Nomination day was challenging

Part of the crowd that accompanied me.

(Jeffrey Mane Febi – candidate for the Lufa Open Electorate Seat, 2012 Nat elections)

Something heavy had settled on my head, I thought I felt my brain inflate and deflate rapidly, I didn’t know I wasn’t thinking, then I heard a sweet voice that cuts through this wall of dense confusion; “Mane!”. I turned and saw my concerned mother. The wrinkles around her eye have grown, her hair more grey, and in her frail extended arm, a kaukau clutched firmly in her palm. “You must eat”; her concerned voice sounded more alarming.

The scene was more of a successful gathering than one of failure but I, with less than zero experience in crowd control and management, seeing orderly confusion, was more worried than every other person who approached to greet me.

After I nominated to officially become a candidate to run for the Lufa Open Electorate seat in Eastern Highlands, I met the crowd that accompanied me. They didn’t come in hundreds; there were over a thousand of them. Men, women, boys, girls, children and babies; some have walked hundreds of miles, taking them days to arrive at Lufa government station to witness this event. Others have flown to Goroka then caught rides on Public Motor Vehicles (PMV) to Lufa. They are the people of remote rural Lufa; those who sing: ‘They call use camels; they call us white horses; they call us semi-trailers; …’.

The ensuing excitement and much perceived confusion as I see it and over a thousand voices to listen to or innumerable hands to shake and many more bodies to hug was overwhelming.

I thought there was no order, and something was brewing. Any moment from now it would burst and someone will be hurt. A child, a man, a woman, anyone!

To feed such a crowd was no easy task. A group of men and women in their mid 30s made it seem less arduous. They, young and untested, worked on not without crests and troughs, some of which almost derail their efforts. But at the day’s end, not a single hungry sole was found.

I on the other hand, with less village experience and  knowledge, couldn’t envisioned a successful ending, and this coupled with the day’s heat and smell of the crowd, almost laid the foundations for a brain explosion.

As the election days unravel their latent challenges, I am hoping and praying I’d be able to cope.

Artist Jeffry Feeger paints for Paga Hill displaced settlers

Yes, It’s official! I’ve witnessed my friend artist Jeffry Feeger perform live for the first time. And boy o boy, he’s no ordinary artist. He’s a genius!

Image

As I watched his digits move about and around spreading colours here and there at no seeming order, figures began to appear. He continued and I thought I saw a face; not a face I am not familiar with but a face of an icon; a champion, a mother; a bubu. It was the face of the Dame; Dame Mary Carol Kidu.

Image

It was the occasion where artist Jeffrey Feeger who had decided to do a live performance, was doing a canvas job of the Dame’s face with other mothers.

I read on Jeff’s Facebook status that he would be painting live so I decided to pay my friend a visit. I went there and ended up becoming, albeit self invited; a part of the performance that afternoon.

Jeff used his marvelous artistic ability to raise awareness and funds through donations on the plight of the families whose homes were demolished only recently at Paga Hill. There are families with babies and children who are living in the open under temporary shelters. They are exposed to elements and yes, the anopheles mosquitoes. Whatever raised that that day will go directly to the displaced settlers.

Another artist Ratoos Hauopa Gary, who I discovered was Jeff’s teacher and mentor was there too. Apparently, he lives at Paga Hill too.

While there only a few people cared to gather and watch or inquire. Many cars with tinted glasses pass by. Others with clear glasses stared through glasses and even past us. I thought some had the ‘what the hell’ look on their expressionless faces. But many didn’t even bother.

Who cares; the afternoon dragged on and finally Jeff decides it was time to call it a day. He’ll complete his work at home. This day for me was a well spent afternoon. I mean I tried to do something I should have been doing; and that is to raise awareness about human rights the government of PNG is fond of abusing.

The death of a warrior

Short Story

By Jeffrey Mane Febi

 

Alone, Ooamie struggled against death’s cold embrace until he died a terrible death in his bed.

A strange spell immobilized Ooamie’s body and only his heart and lungs fought while everything froze. Doses of pain and suffering were slowly administered until he succumbed. What remained of him was a body stiff as a dry wood with a cold stare; and the tip of his tongue vaguely visible from behind the back of a half opened mouth.

