By John Kaupa KAMASUA
For the Essay & Journalism Category – PNG Crocodile Prize, 2016
A week ago, I witnessed a traffic accident along Waigani drive in Port Moresby, close to the Waigani Police station and the traffic lights.
Traffic was heavy and the line of cars ahead of us moved at a snail’s pace. A particular taxi squeezed its way onto the main road, oblivious to the car that was almost in front of it. It hit the car on its side, and the front carry almost came lose.
The driver of the car that was hit did not see the damage to his car. But obviously he felt the bump.
I saw that the taxi which caused the accident already moved on and was ahead by at least two vehicles.
No one who saw it alerted the taxi driver to stop. I felt that this was not right.
Although I was late for a meeting by several minutes, I quickly got out of my car and approached the errant taxi.
I noticed that the taxi driver was unwashed, had betel nut in his mouth, and his clothes looked as if they had been on him for a year. And the inside of his car could just have been salvaged from Baruni dump a few days earlier. The engine was running without a key in the ignition.
His face was expressionless. He looked right ahead – his eyes stone cold.
I told him that he had just bumped another car back there and need to pull to the side. He gave the excuse that there was too many traffic and must wait for the traffic lights to change.
This intrusion allowed the driver in the distressed car to come over. It was then that I noticed him as a popular journalist and a columnist for a weekend newspaper. He was a few years ahead of me at UPNG.
We followed the taxi as it swung into the direction of Morata. Once I was at his side, I signalled him to stop which he finally complied.
By then my journalist friend had already caught up with us. We blocked him from both the front and back
We asked the taxi driver to come with us to the police station to sort it out. He initially refused, saying something in Tok Pisin that was barely audible.
But when he saw that we were persistent, he agreed. He asked my journalist friend to give him some space so that he could move as my friend had blocked his part in front.
I immediately realised that this was a mistake, because as soon as he was ahead of us and in the clear, he accelerated and headed straight for Morata – escape!
There was no traffic police in sight.
A confrontation if we did catch up with him was not something we wanted. We did not give chase.
The journalist got the registration number of the taxi, and said he would give it to the traffic police.
He thanked me, and I wished him well.
Then on my way to the meeting, I recollected another incident in 2012 at the back of Boroko Post Office.
I was out of my car on the side of the road and was on the phone. I had made a split second decision to continue receiving the call on the driver’s side of my car, facing the Boroko Informal Market.
A few seconds later, I was jolted by a loud noise. A young lady from the Central province had bumped into my car at the back where I was a few moments before.
Fate at work!
This happened quickly and I was stunned by shock momentarily. When I recovered, my immediate reaction was her safety.
I approached the car and saw the young lady and her daughter crying. She had wet her seat and was shaking uncontrollably in the driver’s seat. I asked her if she and her daughter were ok, then I saw the damage.
The back of my car was rammed in, but because of the rubber casing, the damage was minimal. Her small car was a wreck in front.
I finally asked them to come out of the car so we can go to the Traffic Police at Boroko. Many bystanders had gathered to witness the incident. Some were shouting: “Kill her!” and “Paitim em!”
I realised that her safety rested on how I would react towards her. There was the danger of being set upon by the angry mob. She could be molested, her valuables stolen and car damaged or set alight, or worse.
Do not underestimate what opportunists can do on the streets of Port Moresby.
So I calmly asked her to call a relative, while the crowd watched. After some waiting, a relative (husband or father) arrived in a Toyota Hilux with tinted glasses. She got in and we agreed to go to the Boroko traffic Police to sort it out. Another relative got into the small car and we all drove to the station.
On the way the Toyota Hilux disappeared. And at the Boroko roundabout the traffic separated me and the car. I could see the driver watching me, and I signalled him to follow quickly. But he deliberately delayed some more. Then after two more cars passed between us, I noticed that he had disappeared completely.
It was then that I realized how foolish I had been to think that the young lady and her relatives were going to cooperate. I felt totally let down. Cheated.
Here I was trying to play by the rules, and showing some humanity.
The two incidents told me that somehow we have come together from small ethnic units out of convenience. And we use the Port Moresby city space as an arena for opportunism. We care mostly for our good and that of our own kind, but not with the same measure for others or the common good.
There is very little sense of civic responsibility and duties; no strong feeling of ownership and care, for the city and what it means for us as citizens.
That is why apart from the usual watering holes where people go to drown their sorrows, the city has no real soul or life. People do not subscribe to a common culture.
It told me something else too. Escaping from the law, or not wanting to be responsible for our actions are still very strong inclinations ingrained in our people.
I have seen drivers running over pedestrians on our roads, and driving on, leaving the victims in pain or dying.
And I have seen traffic accident victims in Port Moresby, being searched and robbed of their wallets or valuables before the ambulances arrived. I have seen even policemen in uniforms do that.
Ah! The way we behave sometimes.