We have a word in our house, the word is hangry, it describes that grumpy irritable feeling you get when you are hungry. Last week there was plenty of hangry-ness as for five days we only spent £1 a day each on food and drink.
On day four, as I walked the three miles home from school at ‘African-pace’ (i.e. very slowly), I spent some time thinking about food and about how my short experience of living on so little for food each day connected with the experience of many of the people we know in Uganda.
For us in the West, food means many things; it is our source of energy, it is a way of socialising, it is a pick-me-up and for some it is even an addiction. Life in Uganda is not so different (although I expect food is not so plentiful as to have become an addiction).
This week we were not starving; we were getting enough calories, I did not lose weight, we probably even managed to get a fairly balanced diet (if slightly lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables). For most of the people we met in Uganda, they were in a similar position; they were not starving.
However, last week life was not as full; I walked slower, I found it harder to concentrate, I felt lifeless in the evenings, I was often hangry. Last week we could not afford to go for lunch meetings at work, we couldn’t have a coffee in a coffee shop (in fact all hot drinks were out), we couldn’t afford to have people over. I also couldn’t afford the dairy-free products that I normally eat and my health was affected.
For many of our friends in Butaleja this is the case for them also; although they get enough calories to function they just don’t have as much energy, especially if we consider all the hard manual work they do. Our friends would work in their fields using only a hoe, collect water in 20 litre jerry cans, collect firewood and travel over long distances on foot. It is unsurprising that many children find it difficult to concentrate at school; it also explains the slow walking pace!
Food is just as socially important for our friends in Uganda as it is for us, if not more so. It is essential when guests come that you feed them the best that you can. If you cannot afford food then guests soon stop coming and your social network will disappear. This is the social network that you rely on in times of need.
Equally, our friends were often not able to get the nutrition they need to regain health when they were sick. A friend in a nearby rural church fainted whilst interpreting for Phil because he was on antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS but was unable to afford enough food to eat whilst taking the strong medicine. Also, pregnant women could often not get the nutritious diet they needed, let alone satisfy cravings.
When the people we know had a bit of extra money they would usually spend it on more expensive foods such as sugar and rice rather than the more nutritious and cheaper staple foods. Many people see this behaviour as foolish and the reason that ‘the poor’ stay poor, but can you honestly say that if you were living only on a very basic diet you wouldn’t want a treat now and then? Phil and I carefully budgeted so that we could have rice pudding in our £1 a day and life without any sugar is just not fun!
Most of the people we work with are not starving, but they are still missing out on a large part of life, they have less energy and less ability to concentrate. Food is so important, not just nutrition but for many other reasons. Five days gave me a taste of what it is like to miss out on this important part of life and well-being but for many of our friends this is their everyday reality. For the widows of Bugosa they often live on even less than £1 a day. Thank you so much to everyone who sponsored us to do this. For those that still want to it is not too late. Give now.