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Matthew Brittain (Bougainville)

Matthew Brittain is volunteering as a Operations and Management Adviser (Juvenile Justice) with the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre in Bougainville. He will complete his assignment in November 2017. 

Acclimatisation: Arawa

Published on 8th May 2017

One of our newest volunteers to Bougainville shares the highs and lows of exercising in a lush, humid climate...

As I sit in my house, which would fit like a glove in a 1980s New Zealand neighbourhood, I watch the gentle mist creep over the expansive, lush, vibrant-green mountain range. I stare up at the ceiling fan, sweat running down my face from a demanding walk to the kitchen only a few metres away. The fan swirls in a spectacular circular motion, bringing a brief reprieve from the heat. At times, the fan could be mistaken for a small convection heater, cruelly blasting waves of heat.


Meanwhile, the mists have now engulfed the upper portion of the mountain range. It’s almost here, I think to myself whilst donning a manic grin. A few moments later, the smell of petrichor (the sweet, earthy smell of rain when it first comes into contact with dirt) announces itself in my supersized-lounge – aside from being pleasant, the smell lets me know that I’ve hit the weather jackpot – it is raining! Soon my ears are treated to the increasingly vocal, rhythmic patter of rain on the tin roof. While the rain serves to provide fresh drinking water to my tank, and keep the beautiful, ubiquitous vegetation perfectly green, in this moment I’m concerned with one thing: the rapid drop of temperature by a few degrees.


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Along the jogging trail


I briefly consider taking advantage of the plummeting temperature and heading out for a run. But I quickly come to my senses and decide that it would be better to tap into group motivation and join Ashlee, a fellow VSA volunteer, for an early morning run the following day.


Several, highly addictive episodes of Breaking Bad, and a most enjoyable pot luck dinner with expats that evening, I find myself putting on my running gear at 6:45 am the next morning. A small run in this temperature won’t be so challenging I think to myself, remembering how I was running half-marathon distances in New Zealand just six short months ago.


I walk out of my door, down the two-storey high stairs, distracted by the sights of Arawa waking up. Soft hues providing a stunning backdrop for such an industrious endeavour. Tearing myself away from the sights of the plentiful tropical fruit trees in the garden, I turn my attention to Ashlee, who is already stretching in the garden. I wait for my watch to find its GPS signal – I need to have an accurate record, and proof, of this deed. Ashlee checks that I’m ready and she leads the way down the dirt road at a gentle pace. The humidity encompasses me as if I was suddenly thrust into a sauna. It quickly dawns on me – this is not going to be easy.


Matt Brittain in Arawa

Remnants of industry from pre-crisis Bougainville


While dodging muddy potholes filled with dark, ominous water, our nostrils are treated to the pungent, curious smell of decomposing cane toads. Ashlee has now picked up the pace and I’m bounding behind her like a distraught cow attempting to flee from a quake. “Moning tru” (good morning) I somehow manage to pant out to a friendly Bougainvillian as I run past her. In return, I’m treated to a beautiful row of teeth, on display in the most heart-warmingly genuine smile I’ve ever come across. I muster the energy to return the smile, though it may be more akin to a snarl.


Two kilometres in and my cap has transformed into a slow, trickling water feature of sweat. At this point, the sun is now blazing relentlessly, which sends the temperate skyrocketing from a comfortable 30 degrees Celsius to a temperature that wouldn’t be out of place in the corona of the sun. I swear Arawa is laughing at me, knowing that I have been defeated. Still, I manage to fool Ashlee by keeping up intelligent conversation, consisting of a series of well-timed grunts and assents to her remarks.


Matt Brittain blogs from Bougainville

Lush riverscapes along the trail


In a hazy blur, we pass several ruins sticking out of the jungle. The concrete walls, covered in thick jungle vines and various plant species have a distinctly dystopic feel about them. I look at them trying to hear their echoes, wondering about the stories, the people. There’s almost a melancholic beauty to them. Pulling me back to reality, Ashlee utters the sweet words I’ve been so desperately waiting for – “Heading back now”. I offer no objection.


As we walk into our little, alcove street, I feel simultaneous elation and despair. I completed a run in extreme humidity and heat but it practically ended me. Still the promise of icy cold water followed by a cold shower keeps the legs slowly turning over and propels me back to the house. As I lie on my bed spread-eagled, the fan barely keeping the sweat at bay, I think about my new life here and my facial muscles engage to form a faint smile.


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Another view from the trail

Matt with sister Lorraine web

Matthew with Sister Lorraine of the Nazareth Centre

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Concrete structures gather rust and vines


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