By WILSON PUNIM
When Joe missed out on a place in a higher or tertiary institution after Grade 12, he decided to head home to his village away from the big city where he was born and raised.
He told his father that there was no point in him remaining in the city and being a burden.
Joe was the third of six children born to a father who was a public servant and a mother who was a house wife. They were from Ramu in Madang. At first Joe’s father had insisted that he reconsider and at least find a place in the city where he could learn a trade like his three brothers before him.
But Joe was so determined that his father could not possibly dissuade him. He told his father that where he was going, he needed no trade. All he required was his hands and the very basics of labouring the land.
The family had travelled to their home village on several occasions on their father’s paid recreation leaves and Joe therefore knew his family’s land and all of his relatives in the village.
His grandfather had shown him all the land that was the family’s in one of those trips. When Joe asked why the land was still untouched, the old man had replied that his five sons had all left to work in urban areas and he had no one to work the land except for the area he was able to cultivate with his gardens, buai trees and a few cocoa trees.
During those holidays Joe’s father had cultivated a small plot where he had planted some buai and cocoa trees. Joe intended to increase the number of trees and plant his own area. In fact he planned to plant one million buai trees and one million cocoa trees.
In one of his business studies class, his favourite teacher, a Highlander from Henganofi in Eastern Highlands had told the class in passing that every cash crop tree was equivalent to a certain amount of guaranteed cash per season, therefore a cash crop tree was an asset.
While many in class had missed that, this little nugget of wisdom had not passed Joe by. It had made him think of his father’s show-off little plot and the vast land his family had and had put everything together in his mind, mapping out his future.
He figured that if he could plant a million cocoa trees and a million buai trees and assuming that every tree produced a kina’s worth of fruit every season, he would already be an asset millionaire before his class mates could finish university or college and even earn their first salary.
So instead of sticking around in the city or heading to the big lights like many others in the rural areas prefer to do, he decided to do the opposite and head to the bush, to his village.
Due to his determination his father bought him a one way ticket to Madang and Joe flew home with K20 cash in his pocket. He refused to take more than that saying, where he was going he did not need lots of money.
That was when he made his first vow, to return to the city of his birth only when he had added five more zeros to the lonely zero on the amount in his pocket.
His grandfather had been told of Joe’s decision to return home and came to Madang to pick him up. He had taken the gruesome journey from his village by dugout down the Ramu River for several hours, then at a place called Base Camp got on a PMV for another three or so hours of a bumpy ride into Madang.
The old man was secretly overjoyed because this was answer to his prayers in wanting either one of his five sons or their sons to return to village and take over the land before his passing. The instant he saw Joe at the airport, his heart melted for he knew that God had been kind to him and had given him an heir to take over the land after him as he did his father before him.
The boy became his favourite. That very moment he forgot all his sons and purposed in his heart to teach him everything he knew about anything and everything. He purposed to give Joe all the best blessings he is allowed to give under Heaven by God.
The old man had sold seven bags of buai to buyers from the highlands in his village to make the trip. Unlike before, Highlanders had now started to hired motorised boats or dugouts and travelled up river to the villages to buy buai, especially when the season or production in Markham was down.
After they picked up their supplies with some of the money, they made the long and arduous return trip to their village, first by PMV and then by motorised dugout up river.
They had arrived at night and rested but the very next morning Joe asked his grandfather to show him every inch of the family’s land. Upon treading his family’s boundaries, young Joe made his second vow, vowing only to live off his own labour and not to take anything that did not come from his own sweat.
Joe was 18-years-old when he took off from Jackson Airport on an Air Niugini flight bound for Madang. At the tender age of 30, he returned to the city of his birth to take his parents home after his father’s retirement. He would not have come if he had not fulfilled his first vow. When the teller called out, Next please! Joe walked to the counter and presented his withdrawal slip. The teller punched in the details into the computer and looked up to confirm that the face on the screen was the same one standing before him.
He excused Joe, went into an office at the back and returned saying, “Sir, the branch manager would like to have a word with you about your account. Could you come in through the side door please?” Joe followed without a word escorted by one of the bank’s security guards.
The other customers stopped and looked, many of them thinking that some fraud had been committed as Joe looked to them as an ordinary villager. As they entered the office, the manager stood up, introduced himself, shook Joe’s hand and beckoned him to take the seat opposite himself.
“Sir, I have been looking forward to meeting you for quite some time now,” said the manager. Joe quickly asked if there were any problems with his account. The manager said, “No sir, you don’t have a problem with your account. It’s just that you have a lot of cash sitting in your savings account and I was wondering if you would be interested in some of the bank’s other products where your money can make you money.”
The manager explained the bank’s other products and told Joe that he could open other accounts for his convenience rather than just one savings account if he wanted to.
Joe’s response to the manager was, “Firstly, I am sure that the money in this one account won’t rot and disappear so let it stay there. Secondly, and most importantly, I have taken two vows in my life, one of which is not to take anything that I have not laboured for. I only want what comes to me through my own labour.
“So help others who want to make free money. I don’t need it and can’t break my vow. Investment is for others. I prefer it the labour way. It has worked for me before and I am sure it will continue to do so.”
The manager saw that his attempts to convince Joe would be futile and out of curiosity he asked what his other vow was.
Joe explained that he left Port Moresby at the age of 18 with K20 in his pocket. His vow was to return to the city of his birth only after he had added five more zeros to the lonely zero on the K20 in his pocket. He told the manager that he fulfilled that two years ago and went to bring his parents home after his father’s retirement from the public services.
If you travel up the Ramu River today, the only person there who owns a buai plantation is Joe. Everyone else has a garden or plot. Joe’s timing was impeccable because as soon as his buai trees matured and started producing their first fruits, a disease had wiped out the buai trees of the biggest suppliers to the highlands market, the Markhams of Morobe.
It was a blessing for him. Now he does not have to travel down river to sell his produce. Buyers from the highlands just come to his doorstep with the money.
Joe’s cocoa trees were hit by the cocoa borer disease and he was forced to set up nurseries of a disease-resistant variety and has already started transplanting.
His aim is to plant a million trees just like he did with buai trees.
People are attracted to the glamour, lights and easy way out, when the unattractive, gloom and bleak is undesirable. What is unattractive at first holds more promise later than what is attractive.
This is the story of Joe, a Madang man who dared to choose the gloom and bleak.
- Wilson Punim is a freelance writer.