'Camera?' Still peering through his improvised camera lens, he indicates the Nagra recorder by my side.
'No, radio equipment'.
'Radio! Like this.' He slaps the dashboard happily.
'Something like reporter, yes?' I can’t help smiling.
'Something like that.' And, he’s right. I am only something like a reporter on this trip. This is the third day of my journey, funded by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), to the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea, whose people are being evacuated before rising sea levels swallow up their home. The BBC gave me the Nagra to keep a record of the journey but I don’t think that alone quite makes me a reporter. On a personal level, I used to work in newspapers but have been unemployed so long now that I’ve stopped thinking of myself as such. I’m not quite sure what I am on this trip, yet.
He swings the taxi over towards the kerb. Terminal 3, Singapore’s Changi airport, where I will catch a flight for the next leg of the journey, down to Brisbane in Australia.
'Where you going?' he asks.
'Papua New Guinea.'
'Papua New Guinea.'
'Where?' I’m getting used to this. Most people know very little about PNG. I know enough only to know how little I know.
'You know Australia?' I offer. He nods. 'Near there.'
Opening the boot of the taxi, the driver lifts out the larger of my two rucksacks and winces at the weight.
'Work or home?' he asks. Again, I’m not sure. This trip is funded, but unpaid.
'Something like work,' I decide.
Hefting the rucksack on his shoulder he asks 'You carry these all the way there and then work?'
'Yes.' He winces again. He is right, I need to loose some stuff. I can certainly loose the heavy jacket - temperatures in PNG are going to be around 30 C with humidity at 90% and up - and probably the sleeping bag too. I’d love it if someone told me to dump the camping gear, which I packed more out of caution than the certain knowledge I will need it. On the spot I decide on a new discipline; I’ll try to give one thing away each day. That should get the weight down.
I’ve been in Singapore for one day, staying with an old mate, Simon, who works for the philanthropic arm of an investment fund, Orient Global. I met a few others from the firm last night over beer. They are smart ,young, trained accountants and lawyers for the main and enjoying the work. Simon and I sit up late eating shrimp satay and talking about whether the islanders could apply to Orient Global for funding. I know they have started to record some of the old songs and stories that the evacuation threatens to leave behind and Simon says it might be possible to get money to continue this. Certainly I would like to help if I can. It’s not quite reporting, where you remain detached from that on which you report, but something like it. And that is an exiting thought.
As their island homes are swallowed by rising sea levels, the people of the Carteret Islands are being forced to leave in what will become the world’s first official climate change evacuation. Dan Box will be traveling to the islands in April and will be blogging live on his journey at www.journeytothesinkinglands.wordpress.com
The trip is made possible thanks to the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Journey of a Lifetime Award
This article first appeared in the Ecologist April 2009