German mother-of-three living on a remote island in Papua New Guinea reveals how ‘life goes on as normal’ amid the coronavirus pandemic
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A German mother-of-three living on a remote island off the coast of Papua New Guinea has revealed that life there has been ‘going on as normal’ while the rest of the world grapples with managing the coronavirus pandemic.
Barbara Goodyear, 42, ended up living on the little-known volcanic isle called Karkar, which measures just 24km (15 miles) long and 19km (11.8 miles) wide, after volunteering as a teacher there in 2002 and falling in love with a local man Paul, who she went on to marry.
There are around 70,000 inhabitants and two main tribes on Karkar with their own languages, Takia and Waskia, which are completely different.
There is no mains electricity or water on the teardrop-shaped outcrop (rainwater and river water is collected instead) and there is just one pothole-riddled road to get around with a 4×4 required to navigate the other steep muddy tracks.
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Barbara, who runs several shops and a cocoa and coconut plantation with her husband on Karkar, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Here on the island there have been no coronavirus cases, we are all fine here and life is pretty much normal.
‘But on the mainland, the situation is a little different – although there have still only been eight positive coronavirus cases in the whole of Papua New Guinea, I think, with these confined to the Highlands, Port Moresby, Rabaul and the Western province.’
Despite the low number of cases, the country has extended the nationwide state of emergency through to 1 June.
Barbara says that the small numbers could be down to the fact that there are ‘not enough tests’, adding, ‘so if there are more people dying because of the virus or with symptoms nobody would really know this’.
She said the locals on Karkar panicked initially when news of the coronavirus spread in February and March and ‘there was not enough information and awareness given that we’re so cut off from things’.
The business owner adds: ‘When people hear heard about the eight positive cases, the people though eight people had died.
‘The locals didn’t understand that positive does not mean dead. These people actually survived the virus.
‘They then started to worry if our stores, which sell food and household goods, would stay open but we have kept running things. Social distancing hasn’t been done here on Karkar.’
There are currently around 20 schools on Karkar serving the various villages and these started to close in mid-March.
Barbara notes that they ‘haven’t really reopened yet’ but ‘some schools are better organised and they are rotating the classes and the high school has been issuing students in classes nine and ten with work they can do at home.’
While the schools have been shut, Barbara has been homeschooling her three children. Her youngest, Christopher, nine, and Sophie, 11, do their schooling online anyway, but her eldest Hanna, 14, had to return home from a boarding school in Cairns, Australia, as the travel restrictions started to be enforced.
‘We were relieved when she finally returned safely,’ says Barbara. ‘Our nearest airport is Madang on the mainland, which is around a four-to-five hour boat ride away on one of our cargo ships. The actual distance is around 30km (18.6 miles).’
With travel restrictions in place, locals on Karkar were forbidden to journey to the mainland for more than four weeks.
Barbara and her family were not allowed to run their cargo ships, which are the only commercial passenger ships operating to and from the isle.
On the medical side of the things the hospital on Karkar, which was built by a Lutheran missionary and his wife in the 1930s, closed for ‘some days because of no PPE’ but now it has reopened and visitors wash their hands at the gate before going into the hospital area.
Asked if she ever gets homesick, Barbara says thanks to a fairly good internet connection at her island home, she is able to keep up-to-date with her parents and sisters back in Germany.
She notes: ‘We are really well connected via Whatsapp. My parents are always busy with meetings here and there, but with the total lockdown in Germany, they have had to stay at home.
‘I think to be honest it’s been good for my parents to slow down a little and do work on their house and garden.’
Barbara is hoping to spend Christmas with her family back in Europe but she will wait to see how the situation evolves. For now, she is happy on the remote island where she ventured to teach in her 20s and never ended up leaving.
‘Life is good here on Karkar,’ she tells us. ‘Things here are basic, tranquil and the most unexpected things can happen. It’s certainly an adventure.’
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