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.

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About febijefwhispers
I love reading and writing poetry!

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