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ZAPEEDERBADA

Papua New Guinea gets a lousy press.

‘It’s hell on earth, covered with rascals!’

Raskals, rape, robbery, corruption; banditry, bastardry, bullets – PNG is the scariest place on earth. Expats in Port Moresby live behind barbed wire in gated jails for foreigners, convinced that attack is imminent. Perhaps it is – given most of the expats I met in PNG, any discomfort they suffer is fine by me.

‘Get out of town!’ whispered the NGO, ‘fly through Port Moresby! Don’t stop! Raskals everywhere…’

Raskals are the local gangs.

‘They’ll kill you for ten bucks.’

So when Mr. Dogster arrived at Port Moresby on his first visit to P.N.G. and found himself stranded at the airport he was a tad nervous.

‘No-o-o-o, I’ll be fine,’ he lied gaily as the airport emptied out, ‘I’ll just wait a little bit longer…’

All the hellos and goodbyes of an airport doorway rocked and rolled around him. He badly needed a man with a sign.

‘I’m sure they’ll be here in a moment…’

Everybody was very black and very big.

‘What time is it now?’

Dog was on a deadline. In an hour he was due on a cruise. The cruise-line owned the pick-up-that-never-came. He was stuck in Port Moresby; raskals would eat him. This wasn’t looking good.

*

Dogster once had a golliwog. I think they’ve been outlawed now, but in the pre-P.C. days one of them had a favorite place in the puppydog’s bed. Little Doglet loved his golly – so he felt very comfortable waiting outside the Port Moresby airport.

‘What are you waiting for?’ ‘Where are you going?’

Questions flew from my latest golliwog friends.

‘Trobriands. I’m cruising to the Trobriand Islands.’

‘You going to the Trobes, are ya?’

Wink, wink, nod, nod, dirty leer.

‘Better watch out for yerself there, mate…’

Heh heh heh.

‘What time does your boat leave?’

‘About forty minutes time.’

‘Je-e-esuz, man – you better take a cab.’

By an amazing coincidence, he was a golliwog cab-driver. Dog knew when he was beat.

*

We hurtled into Hell. I knew if we stopped, even for a traffic light, I would die.  I slid low in the seat and held my breath, trying to turn brown – my normal pallor vibrated in the afternoon sun, my newness shone like neon.

Amidst the dusky raskals Dog looked like an albino parrot.

He could see raskals walking down the street, hundreds of them – they seemed to be shopping but this was just a raskal ruse; each carried a machete and a machine gun hidden in those hessian bags, their teeth were filed to the sharpest points. Dog knew. It was Dog-stew for dinner. Get me outta here.

Down, around, heading through town, looking for water or a wharf or a boat or anything that looked like it might carry passengers.

‘Melanesian Discoverer?’ to a blank-faced guard lazing in a sea of concrete, ‘Cruise? Trobes?’

Gollywog, the cab driver, hurled a stream of Pidgin at him. A volley of Pidgin flew back.

We’d found it. Well, we’d found where it had been. Dogster’s ship had sailed.

Not far away a raskal sniffed the air.

 *

I am lost, all alone in New Guinea – sans booking, sans hotel, sans plan. My plans had collapsed so simply, so completely and so unexpectedly I found himself quite without an idea of what to do.

Then I said the magic word; Zapeederbada.

‘You know Zapeederbada?’ he gasped.

‘It’s his boat. He’s the captain. I’m his guest.’

‘Zapeederbada he wan big pela man’

Two men in uniform wandered over.

Pidgin Pidgin Zapeederbada big pela Pidgin Pidgin Ahhh

They peer in at me. Mr. Dogster has his very-important-person face on. Seeing a uniform, I saluted. That worked. I decided to say the word again.

‘Zapeedabada will be very angry.’

Pidgin Pidgin ‘very angry’ Pidgin Pidgin mobile phone.

Finally I had somebody on the line I could shout at.

*

‘If he can’t be bothered to get here on time, I can’t be bothered to wait!’ Zapeedabada  bellowed, ignoring the fact that it was his company that had made me late.

Someone tried to show him the passenger list.

‘He’s the only one who’s paid…’

‘Farkin’ idiot,’ Zapeeder swore under his breath, ‘cast off!’

‘Yezzapeeder…’ they whispered and did as they were told, ‘Yezzapeeder…

Don’t argue with Yezzapeeder. He was a Very Important Man – so important that when he did something really stupid, nobody would tell him. They just went ahead and did that stupid thing regardless. It was that or die. Nobody ever second guessed the boss.

