Message in a bottle: From the Bismarck Sea to the Solomon Sea!

Around December in 2004, I had boarded a Lutheran Shipping vessel from Lae and travelled to Manus. I am not sure which ship it was but it definitely was either MV Manemba or MV Umboi which I am sure many people who travel by ship know. From Lae, Morobe Province, it takes one full day and two nights on the open sea before we land in Loregnau town, Manus Province. As is the custom when travelling on long trips over the sea, we take lots of fresh fruits, home cooked meals and lots of water to keep our stay on these cargo ships as homely as possible.

Anyway, we left the Lae port, Voco Point, at around 5pm and began the journey. By 10pm people like myself were already sound asleep. I woke up at around 5am to the sound of the sailors pulling in yellow fin tuna and mackerel. During the day I had nothing to do but play cards and tell stories with whoever I met on the ship. Besides, the majority of people on the ship were Manusians so it wasn’t hard finding people who liked to talk…lol

At around midday, we were heading full steam ahead. The sea was calm, the wind was slight and as far as the eye could see, there was no sign of land in all directions. After I had eaten salty biscuits and drunk a 500ml coca cola, I decided to try sending a letter in a bottle. I think I was inspired by a story that in the 1700s, a Japanese crew of 44, were shipwrecked and marooned on a small Island in the South Pacific. The captain scratched details of their story and fate onto chips of wood and put them into a bottle. The bottle was found 150 years later on the shoreline of Japan, reportedly, close to where the sailors had grew up.

Well I wrote my name and postal address on the white label of the Coca Cola bottle and said that whoever found it should write to me. In the middle of the Bismarck Sea, I threw the plastic bottle with the small note inside. I went home for the holidays in Manus then came back to Lae. It was the year 2005 and I was working away when early in March that year, I received a letter. And here is the exact letter that was written….

The letter that I received in Lae Post Office in 2005.
The actual letter from Andrew in Poroporo village
This pink line and then the white line respresent how I believe the plastic bottle travelled in the middle of the Bismarck Sea to the Solomon Sea to reach Poroporo village.

The coke plastic bottle with my note inside had reached Poroporo village at the tip of the Choiseul Province in the Solomon Islands. It had gone international! WOW!!!!

It was picked up by a Mr. Andrew Silukana of Poroporo village just across the Papua New Guinea border! It had taken almost two months from when I first threw the bottle in the middle of the Bismarck to when Andrew picked it up in his village. I don’t know how it travelled there but my assumption is that it must have travelled past the gap between Manus and New Ireland or between East New Britain and New Ireland and then the strong tides of the Pacific Ocean travelling south must have pushed it down past the Autonomous Region of Bougainville right through to the tip of Choiseul province where Poroporo village is.
On that same day I quickly wrote a letter back to him on the address he had provided. But sadly, to this day I haven’t received a reply.

Em tasol!

Lopoki Inc begins discussions with NARI

Lopoki Inc. had the privilege to meet and talk to scientists from the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) located at 10 mile outside Lae city last week.

The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) is Papua New Guinea’s premier publicly funded statutory research organization that has been conducting applied and development oriented research on food crops, emerging food and cash crops, livestock and resource management issues. NARI was established by an Act of Parliament in July 1996 and this saw the organization become the peak body in Papua New Guinea, providing technical, analytical and diagnostic services and up-to-date information on the agricultural sector. They have regional coordination centres in Momase (Bubia and Labu), Highlands (Aiyura and Tambul), Islands (Kerevat) and Southern (Laloki) and their emphasis is on the country’s smallholder semi subsistence farmers.

I’m standing infront of the gate leading to one of their agricultural sites at 10 mile, Bubia, just outside Lae.

Lopoki Inc. visited their Momase Regional office just outside Lae city at Bubia, 10 mile. Lopoki visited NARI to gain information for a potential future collaboration between NARI and Lopoki Inc.’s work in Manus particularly around agriculture. This is because NARI’s focus areas are on key domains such as seed systems, feeding systems, bio-agro ecosystems, soil management, climate change, marketing systems, cross cutting issues and farm mechanization. These are really the key areas of agricultural work that Lopoki Inc. believes need to be effectively mainstreamed into its rural agriculture work in Manus thus the visit to NARI seeking a partnership. In particular, Lopoki Inc. met with personnel from NARI to briefly discuss the possibility of farmer training/mentoring in the Pomotu Ndrehet Kurti Andra (PNKA) local level government area in Manus. The discussion also touched on possible food crop varieties for cultivation in PNKA villages.

Some of the informational materials given by the NARI team
The Dr. Ghodake National Biotechnology Centre
Just about to entre the Dr. Ghodake Building before the brief meeting

While this first visit was for information and finding the possibility for collaboration, Lopoki Inc. was indeed grateful to NARI personnel that took valuable time out from their work to meet with us. Lopoki Inc. thanks the Information Communications Associate Mr. Samuel Toposona who facilitated the arrangement for the meet at Bubia. In our roundtable discussion were Livestock Principal Scientist Dr. Michael Dom, Crop Team Leader Jeffrey Waki and Research Associate-Plant Genetic Resources Cecily Walters.

We all pose after the meeting. From Left: Livestock Principal Scientist Dr. Michael Dom. Next to him is myself with my daughter who came along with me. Beside us is Crop Team Leader Jeffrey Waki and (far right) Research Associate-Plant Genetic Resources Cecily Walters.

We thank the NARI scientists for their time and look forward to a fruitful collaboration in 2022.

