Five days and five nights of endless temptation

As the clock struck midnight on Monday morning an uneasy feeling crept through my stomach.

It wasn’t hunger; in the preceding hours I’d consumed a big bowl of pasta, a fruit platter and some delicious mango muffins. This was rather a feeling of nervousness.

The prospect of starving myself for five days was everything but attractive. I didn’t like the thought that my meals were about to become a lot smaller and infrequent.

While my stomach grumbles were only psychosomatic, I can only imagine what it is like for people of the developing world, some of whom don’t know when their next meal is going to come.

In my current intern role at an international-based charity I come in contact with this kind of hard-luck story quite regularly. One of my main duties is writing human interest stories about Ethiopian and Tanzanian families, whose daily meals are a struggle. Some eat three times a day, some eat once, some don’t eat at all.

These are facts I struggle to come to grips with. Even now, after five days with limited subsistence, they are still horrific numbers.

Funnily enough, my brief encounter with butterflies on the strike of midnight was the hungriest I felt all week.

Over the course of the week I learned that $10 can actually afford one a decent diet. While my breakfast meals of plain toast and one-fifth of a banana felt like a bit of trial, my other meals were quite nourishing. Tuna became my saving grace; one tin of the salty meat supplied me with five sandwiches worth of flavour. Even the excess oil in the tin served a purpose; I used this liquid for cooking during my nightly pasta and vegetable dinner.

For those who feel ripped off by my lack of starvation, I will concede that the week wasn’t easy. Yet Live Below The Line wasn’t challenging because of my hunger; it had more to do with temptation.

On Monday night I just happened to be meeting up with a bunch of school friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in months. Throughout the night I sat at one end of the table, sipping water. I watched as my friends dug into three large and very appetising pizza dishes.

Afterwards, when we were organising the bill, one of my friends was nice enough to ask me to pay for them all. I kindly refused.

Two days later, I joined in on the celebrations for my boss’ birthday. With all of my colleagues aware of my five-day challenge, they made a conscious effort to pass the cheesecake away from me. I appreciated their concern, but couldn’t help but lick my licks when my eyes made contact with the cake’s glorious filling.

That night the torment continued. At a University soiree, which cost me $30 to attend, I found myself surrounded by platters of finger food and a bar tab. Once again I was left to capitalise on the free water.

As frustrating as it was that such occasions fell on the same week as my diet, I am really thankful that my schedule panned out how it did.

First of all, these social events gave me an invaluable opportunity to raise awareness about the Live Below the Line campaign. When people asked me why I wasn’t eating, I explain the fundraiser and my motivations for doing so. When questioned as to whether I was starving I informed people otherwise. “It’s amazing how much you can eat on $2 a day,” I would explain.

One of my favourite photos from Tanzania. These kids were wonderful and deserve a better life.

The second major benefit was that these experiences opened my eyes to the excessive lifestyles lived by those in the Western world, myself included.

Here in the West, we live to eat; those in the developing world eat to live.

This consumer culture isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself; given how much food we have on offer to us, it’d be a shame for us not to enjoy ourselves and eat it all.

This culture only looks bad when we compare it to those who don’t have as much. I return my thoughts to the rural Ethiopian and Tanzanian people I’ve been writing about. While food is of huge importance to them, it’s not the centrepiece of their lives. Most of their stories tell of their dreams to build new houses, start up businesses and send their children to school. Sure, they want to feed their families but that’s often just an interim goal, not the be-all and end-all.

It’s difficult for me to assess how I will be behave in the future; it will be very easy to revert back to the heavy-eating lifestyle I’m so accustomed to. I know I should use this experience as a platform to build on, but I’m reluctant to make promises I’m not going to keep.

One thing that’s more certain, however, is that I will continue to put my money where my mouth is. Donating to causes such as Live Below the Line gives people in developing countries the opportunities that many of us take for granted. Every one of our donations might be small, but if it is helping disadvantaged or vulnerable individuals give themselves a second chance at life, then it is a worthwhile investment.

To donate to my Live Below the Line campaign, head to https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/kevinhawkins

Thank you to everybody who has donated to Live Below the Line, particularly those who have opened up their pockets in response to my blogs and Facebook activity. Over $1.3 million – and counting – has been raised so far, thanks to your efforts.

Also, I wish to congratulate everybody who has participated in this fundraiser. Kudos to Larissa, Danilee, Tom and anyone else I know who has taken the courage to complete this challenge.

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