Misadventure In PNG

By Sister Nellie L. Margate, OND

I still smile when I remember the reaction of the policemen seeing the contents of my bilum, a traditional PNG string bag, when I emptied it on top of the table in front of them all. It was a sunny Sunday morning. I and one of our sisters attended Mass at the University of Papua New Guinea. We were both in our best Sunday habit and after Mass decided to go to the parking lot between the PNG parliament and PNG Museum for my companion to hone her reversing and parallel parking skills before she’d start driving on the main roads.

Deceiving smile

I was showing her how to do parallel parking when a young man of about 18 with a broad smile approached us. I greeted and talked to him in Pidgin and he seemed very friendly when all of a sudden he grabbed my bilum and ran across the open space between the parliament and the nearby Waigani flea market. On impulse, I threw my shoes at him and ran after him barefooted. Some people who saw us just stood and watched without doing anything, but a young fellow who was with us outran me as both of us tried to catch the rascal, as anybody who disrupts peace and harmony in the community is known.

Exhausted victim

I knew that I couldn’t catch up with the two fellows so, panting and gasping for breath, I went back to the parking area. It was then that I realized I could hardly walk because the place where I’d been running was littered with thorns from burnt bushes. Limping and angry with the onlookers, on whom I vented my frustration, I reached the place where the car had been. But now it was nowhere to be seen. After some time, the car was back with the PNG Museum guard as driver.

He had seen what had happened and, being a former ‘rascal’ himself, knew where that fellow would hide. He drove the car towards Waigani market, the other Sister still transfixed in it. A ‘hide and seek’ between the ‘rascal’ and the guard ensued at the market. They found him and after a struggle apprehended him and brought him to the Waigani police station.

What’s inside my bilum

They then came back for me to identify and claim my bilum. The police asked me if it belonged to me. I said it did. When they asked to check the contents, I emptied the bilum on the table in front of the policemen, the ‘rascal’ and all the people present in the station at the time. In it I had two mint candies, a bunch of keys, a borrowed book, a pair of sunglasses, rosary beads and K0.29, the equivalent of P5.00. (See www.bankpng.gov.pg/kinatoea/index.htm for information on PNG money). The people there could hardly suppress their amusement. I, too, smiled and offered the candies to the ‘rascal’ but felt a bit embarrassed at the little amount of money I had with me.

Unmindful of the danger

After some time, the policemen realized that the ‘rascal’ was a long-wanted fellow whom they had been looking for, for various offences like stealing, breaking in and several others. Monsignor Peter Kurongku, then Archbishop of Port Moresby, wasn’t happy with me. He told me that I could have been killed by ‘rascals’ who don't respect life, especially when cornered. On my part I could only say that indeed, God was with me.