Journey to the Sinking Lands

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

Mary blong

Over the past couple of days I have been visiting the families of some of the five men who formed the first evacuation of the Carteret Islands to Tinputz, on the mainland. The men are building houses there and, when these are complete, will come back to the islands to fetch their families and together build a new life. The five men gave me messages to give their families and a list of things (mostly salted fish) to bring back. It really emphasises how remote these islands are, and how hard it must be for those families separated by the evacuation, that the only way for them to communicate is through messages given to a passing stranger to pass on.

My Pidgin is getting better and I can use it for most of the conversation now. I have spoken to three of the men’s wives (in Pidgin “Charles’ wife” is “Mary blong Charles”). Tomorrow we will take a canoe out to Huene island, where the family of the fourth, Jackson, lives. We would have then taken the same canoe out to a second island to meet Mary blong Maurice, but I have just learned that she came to this island last night, along with her daughter who is in labour. The only medical centre for the Carterets is here, on Han island, and the labour necessitated an emergency dash between islands. I hope everything has gone well; if so, I can take a Polaroid photo of the new arrival for its father. If not, it is a three-hour trip in an open boat to the nearest hospital. That is a desperate prospect.

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