Friday, 2 September 2016

Unfortunate Things May Also Happen

My life in Port Moresby and in Papua New Guinea in general is fruitful and at most times, peaceful. In the workplace, the majority of the people we meet are locals. While we may sometimes experience a dose of verbal indignation from an irate person, a big bulk of the people we meet are generally polite and courteous; in fact much more courteous from where I come from.

While I try as much to keep this blog free from any negative issues, perhaps today will be an exemption.  Almost 99% of the emails I received from the readers of this blog were leaning to know much about the safety of the expats living in this country. My reply to each one is almost the same and pretty simple, “Whatever nice or positive things that you may have read from my blog was all true.”

How about the negative stories about PNG? Well, I cannot provide a direct answer. It is my stand, from time to time, that PNG is a peaceful place to live in. It’s even better if you can learn to trust your gut and find a way to use your common sense at all times.

But to all those who are asking if I have had a bad experience myself, the answer is yes. Although it happened a long time, I still carry the effect in me. But I have long since forgiven and forgotten the people involved.

In 2011, during my first two weeks of living here. I remember it was quarter past seven in the morning and I was having a conversation with a co-manager in our car park while waiting for the car that would bring us to our place of work.

On my shoulder was a bag with my troubleshooting tools in it. My colleague was also holding a bag of packed lunch. A car went inside our car park (the gate was always open before) and parked to where most of the company cars are. We are new managers back then so for us, a visitor's car and a company car is somewhat indiscernible. 

As soon as the car was parked, out of it came three men. I was not sure if a driver was left in the car because we were not looking at it really. We did notice the three men: one of which is a bit older than the two. The other two were just young men. They approached us and stood a little close behind me which I ignored for thinking that they were our staffs.

One of the young men snapped my bag from shoulder. My bag has a clip that you can press easily so the strap can unsnap quickly. I presume that he had pressed that because my bag was in his hand in an instant. As I turned around to see what had happened, I saw my bag in one of the young guy’s hand. My initial reaction was to wonder why and  I looked at his face to find an answer. I wasn’t sure if he was smiling or not but it looked like he did, albeit more like a Monalisa smile.

So because of that, my first guess was that he was a staff of this company and was just playing with me. With that in mind, I held his arm that was holding my bag with my two hands and told him “My bag.” He wouldn’t want to let go and that trace of smile had disappeared from his lips. From there, I began to suspect that something was not quite right.

My suspicion that things were not going well was confirmed when the other young man pulled out a long knife (they call it here bush knife) from his trousers (I had no idea how he was able to hide it there) and held it high above his head.  I remembered his words were “Uh! Uh!” Like he was trying to tell me to forget the bag.

The eldest of the three pulled out what seemed to be a revolver from his pants. As soon as I saw it, my mind was signalling a red flag. It was asking me to either fight or choose flight and in that situation I must soon decide right away. I must have chosen the latter---unaware that I was making small steps backward. The guy holding a bush knife confronted my colleague and tried to snatch his bag from his hand. My colleague refused to give it so he and the other guy ended up in a tug of war. It was tense and time seemed to be moving fast.

I could not utter a word, perhaps because of the adrenaline rush. That time, everything seemed to be in a fast forward state. Everything boils down to quick decision making. If I could talk then, I wish I could tell my colleague to just release his grip on his bag. Just let it go. But I couldn’t and I was hoping that he would soon realize that.

The guy with the gun started walking towards me. They say that desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps out of desperation, I turned around and thought I should just run. But I felt someone had held my shirts before I could even do so. I was told to stop and not to run. It was repeatedly said in a loud voice. I looked back to see where the voice was coming from. It was her, from another colleague. She was telling me not to run. Frankly, I did not notice that she was there. My best guess of what could have happened had I not been prevented from my futile attempt to run away from the situation, was that I might have taken a bullet on my back. The guy responsible for scaring me away with his gun was  beginning to close in the distance between us.

From there I began to calm down and maybe, I had accepted my fate. I slowly sat down on the ground in a squatting position. I held both of my hands up as soon as I felt the coldness of the gun's nozzle rested on my head. The guy pointing the gun at me was saying “Walet kam! Walet kam!”

Let it be my point that I was very new in PNG, so I did not quite understand what he was telling me. The female colleague knew about that so she told me in Tagalog what the raskol (what they call rascals) was telling me to do, “Bigay mo raw wallet mo!”  At the same time, she was talking at them strongly,  on the verge of hysterics in the midst of the commotion, “Kisim bag blo mi na karim go! Kisim bag blo mi na karim go!” In English, “Take my bag and go!”

The guy pointing a gun on my head seemed to be a cool-headed guy. He was not shouting at me but was speaking in a loud voice. “Mobile fon kam!” He was not hurting or touching me either. I took my wallet out and gave it to him. My driver’s license was just 2 day old when it happened and I actually tried and asked him to spare my driver’s license. He said “No! Mobile fon kam!”  I gave him my cell phone too.

 I looked out to where my other male colleague was having a tug of war on the bag with the other raskol. I saw the guy raised a bush knife and swung at him so my colleague let go of the bag and ran fast across us up to the rooms upstairs and locked himself in. I guess his guardian angel was at work because the blade had missed him by an inch.

He did not pursue him upstairs because we were on his path so he just took my female colleague’s bag. After getting our things, they ran back to their car. I was told later on that day that before they left, they were able to hold up another expat who happened to be there and was a witness to what was going on. He was just visiting his brother who was also working with us. 

The person in charge of our security in the company has gathered our written statement the next day and the company had reported the matter to the police.

I was really thankful to God because none of us has gotten hurt during the hold up. The incident has at least changed me to become more reliant on common sense.  The aim of sharing my story is not to taint the beautiful image of PNG but to serve as a reminder for everyone to practice safety because, like any other countries, misfortunes can also happen here.


  1. So sorry this had to happen to you and your colleagues. Thank God you all had made it through this situation alive. PNG does have its crimes and criminal activities but its these few that taint the picture for the rest of us.

    1. Hi Anonymous!

      Thanks for the concern. I appreciate it.


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