I spent an hour at Gorden’s Market today, a burning hot April Saturday, in Port Moresby, National Capital District. I parked right opposite the Gorden’s Police Stations and waited for a friend, around midday. As is usual with appointments in Papua New Guinea, one must be prepared to wait anywhere between 10 minutes and an entire hour. It was an hour I spent fascinated.
The population of people walking, talking and carrying on in the humid, steaming, muddy and filthy so called market were captivating. Teeming with energy and abuzz with all manner of activity, there were traders and vendors, hawkers and street sellers, betel nut connoisseurs and buyers. Scam artists and con artists and petty criminals also were active and everyone was a potential victim. A boom box belts out loud noise. There was no sign of authority of any sort. The order was disorder.
Across the road, a Chinese store thrived with people streaming in and out like ants to and from a nest walking in empty handed and carrying out all manner of goods or, more correctly, junk for resale. Business is booming for the Chinese traders thanks to increased liberalization of trade, relaxing of regulatory laws to protect consumers and the introduction of an unregulated, unpoliced informal sector. The sector was supposedly intended to benefit Papua New Guineans involved in the cottage industry, selling their handicraft, arts and incubating their small entrepreneurial efforts. But the real winners are the mainland Chinese traders who import container loads of cheap household products from numerous factories proliferating throughout mainland China to resale in developing nations such as Papua New Guinea.
In Papua New Guinea, the Chinese traders target settlements and rural townships stretching their tentacles throughout the length and breadth of this Pacific island economy like a giant octopus leech sucking everything and anything out and transmitting the profits offshore to fund investments in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Other octopi are busy throughout the region and indeed the world as China shifts into gear in its drive for world dominance. They are taking advantage of a weakening West which is in pivotal transition, changing from a defined set of geographic nations to becoming a globalized Corporatedom, the new Manor of the rich, overseeing a global population of serfs.
Back in Gordon’s Market, raw sewerage and waste stream through the market in drains carrying dirty used plastic bags, and writhing naked playing children happily splashing under the baking Port Moresby sun as parents wearily gamble, play cards and turn their heads occasionally to scream at their offspring or to spit streaming betelnut juice anywhere, everywhere. A drunkard stumbles through the market, miraculously weaving his way through the human traffic, a beer bottle lovingly cradled against his bare bony chest, inch long globules of mucous and blood trailing off his moustache, humming Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road. Swarms of flies and other insects form small clouds around a dead dog recently run over by a Public Motor Vehicle in the middle of the main street, its putrid juices running off towards the drain. A man lies, in a drunken stupor, snoring under a rain tree, devoid of his shoes, belt, all clothes accept his dirty, ragged jeans. Bored betelnut vendors play games on their mobile phones and bicker with each other.
My appointment arrives. He is sweating and is sucking on an iceblock. I open they car door and he climbs in. “Yesterday I was here buying some stuff. I went to the phone booth at the Police Station and called you to make today’s appointment. After that I went into the Police Station to see an uncle of mine. He was not there. There was no one at the station. Not a single person was there when I went in, except some small guy reporting a crime apparently an armed robbery of his tucker box at Erima. I was bored so I decided to watch what was happening. He was furious this small guy. Swearing and sweating. Finally someone came. I had to look carefully to realize it was a Policeman, he was so scruffy. The complainant approached him but he said he was busy and said he had to drop off his wife and told him to wait. He waited. I waited. The small guy told me that this morning when he opened his tucker box, a man pointed a shotgun at him and took all his money. Money he had been saving up to send his son attending University of Technology in Lae for his ticket to come home for holidays. He said he didn’t want to give the money but another man punched him in the face and placed a knife under his chin and he thought of his children and wife and gave in and gave his money. Finally a police car came in. The man approached the Policeman and told him about his problem. The Policeman said the car had no fuel. Was he prepared to buy fuel? He said to the Policeman “It’s your job!” The Policeman warned him not to tell him what to do, that the government does not give the station enough to buy fuel or even paper to record complaints and went in with some of his wantoks following him into the Station. The man was so upset and said he knew who did it and would find him and kill him himself and walked out. No one heard him from the Police Station. No one cared.”
We drove out of Gordon’s Market into the main road to turn towards the Stadium. The road was crawling with cars of all types, mainly dilapidated PMV buses and taxis and used cars from Japan. It seems everyone from betelnut seller to babysitters have cars in Port Moresby. The city, built to cater for a population of less than 100,000 but accommodating somewhere in the vicinity of 600,000, is reeling from population growth caused by urban drift and growing squatter settlements, lack of family planning and people flowing into the capital searching for better services or just curious about the bright lights and what it has to offer.
After almost an hour in traffic and several near death accidents thanks to the city’s infamous taxi drivers, we made it to Koke Market towards town. At the main crossing, a CRV Honda, the carjackers preferred vehicle, was being held up and three youths with knives and a screwdriver had somehow stopped the female driver and her passenger and were attempting a carjacking, menacing the driver and trying to open the doors. I stopped my car behind her and my friend and I prepared to help, other vehicles too stopped and the youths saw us and suddenly stopped and casually walked off. Too hard, car was locked, too many motorists, some of them armed. People outside n the market watched but no one did anything. The youths merely walked over to a betelnut stand, grabbed some nuts and turned around to observe. The distraught woman drove off hurriedly. Fortunately she had her car doors locked, but her courtesy to give way at a pedestrian crossing almost ending badly for her.
I came to see Gordon’s market as symbolic of PNG politics – the filth, the chaos, the lack of order, the dirty and the erratic manner in which the actors behave reflects the nation’s state of politics. Gordon’s market is merely another example of what is happening throughout the entire nation where entire townships, urban and rural, villages and communities, are crumbling and decaying rapidly. The Gordon’s Police Station is symbolic of the public service which no longer cares and which is indifferent and poorly equipped or resourced to serve the people.
While politicians purchase properties offshore and invest the nation’s wealth in foreign economies, Papua New Guinea crumbles into a state of anarchy, its people making do with what little they can, their values and morals diminishing with each regressive step, their ability to care and act for one another reduced to crude tactics for survival with the ever increasing lawlessness.
Gordon’s Market offers a snapshot of Papua New Guinea in motion. Take a trip to Gordon’s Market, park in front of the Police Station for an hour and take a look into our bleak future.