In March this year, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official visit to a small village in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea where he was mobbed, showered with gifts, and generally treated like a rock star. That was strange enough but when I heard that to prove the extent of their devotion, the very next baby to be born into the village was named Kevin Rudd in his honor, I knew I had to go there to seek out this child. Here’s an excerpt from the diary I kept of my time there.
|Someone took this picture of my official welcome.|
I am in Goroka, deep in the mountains of Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands. I’m here to find a small baby named after the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The village I need to visit has no electricity or running water and is accessible only with a 4WD, but is supposed to be only two hours drive away. I’m in the car with Zachery, a local journalist who is fixing things for me (at the same rate that he’s screwing them up) and two cops called Miskem and Big Simbu, who’ve been brought along as protection. The unsealed roads, the mud, the ascents, the descents, the river crossings and a stolen bridge, force many delays, but they’re not the only problems. Zachery tells me he wants to take me on a detour to get a better story, which I learn—whilst turning into a livestock farm—is a hermaphrodite goat they lovingly call “50-50.”
|This is Baby Kevin Rudd being cute.|
The people I’m with find this really hilarious and after a time-consuming photo shoot with the beast, we get back on the road. Miskem starts telling me how much he loves John Farnham and will only stop when we agree to play his burnt “Best Of” CD. I don’t know what is worse: the music, or that we have to stop every few minutes to buy betelnut, the mild stimulant that causes mouth cancer.
|A clear reminder of the dangers that exist here.|
Finally we arrive at the village where baby Kevin Rudd is meant to be sleeping and to my utter amazement, I am greeted with the same official welcome Kevin Rudd received a few weeks back. I’m carried in on a throne by four warriors who bring me before an audience of about 1,000 singing, dancing and chanting villagers. The more praise that’s heaped on me, the more anxious I become. I keep trying to explain that I am just a journalist but they won’t hear of it and insist on an official address (by me) to the people in pidgin, an official inspection of the village, official photos, and an interview. I am offered virgins (was Kevin Rudd also offered the virgins I wonder?) and receive a slew of gifts, including a bow and arrow, spears, a dead bird of paradise (that I will no doubt have trouble getting through customs), six string bags, and a wood carving with KEVIN RUDD inscribed on it in red. Oh, and we find baby Kevin Rudd—a cute, healthy 10-pound boy.
|The local coffin shop.|
At the end of the day, we head home, but on the way to the house, we see three men, armed with homemade guns who are car-jacking a small Suzuki 4WD. Right at that moment, I remembered what a Port Moresby friend had told me recently—that if I encounter something like this, it’s a good idea to run over the bad guys. So, I begin driving forward, accelerating at the one whose back is turned. He flees just in time and an angry mob chases after him. I pull up and let the victims, a Japanese and French NGO worker, get into the truck. I then call Zachery and tell him to call the police and get Miskem and Big Simbu to come along too. Once we’re all in, we drive back to the scene and get out to join the angry mob, who have now caught one of the robbers and are dragging him by his hair down the road. The guy is covered in blood and still receiving kicks and punches and I hear a tree branch repeatedly hit him until it snaps over his head. His face is covered in blood and Zachery tells me they are going to kill him before running in and kicking him in the head. The two police officers kick him in the ribs while the other punches him in the back of the head. I am out of the car shouting “inap! inap!”, which is pidgin for “enough!” but this is not very effective. People are screaming, and continue streaming in with hits and blows. Somehow, I convey to the men that they have to put him in the back of my Hilux and after they roll his limp body into the tray like a sack, Zachery and the police get in the back, one puts his foot on the robber’s neck while the others stomp him and inform me that it’s their duty to protect the community from these rascals.
|Examining the hermaphrodite goat, 50-50.|
Back at the house, everyone continues laughing about my police work long into the night. When they eventually tire of that joke, they joke more about 50-50, the happiest goat in PNG. My last memory before I fall asleep is of Zachery asking to play John Farnham and in stacatto drunken PNG-English singing “tak de presse dawn” while dancing off into the night.