Transit house for distant relatives

Gideon Aquila (far left) witnessing the opening of the transit house at Zifasing village.

WITH a bilum hanging down behind her head, she walked restlessly up the dirt road to reach her home located somewhere in the hinterland of Sintagora, Wain-Erap of Nawaeb district, Morobe.
The woman, in her late 50s, looked so tired from her appearance but thoughtful with something keep nagging her mind.
After every three to four strides up the mountain stretch, she stood for a moment, took a breath then continued.
On her way up, she continuously cast her eyes westwards staring at the glittering rays of hope setting down far west over the mountains bordering Lower Watut in Huon Gulf and Onga-Waffa in Markham from Marawaka, Menyamya.
The sundown painted the greenery savannah plateau of Sintagora into bravura scene that unfolded her mind to recall the value of her good old teenage moments that became a memory on this Friday evening.
As she walked passed, I greeted her, “mama, gutpla avinun long yu”.
I was on the last leg of my trekking interior Finongan for last five days via Sintagora to get to Ngaromangki to Erap junction along main Markham highway.
She stared boringly without saying a word, instead nodded and continued her endless walk of four decades up the mountain tops covered in white fog.
The fog left hanging at the neck bottom of the mountains resembles the lasting struggles and pains endured in these part of the world living the inhabitants in cold over the years.
With tripod on hand and camera hanging down my chest, I turned around to shoot a photograph of this mama with bilum hanging down behind her head clasped by both hands.
My eyes then searched through the bilum and noted only two dry coconuts, two packets of noodles, a 1kg packet of salt and a 500ml cooking oil with a six pack Klina soap.
However, my instinct reminded me ‘not’ to shoot the photograph as I turned back and continue down the slippery pathway with questions flooding my mind.
Only to buy two dry coconuts, two packets of noodles, a packet of salt, a jar of cooking oil and cakes of soap, this mother spent about three to five days away from her children to get to the 40 Mile market, and besides, only by walking barefoot, I thought to thyself.
My mind noted obviously that the tale of this woman depicts the pain silent majority of her kin elsewhere in far-flung areas in country endured over time.
They walk a day or two, even a week only to reach the nearest markets to sell fresh produce to earn enough to meet household needs.
Lucky are the people along the main highways and feeder roads frequented by PMV trucks to have easy access to PMV trucks to markets and urban centres for basic services.
Instead, for Sintagora, PMV trucks rarely travelled there except for coffee and brus buyers. Private vehicle owners also go there occasionally but for their own business.
Thus this woman, like all other inhabitants from Sintagora hinterland had to walk to and back from either Dangke Market at 41 Mile or 40 Mile market respectively.
Sometimes they go to Han Paus market at Nadzab or even Lae, if they make it on time to catch PMV trucks at Wawin National High School gate or the Wain-Erap junction.
Similarly, farther hinterlands of Erap villages especially Finongan, Lovai I and II, Damet and Kokosan trek the bush paths to Mama-Bogeba down to Sefo-Siara and to Rumion Farm then to Nowa along the Markham highway to catch PMVs to Lae.

Gideon Aquila’s eldest son Romeo Momo planting a coconut in memory of the initiative to set up transit house for hinterland Erap inhabitants.

Others divert at Sefo-Siara and cross over the raging Rumu River over to Fayang and Muttu then to Wawin.
These are all harsh journeys along the wilderness forests of Atzera Range over to Markham plains before reaching the main Markham highway to catch PMVs to the nearest markets mainly at Mutzing, Leron Bridge, 41 Mile, 40 Mile and Nadzab.
Soon I reached Erap junction along the Markham highway arriving 11pm, the nagging thoughts from my mind and soon a sting pierced my ankles, due to the unaccounted hours I had walked from Sintagora to the main highway.
Daily human struggles to and from nearby urban centres in search for goods and services has become a norm to rural people rather than an issue after four decades of negligence by respective government agencies.
Appropriated funding for the silent majority was somehow diverted elsewhere to feed few greedy mouths that collude with district officers on con project documents.
It has left many communities and their ward councilors, peace officers, village court magistrates, evangelists and pastors in far-flung areas in dire straits.
The Government’s promise of K10,000 per ward to develop w projects is not forthcoming leaving councilors and ward development committees in the dark.
Even village court officials conduct mediation under the trees due to lack of funding to build apt shelter to conduct government business.
Besides, it is anyone’s guess when rural womenfolk would finally arrive in main markets to sell their produce in safety.
Where do they sleep and sell their produce, where do they eat, how much they earn, how much they spend for basic household needs, and save how much to bring back home including fares for PMV or dug-out canoe?
One Gideon Aquila from Zifasing village silently observed the sad plight of hinterland Erap inhabitants over the years and decided to build a kunai thatched shelter as a transit house for these people.
The shelter is purposely to accommodate mountain folks that come to 40 and 41 Mile markets to find relief from rain, cold and tiredness for as long as they can until they finish selling their produce and retire back home.
Aquila also aims to initiate financial literacy skills training and basic adult literacy training for these hinterland people that come to use the shelter at night.
“They can go conduct whatever daily businesses during daytime and when they return in the evening, after dinner, we can run short trainings in budgeting and managing their cash, how to read and write.
“At least give them something positive in return to feed their mind that can ensure them to manage and sustain their hard-earn cash from selling fresh foods.
“I believe some of them can grow from such knowledge and skills imparted to them and someday will stand out to make a difference in future to minimise such dilemmas we’re discussing today,” Aquila said.
Aquila is known locally as ‘papa blong gaden’ who farms cocoa, coconut, vanilla, taro and bananas in Zifasing village to help his Apo wife pay school fees for their children.
His eldest son recently completed an accounting degree at IBS University in Port Moresby.
Aquila poured out his heart to help provide a shelter for the mountain people for he respects them for their humbleness and respectful traits.

  • Pisai Gumar is a freelance journalist.