Journey to the Sinking Lands

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

Welcome to Buka

I am a little overwhelmed by hospitality. I landed in Buka this morning, an island in the Bougainville province, itself in the far west of Papua New Guinea. This is the final staging post before the Carteret islands – if I get that far.

The plane stopped first in Rabaul, a thin strip of runway among tall jungle in the East New Britain province. Most of the passengers left there, with only a handful continuing on across the Solomon Sea to Buka. At the airport a man introduced himself unexpectedly as Lesley. He is the chief executive of the Bougainville Government. With him was a minister and a third man, Phillip, whose role I missed – either a politician or a civil servant. Everyone was smiles. Geraldine, a local woman I had met in Port Moresby, had phoned ahead and they had decided to meet me off the plane. We sat and talked. I met the head of the government. A german mechanic, Matthias, arrived. Another friend, Ilya, who put me up for the past few nights, had also called ahead and Matthias had come to see I was alright. We all talked. Talking, along with smiling and waving to people in the street, are important, I have learned. A return on the hospitality you are being offered.
I was driven into town, where a room had been found at a guesthouse, and left. The men had government business to attend to. As you can see, the room is no great shakes; not too dirty, though someone has kicked a few holes in the wall and there were a few pellets of some kind of poo on the pillow. Phillip is staying in the same guesthouse, while he is in town, and I get a couple of meals thrown in for the price. The ladies downstairs have also been helping me with my pidgin.

Now I’m going to finish this, find some food and see if I can find my hosts. They can’t be far. It’s a small town.


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