It was only three days ago when Ooamie suddenly fell ill. His unusual symptoms could not be connected to any type of sorcery, so he was taken to his haus-pik just outside the village. Hidden from prying eyes and ears, he would to be monitored closely by his wife Onekayai with assistance from Fetapa the orphan.

The haus-pik was typical; round with a low roof and a door barely a meter tall. It was big enough though, and could accommodate both his family and the pigs.

His brothers began seeking people who might have a cure. A couple of days had passed and Ooamie’s condition worsened, observed Onekayai; but she could do nothing, so she did her best to nurse her husband. Fetapa couldn’t care less, and went about doing his daily chores.

Often Fetapa, a pre-teenager, wonders where his parents are, and why they have deserted him. He didn’t know his parents had both died: his mother while giving birth to him and his father from acute dysentery a few months later. No one had talked to him about his parents and he misses them.

Onekayai returned from a garden nearby. Over a huge kaukau bilum on her back, rested a bunch of bananas; and slung around her neck, a brown laplap held her sleeping child. As she jumped over the fence, she saw Fetapa with his small bow and arrows chasing lizards. He didn’t see her until she spoke from behind. Fetapa froze then quickly turned and retort; “His sleeping!”

Inside the haus-pik, Onekayai saw her husband’s motionless figure on the bed. It’s been like this for the last two days. She removed her load and breathed deeply; then carefully hung her child’s laplap near her husband and instructed Fetapa to fetch water. She rested a little, and then drank from a bamboo Fetapa brought, and started the fire to bake kaukaus for the evening.

Meanwhile, Ooamie’s brothers returned from their journeys. In the haus-man they reported their findings. When finished, a long silence ensued; broken only by an occasional distant bark from a dog. All eyes were set on the fire as its flaming tails danced mockingly. Smokes reluctantly rose from tobacco pipes and no one was heard breathing in the frozen silence that engulfed them. Even the chief’s two dogs lay under their master’s bed silently.

The chief pondered intensely over the inevitable: who is responsible; how many will he order to be killed; who should execute his orders? Everyone realized their chief’s deep concentration and no one dared interrupt him.

Then the dogs barked all at once. Startled, the chief dropped his pipe and burnt himself. Furious, he jumped off his bed, grabbed a piece of wood and started hitting at the dogs haphazardly. Those quick enough, got out of the way; others were unlucky. Someone was hit by a wood that slipped out of the chief’s hand and he crashed into another person nearby. Then much confusion erupted and the flames almost died out, if not for a weak flicker.

Standing outside, Fetapa heard much noise and commotion; but no light seeped through the gaps in the door. He heard dogs growled in pain as men shouting profanities continued beating them.

He cleared a lump in his throat and softly called out a name he was instructed to report to. “Ba-ua-ti!” No response came. He called louder; “Bauati!” No response again. There was still much noise when a voice called for calm and anyone to attend to the fire. He called again at the top of his voice; “Bauati!” Then voices ordered each other to stop talking, and there was silence.

Fetapa trembled, but he mustered some courage to call again. After what seemed like eternity, a deep and hoarse voice demanded; “Who’s there?” He responded quickly and the door opened. He felt warm air brush against his face; it felt good. Then he peered into the dimly lit house and saw figures with unblinking stares. The chief, Bauati, knew what Fetapa’s unexpected appearance means. Then Fetapa broke the news, but anger deafened them, even Bauati wasn’t listening.

When tears started to flow, a tirade of obscenities from Bauati quickly forced them dry. Then with a calm but stern voice gave out precise instructions, and everyone knew exactly what to do. He had planned these thoroughly prior to the dogs’ sudden barks. It was a simple plan; a plan to avenge Ooamie’s death. It must be done or their inaction will bring shame to their clan.

Bauati quickly dispatched some men to secure and guard Ooamie’s haus-pik, with instructions to talk to no one regarding the death. Fetapa scurried behind to catch up with the fast walking men. The risk of potential contamination from his killers who can sneak into the haus-pik using spells was great; and this would make it impossible to find out those responsible for Ooamie’s death.

After much deliberation, four strong men stepped out of the haus-man; followed closely by Bauati, and two older men. Armed with bamboo torches, bows and arrows and knives, they hurried to the haus-pik. A few meters behind, three women trailed. Malufovi, Bauati’s wife and two elderly women kept their distance from the men.

