Bananas and black marketers

Normal, Weekender

COLIN TAIMBARI recounts a Christmas camp at Brown River outside Port Moresby

BOTH banks of the river are lined with rows of banana trees whose fruits once matured will  make their way to the fresh produce markets of Port Moresby to supply the ever growing demand for food in the city.
As coffee is the green gold for the people of the highlands region, bananas are fast becoming the green gold for the people that live along the flood plains that mark the banks of the Brown River, a few kilometers out of Port Moresby along the Hiritano Highway.
In fact, bananas are becoming the only major cash crop earner for these people and on a good day a 50 kilogram bag filled with the popular two-minute banana can fetch up to K80 at Gordons’ Market.
Many of the people that live along the Brown River are either settlers from Goilala in Central province or from the western most end of Gulf province. The land they occupy belongs to the local Koiari people who have allowed them to settle on their land.
I was fortunate to spend Christmas with my friend Apes from Gulf and his young family at their little hamlet which is a few kilometers down river from the logging settlement of Edewu. Accompanied by my two best friends Jordan (13years) and Chrysentia (11years) and their mate George Shem Toto (7years), we set up camp along a charming sandy spot on a natural split on the river created by recent flooding.
With water flowing on either side, you couldn’t help but notice the vast expanse of banana patches destroyed and exposed to the elements by the floods.
“Bro, we should be feasting on bananas for the next four days but unfortunately the floods have destroyed most of the matured bananas,” Apes says with a slightly worried tone as he walked up behind me while I was surveying our new surrounds for the next few days.
I told him not to worry as the most important thing was for the kids to enjoy themselves especially in the water. Otherwise, we had brought enough rations to supply a platoon of hungry soldiers for a week.
And the location, well, you could not have asked for a perfect spot all to yourself away from the rest of the world. It’s a perfect weekend getaway for families or small groups of friends needing to be at peace with nature or looking for an isolated spot for a private party. And it’s only 45 minutes drive from Port Moresby city.
Apes who I met and befriended on the Kokoda Track where he was the track master leading Tourism Minister Charles Abel’s Kokoda Walk last August has plans to slowly open up his perfect city getaway by the riverside to the public. And he jokingly says when people do come, they will get tired of eating bananas.
During the day, we just ate and jumped in and out of the water or went fishing. The river is teeming with catfish, karuwa and talapia.
We also built a raft from logs which the children used to float up and down the river or we jumped into one of the single hull canoes with a long stick that you dug to the bottom of the river to guide you up or down river. 
At nights, we lay on our sleeping bags inside the mosquito nets gazing through the gaps of the palm leaves into the clear night sky and counted the stars as we drifted off to sleep listening to the sound of the river. It was magic.
On Christmas Eve, we went to Apes house in the small village which has a population of around 60 where we cooked up a special meal for his family and my children. In the evening as we settled for dinner, the sweet voices of the village children singing could be heard for miles as they sang in the little makeshift church.
At nights long after the children had gone off to sleep in their tents set on the neatly cut lawn, Apes, his wife and her sister and her brother in-law from next door would come over for a chat, and our discussions would eventually revert back to the bananas and its importance as a cash earner for this little community.
I also noticed that one other important aspect of this little community is a resident from Western Highlands who they all affectionately call Hagen. Hagen owns a trusty old single cab Toyota Hilux which he uses to transport their bananas and other veggies to the town markets everyday without fail.
However, most of our discussions would revert back to ‘black marketers’ who ambush them at Gordons’ Market. The black marketers are mainly women from the settlements around Port Moresby who converge at Gordons’ Market every morning armed with assorted colored making pens and aggressively surround a rural motor vehicle as it comes into the market with its load of produce.
The black marketers would surround the vehicle and start tagging every bag of vegetable without the slightest respect for the fresh produce owner. The black marketers also have permanent spots at all the public markets around Port Moresby so when rural farmers want to sell their own produce, they are openly harassed and intimidated into submission by the black marketers backed by their cohorts.
This is a major problem which the National Capital District Commission needs to address immediately.
The meaning of public markets is totally lost here because rural farmers do not have the freedom nor can they find a decent spot to sell their produce.
On Boxing Day, our Brown River escapade had come to an end so we bade farewell to our newly made friends and family with promises to return sometime soon and made our way back on Hagen’s vehicle to the city.
As we approached Gordons’ Market to drop off just one bag of freshly harvested corn, we had our first hand encounter with the black marketers who literally go through every item in the back of Hagen’s truck including our personal items while the vehicle is still moving.
They are completely ignorant of our presence and our attempts to stop them from touching our personal items. In fact, I was worried they were going to write all over me with their making pens. That said, we were not going to allow them to spoil our perfect Christmas getaway as we continued our journey homewards.