Journey to the Sinking Lands

A witness to the world's first evacuation of an entire people due to climate change

Archive for April, 2009

Journey to the islands

I leave for the Carteret Islands tomorrow. I have a skipper, I have a boat, I have a very nice woman from the islands whose name is Reuth Marcella who would like a lift home please, and I have a large order for salted fish to bring back with me when I return. It’s a two-to-three hour trip with good seas and the weather looks fine. I am very exited. A lot of work has gone into getting there, and I wasn’t always sure if I would make it – right up to the end there have been obstacles; the latest being a $US 5000 ‘administration fee’ I’ve just been told to pay by the NGO organising the evacuation of the Carteret people. We’ve talked about it. We’ve agreed I won’t have to pay it this time. I’m still not counting my chickens, but if I do make it, I will be very happy indeed. And probably sleep for a week.


Morning in Tinputz

I slept in my clothes last night, on the bare wooden floor of one of the houses the first boatload of people to be evacuated from the Carteret Islands are building for their families. It was a jet-black night in the small clearing hacked out amid the jungle, the dark broken only by our two candles and the lights of Fireflies jigging in the trees. I’m heading out to the islands themselves on Friday (that’s if everything goes to plan; I’ve learned not to expect anything here until it happens) and the guys gave me a list of messages to pass on to their families, and a few things they ask I bring back with me when I return. Read the rest of this entry »

Back to Tinputz

work-at-tinputzI’m sitting on the ground in a jungle clearing at Tinputz, on the east coast of Bougainville. This is where the first boatload of people landed from the Carteret Islands last week – the fathers of five families, who will build homes and gardens here before returning to the islands to bring their families to Tinputz permanently. I’ve been invited back to spend a night with the five fathers, which is good because I made a bit of a mess of our first meeting, barely giving them time to get off the boat before shoving a microphone in their face and asking how they feel. This time is much more relaxed. Read the rest of this entry »

Lost voice

harvesting-coconuts-002I lost my voice over the weekend. It quickly slipped away, from a normal rounded tone to a strangled caw within minutes. I’d been feeling crook for a few days but thought little of it. I even joked that I’d just been talking to much, easy to do in this town, where you can’t walk down the street without someone starting up a friendly conversation. After a couple of days twisting out what few words I could and still feeling ropey, I eventually went to find a doctor at the (only) hospital. When I arrived, the ward was hot. Only a few ceiling fans and lights seemed to work and no one seemed to know where the doctor was. Read the rest of this entry »


cricketToday is ANZAC Day, a big day if you’re from Australia or New Zealand, which means pretty much all the expat community in Buka (aid workers and police mostly). ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and the day itself commemorates those countries’ fighting troops who died in combat. In true Antipodean style, it is typically marked by a very sombre, reverential dawn service, after which everyone gets drunk. In Buka, Mark, a Kiwi here on a two-year stint working on reconciliation after the civil war, set up a cricket pitch in his garden; bamboo stumps, beer-can bails, a bat carved from an old packing case and tennis balls wrapped in tape, all overlooked by banana trees and coconut palms and overlooking the blue ocean. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben and Jenny Kadma

ben-and-jenny-kadmaThis is Ben Kadma and his wife, Jenny. I met them last night at a party outside the guest house where I am staying. Ben, in one life, represents everything Bougainville has endured and continues to struggle against today. As a young man, in the early 1980s, he worked at the vast Panguna mine that made billions from the island. The people who lived there, however, saw that the mine was causing huge environmental problems and one of Ben’s workmates, Francis Ona, formed a movement demanding compensation. Eventually this movement became armed, started to call itself a Revolutionary Army and demanded independence for Bougainville from Papua New Guinea. Ben, now one of Ona’s senior staff, fought with him and was eventually captured; he was tortured and spent years in prison. Eventually Ben was released and began working in the peace movement that eventually ended the fighting. I have seen photos of him at these talks and his signature is on the first peace agreements between the various sides.
Read the rest of this entry »

Sawa to the rescue

I lost the key to my room yesterday, somewhere on the road to Tinputz. There is no replacement so a man called Sawa from the restaurant downstairs showed me how to force the lock with a butter knife. He gave me the knife and I’m getting pretty good at it now. You slide the blade in against the lock and push, hard. I was a little worried about it for a while, but then realised the room is no less secure than it was before I lost the key; it just means I have to carry a butter knife with me when I go out.

Sawa also cooks the food. He has chicken for me tonight, he says. So the same as last night then. And the night before that. You don’t want to know about breakfast.