Monday, June 15, 2009

This is Papua New Guinea

PNG Customs/Immigration office West Sepik border. The wheel barrows are to help locals carry bought goods.

Would you like some turtle with the village tour?

Henry, a Papuan living in West Sepik Province, can cross into Indonesia without a visa or passport.

Local waiting for PNG customs official at Vanimo border

"You sure it's okay to jump over the border," I asked, already mid-leap.
"What else we going to do?" my friend said, now standing in Papua New Guinea, to the cheers of entertained locals.
With the fearless can-do attitude of foreign correspondents worldwide and the grace of a circus clown, I made the leap, crossing back from Indonesia into PNG.
PNG must be one of the few countries in the world where at times you have to climb a fence to cross its international border.
It's an entry method probably not discussed at recent PNG-Australia ministers' meetings where Australian Customs committed to further helping PNG Customs modernise their border management.
The biggest problem I had leaving the Indonesian side was young officials questioning why I wanted a wall poster displaying their past political leaders.
The moustached military men on my 1980s illustrated souvenir was quickly confiscated. Another guard unpacked a toiletries bag and out spilled the collection of soaps and balms lifted from various hotels.
He demanded to know, what was inside one thin small cardboard box.
"Toothbrush," my friend obediently said.
They flipped through books, rummaged through dirty laundry, then told us to leave.
Things were a little different back in PNG.
After our leap of faith back to PNG, locals insisted we wait for Customs to arrive.
We explained that when we left several days before we simply crossed the border with a horde of traditional Papua New Guineans, who can come and go without any passport or visa.
We'd left PNG without any official customs or immigration stamp, so didn't see the need for a re-entry stamp.
But the locals called Customs and eventually someone arrived.
Upon hearing our story the official was somewhat flummoxed.
"This is illegal exit," he told us.
"Isn't it illegal entry?" I quipped and received a sharp nudge from my friend.
We retold our story that no one was here to sign us out.
"When no one is here you must wait," he said.
The perplexed official then flipped through our passports staring long and hard into each page, as though it was a magic-eye puzzle and the 3-D images would tell him what to do next.
"Work permits! Come," he said.
A long silence followed.
Then in a self-affirming statement, he finally said: "This is Papua New Guinea."
Another long pause followed.
Indeed, this was Papua New Guinea par excellence, so we humbly nodded.
"You must respect the laws of Papua New Guinea."
And so began a long rambling speech about the integrity of PNG's constitution, sovereign laws and institutions. We'd heard it all before. It's the talk police give you before requesting a "donation".
He then opened his official ledger, where our names would have been, if he had been there the previous time to write them down.
After another long search of the book, he closed it confidently.
"You have not cleared customs," he said.
We humbly nodded.
He returned to the passports with another vacant bureaucratic look, best described as "syntax error".
He then decided to call his manager, the Vanimo police commander and maybe the PNG Defence Force who have a checkpoint down the road.
But he realised he didn't have any mobile phone credit.
Trying to be helpful, I tried my phone but it needed charging. I went to plug the charger into the wall's power point but saw it was mere affectation, just a casing glued to the wall.
In a flash of inspiration the official decided to inspect our bags.
He opened them and rummaged through. He picked up the pile of DVDs that according to a sign behind him were illegal in PNG.
He put them back. He admired our Cobra stronger, longer-lasting erection spray we bought at the border. He smiled, then zipped up the bag.
The Vanimo bus driver was now tired of waiting so he told the official to hurry up - and so ended our interrogation.
We were taken to the police chief and on leaving we apologised profusely, telling him we'd learnt our lesson.
I had to speak to the police chief anyway about a recent incident where the Forest Minister and local MP set up a vigilante style "border ranger" protection unit supposed to protect locals but ended up terrorising villagers. The climax was a police shoot-out with them in front of Vanimo market.
Our ordeal was not yet over. On the way to town the driver took us on a tour of his village.
I thought maybe this was where we would be fleeced but instead he offered us chunks of cold turtle meat.
Conversation shifted from our immigration woes to where we would be staying and where we could get beer.
The driver pocketed an extra 50 kina ($A20) for the ride and a six pack bought from the PNG Defence Force military mess hall, as other liquor outlets were respecting the Queen's Birthday public holiday.
We smiled big smiles, waved goodbye then relaxed into our one-star hotel.
All was forgotten until I spent the next three days languishing bedridden with some fever akin to Tropical Madness.
This is Papua New Guinea.


  1. The spray doesn't work. Trust me.

  2. For the record Cobra spray is an erection enhancer not for erection dysfunction - as several have suggested!

  3. Ilya, your tale of woe at Wutung took me back to Good Friday 2007. What a memorable place.



  4. Thanks for sharing such beneficial pictures, ideas and information with us. Your blog article is really very useful when you are discussing about Papua New Guinea and authentic images. Please keep sharing more views with us.

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