Yezzapeeder was a full-blown pain in the bum; irascible, curmudgeonly, monosyllabic – always distracted by Very Important Business, acutely aware that the mere mortals that surrounded him couldn’t possibly understand. He was very probably right – Zapeeder knew where the bodies were buried. Nearly sixty, he was one of those expats who came in the early days of nationhood and stayed, sucking up every opportunity in the nascent tourist industry on the way. Where there wasn’t an opportunity, he created one and kick-started the tourism industry. For a while there he sucked up every adventurous traveler in town as well; some he sent sailing round the coast on his mega-cruiser, some he accommodated in his mega-resorts, some on his dive boats, some on his tours; The Great Zapeeder attended to business in his helicopter. You get the picture; big boys, big toys and an even bigger sense of his own destiny – he was the last of the old-time breed.

The biggest of Zapeeder’s toys was the one I’d just missed, the Melanesian Discoverer, a cruiser that held about thirty passengers and, on the few occasions when it had enough paying customers, sailed an irregular schedule round the islands. Each year he took the helm for his seasonal indulgence; Zapeeder’s Christmas Cruise – the one that had just sailed away.

I guess I was meant to be impressed. I’d never heard of the guy. He was just the stupid fart that made me miss my boat.

*

 

Vrooof vrooof Apocalyse Now Vroff vroof vroof.

A hand, waving. A mouth opening.

‘Get in!’ I think its saying.

Vroof vroof.

‘Get IN!’

Dog and his luggage are bundled into the chopper. Golly waves a last goodbye.

‘Take this!’ screams the pilot, handing me headphones.

He had very angry eyebrows.

‘Do up your belt!’ he waved.

Vroof vroff rrrr-ahh-h-h-h-hhhh

Dog was rescued from the raskals. Now he’s heading for outer space.

 

 

‘What’s your name!’ I shouted at the pilot.

No reply. Vrrrrr.

Thinking he hadn’t heard I shouted again.

‘Your name? What’s your name?’

He turned to look at me with an expression of purest contempt.

‘Bada,’ he shouted.

”What?’

‘Bada!’

”What?’

‘Bada! Bada! Zapeederbada!’

He grunted and kept flying. He didn’t speak again till we were hovering over a rather big blue and white cruiser with what I hoped was a heli-pad on top.

*

‘It’s not my fault,’ I gasped to the others as I clambered down from the heli-pad, ‘it’s not my fault…’

Blank looks. The other passengers massed on the deck. A couple managed a smile but generally it was like arriving in the palliative care ward. Gawd, Dog thought, they hate me already. He didn’t know that they had all been throwing up for the last hour. Evidently the passage from wharf to ocean in my absence had been, as one put it ‘faaa-a-a-ark…’

Just here: more to come on the passengers…

There was lot more ‘faaa-a-a-a-rkkk’ to come. The passage from Port Moresby to Samarai was one Technicolor yawn from dusk till dawn, a rolling, pitching erk-fest of banging doors and desperate dives for the bathroom that didn’t cease till we arrived in the calm, glorious harbor of Samarai.

*

Samarai seemed like heaven – but that was only because it didn’t rock from side to side. Actually, it was bit of a shit-hole. I loved it. 

 

Poor old Samarai. Like the Dogster, her glory days are behind her.

A hundred years ago Samarai was the second largest town in PNG. By 1900 the island was a bustling cosmopolitan port, capital of Milne Bay province, administrative centre and major commercial centre. It was noted for its size and attractive appearance. In 1902 the value of goods exported from Samarai was three times the value of those exported from Port Moresby. By 1907 there were three pubs, a rectory, a church, even a bishop. Samarai was happening; three stores, government buildings, hospitals and private residences.

Now there’s nothing.

By the twenties decline set in, all the action moved to Port Moresby; by the forties Samarai was yesterday’s hero. Its only value was strategic, a point not lost on the Allies when Japan entered WWII. In January 1942 the island was evacuated and then destroyed to prevent the wharves and buildings falling into Jap hands. Of course, the Japanese never arrived.

Although Samarai was re-established after the war, the island never recovered – Samarai stuttered to a halt years ago. There’s practically nothing left of the days of plenty. Sadly the century has slipped away. Wide dusty streets, now lined with fibro houses, some masquerading as shops. Everything is bolted and closed, empty building after building. Not a lot to do.

Entertainments include the walk up to the top of the hill to see not very much at all and the walk back down. A memorial to someone who committed suicide in 1904 is the highlight. Incredibly, the island was declared a National Historical Heritage Island by the government of Papua New Guinea in 2006 who vowed to “restore basic services and refurbish its monuments and buildings as a tourist attraction”- which means absolutely nothing at all.

Amidst the detritus of another time, Dogster saw nothing but the wide-open faces of the locals. Samarai was paradise lost – but by the looks on those faces, paradise found wasn’t far away.

 

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