Dear friend lost in unexpected death

Henry at home in 9-Mile settlement in NCD.

ON the afternoon of Friday, July 30, 2021 at around 5pm, I shut down my computer at my work station for a day. I made sure not to leave anything behind while in a hurry to attend to a family gathering at Hohola 4 for a UPNG student who just graduated.
The weather was unusually dull unlike other evenings in that time of the year. A bit of drizzle stopped me from walking to the bus stop so I waited for a driver to drop me off at Hohola.
Whilst waiting, I decided to give an evening buzz to my brother-like friend as we usually do every day. I rang him and told him that I was invited for a family gathering so we can meet on the coming Sunday.
During our conversation, I asked him about a maintenance contract given to his company by the Education Department to renovate a house at the PNG Education Institute (PNGEI) at Waigani. He said we would have done the work in the past last week had it not been for the ‘haus krai’ in the vicinity of the PNGEI which he was heavily involved with using his vehicle. The final feast to end the haus karai was to be held the next day, he said. He told me also that “we will be okay next week,” which meant that he would be picking a cheque from Education Department for the maintenance of another staff house there.
That positive word from him made me happy and I thought to myself to meet him on Sunday and hear more.
Next day, Saturday July 31, 2021, I woke up bit late, which also wasn’t my normal routine. There was no water as always in Morata where this has been a chronic problem year in year out so I just pick up my handset and scrolled through for any messages or missed calls. As I scrolled through my phone, I saw few ‘call me’ requests from Selly Thomas Aipa, one of my cousins and family friend at Boreboa Primary School at North Waigani.
I called and she said, “cousin, morning, are you alright?” Then, she paused for a while and asked me again; ‘Have you heard any news today? I asked her what news she was referring to and she broke the sad news to me.
“Your brother Henry Karepa died last night in his sleep at the 9-Mile settlement and his brothers brought his body to Morata Two and there he is now.”
I could not believe what I was hearing because up until Henry’s unexpected death, we had been calling meeting each other almost every single day. Even a few hours before that fateful night we had a lengthy and intense conversation about few things we were planning to do the next week and onwards.

The author (left) and his late friend Henry Karepa in 1994.

With teary eyes and in a low voice, I told my wife that Henry had passed away last night. Even she could not believe what she was hearing and she too was lost for words at the terrible news of our long-time family friend.
Without wasting any more time, we were in a hurry to walk to the area where his body said to be held overnight. We were rushing to see his face before they transport his body to Port Moresby General Hospital mortuary.
We met a small convoy of vehicles on the way to the mortuary and his body was in a lead vehicle. Those in a convoy saw me and my wife wailing in grief for one of our best friends for many years so they stopped momentarily for us to have a first glimpse of our friend’s motionless body which was placed on a thin dirty mattress. We tailgate the convey on a taxi for Port Moresby General Hospital.
And when I saw his motionless body on a trolley before being placed in container I was crying and standing at his side hitting the brick wall with my hands and cried wildly.
By doing that I was bit satisfied when dropping some painful tears for the last time for a closest friend not to forget him but that moment was to become a lasting memory of my best buddy.
Henry was a very talented, energetic and healthy brother. Our lifelong friendship started in early 1990 and remained up till his passing.
Our 30-year friendship was rooted on genuine love and there was never a time any one of us had upset each other. He was a cool dude full of natural talents and a quick mind to learn other skills without going through any formal trainings as others did, except in carpentry.
Thus, he was a fast learner, a self-motivated person and a definite asset to any company if he had decided to seek an employment.
His craftsmanship and skills have taken him far and wide; he even had one-year stint in Atlanta in the United State of America in 1989 with his mentor missionary friend John Brownman.

Henry Karepa and his wife Nancy in happier times this year at 9-Mile inPort Moresby.

Henry was the second born in a family of three. Unfortunately, his father passed away when he was just two years old. All his upbringing was by his dear mother who was everything to his entire life until she too passed on in 2015. He went to school in 1970 and completed Grade 6 in 1975 with the help of the Evangelical Bible Mission operating in Southern Highlands.
From 1976 to1978 he attended Tambul Baibel Skul in Western Highlands and graduated with a Certificate in Pastoral Studies and from 1979 to1981 he was enrolled at Kepy Vocational School to do carpentry training, run by Evangelical Bible Mission at Puluparu on the boarders of Kagua and Pangia districts of Southern Highlands Province. That was where he realised his hidden talent.
After graduating from Kepy Vocational School in 1981, he was appointed by PNG Bible Church to oversee carpentry works nationwide for the church.
For me to lose a very energetic and healthy person is an experience I will not accept easily for a long while. He left me without bidding farewells or saying even last parting words to comfort me as his closest friends and that really was heartbreaking. I’m also wondering and still have unanswered questions why many friends and family members whom I had loved dearly and known so well have died just like that leaving me with shattered dreams.
So many people have died in some sorts of plague this year in my district and community. For instance, two months ago two of my family members died and were buried at the same time and two weeks later three people died in our neighbouring village at the same time. In that same week my cousin Selly, who broke a news of my Henry’s passing also lost her own husband Thomas Aipa.
Whilst she was mourning over her husband her biological mother too died after two weeks and also a former public servant Mathew Tiripi passed away on the same day. Two days later another elderly father from my own village died too.
All these people appeared very healthy and had no signs and symptoms of diseases, even the deadly Covid-19.
This year alone Pangia people have had unusually many deaths unlike in the recent past. I even asked old folks about such unprecedented deaths in their era and they said the only times people had died in large numbers were during tribal wars but they have not seen this many deaths from some unknown causes. It is a new thing that they find hard to accept.