Monday, December 1, 2014

Fiji Winter Blues

2nd July 2014 

During the winter season in Korea the temperature can drop as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius. One particular winter’s evening, the cold weather had started to make me feel blue (no pun intended). Even my long walks up the mountain behind our university in Seoul, were not as envigorating but more of a solitary reflective walk. When I shared this with my classmates from Kenya, Togo and Sri Lanka, they confessed feeling the same way. We all had the “winter blues”. Another term for it is seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

According to Norman E. Rosenthal who is a clinical psychiatrist and has researched SAD, every year, as the days become short and dark, people with SAD develop a predictable set of symptoms. They slow down and have a hard time waking up in the morning. Their energy level decreases, they tend to eat more, especially sweets and starches, and they gain weight. Their concentration suffers, and they withdraw from friends and family. As you can imagine, their work and relationships suffer, and they can become quite depressed. This symptom cluster often lasts for four or five months until the days become longer again. Since the syndrome is linked to a lack of light, people with SAD may become depressed during cloudy weather at any time of year, or if they are confined to windowless offices or basement apartments.

In its full form, SAD affects productivity in work or school, may affect interpersonal relationships, and causes a marked loss of interest or pleasure in most activities. A milder form of seasonal disorder, the winter blues, yields similar symptoms of decreased energy and increased appetite and can also affect enthusiasm and productivity but to a lesser extent.

I found that many of us from the southern hemisphere, particularly tropical countries, experience varying forms of SAD when we find ourselves “up north” during winter. We Fijians, may simply have to travel to Australia or New Zealand during this time of year.

The impact of climate change and the El Nino and La Nina weather phenomena has led to extremem weather patterns. Not only hotter weather and more intense thunderstorms and cyclones, but also, as we have been experiencing lately colder nights.

Having lived in Korea during the extreme cold winter season, the “cold” nights in Fiji over the past 6 weeks have been a refreshing change for me. I have laughed at my family’s bundling up at bed time, and ignored the comments from my children and wife about my “weirdness” for sleeping without a sheet or a shirt and sometimes putting the fan on during our “Fiji winter.”

Lately though, that has begun to change. We are experiencing very cold nights, even by my staunch standards. Socks and trousers have become part of my dress and I have begun to appreciate tour local expectation that “talatalas” should wear a coat.

The cold nights and early mornings have meant that I along with many others are not able to enjoy (or suffer depending on your need for sleep) the early morning swims at the pool. The Dolphin swimming club, of which my children a junior members, have had to introduce off-season cross training in the early morning sessions for their squads, because the water is too cold.

For someone who likes to be out on the water at sunrise, the late sunrise at this time of year means I have to shift my activities to lunch time or afternoon (sunset).

Back to my experience in Korea. Dr. Rosenthal’s explanation helped me understand why I was feeling the way I was. I did spend a lot of time looking at the tourist pictures of Fiji – the sun, sand and sea and imagining life back home.

During one of those winter internet surfing moments, I came across a video of some people doing what is known as Stand Up Paddling. Stand-Up Paddling or SUP is basically using a board similar to a surf board to stand and paddle. I made myself a promise that I would find a way to try this out. On my return to Fiji, I found that there was a small but growing SUP community in Fiji. Colin Philp, who manages Leluvia Island Resort, was kind enough to sell me one of his old boards at a price a young minister could afford.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn how to stand on the SUP board, how to paddle while standing. I learned the hard way that choppy or rough seas is not the ideal condition for SUP-ing, but rather flat, calm seas. But not only did I enjoy it, I fell in love with the sport.

Early morning paddles out in Laucala Bay became my quiet time as reflection on the beauty of creation, I was reminded about the creative spirit of God. Finding rubbish floating in the sea and on the “beach” at Laucala Bay reminded me how much we take for granted and our neglect of our roles as stewards of creation.

Last month I was finally able to paddle on my SUP out to the Suva reef. On Saturday, after spending time coral viewing, watching fish, stingrays and starfish through the crystal clear waters out at the reef, I looked back to the mainland, where mangroves have been uprooted and land reclaimed for development, where fishermen struggle to catch something with which to earn a living or simply feed their families. As I paddled back to shore, pausing to watch the beginning of the Business House Outrigger Canoe paddling competition, I wondered how many of us bother to enjoy the wonderful environment we have been blessed with and how many of us take it for granted.

As if to answer, as I reached the shore, I found staff from the Ministry of Education cleaning up the foreshore. As I thanked them for their hard work, I invited them to consider including clean-ups such as these into the school curriculum, perhaps as health science or general science or social studies. What a great idea for a class-based-assessment (CBA) project, cleaning the foreshore! I hope they take it into consideration.

This week, if you are not already doing so, try to take some time to enjoy the beautiful environment. Watch a sunset or sunrise. Spend time (safely) by the sea or river. Enjoy the energy we receive freely from creation. It is a gift.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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