Sunday, August 7, 2011

I am a victim of Port Moresby street crime…and come up smiling!

by Geoffrey Heard

It's Sunday morning, and I'm feeling absurdly chuffed. The reason is simple; last night I was a victim of Port Moresby's notorious street crime … but came out of it victorious. Well, almost!

In the taxi home, I couldn't take the adrenalin-fueled grin off my face or stop myself chuckling as I ran and re-ran the scenario in my head. Petty though the situation was, I felt as though I had been tested and had triumphed. Like some sort of rite of passage.

The incident occurred as a group of us left the Lamana Hotel's Gold Club after seeing the PNG's Got Talent hip-hop dance competition.
As we stepped through the door, I slipped the taxi fare home, two bills, a K10 and a K5 (a generous fare for the short trip), into my shirt pocket ready to pay the taxi without having to take my wallet out of my buttoned hip pocket. I realized too late that the end of that action could be seen through the bars of the gate. Careless.

The taxi was 30-40 meters outside the Lamana security gate (everywhere in Port Moresby has security fences and gates -- homes, restaurants, supermarkets…). As we walked towards the taxi, a man, apparently drunk, attached himself to me, talking rubbish about the show and asking us for a lift home in our taxi.

I was instantly wary and began (as is my wont) rehearsing possible scenarios and my response. He had to be preparing to pick my pocket (a hold-up was out of the question with so much security nearby, I thought) and his best bet would be to go for it as I was getting into the car; half standing, half sitting. I planned accordingly.

His chance came early though. I was set to get into the taxi with my eyes firmly on the would-be pickpocket and the taxi door between him and me, when one of our party stopped behind me and questioned the
amount of the quoted fare (most taxis don’t have meters).

Involuntarily, my eyes turned towards the speaker and in that moment the thief's hand flashed to my shirt pocket like a striking snake, skilled fingers pincered onto the money and whipped it out. I didn't feel a thing!

But I saw -- even as I glanced away from him I was realizing my mistake and my eyes flicked back just in time to see his hand moving away. Another striking snake (the night was full of them!) and I had his hand and the moneyt in my grip. I pushed him off balance with my other hand and stripped the notes from between his fingers. I had the K10 in my grasp; the K5 bill fell to the ground. I left it, hopped into the taxi and we were away.

A couple of the security guards started down the hill towards us. I waved them away -- in Port Moresby, security guards will give a petty thief a severe beating. I didn't want that, the man had offered us no violence, I had learned a life lesson, and Port Moresby is a hard place to make a living legitimately.

At home, I got a beer (SP Export white can, of course!) from the fridge and went out to sit on the back verandah to look at the lights, the night sky, and come down from the adrenalin high.

But what if he had been armed? What if …? I put the "what ifs" firmly from my mind. They didn't happen. What had happened was that in my 69th year, I had encountered my first pickpocket, and had beaten him. Not quite Olympic gold, I know, but you can only respond to the challenges you encounter.

I popped the can. Life felt good and it still does this morning.


I have to add a rider to this -- I am by no means making light of those who have been victims of serious crime in Port Moresby, on or off the streets.
Port Moresby has a very, very serious crime problem involving murder, rape, assault, burglary, armed hold ups, and theft of all kinds, all exacerbated by corrupt police and the under-paying, under-equipping, and constant undermining of those police who are straight.

Crime victims are legion and several good friends of mine have suffered the worst kinds of crime short of murder.

By and large, though, you can be safe from all but the most extreme crime (e.g. a gang home invasion) if you take care. In this case, I had put myself in harm's way by choosing to go to Lamana and walking outside at night. I had exacerbated the situation by being careless and literally pointing out where I was carrying money.

As I said, a life lesson learned. ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.