the green swimsuit) and her friend Melinda who sent me the photo not so long ago.
Thanks Rosina for this memento and opening a door to the past from which amazing memories tumbled.
You were such a chatterbox and always giggling but you were kind and happy to follow and pester us.
So the photo brought back a flood of memories. But also transmitted great sadness.
That’s how life is I have come to realise.
Life measures out in equal parts of happy and sad.
Ying and yang.
I never got to know Wayne as an adult and sadly I never will.
Somehow he passed on before I could find him.
Nevertheless, I will never forget this childhood friend.
We spent so much time talking, telling outrageous lies to impress each other and having many adventures with our friends and his parents.
Best friends we were.
We picnicked all through beautiful Bougainville. We knew every creek and every river and hill and swimming hole and fishing spot.
Life was carefree and full of joy and adventure. The people are a beautiful, peaceful, gentle people.
Eventually, as is often the case with childhood friends, we moved apart to circumstances beyond the control of a child.
Wayne and I went our separate ways. He went to a boarding school in Australia and I stayed at school in Bougainville for two years more.
Then to Port Moresby because of the Bougainville’s great crisis.
There was a rebel named Francis Ona who was unhappy about something. I was sent to live with my aunt and uncle in Port Moresby and attend school there.
Parents rarely take time to explain why they make huge decisions to uproot a child and send them here or there.
They forget that the little people they call the kids have friends and relationships too.
These days, I try my best to explain to my children what is happening and why and give them time to say goodbye to friends and exchange gifts.
Whenever Wayne came back for school holidays, we would catch up and spend our time picnicking in the beautiful rivers or fishing on the awesome beaches of Bougainville as if he had never left.
We were growing up and discovering life as teenagers.
Life was carefree, full of fun. Panguna had a movie theatre. Kieta had Pokpok resort. Loloho was known for a great beach, a small movie theatre that was free and amazing Christmas parties.
Every Christmas everyone in Arawa, Panguna, Kieta and surrounding areas gathered at the field and spend the entire day enjoying train rides, clowns, amazing food and entertainment and in the evening a breathtaking fireworks show.
Kids could not be happier as they watched and gasped at the boom and bedazzlement of fireworks at Loloho on Christmas night.
I loved Aropa, the airfield nearby, and its prawn and eel infested rivers which as a spear fisherman I was obsessed with.
If I could not make it there I would go to the Bovo River, Tupukas River or Kaperia creek and dive for prawns which I sold around the neighborhood for a few bucks.
Wayne's father, Fred Grieshabor, worked at the Panguna mine and was an avid hiker.
He took us to many of the mountains and hills around Arawa and Panguna. He was a gentleman and spoke softly and was very kind to me. He taught us about nature and history.
As an adult I appreciate how important it is to a child's development to have someone who takes time to teach you things and show kindness and care.
Such things go a long way to create empathy in a child; besides love, empathy is most needed in how people treat others.
Wayne and I visited many places and logged many great times.
Now, years later, looking at this photo, I realise how fortunate I was to have known Wayne.
We are all fortunate to know good people and have great friendships. They are precious gifts.
Until we no longer have them.
Life is like that. People coming and going, bringing joy and leaving sadness.
That Bougainville crisis cost 20,000 lives. Later I came to learn that Francis Ona was no rebel. He was a freedom fighter.
I sat for a time and looked at this photo, recalling Wayne's great smile and enthusiasm for life. Just like yesterday.
A wave of immense sadness and nostalgia washed over me and I felt tears in my eyes as I remembered the kindness and love Wayne added to my life as a child.
Rest in peace brother Wayne. See you on the other side. We’ll go fishing, I promise you.
Gary Juffa is governor of Oro Province in Papua New Guinea. He first published this article in June 2017