Journey to the Sinking Lands

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

To the islands

So, I made it to the islands. Today, every lesson learned yesterday was stood on its head. There was a knock on my door before 6am, the skipper was ready. And he was, beside the water. Boat loaded, itching to go. The weather fine. After waiting for six hours yesterday for a boat that never came, today it seemed as if I was the one holding us up. A crowd gathered to push us off, and as we floated free, half of them climbed in. The skipper turned the boat and threw open his engine; there were eight of us on board now, piled and perched on a huge swag of luggage under a tarpaulin. We set off, the early sun scattering both sea and sky around us, picking out the silouettes of fishermen paddling home in their canoes. Three hours – at first I thought we were chasing right into a storm, but it suddenly cleared – out of sight of land, then suddenly the first island swam into view. Everyone in our boat laughed to see the smile on my face. Motor through a channel between the reef and up to land.
To the islands
It is hard now to find the words. Imagine your perfect desert island, white sands, coconut palms, the only sounds children playing in crystal waters, or a rooster’s crow. The low murmur of conversation. No artificial sound at all. The kids play soccer, aiming at goalposts made from the trunks of palm trees. Within moments of landing I am shown into my own little house, walls and roof made from sago palm. White sand floor. I hand over the food I have brought from the mainland, and a crowd of people help me put together a bed and hang a mosquito net. There is a church, a school and breadfruit cooking on a fire of coconut husks. I have been swimming and washed myself clean of salt in cold water drawn from a well. People laugh because my skin is so white. I am learning what of their language I can and have arranged to start daily lessons from tomorrow. I hand out Polaroid photos of people, which are hugely popular.

Of course, it is not paradise. That is why I am here. But for the moment I am overwhelmed.


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