Friday, 3 May 2013

To Live (Below the Line)

When I first signed up to this challenge, I don't think I really knew what I was letting myself for. For  five days I would be living off £1 worth of food and drink a day, (like 1.2 billion other people across the world.) I took part in this challenge in order to raise money for the Somali Relief and Development Forum, the charity I work for. All the money I receive(d) through sponsorship will go towards our crucial projects including the distribution of emergency food packages and the establishment of water wells throughout Somalia. 

So I must admit, the main reason I initially joined this challenge was because our very devoted (and persuasive!) fundraising manager Samra Said had asked me to, but I also wanted to experience something new, something different, something that might change my whole perspective on things. Live below the Line is less about re-creating poverty and more about changing the way in which we view our options (the world we live in and our place in it). This week has made me do just that! This experience has been truly life-changing and I can't recommend it enough to people. 

Day 1

Day one was hard in so many ways! Having failed to do my shopping the Sunday before, I woke up on Monday feeling very unprepared and a bit at loss. In the morning, I 'borrowed' a slice of bread, toasted it and had a cup of tea (I promised myself I'd give the items back later that day). And so I left, though it wasn't long before I wish I hadn't. My morning commute was awful! There were severe delays on the northern line, so I ended up going to Tooting Broadway and getting the bus to Elephant and Castle. It took forever! I then got another bus from Elephant towards Tottenham Court road, a few stops into my journey I got off and started to walk it. (The traffic was horrendous!) Needless to say I got into work very late, a bit stressed and rather exhausted!

Fortunately upon my arrival I realised my work pal, Fatiha had also come in completely unprepared.  At lunch we decided to pool together our resources and head to Sainsbury. That's when things got really complicated. We spent over an hour in Sainsbury's wandering aimlessly through aisles looking for food to buy, inserting numbers into our calculator and negotiating crucial foodstuffs, (custard creams or smash, that is the question...) We ended up spending £9.96 between the two of us. Our shopping included milk, cheese, a couple of cans of rice pudding, eggs, pasta and bread! We were actually quite surprised at how much we managed to buy!

When we got back we made toast and rice pudding for lunch. It was quite filling! ...this is going to be a breeze, we both agreed. My pal Fatiha and I really enjoy our lunch times and during the last six weeks at my job, we've been to pretty much every food joint in the area. Our lunches have rather varied, from eating chicken wings outside the British Museum on a sunny day, to consuming subs in the basement of Subway on a rainy day. We both love food. In fact, it's probably one of the reasons why we so quickly became friends. It would be interesting to see how we would manage sharing our very limited supplies over the next few days!

So on the first day of the challenge, I was the last one to leave my office and on my way down I very quickly realised that my wallet was still in Fatiha's bag. I wondered what I was going to do! I had no money, I was already feeling quite hungry and there was no way I wanted to walk all the way back to Tooting. So I went downstairs and knocked on the door to the offices of the first floor. A friendly looking chap who's name I still hadn't managed to learn opened the door. Embarrassed, I asked him if he could lend me a fiver. He opened his wallet, alas nothing, but wasted no time in whizzing around to find someone who did! He ended up collecting some pound coins from the few people still around. I was overcome and incredibly humbled by everyone's kindness, especially his own. Despite the fact that I hadn't even made the effort to learn his name, here he was showing me great kindness. That was a lesson for me right there. I was grateful. So reluctantly I took the money and headed out. When outside, I considered walking to Waterloo to save £2.50, but decided against it. At the tube station, I ended up getting a single paper ticket to Tooting Bec. It cost £4.50, that's 50p short of my entire weeks food budget!! I thought then about the 1.2 billion people in the world, who use the equivalent money for not only food, but education and travel too (to name a few!) In less than 40 minutes I was back home.

When I got in, I called Fatiha and asked her if she had my wallet, she didn't. So without thinking I called up my bank and blocked my card. I then made some pasta and wolfed down half the plate. Back in my room, there on my table, I noticed a single shiny pound coin. I picked it up and turned it in the gold evening light, all the while thinking to myself, isn't money funny!! In this city especially, we're rendered so vulnerable without it! That night I lay awake thinking about how much I take for granted on a day to day basis, from my travel card, to those endless cups of tea, I also wondered what tomorrow would hold...