Bauati and his men entered the haus-pik and closed the door behind them. The women gathered around a fire under a temporary shelter Onekayai had erected. Fetapa was there too, but no one took notice of him. After a while the door squeaked open and figures stepped out and disappeared into the dark.

The women entered the haus-pik and eyed the corpse sorrowfully. They looked at the eyes; fierce warrior eyes that lights up with love and compassion for his family; they caressed the cold hands; strong hands that many times brought them food and meat. The legs felt soft and fragile; not the ones they’ve relied on for swiftness and power. They didn’t see a warrior tonight, rather, a husband and son they would miss dearly.

Their hearts broke and they sobbed into the night. Their heads ached but still they sobbed. Ooamie’s wife wanted to cry out loud but she can’t. She wanted to sing to her husband’s ghost in the rocks yonder; to tell him he will be missed; their child would be fatherless; and his kaukau is still by the fire place. She wept bitterly. The others were strong and wise women; the very reason they were asked to come. They ensured she did not make sobbing sounds. If she did, the guards around the fence didn’t hear any. And this was to be the order of things; silently grieve until Ooamie’s death is avenged. So far it was good.

They heard the first insect chirp as dawn approaches. More insects joined and early dawn reverberated with chaotic sounds. Their hearts heaved with anxiety as a bamboo-pot was pushed further into the heart of the fire and watched closely. Malufovi ensured the pot did not burn, but it steamed violently as droplets of liquid hissed into vapours.

Then they heard a faint sound; a pleasant tune amidst much noise. They listened hard and only heard; “two for Ooamie and one for Bauati!” It seemed distant still, but Malufovi removed the bamboo from the fire; emptied its contents on banana leaves and they gathered around to eat.

As he stepped over the fence, Bauati called out to his wife exhaustedly; “Women can cry aloud now! Women can cry aloud now!”

Fetapa was woken from his sleep by joyful singing and weeping. But he felt hungry and moved to the fireplace to search for leftovers. He felt a soft and round thing on a stone by the fireplace. It was fleshy so he sniffed it. It felt like meat and he tasted it. Then placed it in his mouth and bit into it. It was food alright, and he started chewing it.

Word reached other clan members in the village and soon they all gathered at the haus-pik. Many cried openly and sang old songs about warriors who flew with cockatoos on the rocks yonder.

Suddenly Malufovi realized she had left the testes on a rock by the fireplace. She rushed into the house and searched but to no avail. She went out and saw Fetapa chewing on something nearby. She enquired and Fetapa told her what he was chewing. Malufovi angrily ordered him to spit it out into her hands and he reluctantly obliged.

Two days of mourning had passed, and Bauati realized Ooamie’s corpse was missing its sex organ. Further checks revealed a piece from the left inner thigh missing too. He knew the mothers loved and would miss Ooamie dearly. Then with a chuckle and a slight nod, ordered the corpse be buried.

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey Febi

A night to forget

Short Story

By Jeffrey Mane Febi

Every organ inside shook! His heart was knocking loudly. The lungs were gasping for air, and he opened his mouth. Air rushed in.

‘Aaargh!’ jets of violent pain streaked up his back. He quickly got up but something strong forced him back onto his back.

‘Silip! Silip!’ a harsh and determined voice ordered.

He couldn’t see a face but a huge dark figure was leaning over his slim body. A pair of bulging red eyes and a strong odour that smelled like a failed brewing experiment immediately rang alarm bells. He knew then what he had got himself into.

A cold rough hand began checking his pockets and emptied their contents, then the dark figure left and all was quiet. Except for the knocking – knocking behind his chest.

Stunned! He didn’t quite know what had hit him. Its force was strong enough to have sent him crashing to the ground.

He looked around with hazy eyes. The street was dark under an overcast sky and certainly deserted. An old street-lamp that has survived the harassments of night-dwellers beamed a pale yellow light distantly. He watched the dark figure moved leisurely into the light; a high-pitched whistle rang out, and two more figures emerged then all disappeared into the night.

‘Aaaaargh!’ The pain, it was awful. He turned slowly on the ground and caressed his back, and then got up. His head started spinning, and he fell back to the ground. There he remained, motionless. After some time moved his legs about. The pain was subsiding.

I’ve fallen on something hard, he thought. He pushed his hand underneath and felt around for something solid. He couldn’t find any, and pushed further, ‘aaaaaaargh!’ he pulled his hand out at once. Then supporting his body from the back with his arms, he carefully raised his upper body to sitting position, and rested.

