Posts Tagged 'cops'

Shituation 3: Red and blue by night

Believe it or not, roadblocks are not fun. Which is a shame, because they’re a pretty regular feature of life in Moresby. Most are set up by the local equivalent of New South Wales’ RTA. They look at your safety sticker and wave you through. Even if your tyres are bald, your exhaust is belching and your rear windscreen has been replaced by a sheet of black plastic, you will most likely be waved through – provided you gave the right person the extra gratuity fee to get the safety sticker.

Every now and then however you encounter the cops. Most of the time they just check licences and don’t pay too much attention, especially by day. By night, it’s a tad different – especially later at night, as was the case in this scenario, and especially when the driver (me) has by some dumb lapse of judgement left his licence at home. Stupid, stupid, STUPID.

You see, there are some quaint customs from the big place just to the south that are not so trendy up here. For example, in the big place down south, if you cannot produce your licence when asked to by a cop, they will typically give you the option of going to the local cop shop within a day or two to show it. Seems reasonable and maybe even efficient – gets traffic moving again, gets the cop onto the next car. Seemingly not. In Moresby, there are three options only – you have your licence, you pay a sum (not strictly speaking a ‘fine’ as we discovered), or you have a nice kip in the slammer and hope for the best.

Once we had established that producing the licence later was not an option, and insisted strongly that a night in the cell was equally as repugnant, we were left with the second option only – the ‘sum’. Apparently I was guilty of two evils – driving without a licence, and being unable to produce a licence when asked to by a law enforcement agent. This sounded fine to a point. The fee seemed hefty enough but not too out of line to my inexperienced mind – being one hundred clams per offence. The trickiness of the situation was twofold. First, the officer peering through our window was quite resolute in his insistence that any kind of documentation was not only unnecessary but thoroughly unconventional. It was a simple matter of paying one’s dues, accepting that one had done wrong, and trusting that the two hundred kina would be safely deposited in the relevant government account and not at the closest roadside beer shack. But that wouldn’t happen, surely.

Which brings us to the second issue – we had no cash. We also do not have the gift of pulling money from thin air, as much as the worthy officer seemed to think we might. After some time the officer became more accommodating – literally at first, as he repeated the offer of a free night in the Hohola cells, then figuratively as he said that possibly we could get a ride in a police vehicle to the closest ATM. Being slightly unwilling to leave our car we asked if it were possible to pay the fine at a police station or court house the following day, and maybe even get a receipt.

This concerned the officer, but of course he was worried on our behalf. In asking such a silly question I had betrayed by ignorance yet again. The officer explained, seemingly a little uncomfortably (but who am I to judge? I was myself also a tad uncomfortable) that payment at a court house or police station at a later date would be more expensive. Exactly twice the amount in fact. I ask you all not to leap to any unfair conclusions regarding the integrity of the officer at this stage. Red tape, paperwork and so on are major inhibitors to the efficiency of a modern economy after all, and seeing as PNG has plenty of things it needs to prioritise I would suggest that a situation like mine would merely be a strain on the progress of the nation. Bloody bureaucracy never helped anyone get anything done after all, here or anywhere else.

So we had a stalemate. We babbled a bit about calling our security escorts, we said we were sorry, we felt as helpless as we did angry. Eventually we hit upon a proposal that worked – call over the boss to sort something out.

The boss came. The boss certainly looked like the boss – protruding gut, fine moustache, nice blue beret and a button-up shirt. And, a machine gun.

The boss, however, was also our boon (yes! he looked a bit like a Papua New Guinean Boonie too) – he took one look at our humble car and decided he wasn’t interested. We offered again to report to a police station the next day. He said yes, and asked my name, which of course I offered freely and incorrectly. Then we were allowed to go. For two seconds. Then another cop pointed out our rear lights needed fixing. Of course of course we’ll fix it this week. Outta there!

