Journey to the Sinking Lands

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

Naked in the rain

Naked in the rain
This is Eric. At first, Eric liked to run after me and shout ‘hello!’. I would say ‘hello’, he smiled and shouted ‘hello!’, so I would say ‘hello’, he smiled and shouted ‘hello!’, so I would say hello, he smiled and…so it went on. After about a week he realised that I knew enough of his language to say hello and the game changed. Now, Eric likes to run after me and shout ‘hello!’. I say ‘hello’, he smiles, pauses and shouts ‘bong bong!’ (good morning), so I say ‘bong bong’, he smiles and…so it goes on.

I mention this here because Eric, who is running in circles around the house opposite me, is just about the only thing moving on the island today. A storm came in last night, whipping through the palm trees, and today looks too rough to attempt the boat crossing to Buka. It’s also raining, hard. We tried to use the VHF radio – the only regular means of communication on the island – to find out what the weather is like on mainland Bougainville, but it took over an hour of squeaks, static and silence before anyone bothered to pick up the other end. Even then all he could say was, yes, it was looking pretty grotty over there too. I wouldn’t like to have to rely on the radio in an emergency; which is, of course, exactly what the islanders have to do. The boat I’ll be making the crossing in is small, about 10 metres long, with a single outboard engine. They call them banana boats, which gives you some idea of how well built they are for bad seas.

On one hand, it’s a pity as I was all set to go. I’ve given the contents of my first aid kit to the medical centre. The polaroid camera and what little film remains has gone to the school. My mosquito net and repellent have been given away, as has anything else I can think of to leave here. In return I have been given two handmade bags, called billums, one lime green woollen hat with the words ‘Jesus is king’ and a pink pom-pom on top, and a selection of pretty shells from the lagoon.

On the other hand, another day sitting here eating smoked fish and watching Eric, isn’t all bad.

‘Hello!’

‘Hello.’

‘Bong bong!’

‘Bong bong’

Pause.

‘Hello!…

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