Day 2

Day two wasn't half as dramatic as my first day living below the line. I woke up feeling a lot more optimistic. I cooked up a half boiled egg and downed it with a couple of toasts and tea. A good wholesome breakfast,  but I sure wasn't looking forward to that undercooked pasta for lunch! I was also bit worried I'd get beaten up by Fatiha especially as I burned her toast the day before too!

When I got into work, I found my wallet on top of a Sainsbury's bag on the table. Joy. The whole day went by quite fast, I couldn't concentrate as well and was feeling pretty tired and pretty hungry! At lunch time we quickly consumed the left over pasta (it was actually a lot nicer than the night before).

We decided to go for a walk to Goodge Street, before heading back, then after work we ended up wandering around some of the shops in Oxford Circus. It wasn't long before we both decided to call it a day. When I got home I had a couple of toasts with a bit of curry sauce (swapped a couple spoonfuls for two eggs, hope that isn't cheating!) I went to bed hungry nonetheless. During the rest of the week I quickly realised how completely simplified my life had become. I didn't really feel like calling up friends or talking to people. I just ended up going to bed uncharacteristically early. I guess I didn't realise how much of my life revolved around eating, or how much of an impact the food I ate made in my life. It was only day two and already I missed the simple things, esp. fruit and veg!

Day 3

I didn't sleep well at all the night before. I woke up feeling weak, shaky and quite out of it. I ended up making a good breakfast (half a can of beans, toast and egg). I did wonder whether I would actually make it through till the end of the week! I'd also broken out in skin rashes (not sure if it was the food or something else!) This did however seem to add to my general sense of agitation and anti-socialness. At lunch, Fatiha (also feeling equally miserable) and I sat outside the offices in the sunshine. I ate the same pasta and a number of custard creams before we headed back in to finish the day. 

When I got home that evening I made potato mash with the 14p can of Sainsbury's basics potatoes and finished half the can of leftover beans from the morning. I then sat in the garden for a bit before having another early night.

Day 4

I woke up feeling more agitated and annoyed than the previous day. I had an egg and toast for breakfast before heading out. The morning dragged on a bit at work but I managed to get all my jobs done.

For lunch I had a burnt slice of toast and a can of rice pudding. It took me ages to open the can with a knife, proper fail!!

So at the end of the day, I really really needed to go for a walk! So I walked. I cut through Soho Square Garden, through Chinatown and to Piccadilly. During the end of my walk I began to feel quite ill and a bit out of my head, I wasn't enjoying my walk at all, in fact I felt more agitated by the crowds and noise. So I got the tube back, the whole way home as I clasped the yellow bar on my northern line train, all I could think about was a banana, about eating a banana. I was also quite angry. I was angry that 1.2 billion people around the world live this way, I felt angry at our collective apathy, I felt angry that I had been rendered so vulnerable and that the lack of nutrition had completely changed my way of life in less than a week! I also found myself thinking more deeply about those very simple questions and I felt myself grow a lot more grateful and empathetic, but also a bit detached from people, especially people who weren't living below the line. When I got home, I cooked and ate some more pasta before jotting down a string of poems and then heading to bed. 

Day 5

This was probably the easiest day by far, maybe because I knew I would finally be able to eat what I want. At the same time, it was difficult knowing that a great number of people in the world, wouldn't be able to have those options or to come out of it, the way a lot of us could. 

For breakfast on my last day of living below the line, I had a plain toast and a cup of tea. For lunch, I consumed more pasta, and for desert a yoghurt. Before leaving work I had my last live below the line meal: quite befittingly- toast and tea!

When I got home my new debit card finally arrived and so I cut up the old one! Symbolically it was quite powerful and I vowed to change the way I spend, the way I eat and the way I think about a lot of things. This week has taught me so so much, I just hope I can remember these lessons and learn from them. If you haven't already, there's still time to donate! Any donation, small or large would be really appreciated.