A country you’ve never heard of (continued)

Here’s a bit more about Nauru, the third smallest country in the world, for readers who were intrigued by my post from last week on it.

Curiously, there are plenty of immigrants who’ve made it to Nauru (of all places!). Australians work as doctors and engineers, the Chinese run the restaurants and shops, and Polynesian immigrants hold the rest of the jobs. In total, 4,000 out of the 12,000 inhabitants are foreigners. That was fine when phosphate paid the locals’ bills. But now nine in ten natives are overweight and unemployed. One in two has diabetes. And one in three kids have never received any schooling; those who do well in academics inevitably leave the country. Perhaps it’s no wonder that the most popular event of the past few years was a “Big is Beautiful” beauty pageant. Aside from that, the most popular pastime seems to be driving around the island’s eleven miles of roads drinking beers.

Ironically, when a British captain discovered the place in 1798, he named it “Pleasant Island”. Over the next 150 years, Westerners decimated the local population through disease, civil war (they gave firearms to the twelve local clans and encouraged them to kill each other), colonization, and of course, phosphate mining. By the end of World War II, there were only 600 Nauruans left and two-thirds of the phosphate was already gone. But with independence in 1968, the government lavished money on everyone, along with luxuries like three television channels, a golf course, and free health care. In the 1990s, all that disappeared along with the phosphate.

But there’s also plenty of rich history here, in particular, the legacy of environmental exploitation and how that has led to their plight today. While their neighbors have adjusted to globalization, Nauruans are still trying to make something out of their eight-square-mile speck of land.