OF TRAFFIC LIGHTS, VANDALS AND TAXIS IN POHNPEI

Editorial

Kaselehlie Press

POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (Sept. 22) - Having accomplished a fair amount of work in the morning and ready for lunch, I walked to my battle scarred car and found that the poor thing had taken yet another hit. For whatever reason, an unknown someone decided that it would be fun, or at least interesting to run a sharp object down its side. The wound that extended from the driver’s door down the rest of its length to the bumper was fresh enough that paint dust still clung from the ragged edges of the scar. The car had been parked outside of Namiki Restaurant which is upstairs from the Kolonia office of The Kaselehlie Press.

I tell you where it was parked only so that you will be certain to know that I’m not talking about our offices in Paris, Los Angeles, Vienna, or Katmandu. This "keying" most definitely occurred in Kolonia, Pohnpei.

Rats, pigeons and crime thrive in places where people gather to live. Vandalism is just one of the crimes that occurs in Pohnpei. It is vandalism if a person scrapes a key down the length of a car not belonging to him or her, just as it was vandalism when another person painted a sexual epithet on the sign that serves as the welcome to Kolonia on its southwest end. The crime involving the sign doesn’t seem to bother Kolonia Town leaders or citizens because the epithet has been there for months. Perhaps the directive of the vandal echoes its citizen’s desires for its visitors? I doubt it.

This whole "law and order topic" struck me as something that might be interesting to you because of a conversation I had with Police Chief Joe Roby, of the Pohnpei State Police Department. We had coffee sitting at the picnic benches at the Namiki building, not 50 feet from where my car was later "keyed". We were talking about how law enforcement is going to be stepped up in Pohnpei on October 1st following the graduation of 15 of his police officers from the Police Academy on the 28th of September.

Chief Roby said something had to be done "with our roads". While the state of our roads is a completely different story, what he was talking about on that day was the way people drive and walk on them in Pohnpei. He spoke of new 24-hour motorcycle patrols all over Pohnpei to try to maintain both vehicular and other types of law and order. Almost wistfully he spoke about breathalyzers for sobriety testing and radar speed guns to begin to deal with excessively fast, excessively slow, and excessively twisted drivers on Pohnpei roads.

We talked about the much touted but yet to be seen traffic lights. He says they will soon be coming to Pohnpei. He, wondered aloud about what drivers who have been unused to following traffic signals would do with their instruction as well as how the lights could be programmed for peak and non-peak traffic times. What about atypical traffic days like when the streets are filled with recipients of Social Security and their families?

That conversation led to another short one about the incessant blowing of whistles by traffic cops who don’t seem to know that blowing a whistle every 1 and a half seconds deadens the whistle’s impact on drivers. We agreed that the whistle is intended to indicate a change in direction in much the same way that a yellow traffic light says, "I’m about to change to red and if you can stop safely right now, you really ought to start thinking about it." Can you imagine a traffic light that changed immediately from green to red and the rear end collisions that would result?

Chief Roby seemed to be especially concerned as he talked, about the driving habits of taxi drivers who in recent weeks have been blamed for several accidents and have also been accused of miscellaneous crimes. The accidents have been as mundane and irritating as fender benders and as serious as head on injury accidents at excessive speeds. Taxi drivers’ crimes have ranged from driving under the influence to the despicable alleged rape of a young girl.

It’s another subject I could go on and on about. Perhaps I should for a moment…

Taxi companies have not raised their fees in ages because no one seems to want to be the first to do so. To make the same inflation eroded money they did six years ago, drivers have to take on more fares than ever they had to do in the past. They have to drive faster in order to make it happen. Maybe I’m alone but I’d rather pay double the fare than to continue to have the problems that have occurred with drivers lately; drivers who are trying to make a living. Making a living seems to be more important in many of their minds than whether or not they’re driving safely—not bad people just unsafe and uncaring drivers.

Chief Roby and I talked about the Police Department’s efforts, both past and future to educate the public in a society that has had several Police Departments for many years but still has not really come to terms with the job they are charged to do. Performance in the past has not always been top notch. There have been a few cops who act as if their flashing lights, sirens, or even their uniforms make them invincible and untouchable and this has hurt their communication with the public and made their job harder.

As always, when I am with Chief Roby the conversation turned to why all this increased law enforcement is necessary. I, who am part of one of the cultures that likely brought the problem to Pohnpei in the first place, am the one that seems, more often than not, to turn the conversation in that direction. I’m constantly amazed, knowing that family ties are supposed to be the strongest ones in Pohnpei, that families are more and more falling down on the job.

Children wander the streets at night to do whatever they will, including breaking into places they don’t belong and creating havoc inside or stealing from those places while parents are oblivious to their offspring’s doings.

In some cases, there is family complicity involved in crime. Family members not only condone but charge their members to participate in illegal activities in order to support the household.

It’s not surprising really. In 2000, the Pohnpei Census said that unemployment was at 26%. Anecdotally, by which I mean, "the ‘facts’ that people talk about whether real or imagined", Pohnpei’s unemployment rate is now at nearly 40%. It may be and it may not be but the point is that the public perception is that it is true.

If you can get it, rather than cash under the table at a lower amount, minimum wage is still just $1.35 per hour before taxes. Gasoline and kerosene is currently at $4.30 a gallon. Electricity costs 37 cents a kilowatt hour. A forty pound bag of rice, which may eventually give its consumers diabetes but will keep them alive until it kills them, averages around $16.95 a bag; 12 and a half hours of labor before tax if someone in the family is employed at minimum wage.

A friend of mine told me about a pathway that continues on beyond the reputable place where he works. The pathway leads to a house near the water where a family lives along with several of their young female relatives. He said that often the young girls are accompanied down the path by an older obviously unrelated male who only stays for around 30 minutes. Later in the day, a 40 pound bag of rice or a case of chicken is delivered to the home. One can only imagine what type of labor was performed for the food supplies. I imagine all of the family members being kicked out of the house while the labor is performed. The thought saddens me. Suddenly my keyed car just doesn’t seem all that important.

Perhaps better law enforcement will help where culture has begun to fail. It’s a shame that more citations will have to be issued and more arrests will have to be made in order to get people to treat each other better. I hope that it won’t take long to get the message out that the Police are serious and that penalties will have to be paid if you break the law.

Whether those penalties will be a sufficient deterrent, or whether the courts will be able to act quickly enough for the accused to remember what it is they’re being punished for I don’t know.

The Kaselehlie Press

© 2007 The Kaselehlie Press

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