By JOHANIS SAFERIUS
HAVE you ever wondered why Christmas is Christmas and why people worldwide celebrate the season with the presenting of presents to each other?
Here is a tale of a wonderful gift that any soul can give another, returning a loved one home to reunite with his family after two decades spent away from them.
As a teenager in the early 90s he travelled from a remote part of Western Province, in search of basic public services. He transited to Kiunga to live a good life. He was later engaged as a haus boi by a doctor who relocated, taking with this youth to Chimbu, then to Madang where he spent the rest of his life. Today he returns home after almost 30 years to meet his family and loved ones.
His name is Olale Watigi from Suabi in the Nomad LLG of Western Province. He is both deaf and unable to speak, hence we cannot establish his age and other information.
He began his journey to Kiunga as a young boy, by foot with the rest of those who were travelling at that time.
From stories I collected he was with his uncle. It wasn’t easy living in town but fortunately he was taken in by a doctor from Chimbu at Kiunga Hospital as a haus boi. When the doctor left Kiunga, he took Olale with him to Chimbu and later to Madang.
He spent his entire life at the doctor wife’s home at Mis village in the North Ambenob LLG of Madang district. He was able to blend in well with the communities and lived his daily life like a man from Madang. He planted betel nuts and made gardens for himself and supported the family he lived with. He also did other work as required to sustain himself over the years.
In 2009, I did my first year at Divine Word University, Madang and I was told about him. Coincidently, my wife Wareh (not married that time) is also from Mis village and during my visits I met him. When he was first told about where I am from, he was very excited and blessed me with bundles of betel nuts and yams from his garden. That’s when I started building my relationship with him, and today he is like a brother to me and an uncle to my children.
I completed my studies in 2012 and later got accepted by Ok Tedi Mining Limited, under its graduate development programmed, based in Tabubil. At my graduation in 2013 I promised him I would find his family and fly him back home. Reason being, my family and I wanted to hand him over to his immediately family and not to leave him in Kiunga town because of his disabilities.
Since I had the privilege with OTML I was able to fly to Madang to visit my family and also attend to his basic needs. By then he had already moved in to stay with my family. In 2014 I moved my family to Kiunga and also made transfer arrangements for my wife to work at the Bank South Pacific Kiunga branch.
Olale was very sad but I assured him I wouldstill return him home.
I joined Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF) in 2016 and permanently reside in Kiunga with my family. We searched for his immediate family when we could due to our work commitments but didn’t succeed until July 2019. On a Monday, during her day-off, my wife went to the market to get us something. There was a group of men under the stall just outside the market and she suspected they were from Mogulu.
Just as well there was a young man so she asked where she could find Mogulu people and he pointed straight at the group. She went over to the group asking them and they confirmed. She later told them about Olale but didn’t mentioned his name. They said they knew of someone with a similar condition who was lost but my wife wanted to confirm if it was Olale. So she pressed them to call the person’s name.
One man distanced himself from the group, and as she was asking he shouted Olale’s name and started crying. Everyone including my wife started crying because in her heart she knew that it was the good Lord who made it possible for her to find the right people.
That man happened to be his cousin brother who was about four years old when Olale left for Kiunga. He barely remembered his face or knew about him but was told by his parents.
Also in the group was the uncle whom Olale had walked with. We invited the brother and the uncle to the house and we collected as much information as we could and told them we would be bringing their lost brother back. All these time the whole family assumed that Olale died already.
At the end of September 2019, my family and I went for holidays in Madang. We had already communicated with families telling them of our intention to bring Olale back on our return so everyone was basically prepared. We had a big kaikai with his family the night before our departure and started our return journey.
We travelled to Lae by road on Oct, stayed overnight in Lae and flew to Port Moresby the following day. On Oct 7 Olale, my brother in law and I headed home while my wife and kids stayed another day in Port Moresby.
Crying at the sight of home
We were on the usual Air Niugini route and about 30 minutes away from Kiunga, Olale spotted few houses below us and the red soil. Knowing well he was already home he started crying. We felt for him as he had thought he would never see his home again and in fact he shed tears throughout our journey.
My family later joined us the next day in Kiunga. Olale was with us as part of our family and we allowed him sometimes to visit his family. His family also visited him from time to time. Our intention was to ensure he connected again with his people and adapted to the new environment as there had been a lot of changes since he left. Then on we could send him to his village.
The time has arrived for us to say goodbye to him as we thought it was appropriate during this period to reunite with his immediate family. We bought all his necessities to start another new life in his home village.
It would be a new chapter in life and we are quite worried about how he will adopt to the way of life and how his family will accept him back. This is because he has disabilities and it takes patience and love to understand what he is communicating.
We used different methods to communicate with him just so we understand each other and that includes writing on sheets of paper, talking directly facing him so he can read lips, using pictures, maps, etc. One cannot understand such a person unless you put an extra effort.
Any way that is where we are now waiting to send him to Suabi village on MAF flight. He is accompanied by his cousin brother (Tonny) and another relative (George).
We wish him God’s’blessing in his life and hope to visit him some day. Our only regret is not accompanying him on this flight to his village.
It is doing little things like this in a person’s life that matters.
• Johanis Saferius is the trust administrator at Ok Tedi Development Foundation.