City walk brings back memories

Weekender

By THOMAS HUKAHU
HAVE you revisited a town, city or countryside, after a few years of being away from it, and had the chance to look at it at a certain spot with a state of mind which evoked special memories about that place?
And, I mean memories that may go back a number of decades to when you first set your foot in the place and what it was like then – as well as your impression of the people, the place, and the general atmosphere?
Well, that was exactly what happened to me in January when I dropped into our capital city Port Moresby for a short visit.
A walk on a cool morning in that city brought back a lot of memories – which stretch as far back as into 1976.
I will get to that in a moment.
Let me first start with the walk itself.

Dropping in after two years
I visited Port Moresby in January, after being away for two years.
Among other reasons, I went there to check for a good pair of sneakers (or trainers) for my walks back in Kavieng, in New Ireland.
You see, for a person who wears size 11 shoes, you cannot find such shoes easily in shops in the smaller towns in the country and, at times, this could be the same in Port Moresby too. People who wear smaller-sized shoes do not have problems though.
I was also eager to see if the city had indeed experienced a facelift prior to and after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that was hosted by our nation last year.
One thing I noticed was this: The physical face of Port Moresby is changing.
The main roads are looking better and clearly marked and buildings are popping up in places where once there were open spaces, as at Koki as well as at 8-Mile and Sky View where residential blocks are being built.
The cab drivers who transported me from one place to another gave me a lot of information too, as well as their views about how the city and Papua New Guinea (PNG) was changing.

Arriving and moving around
As I travelled down to Downtown Port Moresby on Jan 4, I noticed that the beachfront of Ela Beach had a completely new look. Travelling from Koki towards downtown, one cannot miss the elegance of the uniquely-designed Apec Haus towards Paga Hill way.
The landmark casuarina (yar) trees along Ela Beach are all gone though, replaced by nicely-paved walkways and venues for outdoor ceremonies.
That is a great plus – however, I will miss those yar trees – which have been a part of Ela Beach since time immemorial.
Moving around different parts of the city in the few days there made me realise that this was the city that I first set foot on back in 1973 or 1974 when my parents brought my siblings and me down from up north – from Wewak, in East Sepik, where I was born.
And Port Moresby apart from Wewak has been a home to me since the 1970s and 80s, at different times of my life, as a student and working professional.
This was the place where I did some years of my primary and secondary learning as well as learning at the government-run university campus here.
This was the place I lived in and worked as a teacher, tutor and later working in print journalism.
My privilege of travelling to other parts of the Pacific in past years had caused me to believe that Port Moresby had changed a lot in the past 45 years since I first saw it – and yet more needs to be done.

