Sunday 19th April
Well an eventful day when we decided to take a stroll along the road to Mirande - about an hour's walk. As usual along the way everyone greeted us, smiled and shook our hands and some spoke to us. A tree had fallen across the road in the night so some people were cutting it up and stacking the branches - no doubt for repairing or building their bush houses. Further along the road we met a few more people, one of whom was wearing a parrot on his head. At Mirande we spoke to more people, including a man named Moxy who was very friendly and pointed out a few places and gave information. We walked beyond Mirande and decided to turn around just past the police barracks. Three girls - Deidre, Sandra and 'Johnny' greeted us. They were about 10 years old and very chatty.
On the way back a couple of trucks stopped to ask if we would like a lift back to Kundiawa, including one of the local policemen, Jeffery and the provincial administrator, Joe. We declined their offers as we were enjoying the walk and needed the exercise!
No sooner had Joe disappeared from view when we heard someone running up from behind. We turned to look, thinking that they would pass by, but these two youths ran straight towards us, then demanded money. Before we could 'negotiate' hamas? (how much?), one grabbed Mike's binoculars from around his neck, then snatched his camera from his shirt pocket (which would usually be tucked safely into his rucksack). The 'rascal' (thief in PNG) tried to get his hand into Mike's pocket to get his wallet, but Mike then started running downhill, as Alison was already on her way down on the other side of the road. The rascal then chased Alison and grabbed her bilum and snatched it from her. We both started shouting for help, thinking some locals may be nearby. The youths ran off into the bush and were gone.
We were shaken as you'd expect, then along came a truck full of people. As soon as they heard the story we were on the truck and racing back to Mirande. There the people were all horrified, including Moxy and all the men were mobilised immediately to go into the bush to search out the culprits.
Another truckload of people came by going back in the direction of Kundiawa, so again we were taken at speed, with the driver stopping anyone and everyone on the road to go into the bush to help with the search. People just stopped whatever they were doing and went off in search - the man with the parrot, the people cutting up the tree etc.
The truck took us to the police station and everyone, including anyone who'd been near the police station, piled into the station! The chief sergeant took all our details with everyone looking on and baying for blood. We started walking home when a truckload (for trucks are always loaded full of people) of angry people shouted at us to get on the truck, for they had captured a suspect in possession of some of our stolen items. We opted to get into the police vehicle following behind the truck as the scene on the truck was ugly - guilty as soon as caught! The man had been beaten and at the police station they literally threw him out of the truck onto the ground below. Crowds had gathered by now (everyone races toward any scene of excitement in the town as if they were pupils gathering around a 'fight, fight, fight') calling for blood and shouting 'Kill him'. There was a huge surge as he entered the police station and as many people who could get in did and everyone else stood 4 deep at the windows watching.
In the police station people continued to beat, kick and cut the man. People in the crowd asked if Alison wanted to punch him. She declined. Alison didn't know what was worse- the robbery or the ugly scene at the police station. We told the chief sergeant, that this was not one of the men who robbed us, but as far as he was concerned he must have been guilty because he had our cameras, binoculars and credit cards - all of which were returned to us.
Outside the police station amongst the throng of people waiting, there were the 3 girls who had run all the way from their village because they were concerned to know that we were ok.
We eventually arrived back at our house - and the neighbours all said how sorry they were for what had happened. How did they know already?? The whole of Kundiawa and beyond knew before we did!
A couple of hours later the 3 girls turned up at our house with Alison's bilum containing her spectacles and her hat which they had found in the bush near to where the culprit had been caught. Now all that's missing is her 'phone and money purse. As a thank you we invited the girls to have a sandwich, a piece of cake and a coke with us. They loved it and poured over our family photos and stayed for ages. Eventually we said it was time to go and they then told us they loved us and wanted to stay here with us!
Sandra was the only female in her family and prepared food and did the washing for her father and four brothers. Deidre was brought up with grandparents who were elderly and never saw her parents and didn't know why not and Johnny's life was very complicated - so much so that we had little idea of whom she lived with - after listening for a long while.
Thankfully we were both unhurt, although the incident made us feel a bit low and more anxious for our personal safety - but hey, it could happen anywhere in the world - and would we ever have seen our cameras, binoculars, credit cards, spectacles etc. again? We doubt it!
Thursday 23rd April
We made our way to Doliba High School - about a 4½ hour journey in a four wheel drive Land Cruiser. We didn't make it and had to turn back about half-way there because the locals said it wasn't passable and our driver was getting nervous about sliding off the road (which you don't want to do with almost sheer drops of a couple of hundred metres) as he said the tyres were clogging up with clay and losing their grip. However the bonus was the spectacular views - we aborted the journey at the highest point for fear of having to go down on slippery clay and worsening road conditions. Usually the driver would be full of bravado and would be determined to get us to our destination, so it gives you some idea of how bad this particular 'road' was.
Our landline 'phone was made 'live' last Thursday and Alison was in her element for a few days. However it was short-lived as the phone went dead on Tuesday. Good ol' PNG Telikom!
Friday 24th April
After a disturbed night's sleep, what with the animals but also with the preparations for today's Sing-Sing celebrating the donation of several road building machines by the MP (not his own money, of course). All through the night it seems there were comings and goings, hooting of horns, laughter and singing and even some bloke speaking through a megaphone at about 4.00 a.m!
This continued when we got up so we decided to make our way down into the town to see what was going on - and were met with some wonderful sights - the blog photos of which do not do justice to the atmosphere and masses of people.
What perplexes us, is how they manage to organise an event like this, without publicising the meeting times and places. Everyone just seems to know that its happening and turn up on the day.
As you will see from the photos, it's a crazy procession and there are some real characters taking part. It's a strange mix of the traditional customs influenced by colonialism - see the black and white marching band let by the sergeant major! The boys blacked up in oil or charcoal represent spirits of ancestors. Apparently having the 'snake' and the 'cassowary' in a procession makes it a really important one.
Because few have cameras, people love to pose for us and always thank us for taking their photo, so today we were somewhat surprised when a well-to-do PNG boy took out his camera and took our photo! White man and meri sighting - how novel!
Lots of love
Mike and Alison