‘Shit! I should have known better’, he hissed through clenched teeth.

Then something warm started dripping down his nose; he wiped it, and it started flowing and dripped down his shirt; ‘damnit!’ He couldn’t see clearly in the dark but he was certain it was blood. He turned his head to the side, away from his body and blood fell to the ground.

He touched his nose gently; an awkward curved hump confirmed his fears. ‘Oh nooo!’ In desperation, he pulled his nose. Moved it from side to side. And pulled! He had seen somebody done it before. He knew he could do it. He tried hard despite discomforting pain. And moved his nose to its original position; at least he thought so.

Speechless and exhausted, an empty gut feeling engulfed him and dried up his throat. Then tears gathered and rolled down his cheeks. He wiped his eyes gently and fought back more tears, but self-pitying didn’t help.

He was hurt, alone in a dark street, and misses his child’s sweet voice.

“Daa-dyy! Daa-dyy!” and ran into Ram’s wide opened arms; in warm embrace, kissed his child on the forehead then touched the tiny beaming nose and kissed it too, and …

‘Ram!’ a loud urgent voice interrupted. He heard dampened footsteps rapping out a fast tempo and he looked up; ‘yye-e!’ he cleared his throat and swallowed. ‘Is that you, Tamata?’

The moon started shinning through thin clouds, casting a dull glow and weak shadows. Tamata saw Ram sprawled on the ground. He slowed down and approached Ram anxiously, then froze at the sight of blood.

Earlier, Tamata had asked Ram to accompany him to a fundraiser at a certain night club. Ram didn’t like the idea but he didn’t want to upset his good friend. After making Tamata promised that they’d be there for only two hours, they took a shortcut through the dark street.

Tamata squatted in front and studied Ram’s face worryingly; his laboured breathing, thundering into Ram’s ears and the smell of thick fresh sweat mercilessly harassing his nostrils.

Ram sustained a broken nose where the bone and cartilage meet on the bridge of his nose; the resulting bend skewed the lower part of his nose leftward.

Ram looked different. When more light revealed swelling and blackening eyes, Tamata realized how bad Ram’s face had changed.

Tamata slipped into a long worried silence. After what seemed like eternity, Tamata expressed his utmost regret and disgust, and started cursing.

A slight breeze started blowing and cold diffused across Ram’s face. Litter nearby moved. Oblivious to Tamata’s talk, Ram watched litter shuffle and scrap, then, one by one rolled, and somersaulted lazily into the dark.

His thoughts had rolled away too: watching his son sleeping on his little bed as his bosom heaved up and down in a pleasant rhythm.

Then Ram’s cheeks shivered mildly. He rubbed his hands and gently pressed them against his cold face. It felt good. He moved his legs from side to side, and rotated his ankles in a circular motion.

“…two determined thugs wielding iron rods chased me down the street, but gave up when I out ran them.” Ram heard Tamata finished.

Ram struggled to get up. Tamata held out his hands, but Ram pushed them away, and almost tumbled forward. He regained his balance and stepped forward, and began walking slowly up the street whence they came.

Tamata followed from behind, silently pondering. What must I do to appease my friend? Maybe I’ll take him to the hospital. Maybe I’ll pay his taxi fare.

They reached the main street and Ram stole a quick glance.

There was much light. It was swarming with people. Cars with loud music filed past, bumpers end-to-end. Horns honking impatiently shrieked louder. And indiscernible voices of loud talking drunkards on the sidewalk further fuelled his anxiety.

This unpleasant cacophony didn’t help. Ram set off immediately in the direction of his home; robbed, bloodied and cold.

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey Febi

The Eastern Highlands: trains, railways and tyranny of terrain

By Jeffrey Mane Febi

 

They call us camels. They call us white horses. They call us semi-trailers. They call us many names. Names of things we don’t know much about. We’re they who walk with the strength of our grandfathers; those bygone men who tamed angry rivers; appeased bellowing clouds and walked with mists. Our coffee beans shall not go to waste! Our coffee beans shall not go to waste! O no – no – no; shall not go to waste!

