Everyday People: Steven Daniel

Meet our local chef from Nagovis, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Steven Daniel, and this is his story…

Little did he know that there was an opportunity ahead of him when he decided to pack his bag and leave home during the Bougainville Crisis in 1989.

He was just a boy leaving mum and dad behind to follow his big sister and her husband to Laiagam in Enga Province.

“When the crisis began people from other provinces were leaving, my sister and her husband had packed up to board a ship to Lae. My tambu (brother-in-law) at that time knew some people working on the ship and arranged for our travel out as soon as possible,” Steven recalls.

The journey to Lae was long but they were finally there…Steven’s heart dropped as he remembered his family in Nagovis.

Steven finally arrives at Laiagam via a road trip from Mt Hagen, the cold climate and mountainous surrounding was nothing new as he was  a ‘mountain boy’ himself.

“We arrived at Laiagam I wasn’t surprised it felt like home. My sister told me I could continue schooling there and she enrolled me at Laiagam primary school to do my grade 2,” says Steven.

He eventually adapted to the lifestyle of the Engans and life continued…

Steven completed primary education and continued on to Laiagam high school. He completed his grade 10 and set out for job opportunities.

He did odd jobs to earn some bucks and then the opportunity for real employment arrived when he was hired to work with a trucking firm....he also taught himself to fix trucks and the role of a mechanic stepped in, Steven loved what he was doing. This was from 2000 to 2005.

“I just got tired of working, I wanted to rest so I left my driving job and returned to Laiagam. The opportunity of working at the Porgera mine popped up though my in-law again. I was happy to work at the popular Porgera mine site and it was a challenge for me,” said Steven.

In 2009, iPi Catering employed him. He started to work as a support staff in the kitchen mess; a whole new thing for him as he accepted the challenge to work at the Porgera Joint Venture mine mess.

There were two kitchens he would work in…he would help to serve up to 3,000 to 4,000 staff, including expatriates daily, and he was loving this role. Steven was learning fast and was enthusiastic, eventually making his way into the kitchen.

“Cooking is about being creative and from just standing there and observing, I caught up so fast and starting cooking. The kitchen job was good and I started to prepare simple dishes.

“It was a big mine with many staff and I had to do some extra courses to improve on my cooking skills to serve them better. So through PJV, I was able to get training and obtained my Tradesman in Cookery from NATTB,” Steven said smiling.

The more he was in the kitchen, the more he loved cooking and spent six years at PJV mess but plans had changed as he walked out on his job in 2014, the reason unknown. However, this exit was not for long when he returned to iPi Catering in 2016.

From 2016 to 2019, Steven gained more experience and prepared various dishes for PJV staff.

“At the end of the day, it was about serving the best meal and I was happy with what I was doing. The mine closure last year hit me hard I thought it was the end of me.

“But iPi Catering did not let me go but transferred me to work at Mountain Lodge in Porgera Valley and I am here awaiting for Porgera Mine to reopen.”

Steven is confident the mine will reopen so he can return to the PJV mess. He says many locals have suffered when the mine closed.

“Many lost their jobs and are now on the road selling whatever they can get hold of. The news of the mine reopening soon is a relief for us.”

Porgera and Laiagam have been home for Steven for the past 30 years. He is married to a Laiagam woman and has five children.

When asked if he would one day think of retuning to Bougainville… “Porgera is home to me, I don’t know if I will go and visit my home but we will see what happens.”

Susan Oreape