Again, in hindsight, this wasn’t the worst of our road block experiences, but we were not to know that at the time. Certain expressions of relief and outrage were shared as we drove home, and that was that. Although I am sure the cops at Hohola would have been waiting around despondently for ‘Geoff’ to show up the next morning. For hours on end. Maybe they too were outraged. After all they wouldn’t be used to scandalous lies or anything like that, the poor guys.

Origin fever / Badass cops

The third State of Origin game is only about eight minutes old, but I’m already satisfied with the spectacle. Hulking giants heaving each other and indulging in many cringe-worthy ‘eat my shoulder’ moments. Shoulder of ham perhaps, shoulder of brute – I’ll leave that to the professionals.

The popularity of rugby league in PNG is one of the quintessestial facts of this country. The fact that PNG is the only country worldwide where league is the national sport is usually mentioned in the same breath that informs PNG has roughly one third of the world’s known languages and tends to have law and order issues. You can reiterate such details to the extent that they become close to meaningless, just like the Wikipedia entries you only half bother reading. It’s when you delve into the anecdotal that things get interesting again and you get a better idea of how (if not always why) something like a football game is significant.

A few people I’ve spoken to about the crazy popularity of the State of Origin games usually append an anecdote describing the sounds of loud splashing in Koki and Hanuabada – the noise of television sets hitting the water, of course. More scientific-minded types will assure you television sales rise sharply after Origin games thanks to enraged spectators trying to intervene directly in the game’s outcome via their own screens. More dour types (and of course the newspapers) will tell you about husbands venting violent frustrations on wives, or a footy-crazed young men murdering their own brothers for the eminent crime of supporting the other team. I was struck by the silence in our own neighbourhood after the second game, and wondered if it was all a beat-up. Then two days later reports of the brutal murder of three young guys at the hands of a wild mob in the Five-Mile area after the game surfaced. Who knows what they said and why an entire mob had cause (if any) to chop them to pieces. The point is it happened on Origin night, and hence became part of the gory folklore. Why such murderous reputations seem to be reinforced by actual events is beyond many Papua New Guineans. To be fair most people I meet are absolutely perplexed as to why any of their countryfolk would get so worked up over an Australian sporting match. It’s not that they don’t like the game – they invariably do – but they know it’s a game involving Queenslanders and New South Welshmen. Not a Papua New Guinean on the field (except Kumuls player Neville Costigan – depending on how one defines nationality).

Despite the lack of geographical relevance the ‘blues or maroons’? question is a common one this time of year. It’s sometimes hard to explain why, despite being born in NSW and having grown up in NSW, the maroons are my team of choice. It’s a bit technical explaining that the home town was only twenty minutes from the border, that Brisbane was a bigger feature of my youth than Sydney, and I was just going for the same team my mates did. But for some reason I persist. It also helps to weave a ‘conflict with the missus’ aspect into my explanation – ‘missus blo mi em laik blues, tasol mi laik maroons. Mi gat bigpla hevi.’ What I never, NEVER admit is that since I was about 12 years old I haven’t really given a toss about footy. That would be criminal. Besides PNG does funny things to longlong dimdims and I have found myself enjoying the Friday Night Football in a non-ironic fashion from time to time, and as for the game tonight it is good to see the Blues have reclaimed their spirit, I expect that if this had been the second game the series would have been a NSW win, the opening was fierce as you would expect from a real Origin match and GOOD GOD there goes that bastard in the pink shoes again, SMASH HIM!

The police reaction to the aforementioned post-Origin murders was predictable, and yet another ho-hum horror that seems to reflect a standard ‘truth’ about PNG – the cops are badasses. Without going into specifics the police reacted with a mix of burned houses, evicted squatters and beaten heads – and probably a few more murders, who knows. The heavy handedness was because one of the murdered men was in fact the son of an MP. Cops don’t like losing face over here. They don’t mind being off their faces, typically at road blocks, but losing face thanks to a high profile murder or robbery really ticks them off. The so-called millennium bank robbery in Moresby a few years ago involving a brash helicopter escape is a good example. Somehow, mysteriously, none of the robbers survived arrest after their helicopter was shot from the sky – eyewitnesses did report they were quite alive at time of apprehension however. Another great example is an anecdote I heard last night from a guest who lives in the East Sepik bush. He described a local policeman’s solution to a stray dog wandering on an airport runway – unload a full clip from his M-16 in the dog’s general direction. The scene seems so ludicrous when I imagine it, I can’t help but wonder how the dog felt about it all. Yes, the canine survived, but was probably very confused afterwards.

