KANGE WILSON PUNIM
| Academia Nomad
KAVIENG - The first time I took a banana boat ride out to open sea - from Kavieng to New Hanover - was the scariest day of my life. There were six of us including the skipper with only one lifejacket on board.
The other passengers were from coastal provinces so naturally I assumed the lifejacket was intended for me as the only Highlander (and non-swimmer) on board.
It was a fine sunny day so I encouraged myself. ‘You are seeing the world brother, before your kick the bucket’. But I did not want to kick the bucket while heading out to see the world.
I told myself I could be among only a handful of Highlanders, maybe even be the first, to go to New Hanover from Kavieng. For my Yamka tribe I was absolutely certain I was the first. ‘There will be stories to tell why worry?’ I encouraged myself.
I tried to pump myself up. Usually pumping up works with me, but not this time. None of the pumping worked. In fact, the extra pumping had the complete opposite effect. Fear and dread were overwhelming.
I would never have gone but the invitation was from the then Provincial Administrator of New Ireland. I took the plunge because the success of my work in New Ireland depended on the Administrator.
On the boat I sat next to a Morobean, my friend and co-worker, and the lifejacket was at our feet. With one of my feet I moved it closer to me. The Morobean noticed and said, "K** yu lusim dispela samting stap long namel." I was still shaking inside so I said,"Hul yu, yu Highlands or mi Highlands."
His reply was a sad,"Mipla olgeta Morobe ino gat sol wara. Mi blo Pindiu ya na em wan kain olsem ples blo yu. Lusim samting ya stap namel na husait i laki bai win." I told him not to joke and that this was not a winning or losing game, it was life or death. He looked at me seriously and said he was not playing around either, he was dead serious.
His words made me realise my long-held perception that all coastal people were good swimmers, was not true at all. So that made two of us. I had some comfort knowing that I was not going to die alone.
But whatever it took, the lifejacket was mine by default as the only Highlander on board and no Morobean from Pindiu, Heaven or wherever was going to take it. If something happened and we competed for the jacket, he was a small sized man and I was going to knock him out with half a punch before the sharks got him.
The plan was that, after I was rescued with the help of the lifejacket, I would say,"Sore mi traim best long savim em but shark kisim em." It would have been the perfect cover.
Anyways, as we set out, the sea was calm and I was growing in confidence by the minute. I recalled the many songs I heard on the radio about ‘sol wara slip sore’ and actually laughed because the sea was indeed calm. What was all these fear and shaking about?
I didn't realise that, the closer the sea is to land, the shallowness calms the sea.
As we hit the open sea, my confidence immediately melted. The bloody sea that appeared calm from a distance was not calm at all. The waves looked like small mountains dwarfing the little boat and looked like they were going to fall down on us.
Bloody hell, why did I come? Fuck the work and the Administrator. Hell, it was not my private business but public service work. Who the hell wanted to die for the public. I should have stayed in the comfort of the hotel and let the Morobean and other coastals take the risk.
I thought of our fat juicy overpaid and underworked MPs who were relaxing with all the perks, privileges and money whilst little struggling public servants like me risked life in the name of serving the country. I wished they were here in my place right now to face this.
The skipper was truly a master. He manoeuvred our craft through the giant waves in such a way that nothing fell on us. One guide was pointing to some islands and explaining, “This is Limus, Governor Ian Ling Stuckey's island”, “This is an island where only birds live, no human is allowed there”, “This is the direction to Mussau.” I listened and smiled occasionally but my ‘mong ting’ (Melpa for side eyes) was always on the lifejacket.
My Morobean later related to me that he had done the exact same thing. His side eyes were also always on the lifejacket. I told him that he was a small man and I was going to knock him out for the jacket.
He told me he knew this and was going for a timber used as a cross on both sides of the boat to knock me unconscious for the lifejacket. I saw it and got angry with the Morobean because it was made of kwila and it should have finished me off and not given me a fighting chance with a mere unconscious knock. So much for being friends!
After hours of sitting on the edge and contemplating murder, we finally arrived on a string of about five or six islands separated by passages. The village called Tsoilick on the last island was our destination.
The fear had made me oblivious to the sheer beauty of the place. It is truly paradise. The places and beaches I see on magazines of other places were not comparable to this. It's just natural and beckoning for visitors.
I saw white sandy beaches stretching for miles. I soon forgot the fear. I even told the Morobean he can keep the lifejacket on our return trip. I'd rather die here and let my spirit roam freely. Better than in the Highlands where trespassing is a big offence.
We stayed at the Administrator's guest house built right on the shore. You could just walk down the stairs onto the white sandy beach and into the sea which was chest high during low tide. How I wished never to return to Port Moresby, which I knew now was contaminated and so unnatural.
From Tsoilick to the main island of New Hanover was only 30 minutes or so, so I took the ride there at night just to set foot on New Hanover as if it was a Neil Armstrong-type visit to the moon. Set foot I did, maybe the first Yamka to do so. But not first highlander. I was told that two or three had married there and were permanent residents. "Ples blo ok nogat meri o", so I thought.
Looking back now, I'd say that if there was a bikini such as seen in photos in tourism magazines, sori tumas, Yamka man would never have returned to his place. I would have started a new Yamka tribe in New Hanover.
When I hear songs that refer to the sea as, ‘sol wara slip sore’, I am quick to exclaim that that is bullshit and very misleading. From the shore it will look calm and serene but it is not. The waves are like mountains popping up every second and the valley they leave is so deep it makes the boat and passengers look like ants. It is scary.
The Morobean and I worked together for about seven years and he is still a close friend of mine today. One time he took me to Pindiu, but that is another story.
Please, if you get the chance, visit Tsoilick Island next to the main island of New Hanover. There is a beautiful guest house there for almost next to nothing and, I tell you, you wouldn't want to ever return, but it will be much better if your baggage included a bikini.