PORT MORESBY – Archie Iso Kundal loves his mother very much but, as a small child, was frequently distressed to see his abusive father, Ismael, habitually beat her.
The two small boys would often see their mother lock herself in a room and cry while nursing her wounds.
So one day Archie told his mother to escape, return to her people at Kerema and not come back to Wabag until he and his brother Victor were old enough to defend her.
Being young, they could not comprehend the full extent of the physical and mental pain that Annie endured.
But one day in 2016, when Archie was 12, he saw his father punch his mother in the face and inflict other wounds on her.
Seeing this made Archie hurt immensely. His mother had asked her husband to refrain from seeing other women. She was afraid of contracting AIDS. But he beat her.
It was not the first time she had been assaulted in front of the boys. They could do nothing but watch helplessly.
On that day, however, Archie decided to act to protect his beautiful mother. He couldn’t do much, but he told her to escape to the coast. And run away she did when the next opportunity presented itself.
Late in March, four years on, Annie felt free to recount her experiences to me.
On this day, she sat in a comfortable chair and slowly sipped a soft drink at the Vision City shopping mall in Port Moresby.
A relative from her village was at the table with her and Annie was in a happy and relaxed mood.
In the next hour, she said, she would travel by PMV bus to Kerema to witness the delivery of a new dinghy for a small fishing venture she had established with two brothers from Kikori.
She is now secretary of the Airi Giai venture, which has an agreement to supply fish maw, shark fins, trochus shells and other marine products to an Asian seafood company in Port Moresby.
Annie said she was involved in the project with her three children in mind – Archie, Victor and Elisa.
When she was with Ismael, she said, the whole family was dependent on the salaries of his parents, Papa Johannes and Rose Kundal, both public servants.
They gave Annie K200 a fortnight and provided the family’s food. But it was no way to live.
“I had to fight him. I was afraid of AIDS,” said Annie. “If he married a second wife, I wouldn’t have cared less. It’s their custom.
“But I didn’t like it when he hooked up with many strange women. I had to avoid him. And he beat me.
“He did not respect me and the children. Sometimes when I was not there, he brought different women to the house in full view of my children. I hated that.”
Then came that fateful day when Ismael punched her and Archie bravely told her to return to her relatives in Kerema until he and Victor grew strong enough to protect her.
“It broke my heart when my son talked to me like an adult,” Annie said. “He was only 12 and still needed me, but he spoke like that. He gave me the courage to escape from my abusive husband.”
At 12, Archie had reached an age where he realised his mother had suffered terribly. He felt she had to get away before anything serious happened to her.
“He tried to clean my wounds,” Annie said, “but became upset because there was much blood. He looked me straight in the eyes and told me to run away.
“I am fully convinced he and his brother Victor will grow up to be successful in whatever they do. I hope they will never abuse their partners, but treat them with care and respect.”
Annie said she never feels far from her children. They talk all the time on the phone. She says it always warms her heart to speak with them.
Her chance to make that final escape came in 2016, the fourth time she had left. On this occasion, her father, Jimmy Aku, had sent an urgent message for her to travel to Daru. He was very sick, he said, and wanted her to look after him.
The Kundal family told her to go nurse her father, thinking she would return. But Ismael had beat her, Archie had told her not to come back and, for Annie, this was her chance to leave for ever.
“I felt safe in Daru. I didn’t want to go back to Wabag. I had suffered enough. I wished to live my life the way I wanted to.
“I was sorry I left my in-laws, Papa Johannes and Rose, I love them so much. They are the best in-laws ever. I am proud of them but do not like their son for disrespecting us.”
It had been easy for her to make the first escape. On the planned day, she had casually walked to the highway as if going to the market. She waved down a PMV bus travelling to Mt Hagen and from there flew to Port Moresby using a prepaid ticket.
From Port Moresby, she took a PMV up the Hiritano Highway to Kerema. She boarded a boat to Daru where her late father Jimmy Aku worked for the provincial government.
During that first escape with Archie and Victor, she lived in her uncle Kevin’s house in Orokolo where, eventually, Rose and Johannes found her.
Rose Kundal said they risked their lives following Annie and the boys because they loved them.
“Annie is a good woman,” said Rose. “She did all the work in the house. We observed that she respected us and her husband. She was the perfect woman.”
Rose said she and Johannes love Annie. They hope she will return. They want their son to treat her properly and make a good family.
“I am praying day and night for Annie to come back,” Rose said. “I am asking the Lord to reunite them. She is a good girl.”
Rose also loves Ismael, her only child. She believes he fought with Annie because she and Johannes wanted him to live only with Annie.
“He wanted to marry this girl from Tambul as second wife. But we didn’t want that. It’s against Bible teachings. He must respect our Christian beliefs,” Rose said.
Annie admits she made a mistake to fall for Ismael when she was a student in Port Moresby. He was a teacher at the time.
She speaks from experience when she advises young girls to be careful when they decide to choose a lifetime partner.
“Don’t rush into marriage or start an intimate relationship at an early age. I made a mistake.
"I loved my husband at first sight but never knew what was in his mind. I did not know his background. I should have completed my training.”
In 2002 Annie finished schooling in Daru at Grade 10. The following year, she upgraded her marks and applied to attend the International Training Institute in Port Moresby where she met Ismael.
In 2004, she was forced to abandon studies and return to Daru when she discovered she was pregnant. In 2005, Archie was born
She brought the baby to Port Moresby to show him to Ismael, who then went home to Wabag.
Rose and Johannes told him they wanted to see the baby. Annie then gave four-month old Archie to a policeman who was travelling to Wabag. She remained in Port Moresby.
Johannes and Rose accepted the baby and asked Annie to fly to Wabag immediately. She was well accepted by the family. But her husband did not want her there and often beat her. She escaped three times. The fourth time she was never to return.
Rose Kundal understands why Annie ran away like many other women in the wider community who are subjected to constant abuse by their husbands.
Rose says the government and churches have introduced new ways of living. People should accept those teachings and try to cope and learn how to raise families so children can grow up to be responsible citizens of this beautiful country.
“People like my son should know that it’s totally wrong to abuse their wives. They are somebody’s daughter.
“He must be appreciative of Annie for giving him three healthy children.
“My son must accept Annie back into our family and respect her.
"And Annie, please know that we love you. Please come back home.”