A Waste of a Day.

It was a waste of a day. Aside from running into Peter the moustachio’d Sepik man and wondering when the rubbish would be collected (it’s been a week) there wasn’t much to it. Stayed inside away from the heat. Close to zero output, even though there’s a bit to do and heaps on my mind. Started a letter – for the third time. That was it.

At about three our guest from Melbourne came home and we went to the market for dinner supplies. I only went to clear my head and also to fulfil the vague kind of responsibility one has to one’s friends, ie watch their back. A pumpkin, some carrots and some greens later we’re ready to go. There is a commotion. A guy is greeting us at close proximity, with about eight or ten other young guys behind him watching with keen amused interest. He introduces himself as Jason No Violence, he wanted to know where we were – I wasn’t sure if he was being cryptic or if his English was messed up. The question is repeated. Where are you people. I’m doing volunteer work, I offered, and my friend is working for a university in Melbourne. The usual outwardly confident, inwardly shitscared mode of behaviour kicks in. University? he exclaims. I have attended the University of PNG for twenty years! I notice the older women waving us on, urging us to disengage from this guy’s insistent conversation. He’s not wearing a shirt but wears pristine clean white tracksuit pants and a hat of the same colour. I smoke MARIJUANA, Pee-En-Gee WEED he says proudly. It’s busy at the market, kids and dogs are everywhere, and our exchange is still the object of intense curiosity. Time to go. Of course Mister No Violence wants my phone number. Conveniently I have left my phone at home and I don’t remember the number itself – mainly so I don’t have to lie to people’s faces in situations such as these. He’s only slightly fazed. You know they say sharing is caring, he says, so have you got some coins for me for a drink? This time I’m pleased to lie. No, my missus keeps all my money. He persists, insisting he asks my companion. We leave. You ask the lady! Mr No Violence shouts after us. No was the best I could come up with. People seemed to laugh, at what I wasn’t sure. I didn’t care. Mister No Violence didn’t follow us. That’s what I cared about.

Our bemusement kicked in once we were up the street a bit and we reflected how funny it was that even the most eventless day can be turned on its head just by a random encounter. PNG! Land of the unexpected. All those cliches. We were happy enough to be crossing Waigani Drive, finally out of reach of the eyes of the young guys at the market. We were stepping onto the dusty median strip when two packs of school kids started to riot directly in front of us. Sticks and a few rocks were flying and the women selling the buai started scurrying. I had seen the kids fighting from the balcony at about the same time the day before – surprisingly (or in hindsight, predictably?), they were at it again. Yesterday the cops had broken the mob of kids up after a few minutes – for some reason the youngsters chose the PMV stop just outside the Waigani police station to rumble at. Although the finer points of the event were not evident the day before thanks to a couple of trees the general narrative wasn’t hard to discern – the kids fight, the cops come, the kids run away. Where are the cops? I wondered as we stood amidst four lanes of slowing traffic and a scattered crowd of stick-wielding youngsters in school uniforms.

Dumb question. They were right behind us. A siren. We spun around. A big fella in blue had emerged from his four wheel drive with a shotgun, a few metres away. Bang-bang, in the air, and the collective taste for violence dissipated rapidly with the crowd. I recalled a story a friend told me when he was at the footy and had heard gunfire. He’d suggested aloud that it was rubber bullets but a guy next to him had corrected him quickly: make no mistake, the guy had said to my friend, we do not have rubber bullets in PNG. This anecdote seemed prescient as we crossed the road, now unhindered by the pugnacious kids that had stalled us only twenty seconds or so before.