Papua New Guinea
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I sell firewood for a living

BY THEOPHILES SINGH

While many households in the city rely on gas tanks and electric stoves for cooking, there is a timeless practice that remains popular: using firewood.

It is the top choice for cooking meals and providing warmth for people everywhere, not just in Port Moresby but in cities all around the world.

Raphael Ketava from Goilala district in Central province is one of the many that sells firewood for a living in Port Moresby. He sells firewood to put food on the table for his wife and children, along the road at Manu bus stop in Port Moresby.

Raphael first arrived in the late 1980’s when he was a young man, in search for a better life for himself and his family. He further stated his reasons for leaving the village and explains that most people who leave the village usually do so for such reasons.

“There were fights everywhere, usually because of land disputes. Law and order issues became a norm, especially with the overuse of drugs and homemade weapons. There were no government services reaching the people out in the rural areas of my district,” he said.

“Most of us believed in cultural practices like witchcraft and sorcery, which made us even more scared to stay back. Fearful of our lives, we wanted nothing but to leave the village behind to find a more civilised life in the city.” He further noted down the challenges that he faced and his reason for staying back in Port Moresby for decades.

“Port Moresby was the most developed place in the country at that time and was the best option for us. Everybody wanted to experience what it was like. When I first arrived, it used to be very safe. It was the booming economic activities that forced me to stay back,” he said.

“Coming from a background with no formal education or qualification, the only thing I knew how to do best was chopping up firewood. It used to very profitable, but I was not smart enough to properly manage my finances and grow because I lacked basic financial skills”.

“The plan was to make enough money so that I can retire early and go back home, but life had other plans for me and now I am stuck here with no escape plan.”

In an unexpected turn of events, life in the city became unbearable for Raphael as inflation raised the cost of living whilst the Kina was losing its value.

“As time went by, things became more and more expensive, but the money I was raising from sales was not enough. The city became unsafe and although the number of customers increased, so did the competition,” he explains.

“Food, accommodation, travel and general items are very expensive, especially for someone like me. Affording a decent meal costs me an entire day in firewood sales. I cannot save money anymore, and I do not have the money to live a stable and happy life.”

He explains why he is stuck and unable to go back home, even though the conditions of surviving Port Moresby has become unbearable for grassroots people.

“I cannot go back home yet. It has been so long since I left and it would be like starting all over again from the ground up to build a life. My family and my source of income is here, there is no place for me in the village,” he said.