If you are interested in the work NARI does in Papua New Guinea, you can visit their website:

Sharing along the highlands highway

One male passenger from the Southern Highlands gave me a piece of warm baked kaukau and a female passenger from Eastern Highlands gave me a bunch of roasted peanuts. For just a few hours, we tell of our lives to others and they in turn tell of theirs too. It seems that beneath the veil of our cultural differences, the three of us are just humans that struggle against the grind and pressures of the modern PNG.

The three of us were passengers on a 25 seater bus travelling along the highlands highway. We had boarded the ‘EJ Tisa’ bus service at Goroka township. He was a teacher who had just graduated two years ago from a teachers college and was posted along one of the Yonki dam villages. She was a local from the Kainantu District going to visit family in Lae.

We talked about this and that, price of goods and services and life that we all were living in the country today. It seems that our struggles are no different even through we were from vastly different parts of the country. We see poor patterns of service delivery among mandated government services such as hospitals and schools and suffer from countrymen and women who look down on us when we use services such as banks and shipping companies. We laughed at the irony that the two service providers who treat you just as you are, are buai sellers and public bus services!

Next time when you travel on a public motor vehicle along the highlands highway, make small talk with your fellow passengers. You’ll never know what you’ll learn along the way!

A hospital from a distant memory

Goroka holds so much childhood memories for me.

One particular place that means so much to me is the Goroka Base Hospital. This is where I got my first malaria treatment, broke my arm while playing in the hospital premises, watched television for the first time which was a video of a preacher named ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ and many other memories too. My mother worked as a nurse at this hospital so some days I would spend hours just wondering through the whole hospital and its surrounding areas while she worked there. It was a quaint little hospital serving the township population. The hospital was built in 1969.

This used to the central car park area of the hospital and the entrance to the hospital.
I remember walking up these cement pathway as a child from the ground floor to the hospital wings one level up.
The older parts of the hospital still maintain the same shape as I had last seen them.

Now I come back after all these years and the hospital buildings have changed in part but at the same time, much still remained the same as well. In the 1980s, Goroka town was the prettiest town in the Pacific and its hospital was, in my opinion, the best in the country. The hospital served much of its around 280,000 people back then in the 80’s but now maybe close to an estimated 600,000 population. Much of the brick walls and cement floor in the older parts of the building still remain but now there are many inclusions and the buildings have a modern touch to it. I’m really impressed with the new buildings. The former Minister of Health, in 2019, Mr. Elias Kavapore put the cost of new buildings at K200 million.

Some newer parts of the hospital looking from the carpark to the outpatient area.
The outpatient area is upstairs
One of the new wings of the hospital. It looks impressive!
The carpark area

I didn’t have the opportunity to go inside and see the inside of the new buildings but I know they would be awesome. As the former health minister said in 2019, “As the new diagnostic centre, Goroka has seven fully-equipped operating theatres that are at international standard and second to none in the country”!!

So yes, that’s just a little visit back down memory lane. See you all soon!

Need new glasses? A welcome sight in Goroka

Like many Papua New Guineans, I too, suffer from poor eyesight, in particular, short-sightedness (myopia). This means that when I see objects or people that are far away from me, they are blurry. My eyes cant make them out from a distance. To correct this, one can purchase glasses after doing proper eye tests with a qualified optometrist. The consultation will cost you but the expensive items are the glass frames and lens.

Over the years, I have spent quite a lot of money to purchase specific frames and lens for my glasses. Different vendors will have their own price and catalogue of glasses. Earlier this year I enquired at a private eye care company/optometrist operating in an urban area. In their stock, they begin all their frame prices at K650 while the lens may go up to K800 particularly for my lens strength. There are many organizations, some privately owned companies or cross country charity organisations or even church based NGOs that provide eye care across the country. Each has their own price depending on factors such as quality of frames, strength of lens, cost of doing business, number of people in need, estimation of affordability, whether optical care is part of rehabilitation or not, negative perceptions among different groups of people, etc. But all of them, from my experience, will provide an eye test and give information on the necessary glasses and lens to offer. Some eye tests are basic while others require much greater attention.

When visiting Goroka, the capital of Eastern Highlands Province, I came across the Callan Optical Service. Their office is right alongside the Highlands Highway opposite the airport.

The notice next to the entrance of the building showing the services provided and the types of work they carry out at the facility.

Their service and quality of care is top notch! As soon as I entered their small office space, Mr. Kotis Awaso, the refractionist and optical technician greeted me.

Kotis Awaso is ever ready to help me choose my frames
The frames are on display.

Since I knew my lens strength measurement, he invited me in to the area where the frames were on display. At the Callan Optical Service, both the frames and lens together cost K200. I spent the next ten minutes trying on the frames that I liked. Once I chose one, I paid for it and they started cutting the lens. Within 30 minutes I received my new pair of glasses! It was indeed a welcome sight in Goroka!

My completely new glasses with the tinted lens cut within 30 minutes.

While some might still say that K200 is still a lot of money to fork out for a pair of glasses, I would say otherwise. For the quality of frames and lenses, and the work required to cut the lens for the frames in 30 minutes, this is something you dont get often almost anywhere in this country. If I were to pay these elsewhere in places like Lae, Port Moresby or even places where I have gone to do studies such as Brisbane and Perth in Australia (yes I have done tests and got lens/frames in these two cities), this is the best cost effective option for me. Even in places like Australia, you would definitely need health insurance cover to pay for prescription glasses as it can be quite expensive.

If you are ever in Goroka and want to have your eyes checked/tested or look for new glasses, then visit the Callan Optical Service right in the heart of Goroka town, just along the Highlands Highway road.