PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 6) - Port Moresby is a rocky and dusty place. The hills surrounding the Papua New Guinea capital are often barren brown, and it therefore comes as a shock that for some, the land is a rich source of their livelihood.

Indeed, the general perception is that the city is dry, and the soil non-arable.

Many passionate and hardworking folk, however, have proven this to be otherwise.

With the arrival of the rainy season, the rows upon rows of neat brown patches of newly-plowed soil will be sharply contrasted by batches of greenery on every hillside around the city.

With minimum care, the soil yields rich harvests year after year without fail.

The Ela beachfront is a classical case. Hardly anyone would have believed that anyone could make a living on the small rectangular strip between the former Seventh Day Adventist Church administrative capital and the Ela Beach Hotel.

Tass Maliya, a gnarled stumpy old bull of a man thought otherwise. Each year, he earns about K2,000 from the land growing corn which he cooks at street corners and sell for K1 each.

The strip sits idle for much of year, covered with undergrowth.

Between December and May, the onslaught of rain brings a total transformation.

Joe "Bikmaus" and Henry Taul Kii are among the many people who have successfully tilled the land at the city fringes.

The two Simbus reside at Vanuatu, Bomana Turn-Off, a large settled zone just past the big sprawling 9th Mile settlement blocks.

Until recently, both men had faithfully farmed small patches of land in and round Turn-Off all through the year to support their large families. Today, Joe is a policeman based at the Gordons police station while Henry is a gravel specialist with the Rouna Quarries at 9th Mile.

Joe’s loud character has earned himself an affectionate nickname - "Bikmaus", which in English means, of course, "loud mouth".

Many have stood in the wrong place and been victim of his verbal onslaughts.

Recalling the early years, Joe could not hide the difficulties he had to go through.

"I had to dig into the land with my hands full time or the family could have died," he said.

He was rewarded for his determination and often farmed enough to sell his produce at various markets.

Later, he was contracted to supply to the Port Moresby General Hospital and the University of Papua New Guinea kitchens.

"During good weather, I could earn as much as K600 a month," he said proudly.

Over the years, Joe saved enough to build a three-bedroom home and sent all his children to school.

When not tending to his plots, Joe took it upon himself to help maintain law and order in the community. In 1991, he was accepted into the police force as a reservist after a short training stint at the Bomana Police College.

Later, he was made a full constable, stationed at the Gordons station.

Unlike Joe, Henry is a jack of all trades, taking on odd jobs when not farming.

Being a witty character, he is well liked and has picked up many skills from lending a hand wherever a pair is needed. He even devised an irrigation system for his vegetable plots using whatever materials he could find.

At one stage, Henry earned so much money that he lost all desire to get a job.

Despite his full-time job with Rouna Querries today, Henry still finds time to till his plots, with help from wife Mana Gai.

"You just need to feed it (the soil) life by giving water and anything you plant will grow abundantly," he said.

May 7, 2004

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