Expatriates don’t buy land in Papua New Guinea. Instead you can make application to the government for a 99 year renewable land lease. You can request specific locations, but it is up to the government’s current agenda for development as to where they parcel out a lot. Such was the case when our denomination applied for land in the capital city.
The land grant the government designated for our mission was located in an underdeveloped part of the city which consisted of several acres of tall kunai grass (6-8 ft tall and razor sharp) and a grove of rain trees. This area was crime ridden–the grass hid a prostitution ring. Each fortnight there was excessive drinking and gambling under the rain trees while men lined up, freshly minted paychecks in hand, and waited for their turns with the tu kina meris (or in English, two dollar women).
The denomination received a grant for three acres and promptly built a fence around its parameters to protect the property. This security fence was 8 foot tall and had 3 additional feet of barbed wire strung along the top angled outwards to keep the undesirables out. As it turned out, the property line shifted the prostitution ring out from under one set of rain trees and pushed them over to another row just outside the fence the church erected.
The displacement resulted in an underlying hostility between the pimp, the prostitutes, the ‘customers’, and the mission.
The first thing the mission did after erecting the fence, was to construct a house on the property. The domicile then served to house the mission workers while the church building was under construction. My family lived there.
Because of the underlying animosity against the mission for displacing them out from under the comfort of the rain trees, the prostitution ring began practicing right outside our front gate under a few trees just outside the fence. Drunken brawls were not unusual, and on occasion, my father had to phone the police to ensure our protection: drunken threats were made towards those within the safety of the fence; beer bottles hurled against the house; etc. We hired a security man to live onsite, and had guard dogs which roamed the property.
One fortnight was particularly memorable: my folks counted over 300 men lined up outside our gates. We watched one prostitute get beaten bloody. Dad phoned the police to help break up the crowd. The police sirens scattered the crowds into the kunai grass, long before the constable arrived onsite. They picked up the women, put them in the back of the paddy wagon, and drove off down the lane. About 1/2 a mile down the road we watched the paddy wagon pull to the side of the lane, the police take turns in the back with the women, then drop them off and head on their own merry way.
The anger levels of the crowd, now returned to our front gate, escalated to levels previously unseen. Men attempted to climb the fence; threats were hurled against me and my mother; my father’s life was ‘marked’. We could do little but pray for the alcohol to wear off, and things to calm down. Our security man sat on our veranda with the porch light on, a machete in hand, in full view of anyone who might try to get to the house. I spent the night under a bed, shoved back against the wall, being told to keep quiet. Dad and mom armed themselves with boat oars and sat there in stoney silence.
The next morning, when things calmed down, Dad went out and introduced himself to the pimp, offering him and his women water to drink. He hired Wi to be our ‘gardener’–thus giving Wi a legitimate role to play should the police arrive again. Wi’s whores were deemed his ‘wives’, and they continued to hawk their ‘wares’ just outside the gate. Thus we lived in a symbiotic relationship–the church and the prostitution ring–offering mutual protection and a strange circumspect form of respect.