Life In Papua New Guinea (PNG) – Chaos Always Seems Different From The Inside

GUEST ARTICLE: It is amazingly easy to establish an ordinary (even mundane) existence in the most extraordinary of places. But sometimes life in a place like Papua New Guinea can challenge even the most seasoned of travelers…

Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Police
Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Police photo credit: conner395

When you read about mass riots in foreign countries in a newspaper in Australia, they seem all encompassing. But closer in, it becomes much less clear and definable. Being one street away from a disturbance can mean that you find out about it later than readers in suburban Brisbane.

Frightening things can happen, but life always manages to bounce so quickly back to normal, that you wonder whether anything occurred in the first place.

I have some close local friends who will tell me very seriously and earnestly that they think that the Papuan Government should shoot all the Asian immigrants (some of who have been here for three generations).

“You can never really trust Asians” they say. There’s this weird dynamic in which Australians are viewed very warmly, but extreme hostility is directed towards the Asian community (despite many acting in exactly the same fashion)

Earlier in the year, this became very apparent as a small protest in Port Moresby (the Papuan Guinea Capitol) about Asian Immigration sparked spasmodic riots across much of the country (including the town where I am living).

How many TV’s can a rioter fit inside their pocket?

Most of the disturbance is opportunistic. Rolling waves of people come in from the squatter settlements (not to protest but because the word has circulated that their will be a free for all on many of the Asian shops).

In response, shops lock down (trapping customers inside for hours). Police vehicles charge around almost randomly, occasionally lobbing tear gas into the crowd as they get too thick (unlike Australia, tear gas in PNG seems to be a standard response to everything from an overly wild party on upwards).

As a crime control strategy it seems to work wonders. Our part of town is wonderfully relaxed, stripped of the restless groups of young men who otherwise occupy every corner. Life happily goes on, while areas a few streets away are chaotic.

The next day is eerily quiet

Police officers are lined up everywhere, idling swinging wooden baseball bats wrapped in brightly coloured tape (although the more discerning police officer seems to prefer the fan belt from a car).

One local supermarket has 33 guards (many of them armed) and four security dogs milling around in their car park.

Strangely all this activity seems to defuse the tension from the previous day. People are still around in large numbers, but they seem happy to look at all the commotion (it feels strangely like everyone is having a day out)

In the next few days, there are plenty of grand statements about the unrest reflecting the community’s frustration with illegal immigration (statements generally uttered by someone who is also trying to sell you a suspiciously cheap piece of electronic equipment still bearing the sticker of one of the Asian food chains).

Those of us on the sidelines can only wonder where all the pent up anger has gone. The violence and riots have seemingly passed in a camera flash of rage. Blinding in that instant, but seemingly forgotten the moment after.

This guest article has been written by Dylan Tovey. Dylan is in Papua New Guinea (PNG) doing volunteer work with a local medical charity. He is supported by Australian Volunteers and Brilliant Prints.

If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution

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