Mourning a friend on Good Friday
Turns out it’s a foolish prank on April Fools Day…
Manus man, Michael Yahu has served the Government through the Department of Enga. Michael and many others like him are still awaiting their final entitlements from the State. Covid-19 has claimed the lives of some already.
By DANIEL KUMBON
I DID not think for a while that Good Friday was April Fools Day and joined my family to cry when I received news that a long-time friend and retired public servant had died on Manus Island.
Whoever fabricated the story was senseless to circulate such a joke on social media announcing the death of a senior citizen. He lacked understanding of human relations and etiquette.
He did not think for a moment what Covid-19 is doing to PNG. People are dying and living through traumatic times, crying every day for people who easily succumbed to the onslaught of the virus which is sweeping throughout the country like wildfire.
The person seems not to be concerned when very senior public servants and community leaders around Wabag town have died within the last few weeks at an alarming rate. Others are reportedly fighting for their lives.
When the sad news came that Michael Yahu died on Friday, I immediately cried. His family have been our next-door neighbours for many years. How could I stop my tears when Covid-19 is killing my former classmates, neighbours, friends and workmates?
Yahu is about 75 years of age, an age group that is susceptible to Covid-19 attacks. He worked as the provincial personnel officer with the division of human resource development. He was directed to retire at age 69 in 2015.
Senior public servants who’ve died included Yahu’s own boss Lucas Sikin who was Director Human Resource Development, former Deputy Administrator, Albert Macsaene, former district administrator, Jeffery Dia, Education Officer, Danny Titakai, Director Assembly Services, Aino Neakson, Demmy Yakapo Kandelyo who was a senior audit officer and others.
The official figure for Covid-19 victims in Enga stood at just over 50 but hundreds of people were believed to have died in the villages. The onslaught of the virus has forced hospitals and schools to shut down. Wabag General Hospital reportedly ran out of testing equipment for the virus.
As soon as the prank was published on social media, my family rang me in Port Moresby to say how they were crying around Yahu’s house across the street.
They said he died on Good Friday last week on Manus.
I immediately dialed Michael’s phone number many times but when it went dead, I was certain, he had died. I had hoped Susan his wife, James his small son or some of his relatives, I had met on a recent trip to Manus would pick the phone up to confirm the sad news.
Although I didn’t mention it, I personally felt that he had died, not from Covid-19 but from a heart attack. Because early this year, when I was visiting Manus, he complained that he was still waiting to get his ‘pinis pe’ and other public service entitlements.
He showed me the location where he has been planning for five years to build his retirement home. The timber had already been prepared but were rotting away.
He said he had brought his thick personnel file with his claims to Manus so he could travel down to Port Moresby himself to lodge his claims when government finances improved.
How heart-breaking it felt to hear that Yahu had died without receiving his entitlements. It seemed he had wasted 50 years of government service for nothing.
A devoted Catholic, it seemed fitting that Yahu should die on a holy day to meet his Creator on the day Jesus himself had died on Calvary to save the world from sin.
He had complained that it was due to deep-rooted corruption permeated by successive corrupt governments that he and other retired public servants did not receive their entitlements on time. They were unnecessarily forced to wait many years, many dying without knowing if their next of kin would receive the inheritance.
No respect and appreciation?
Did the Government respect, appreciate or did it care about the welfare of retired public servants as they waited far too long to get their hard-earned savings?
Yahu was my next-door neighbour at Premier Hill in Wabag town. I had even seen him work at the Kandep district office when I went to school at the government-run primary school on the station in the 1960s.
He was tired of waiting so last year, he had asked Provincial Administrator Dr Samson Amean to provide his family with tickets so he could take them to Manus, planning to return to Wabag later.
It seemed Ted Taru, a friend of mine and I were fortunate to have met him, his wife Susan and son James in their village which is somewhere inland along the 32-kilometer Manus Highway.
Yahu smiled when I told him that I had featured him in my latest book ‘Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter’ because he was among a handful of senior public servants from outside Enga province who had come to serve the people as young men and still live there today.
He had come to the Highlands region as a 16-year-old youth. He had flown over vast expanses of water and rugged mountain terrain to land in Kundiawa, among a strange people and in a cold place in 1972 with his uncle.
To cut a long story short, Enga province is where he found permanent employment with the colonial administration. He settled there to live among people whom he described as generous, friendly and innovative.
After he retired in 2015, he could not go back to Manus because the Government, he had faithfully served for nearly 50 years had no money to pay him his rightful retirement benefits.
What did I do?
“I don’t know what mistake I made and they are doing this to me,” is how Yahu had expressed his frustrations after waiting many long years.
Within the next couple of hours of receiving the sad news about Yahu, I received another equally sad text message that my cousin brother, Tolao Pupukai had died in our village at Kondo in Kandep district.
My family told me they were making arrangements to travel home for the funeral. I told them to take precautions and wear masks all the time during the funeral service.
When my family left for home, I got another phone call from a new phone number I couldn’t recognise. I hesitated to pick it up but answered it anyway. It was Yahu, ringing me from Manus.
Husat tok mi dai?
“Daniel, husat tok mi dai? Mi no hamamas long lukim stori olsem mi dai long Facebook’ (Daniel, who said that I died. I am not happy to read about my passing on Facebook.)
I told him the name who had reportedly made the announcement after he had received a text message from somebody else on Good Friday that Michael had died.
“Ring him and find out, I am here in Port Moresby,” I said
“Ok, I will do that. But I will come there to Pom in three weeks’ time to check if we retirees will be paid our dues. I hope they pay you this time,” I said.
And then both of us burst out laughing which lasted for a full minute. We will laugh some more when we meet again here in the city.
But we surely are not happy with the person who published the foolish prank on Good Friday as if it was a fun thing to do on April Fools Day.
- Daniel Kumbon is a freelance writer.