Journey to the Sinking Lands

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

Morning in Tinputz

the-five-fathers-and-friends
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. Bernard Tobara wants to know if his family are OK, and for me to tell them he is good and happy at Tinputz. Jackson Tau wants me to tell his family he is working very hard to clear up the resettlement site. I also brought a Polaroid camera down with me and gave the blokes a few photos of themselves. This morning Jackson quietly returned the photo I had taken of him grinning on the steps to his new home and asked if I would pass it on to his wife instead. Charles Tsibi wants me to bring back his tools, a level, a chisel and a hand-plough. All of them want their families to send salted fish and clams, which I know they are not eating at Tinputz as, except for the few noodles and tins of corned beef I brought with me, both dinner and breakfast consisted of rice and sweet potato. I’ve just met the skipper of the boat I’ll be travelling in on Friday and arranged that our return journey will go direct to Tinputz, rather than Buka as planned. I don’t think I will be able to carry that much salted fish on my own, otherwise.

Being given the list did make me realise just what these blokes are doing. They have left their families behind on the islands to build a new life here; when the houses are ready they will go to fetch their wives and children but until then they have no way of staying in touch, except by sending messages on the occasional boat that heads out. It’s the very least I can do, particularly after the hospitality they have shown me.
I was hoping to stay down at Tinputz for another night but, just before I left, I received a message that the President of Bougainville would like to see me, so I now have to hurry back and find something clean to wear ahead of that tomorrow morning. It’s a real study in contrasts this trip, but none the worse for that.

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