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Sometimes Bad Things Happen.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA | Sunday, 20 May 2012 | Views [6306]

People of Misima Island

People of Misima Island

Papua New Guinea. The scariest place on earth.

There I’ve said it. And I posted it, so it must be true.

I was sent to Papua New Guinea on a work assignment in 2010 after asking my boss to send me somewhere starting with P. I was thinking Paris. He had a warped sense of humour. I have never turned down an opportunity to travel, so I accepted the assignment with enthusiasm and booked my vaccinations well in advance and then my security briefing on the night before my departure.

At the travel clinic to get jabbed by a thousand needles, I met an Australian police woman heading to East Timor. She chose East Timor over PNG because of the scare factor in the latter and then shared some stories about her female colleague in PNG hiding behind rape doors, sleeping with a gun in her bed and generally fearing for her life every waking second.

My internal security brief didn’t provide any further comfort. I had second thoughts on going.

I was told that Papua New Guinea was by far the scariest place on Earth, with hourly hijackings and weekly murders of expats. I wasn’t to venture outside the compound of my hotel and if I went for a run, it was to be in the hallway outside my room. I was to be escorted from the hotel to my office daily; I was not allowed to dine in local restaurants or go anywhere without my armed chaperone. And if I lived to tell the tale of my time in PNG, I could consider myself a legend.  OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I did survive a horrific event during my time in PNG and ironically this is what made me fall in love with the country.

Flying over various shades of blue reefs into Port Moresby aroused my appetite for all things PNG. Having just returned from the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, I wanted to explore the reefs below me. The airline magazine promised unforgettable adventures that would bring lifetime memories.

Papua New Guinea has a backbone of treacherous mountains and unpredictable weather. The landscape is absolutely stunning - deep green jungles, waterfalls, prehistoric mountain ranges surrounded by the colourful reefs of the Pacific. The bird life in Papua New Guinea provides the tribal elders with fancy feathered headdress and cloaks. This place is one serious rainbow on steroids. But it was the people I fell in love with during my short time in Papua. They say that in times of great crisis or difficulties, it’s the generosity of people that shine. How true this was for me.

The most traumatic experience of my life happened on day two of my PNG adventure - a plane crash. A horrible event that lives with me everyday. The memories of that time still cut so deep that I find it difficult to talk or write about without gulping for air. I was spared my life that day, sadly the same cannot be said for my colleagues whose bodies were left unidentifiable. The jet crashed while landing at Misima Island, on a coral reef in adverse conditions. The people of Misima mourned the four strangers who lost their lives; they wailed and cried and grieved for people they had never met. They picked colourful flowers and lined the streets in their honour and when it was time to put the body bags on another small plane back to Port Moresby, they blessed the crew and filled the plane with flowers. It was overflowing and beautiful.

At the hangar in Port Moresby, my local colleagues gathered around me; a white stranger they hardly knew. The women held me, wrapped me in their motherly arms and sang songs - we cried together as we sang. They sincerely cared about me. They sincerely cared about my colleagues. They were the most caring strangers I had ever met.

On my final day in Papua New Guinea, my colleagues farewelled me with song and local gifts. One nurse gave me her handbag, a local woven billum that held her belongings. It remains one of the most precious gifts I have ever been given.

I flew home, back over the greenest mountains, the bluest sea and the magnificent coral reefs. I did not get to experience any of the beauty that PNG has to offer and I probably never will. I live to tell the tale of my time in PNG but I am no legend. The kind people of Misima Island and Port Moresby who helped me and my colleagues are the legends.

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