The Ocean Keeps Calling – A Pacific Wellness Story
The ocean keeps calling her. Stretching, beckoning and brilliant blue. It promises her gifts of crabs and fish, and fresh air to soothe her skin. If only she would come.
She always goes. As she’s done all her life. Her five-year-old feet traipsing about for shellfish and jumping away from sea snakes. Trailing her mother across sparkly, white lagoon sands uncovered at low tide. Running amuck mangrove swamps with other ten-year-old girls from the village. Adept at finding mud-crabs, grabbing them as they flail and jab with their cruel pincers. Screams and laughter pierce the morning calm. Cows stop feeding at bright green meadows nearby, heads up wondering at the raucous. Even the golden sun smiles. The paddles of the dingy plough through the waves, slicing the blue depths with the power of her arms. At the reef, she hurls out a line and reels in lunch. Alone. Unafraid. She breaths in deep the ocean winds that nibble her face and heads back to shore. She’s eighteen now and like any other girl her age, she must bring home a meal for the family. The ocean’s her friend. So is the forest behind her village. There she find’s coconuts, plants cassava and sweet potatoes. She picks wild ferns and gather’s firewood. All the ingredients she needs for a scrumptious meal of ika vakalolo (fish in coconut cream).
The memories light up Selai Tuidrokadroka’s face. Her eyes sparkle with joy as she hears the ocean and feels the forests of Naduri again. Naduri village is in Macuata Province in Vanua Levu, Fiji.
‘I left Naduri so long ago when I had to come and finish secondary schooling in Suva city,’ said Ms. Tuidrokadroka.
‘But I kind of never left!’ she added.
Ms Tuidrokadroka enjoyed the garden at Lelean Memorial School in Suva. Growing food and touching soil as a student boarder. She continued gardening for decades at the Pacific Theological College (PTC) in Nasese. She is PTC’s Registrar.
Every now and then, she paddles out into the Suva lagoon in front of PTC. To catch a fish and get a whiff of salty waves. It satisfies the ocean’s call. Calling from within her.
‘My ocean, my forests, my fish, my bird, my environment is my wellness,’ she explained.
Living, breathing in every sinew and fibre of her being. Bonded forever.
‘They keep me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy,’ she said.
‘I’m happy working in my garden, or out at sea because it’s where I am most alive!’
The shrieking cheers of the spectators filled PTC grounds. It was the 19th of February and the launch of Wellness Day! The Wellness Programme addresses the rise of deaths from Non-Communicable diseases (NCDs).
Chronic lung and heart disease, cancer and diabetes kill the most in the Pacific Islands.
Pacific Islands have some of the highest prevalence of adult obesity. They are among the top 12 globally.
The Wellness Programme aligns to the PTC Strategic Plan 2020-2025. A key aim of the Plan is to contribute solutions for social justice issues that afflict the region.
The NCDs crisis is a social justice issue. It increases poverty with premature deaths or disability of income earners. It can also cripple economies with a huge health bill.
‘Go Nau Selai! Fire! Fire!’ the spectators cheered.
‘Nau Selai’ grabbed the rugby ball and weaved in and out, goose stepping other women on the field. Her agility surprised many because she was well into her sixties.
‘I look after what I eat making sure they are fresh from the farm or sea,’ she said.
‘I see, I hear many young people fall dead, young, from all kinds of diseases!’
‘It makes me sad!’ added Ms. Tuidrokadroka.
‘As Pacific Islanders we connect our wellness to the environment,’ she added.
‘We need to go back to that!’ she implored.
‘Go back to the diets that come from our environment!
‘Cut back on processed foods and be more active.
‘Reconnect with our rituals of living with nature!
‘They keeps our minds and bodies healthy and our spirits at peace!’
‘Till the day I die, I will keep needing my forests and keep hearing my ocean calling!’
‘That’s just the way it is!’ she added.