The recent photograph on the front page of The National triggered memories of my stint with the National Statistical Office (NSO) and the long walk up to mountains of Agitana village in the Central province.
It was late in 2006 but I can still recall it like it was yesterday. We had started off the previous afternoon and stayed at a village along the Magi Highway. Early the next morning we made our way to the remote village of Agitana which lay on the border of the Koiari and Rigo districts.
The first part of journey was on a truck and it took us about three hours along an old logging road before we reached a river. There were walked up the mountains for almost four hours before arriving at our destination. However, we heard that the locals often made the walk in an hour or less!
We had packed foodstuff, electric lamps, tents and mosquito nets for trip so there was a bit of weight on our shoulders. On top of that, we had female members in our team so we had to accommodate their speed. The road itself was scenic but we were warned by our guide of Papuan Blacks and leeches.
I, unfortunately, had a leech suck on my leg but thankfully our team leader, Andrew Waio, had experience in these types of situations and burned it with a match instead of just pulling it out.
The locals were quite welcoming and we were asked to stay at the village councillor’s home for the night. His name, if I can recall correctly, was Ubure.
In true Melanesian hospitality, the villagers brought us plates of food and came to entertain us with stories that night. It was almost like we were long lost family members who had come back after a long time away. In exchange for their hospitality, we gave distributed our foodstuff, which were mainly tinned food and rice, to those who brought us food. That was on a Friday.
The next day, Saturday, we were asked to observe the local’s day of worship and did not do any work. The village was predominantly Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) and so to respect their wishes we stayed in and took in the sights of the village.
According to the locals, the village had moved location to higher grounds after a flood. However, land issues had forced some villager to return to their original location.
There were a number of houses in the village that had iron sheet roofing and the villagers told us about how men from their village would ferry modern building materials across the Sirinumu and then carry them over a couple of mountains to their village.
On Sunday morning we started our exercise of collecting statistics for the Demography and Health Survey and by noon we had finished. This was mainly due to the fact that their councillor had advised the villagers that we would be conducting our interviews on Sunday during their church service the previous day.
The villagers were excited to meet us mainly because we were representatives of the government and it was the first time in a long while since officials had visited their village.
Most of the villagers when hearing that we were from the government would air out their frustrations. Their common consensus was that they were traditionally a part of the Koiari people. They speak the Koiari language and even share the traditional practices and beliefs. However, a political border written by expatriates a long time ago has forced them to be considered as part of inland Rigo. This did not bother them as much as the lack of government services that reached them.
There were no proper roads to the village which made it difficult for the people to transport their produce for market and to bring in much needed medical supplies and other essentials.
They raised many queries regarding government services but being engaged to conduct interviews for the DHS survey meant that we could not answer or address any of it unless it fell into our jurisdiction. However, I have always thought about the people of that small village and only today I have put pen to paper.
This so that people are aware that even the localities close to the city are often neglected, but you don’t get to see it in the media.
I hope that after I left some kind of development or change would have taken place and the people would know that the survey I went there to conduct was not just an exercise but something that brought them change.