By GENO NAU-BUGA
WILSON TIMA, aged in his mid 40s walked for days to the remote hinterland of Mirigeda in the Amazon Bay area of Central province and returned home infected.
His infection was not malarial or from any tropical diseases, it was cerebral. (Pictured above right - Enjoying fresh cool bath in a flooded jungle stream)
Tima was infected by the beautiful memories of a slice of paradise that just won't leave his mind.
Armed with a digital camera, this adventurous man from Kainantu in Eastern Highlands province, braved the waves of the Amazon Bay, the rugged terrains, fast flowing streams and the leech-infested river beds to walk into the territory of Nunuma and Balebo to enjoy the adventure as well as capture the magnificent scenery.
Many people would be wondering particularly what a Highlands person was doing in that far corner of the country which borders Central and Milne Bay provinces.
In fact, Tima and his family have been living at Moreguina or New Town as it is commonly referred to by locals from Abau for over a decade. Moreover, Tima has become familiar with that part of eastern Papua as a sort of luxuriant backyard, a more tranquil, natural and beautiful place to visit when life in the teeming city of Port Moresby which is a couple of hundred kilometers is too hectic.
Tima has been a teacher for over ten years in that remote part of Central province. He taught at St Stevens Primary and Amau Community in the Cloudy Bay area then to Manabo and Magaubo community schools in the Amazon Bay area.
Prior to Tima' posting in Central province, he was assigned to remote schools in the Star Mountain area of North Fly in Western province. His first posting was at Golgobip primary school in the Star Mountains.
Tima, in an interview with this scribe pointed out that nowadays, most people in urban settings lead a hurried tense life. Therefore, visiting a remote place can enable them to feel released from such pressure.
"Being posted to remote schools since I took up teaching I seem to naturally fall in love being in rural places of the country,
"Just by living and working there you get to know the local people, make friends and enjoy their company,
"It is even cheaper because you are given a small portion of land to make gardens to supplement your family meals and sometimes go out with locals for hunting and fishing trips," Tima explained.
He said the nearby forests and its natural habitat and the cool flowing streams give a sense of pleasure, warm and peace brought about by the beauty of nature.
Wilson's journey began on December 18, 2009 when he left his family at Moreguina and boarded a house-boat spending K100 to travel to Mirigeda. He was accompanied by four other local men, who became his good friends because they shared betel nut, smoke, stories and even old newspapers to roll their tobacco while crossing the rugged terrains and the leafy canopies of the forest.
"Most of my friends are peace-loving and easy-going and I enjoy their company very much," Wilson said.
Tima's love of living in remote locations in the country just came naturally. Being a primary school teacher, education agencies he was employed with deployed him to some of the remotest community schools in the country. Sadly though, most of these schools lack proper infrastructure and teachers who are posted to these schools are often disadvantaged in basic services that their fellow colleague teachers in urban centers enjoy.
Tima's trip to that section of Central province was for fun. However, he utilized that opportunity to assist the local people sell and market their Eaglewood, also called agarwood, gaharu or aloeswood. The wood is known around the world for its highly valuable perfume and incense. Reportedly, PNG is one of the last remaining frontiers for natural areas of these trees.
Tima claimed many black-market buyers have been going into these areas of Cape Rodney and Amazon Bay looking for the wood. They even convinced the locals and go with them right into the bush to locate a tree suspected of having the resin harvested from the trees. Unfortunately, villagers are then paid only a small fraction of the real value of the wood while the black market buyers receive more.
He said he uses his own resources and finance to travel to the remote location and lives with friends he trusted.
It usually takes him three days to walk to the mountains where eaglewood is found.
Due to the remoteness of Nunuma and Balebo not many locals have travelled out to sell their Eaglewood to get an income. Moreover, the people have not been properly trained to manage eaglewood in a sustainable manner which in the long run would benefit their rural community thus improve their quality of live.
"Many people have gone into the area and have tricked the people that they will being the samples and later come back to inform them," Tima said.
"The poor people have no idea that even samples have monetary value," he added.
The forests of the Amazon Bay area, together with the mangroves on the coastal fringes are source of wellbeing for many of the indigenous communities. They provide life's essential such as food, water, medicine and free services like erosion control and protection from effects of climate change like rising sea level and temperature.
The people's heavy reliance on the environment due to the lack of basic infrastructure like roads to bring services into this remote corner of Central and Milne Bay provinces is putting pressure on new generation of leaders and technocrats.
Through his conversing with the locals, Tima found out that there were logging activities in the area previously. During the course of harvesting the trees from the forest, the exploiters mainly the Asians have left the people high and dry afterwards. Moreover, the local people had to fend for themselves in order to have access to basic services normally through their own expense.
Tima said the prices of trade store goods in that part of PNG are very high. A one kilogram packet of price is about K10. A kilogram of sugar is about K8 and a packet of Maggie noodles is about K1.50.
The feeder-road used to transporting timber down to the coast for shipment has been left unattended to and grasses are growing again on this once busy road used by loggers to bring their harvests to the shores to be shipped.
According to Tima, it is the cry of the local people to see either the Central Provincial Government or the local MP take aggressive steps to promote the distinctive natural resources to local and international tourists or conservation agencies.
In doing so the people will have some form of income and maybe create business activities to sustain and improve their quality of life.