Monday, July 7, 2014

The Trial of the Ornithologist-Arms Dealer of Goroka (part1)


The Trial of the Ornithologist-Arms Dealer of Goroka
by A. Mack (& F. Kafka)


Part 1 of 3

One of my projects in PNG required collecting a good series of some common bird species at specific lowland sites.  Getting these series was often impossible and always difficult using only mist nets, requiring several weeks of intensive effort per site.  One way to speed up the work would be if we could shoot specific individuals-- we would not have to rely on random luck for the individual to hit a net.

Guns are difficult to purchase or import to PNG, but often villagers have a gun.  They lack ammunition.  When they do have shells, it is heavy loads for large game like pigs.  To collect small birds we use a #13 shot that is a special museum load.  It is not particularly dangerous to people unless fired at close range.  I had the brilliant idea to import some museum load ammunition and employ a local hunter to get the birds we need.

Importing ammo is not as difficult.  I consulted with the Royal Constabulary of PNG.  They were not particularly sure, but eventually I go through to the person in Port Moresby who instructed me how to legally import ammunition.  Their instruction was to import it to PNG and declare it at Customs so it could be placed in Customs Bonded Storage.  I would then complete the paperwork with the RCPNG, get their authorisation, take the paperwork to Customs and it would be released to me. 
Sounded simple.

While in the US I secured an ample supply of museum load shotgun shells for a .410.  I already had a .410 aux barrel in PNG, which you can use to fire the smaller .410 shells from a .12 gauge, the standard size of village guns.  I was surprised how easy it is to carry ammunition in your luggage.   This was post 9/11 and I expected all sorts of hassle at the airport.  But TSA was more interested in my shoes than the 50 lbs of explosives in my luggage. 

The airline check-in agent said "Oh ammunition is no problem, so long as you declare it and it is in an approved container.  Is it in an approved container?"

"Yes." I said

"Then I'll take it."  Not so much as a blink or "please open the suitcase." 

Off to PNG.

The bag got checked straight through to Goroka.  I was surprised to learn there is a Customs Agent in Goroka where international deliveries can arrive without having to pass through Moresby. 

When I went to pick up the case at the AirNiugini Customs window I was met by a kid, maybe 18 years old.  He looked at the Customs Declaration and saw ammunition and this somehow alerted him that this might not be the usual shipment of bibles for the New Tribes Mission. 

He said "I'm going to have to confiscate this."

"Yes, I said, I want you to store this-- that is why I declared it.  You are to provide me with a receipt/claim.  I'll get the final paperwork from RCPNG and come back to pick it up." 
As soon as I can get the paperwork.... which it turned out was not going to happen quickly.

All seemed well as I prompted my contact in the Constabulary every few days for the necessary permit....  until the summons arrived for my arrest. 
I was charged with illegal import of controlled ammunition.  I thought this must be some sort of mistake.  The ammo was still in bonded storage and so technically was never actually imported.

I went down to the office of the Customs Agent-- a dingy plywood-walled cubicle on the second floor of a two story building that as far as I could tell was fully partitioned into many such plywood cubicles with all sorts of odd businesses on the doors.  The halls were filthy and sullen people shuffled along with vacant stares.  Nothing happened fast in this place. 

There was another kid there and he had no idea what was going on.  I'd need to come back when Jeffrey was there.

"When will Jeffrey be back?"

"I don't know....  maybe tomorrow? yeah come back tomorrow."

"When tomorrow?"

I could see this was a really challenging set of questions.  Kid #2 seemed to have never been asked anything about the business.  I got the feeling Jeffrey plopped one of his kids in the office then went somewhere to drink or maybe run a different business.

"Do you know when Jeffrey will be back tomorrow?"

"Ummm....  maybe in the morning.  Yeah come back in the morning."

"Ten-oclock OK?"

"Yeah ten O'clock is good."

"Please tell the boss I'll be here at ten.  Is there a number I can call to check if he is here so I don't have to drive down?"

"Ummmm... the phone doesn't work."

In Goroka-ese this means we haven't paid our bill for so long they cut the service.

"OK ten-o'clock."

"Ummm... ten o'clock what?"

"That's when I'll meet Jeffrey."

"Oh yeah, I knew that.  Jeffrey."

I went through a number of visits like this.  Sometimes no one was there, sometimes a different kid or a woman.  Anyone who has tried to do any sort of business in Goroka knows this routine, just standard operating procedure.  It is one reason you need a vehicle because you usually need to chase people all over town or over time to find them.  "Business hours" means when you went to do your business.  So if you needed to go shopping you did it during business hours, even if you job is the receptionist for the doctor.  "You can't schedule an appointment now, the receptionist went to the market...."

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