 

This morning a weary traveler, somewhere under a rock shelter, or under a tree’s roots, or from a hastily constructed temporary shelter during yesterday’s twilight, is awaken by a pre-dawn song; an eerie sound made by unseen creepy crawly creatures close by. A loud yawn and a stretch, then a glance at neatly stacked pile of white bags dissipates lingering weariness from a restless night. The journey that started 38 years ago must continue but the destination seemed further still.

On many a rugged hill, where clouds more often than not come to watch and cry over those that rise in any given gloomy morning with sweaty brows, blistered shoulders and burdened hearts; a father, a mother, or a  child moves on under heavy load.

 

On a rocky ridge where violent winds come to play, a mother firmly cuddles in her weary arms a package from which a pair of sickly eyes peered into hers; though devoid of animation, they manifests life and all its flaws quiet dramatically. It is only a matter of steps before life itself is shut out.

At the foot of this ridge, way down below, over a fast flowing river, a rope bridge swings dangerously to the left then right under a massive load. A stretcher, of wood and reinforced used-rice bags, is being ferried across on shoulders; one step at a time. One wrong step and certain death is inevitable. A skinny arm, like a dried tree branch, reaches out and attempts to grasp a side pole as if to steady the unsteady stretcher.

On a lookout, a resting place where multitudes have paused to gaze and marvel at the beauty of the seemingly unending mountain ranges, waterfalls and the evergreen faces of those ranges; a teenager pulls out a piece of newspaper from a side bag. Before he rolls his dried tobacco leaves, he reads: …the gov…ern…ment… and stops. However the next word is pronounced and whatever the bloody hell it means isn’t going to stress his exhausted mind; not now. Soon he’ll be puffing his exhaustion into tiny circular and skinny columns of drifting mists of vapour.

These typify the struggles of many of our rural Eastern Highlanders. Places like Unavi, Gimi, Marrawaka, Unggai and Wesan, for instance are daily impoverished by the tyranny of our rugged terrain.

Other places in PNG: Teleformin, Menyyama, and Salt-Nomane, to name a few, encounter similarly daunting circumstances.

The prevailing challenge is how to connect these largely organically rich and pristine areas to vital government infrastructure or how to deliver vital government services to them on a daily basis.

Roads seemed to be the answer at the outset but, over time PNG has learned that they become increasingly problematic. Soil type, high tropical rainfall, sheer vastness of these ranges and enormous costs of maintenance, makes building roads to remote places an overwhelming challenge.

This brings to mind railways and trains. Though un-tested technology in the PNG modern situation, it’s worth a try. No need for a province wide railway network. Imagine connecting only rural areas of Eastern Highlands named, to Goroka and Kainantu. Organically grown Coffee and vegetables which grow in abundance would be easily transported to markets. And medicine and school materials would be ferried back. It’s about tapping into the potential of under-utilised fertile rural areas; the opening up of a world of potential and ensuring rural people partake meaningfully in the economy of PNG.

And if all rural areas of PNG are likewise connected to markets, what may become of PNG will truly be unprecedented.

The next face of development and growth envisioned in the PNG Vision 2050 could ride on the back of trains and railways connecting the potentially rich and under-utilised rural Eastern Highlands and other rural areas of PNG.

Parting ways in an upheaval

By Jeffrey Febi

MV Rabaul Queen before the disaster

 

On the morning of 30th April, while watching beautiful dawn spreads its influence across the sky, I thought it would have been really wonderful to accompany it with music from the companions of birds (cry of a baby or child waking up from sleep). Then I remembered those unfortunate families whose children have perished that tragic night aboard MV Rabaul (evil) Queen.

Following words may not be adequate to express my sincere anger and feeling of disappointment, nevertheless, I found some sort of comfort writing this piece.

Hope readers will like it.

………………….

 

Firmly tucked into mamas’ arms

Childly gazing into mamas’ eyes

Breathing mamas’ exhaustions

 

In the belly of an evil Queen

Pregnant in a time of turmoil

With lies, money, and negligence

 

Listening to mamas’ frantic heart beats

Hearing mamas’ confused cries

Feeling mamas’ grips loosen

 

Three idiots they came! And many separated

Parting ways in an upheaval

Each one to own an unmarked watery plot

 

Then still dawn undresses dark

Oh those companions of birds!

Their backs to the scorching sun

 

When next a sea bird, may be a seagull

Sings frantically over sea; probably she calls

Attention to them that play on the oceans floor

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