In large parts of the world, going to bed hungry is a normal occurrence. In others, food is taken for granted with people over indulging, discarding half eaten sandwiches, even using it as a threat against children in hopes they’ll eat their greens. But for those facing famine, the constant state of hunger is real.
*please note that this post contains images of famine that some might be sensitive too
Tuesday morning I woke up and went about my day as normal. That night, Luca and I sat ourselves in front of the TV, turned on YouTube and opened a packet of biscuits his mum had given us during our recent trip to Italy. Biting into this little slice of heaven, I was immediately transported to my childhood, with the flavours tasting exactly like barley sugar. But no sooner had my thoughts been of this delicious treat, that they were of something far more serious. Famine.
My memories of eating barley sugar went hand in hand with my participation in The 40 Hour Famine event run by World Vision. Running for over 50 years, this event has helped supply millions of people, in over 26 countries with clean water, food and shelter. I remember my primary school encouraging us to participate in the event, if not to raise funds, then awareness. We had to give up food for 40 hours in order to understand what hunger feels likes.
After having a massive bowl of pasta for dinner, cake for dessert and later on the biscuit from Italy, I began to think about the food choices I was making and how so many individuals don’t have the luxury of dinner, dessert and late night snacks. Putting the half eaten packet of biscuits away, I made the decision to walk in someone else’s shoes for 40 hours. I was going to begin the 40 Hour Famine.
I’ve wanted to write about famine for a while now, but I wanted it to come from an honest and authentic place. So what better way to do that than to write about my own experience. The program states that you are allowed to drink water and tea, as well as have 1-2 barley sugar lollies every 2-4 hours. Being a last minute decision, I wasn’t prepared and had zero barley sugar in the house. But thinking about it now, that made the experience even more real. Individuals experiencing famine don’t often get warning, they can’t always prepare and stock up on certain items. It can happen in an instant as a result of a natural disaster, a drought, individual circumstance or from the poor economy of a country.
9.00 am (29.5 hours to go)
Wednesday morning I arrived at work and instead of making my usual porridge with chia seeds and honey, I turned on my computer and began responding to emails.
11.30 am (27 hours to go)
I had just finished my first herbal tea of the day and could feel a headache coming on. My stomach was grumbling and I was trying to think about anything other than food. I was 13 hours into the challenge (most of it spent asleep) and had 27 hours to go. At this point I realised it was going to be harder than I originally thought.
According to various reports I found online, when you go without food you’re body begins to burn stored sugar for energy. That reserve however doesn’t last long, usually depleting in the first 18-24 hours. Your body then uses muscle tissue to make glucose, but again not lasting long. Your body then maximises the breakdown of fats and your liver will start producing ketones to supply energy for the central nervous system. During this process, blood levels of cholesterol and uric acid tend to increase, a result of your body stirring up stored toxic waste materials and expelling them into the bloodstream, to then be eliminated from the body. This can provoke symptoms like headaches, fatigue, nausea and dizziness. I was definitely beginning to experience the headaches.
My friend Emma said that I would come out of this with a healthier body due to the detoxification process. I mean, yes, that’s possible, but that’s only because I am actively choosing to do this for a maximum of 40 hours. Anything long term and my body would no longer be considered ‘healthy’. To experience hunger on a regular basis and to have no control over it, is not something I would wish on anyone.
1.30 pm (25 hours to go)
As I sat at my desk, post lunchtime, drinking my second herbal tea for the day, I was really testing myself. The hunger pains were strong and my headache was still present. I thought to myself, it would be so easy to give up, to simply open my desk drawer and eat the packet of mixed nuts I have in there. But then I told myself that I hadn’t made it 15 hours to just give up and that people experiencing hunger go through this on a daily basis, 40 hours is nothing in comparison.
3.00 pm (23.5 hours to go)
I was really wishing I had some barley sugar. I needed something, anything to fill my stomach. All I could think about was food, how I had none, and how I desperately wanted some.
Previously, I’d never given much thought into situations where people are so desperate for food or water that they’d do almost anything for it. But my current state of hunger really got me thinking. So I hoped online and began researching. I was astounded to find article after article about hunger related violence. Groups of people, some of them often armed, starting fights in streets and robbing stores to take whatever they could. I honestly never connected any sort of violence with hunger before, but now that I’m more educated on the subject, I know it’s a very real thing.
I truly feel for these people. To be put in a situation where you compromise your integrity, where you become someone who resorts to crime just so you can provide a meal or two for yourself and your family. It’s something that nobody should ever have to go through. Reality is though, situations like these are currently happening and will continue to happen for years to come. We can’t immediately put an end to it but we can help. We can participate in events like this, fundraise, donate and raise awareness. No matter what it is, it all helps.
5.00 pm (21.5 hours to go)
My headache had surprisingly almost disappeared, however my hunger was still very much present. I was beginning to feel extremely tired and my concentration level was 40% at best. So I switched off my computer and headed home to relax.
7.00 pm (19.5 hours to go)
I had finished another cup of tea, bringing my total to four for the day. I was surprised to notice that although I was feeling hungry, I wasn’t starving. My hunger pains were manageable at this point.
11.00 Pm (15.5 hours to go)
My headache had returned and multiple adds for KFC and Oreo biscuits playing on TV had me really wanting food. So I decided to get some rest and go to bed.
I didn’t think hunger would affect my sleep, but I was quick to find out that indeed it did. It took me a good two hours to fall asleep, the constant grumble in my stomach keeping me awake, I was tossing and turning all night. It’s amazing how hunger affects your life, so much that you don’t realise it until actually experiencing it. It affected my concentration at work, which then affected my productivity and it also affected my sleep; which then affected my concentration and productivity at work the next day. It’s a never ending cycle.
8.00 am (6.5 hours to go)
Waking up I felt an emptiness in my stomach. The headache was gone but I was extremely tired from the lack of sleep. Replacing my breakfast with a herbal tea, I attempted to go about my day as normal.
12.00 Pm (2.5 hours to go)
Time was going by slowly. I was feeling bloated and extremely hungry. I was watching the clock every fifteen minutes, counting down until I could eat.
2.25 Pm (5 minutes to go)
When it came down to that last five minutes, I was already in the kitchen preparing my food. Out of everything I could have had, I was surprised that what I wanted, what I was craving was a bowl of porridge. This might seem boring to some, but I really missed this delicious meal that I’d become so accustomed to eating every morning. So that’s what I had and it tasted ten times better than usual.
When I started eating though, I noticed I was eating a lot quicker than I would have normally, so I had to consciously force myself to slow down, otherwise I’m sure I would have ended up with a stomach ache.
To walk in someone else’s shoes for 40 hours, to experience the symptoms of hunger was a difficult experience. By the 37th hour I was counting down the time until I could eat again, but for many, they don’t get this luxury. They have no idea when or where their next meal is coming from.
The photos throughout this blog showcase the famine situation in Africa, however there are homeless people and those post natural disaster, etc., experiencing hunger all over the world. This experience has taught me to never take food, a warm shower and the roof over my head for granted, because so many live everyday without.
As it was a last minute decision to participate in The 40 Hour Famine, I didn’t set up a fundraiser but I will make a personal donation to the charity tonight. 40 Hour Famine