07 NOVEMBER 2020
The global pandemic of Covid-19 has had many repercussions to daily life and keeping abreast with World Health Organization recommendations, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government has also defined the ‘new normal’ for its citizens.
But to thousands of the peri-urban poor, struggling to survive during trying economic times, the impact of policing health measures is just another normal day.
At Nine Mile on the Okuk Highway outside of Lae City, PNG’s economic hub, market vendors, mostly mothers, have set up their vegetable selling activities along the side of the road, seated one meter away from moving traffic.
The highway-side markets have been going strong since the middle of May this year, even before the first official nationwide lockdown ended on June 2. It’s a basic survival need for households with annual incomes less than 2,000 Euro.
Nine Mile market is one of a number of popular fresh vegetable markets set up on an informal basis along the highway leading out of Lae. It operates in the afternoons seven days a week but was officially closed during the April to June enforced Covid-19 lock-down, when an expatriate worker fell ill to the viral infection in a hotel at Ten Mile.
The usual location for the market was an area opposite the current lane, an area negotiated with regular disputation, between local land owners, the community and a poultry company based nearby.
The market place itself is a bare patch of land where fresh vegetables are placed on cut plastic sheets or mats and shade may be provided by large umbrellas or lean-to draped with shading cloth.
Informal marketing is the most important economic earning activity for more than half of the population while it is estimated that only about 15% of the country’s 8 million people have formal means of employment.
Yet informal vegetable markets are given scant attention by local level governments for even the most basic services, such as sanitation as simple as a source of clean water to wash hands, let alone a latrine.
Informal market places, such as Nine Mile market are usually set within communities where land use is negotiated with customary land owners who have no obligation to local governments.
It is apparent that local leaders also have no obligations towards community health services.
The best the women marketers at Nine Mile can hope for is that the police won’t turn up to run them off and destroy their produce, as was done to women in a similar predicament in the capital city Port Moresby.
This normal is not new.
Michael Theophilus Dom, born in 1977, is a poet and scientist, graduated from University of Adelaide (PhD in animal
science) and University of Papua New Guinea (BSc in chemistry), and working at the Papua New Guinea National Agriculture Research Institute. Dom is doing science & technology research for developing Papua New Guinea’s smallholder agriculture and livestock sector. In 2012, Dom won the Poetry Award of PNG’s national literary competition, The Crocodile Prize, for his sonnet “I met a pig farmer the other day”. His first collection of poetry, “At another Crossroads”, was published by the UPNG Press in 2013. Michael’s second collection, “The Musing of an Assistant Pig Keeper”, and two chapbooks, “O Arise!” and “Send words as gifts”, were published on the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform in 2015 and 2016 respectively. His most recent publications are “Dried grass over rough-cut logs” and “26 sonnets”, by PNG independent publishers late Francis Nii and Jordan Dean, respectively.
This article first appeared on 31.08.2020 in the LCB Diplomatique – The Literary Colloquium Berlin’s alternative news portal International literary correspondents report on political aspects of their everyday lives in texts and images at https://lcb.de/diplomatique/the-covid-19-new-normal/?en.