Walking to Boroko
On Jan 8, I decided to take a morning walk from Korobosea, where I had my luggage in my uncle’s house, to Tabari Place, at Boroko.
The cool morning after showers in the night and a new pair of sneakers made the 9am walk enjoyable.
Actually, that was my second morning walk, along the same route – briskly passing by the Port Moresby General Hospital and then crossing over to the Paradise Hospital side and then taking Minihi Avenue to cross over the small grassy area and over Lahara Avenue and passing by the Lahara fuel station and taking the sidewalk along the Hubert Murray Highway towards Tabari Place.
Interestingly, on Jan 8, as I was passing the building adjacent to the fuel station, I saw a well-built man in shorts walking to the tall tree beside it, turn his back to the sidewalk, unzip and relieve himself in full view of people walking by as well as commuters in vehicles travelling up the highway from 4-Mile.
On Jan 7, during my walk past the same place, I saw a skinny young Papuan man doing the same thing as the man did the day after. It seems that tree has become an unofficial outdoor urinal for male pedestrians.
My walk to Tabari on Jan 8 was actually to meet with a noni juice seller. I was pursuing some details on something I was interested in – and possibly a news story too.
The outdoor selling of wares by vendors at Tabari was slowly picking up on that mild morning as I went to pick up my copies of the day’s newspapers from the seller seated at the entrance of the Ori Lavi House.
Afterwards I walked back across the road into Tabari Place. However, there was no place to sit so I stood against one of the iron poles stuck in the ground for women to tie their lines on and hang their home-made meri-blouses or bilum (string bag).
I noticed too earlier that the Tabari bus stop area was swept cleaned and sparkled that morning.
I was now looking up, a bit towards my right, where the Route-17 buses enter Tabari. The noni seller told me over the phone some minutes ago that he was travelling in from Gordon so I was watching commuters alighting from Route-17 buses and heading into the Boroko area.
Behind and around me, I noticed that some women were already seated with their wares of clothes and bilums and waiting for their clients while others, accompanied by their young school-aged daughters or nieces, were setting up their lines on the poles and sorting out their items.
Looking straight up towards the bus stop, I saw the phone vendors were already out.
Almost all of them were young men from the Highlands with phones or parts of phones and other accessories placed on mats or plastic sheets before them.
At least two of them were sitting in chairs with their phones placed on small tables and they each had a mobile foldable tent fixed over them. They looked clean and presentable as any working professional passing the bus stop was. It was going to be just another working day for them.
Then I noticed the men in orange vests moving about the Tabari bus stop area – they were the city rangers.
It seemed their presence had prevented the unruly pack, the betel nut (buai) sellers, from doing business in that area.
With the orange vest men moving about there, the whole Tabari Place looked appealing to me – and would have been to any visitor passing through this part of PNG’s capital city.
A question that immediately came to my mind was: Will the orange vest men remain in the area for the whole day and in so doing prevent the buai vendors from trading their nuts – and in the process messing up the cleanliness and hygiene of the place?
It was and is my hope that the orange vest men remain the whole day and for seven days of the week to prevent buai sellers from turning a nicely-swept bus stop into a pigsty within a few hours.
That thought brought my mind to places in the Pacific where their bus stops are clean and remain so for most of the day and all of the week – as in Nouméa, in New Caledonia.
Can we in Port Moresby do the same? (Read my article next week to learn about what I learned when I walked through Nouméa some years back.)
After meeting with the noni seller, I bought a packet of grapes from the Stop & Shop supermarket and walked up Tabari Place and entered a Chinese shop. One of the two young guards manning the door, possibly from Gulf, surprised me by greeting me in Hiri Motu: “Dabai (Morning)!”
(For a Mamose guy, standing at almost 6 feet and with island looks, Papuans, like the guard, usually mistake me for someone from Gulf or Kairuku in Central, and usually greet me in Motu on the streets of this city. That has happened many times. And – I do not disappoint them by responding accordingly using my knowledge of the lingua franca which was common in the schools and streets of Port Moresby in the 1970s and 80s, days when I was a student in primary and high school there in the capital city.)
The guard’s greeting put a smile on my face as I responded in our nation’s third official language: “Dabai. Umui namo? (Morning. How are you two?)”
It reminded me too of another young employee inside Tango department store who assisted me willingly when I was trying on some polo shirts the day before. (I tipped him afterwards for his help.)

Thoughts of the 1970s
The termination of my long walk that morning was going by Korobosea, along Gavamani Road, leading down to Kirakira Village and Sabama.
As I stood about 200m from where the road would descend to Kirakira, I looked back up towards the Manu bus stop area and realised that this was the spot I must have stood as a child back in 1976 or thereabouts when our family came down to the city from the Highlands for my father to complete a programme of studies at the Administrative College (now the PNG Institute of Public Administration) at Waigani. (We were then accommodated in Korobosea by a family.)
I was immobile for a good five minutes, resting against a pole on the side of the road and staring down the road and reminiscing of how Port Moresby looked appealing to me back in 1970s, and how it looked today. I was kindof looking down a time tunnel.
I had to force myself to come out of my thoughts even though the memories brought to me a satisfying sense of belonging and appreciation for being part of this city for that long – and that I believe was elicited because I was again a visitor to the city.
Walking brings back memories
As I hope you have learned in this article, walking can bring back good memories.
It can help you see a place with another view, a fresher and better view that can cause you to better appreciate a locality and its people, as well as considering what can be done to regain some of its former glory.
Some of our urban centres need to do just that.

  • Next week: Walking in Little Paris. Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.

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