When you leave the Marshall Islands, you buy a one-way ticket, on standby

Leaving Majuro was no easy decision, but Mona Jetnil had been ready for months. Here, in the capital of the Marshall Islands, just about everyone seems to be planning to leave.

Mona’s house, on the lagoon-side of the atoll, is like many in the Marshall Islands capital: a three-bedroom cement structure shared by two dozen family members and countless cats and dogs.

With no furniture except a couple of plastic chairs and tatami mats, children sit on the concrete floor as they prepare ramen on a propane stove for breakfast. The graveled yard is vast, though, with breadfruit trees, a tilted basketball hoop, and an exquisite view.

Nowadays, Majuro, the capital and most urban of the atolls, is crowded. The rate of teenage pregnancy is among the highest in the region. The hospital regularly runs out of painkillers. Cases of leprosy and tuberculosis ravage communities. Diabetes rates are among the highest in the world. Clean water is scarce.

Mona’s house is located along the only road in Majuro. Oriented east to west, the road ends abruptly at sandy beaches. The Pacific flashes past on both sides, between colorful houses, imported trailers with faded floral curtains, and palm trees. Every now and then, tidal waves crash over the road.

The atoll’s azure lagoon is calm with yachts and tiny fishing boats on its surface. Sunken ships and military aircraft rest at the bottom. 

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