Change, and All That Came In-Between

It’s Sunday morning as I write this. My head hurts a little and I’m unapologetically more emotional that usual.

A whole 48 hours have passed since I stepped back onto UK soil.

In the same 48 hours, I’ve travelled up and down the country, caught up with friends and family, applied for jobs, over eaten, and admittedly, as the opening line suggests, had a few excessive incidents on the vino (using the ‘it’s my birthday week/i’ve returned without rabies woo’ excuse).

It’s probably fair to say, as 48 hours go, it’s been busy.

Without sounding like a total cliche loser, throughout the busyness, there has been a really uncomfortable feeling that I’m struggling to shake off.

The feeling creeps up on me every time I’m asked about my volunteer experience.

“Was it amazing?”

“What were you even doing?”

“Is it weird to be back?”

“What will you miss the most?”

I am overwhelmed.

The truth is, it’s hard to know where to start. After 10 weeks fully emerged, and I mean emerged, in such a different and unique culture to our own, it’s a mighty hard task to verbalise answers that do the questions in hand any justice.

But that’s not the only overwhelming part.

Nothing has really changed here.

Have I even been away? Did I even contribute towards anything in Malawi? Is change even a thing? Have I changed? AM I OK?±

According to google, my trusty companion, I’m suffering from a mild case of reverse culture shock (RCS). If I were to ask my other volunteer compatriots, I’d hazard a guess that I’m not alone with this issue.

In the most practical way of dealing with ‘RCS’ and in a bid to provide reference points for all those friends feeling neglected by the dire quality of my communication at the moment, these are the facts:

  1. How it all began…

Back in January, I made a vow to myself that I would get off my bum this summer and (try to) do some good in the world. After seeing advert after advert for International Citizenship Service on Facebook*, I found myself filling out a short application form and before I knew it, had applied to take part in a summer of volunteering. An assessment day later and I was told that I had been selected to travel to Malawi with Progressio from July to September.

Whilst Progressio is sadly ending it’s work in the coming year, you can still apply for the ICS scheme with other partner organisations here if you’re aged between 18-25 and have that itch to get out there and do some volunteering.

*On this note, hats off to the ICS marketing team – top form progressive profiling using targeted social ads. You had me cornered.

2. The Fundraising Part

Before setting off, I had to commit to raising £800 for the charity. At first this figure seemed daunting given the fact I was working full time, had tickets to lots of festivals and all in all, had very little time on my hands. However, down to how fabulous, generous and genuinely amazing everyone in my life is, the target was smashed.

Thanks again to all those lovely people that supported me, and big props also for not un-friending me on Facebook through the fundraising status’ phase.

You’ll be pleased to know that I’m not planning on taking up a job in the fundraising sector, just yet.

3. The Work Part

I worked for a small NGO, COIDA, in the Northern Malawian town of Mzimba.

COIDA focuses on alleviating poverty in local communities through empowering youth and women.

As part of a team of 7 UK volunteers and 6 Malawian volunteers, a.k.a ‘Team Tiliwamoza’, or Bush to some, we worked intensively with 6 village youth clubs around the Mzimba district area.

Across the district we trained up 58 youths as peer educators to give them a sound knowledge of sexual health, disability and gender rights, and also the skills required to enable them to go on and teach and advise their peers on the same issues.

If each of these youth members go on to speak to 2 new people a month for 12 months about the information we’ve given them, we’ll reach 1392 people.

That is a lot of people hearing simple messages such as use a condom, get tested and that we are all equal. Important awareness messages that are at the forefront in the war waging on the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Team Tiliwamoza didn’t stop with peer education.

We also spoke to parents of the peer educators, held a big international youth day event which had a turnout of well over 1000 people with a lively talent show and speakers on the importance of entrepreneurship, education and volunteerism. We then ran outreach and awareness campaign sessions to solidify our relationships with the communities and spread our message further.

Our team’s special project continued on from the work of the previous cycle, whereby we facilitated vocational skills training for a community that cycle one had helped setting up a village youth and saving loans scheme within. To supplement the vocational skills training, we ran a business improvement workshop. In preparation of the community workshop, I presented a simplified version of the 7 P’s of service marketing to the team – putting my degree to use in the most unexpected environment.

Whilst the project wasn’t plain sailing by any means, we learnt an incredible lot and for every challenge, the team could report a success.

4. The Living Part

Of course after going out and putting in long hours at the COIDA office, or in the villages, we’d need roofs over our heads every evening.

This is where our wonderful host homes came in, and is one of the major ways that ICS is set apart from other volunteering schemes.

I lived in the home of an incredible host mama, Violet, with her 2 year old sass pot of a daughter, Natasha, 10 year old niece, Lillian, and one other UK volunteer, Mister Hol.

Living in the very heart of a community, in the home of a local, provided us with rare insights into the culture that I doubt travelling independently would have otherwise offered.

The privilege exposed us to many unique experiences, including; the true Malawian diet (nsima, rice, and of course, live chickens in the kitchen one minute and on the plate the next), a bridal shower, introductions in front of large church congregations,  our neighbour’s Tuesday night choir group practice directly outside our bedroom window, the local mosque calling to prayer, daily blackouts (and accompanying games we’d find ourselves playing in the absence of light and electricity – flashlight hot and cold anyone?), the floating lizards in bucket bath water, the hand washing, our all too friendly guard dogs that would follow us into work, the questionable children’s music videos, the cockroach graveyard underneath our beds, the Beyonce Single Lady dance lessons, and most touchingly, the personal and hugely moving stories we’d be told as we became good friends with Violet.

SO in an extremely shortened form, that is essentially my summer in a nutshell.

The problem with summaries is that it’s hard to do the details justice.

It’s hard to capture the laughs, the in-jokes, the late night conversations, the intensity of a Malawian sunset and the reward of seeing people learn life changing information and the relief when your teaching starts to sink in, or when your idea just works.

Another problem with providing only a snapshot, is that the change and actual long term impact isn’t considered. However, this long term impact can not yet be reported, or even guaranteed, and it is this issue only contributes to my uneasiness.

However, one of my fellow volunteers spoke wonderfully at our debrief on how her parents once told her the story of an old man who selflessly planted date trees and nurtured them so that in the future, the fruits could be enjoyed by others. Just like the planting of seeds for date trees, our work has to be seen as laying the groundwork. Sustainable change has to be slow, and requires time and hard work. It also takes trust, something that as as a life long sceptic, i’ve always struggled with.

As for the self-diagnosed reverse culture shock, I know that will pass. Sometimes 3 months of soul searching and new experiences will make your past normality feel everything except normal. Upon returning, it’s unsurprising that the realisation that the things that have changed the most lie within yourself and the way you see the world, and that this realisation may in turn carry a slightly unsettling aftertaste.

I guess at the end of the day, and the point that I need to remember the most, is that the world is bigger than you and me. It’s confusing and it doesn’t make sense at times, but we’re still a significant part of a much bigger picture. Trust your worth and trust your ability to make a difference, because as i’ve found, change starts a lot closer to home than expected.

The Gratitude A-Z

Given that the science of gratitude points to the overwhelming fact that people who regularly count their blessings are generally more positive and compassionate, and most surprisingly, sleep better (?!), it begs the question – when was the last time you stopped to reflect upon all the things that you’re thankful for?

Many psychologist boffins have written on the area and time after time have suggested that people should keep gratitude diaries or simply note down a few daily points as an effective means of happiness boosting.

After spending many weeks away from home in Malawi, I’ve had plenty of time to dwell on the things I love and miss, and I’m overdue a gratitude outpouring. Never one to do anything by halves, my thanks list off the back of my African adventure is long so to spice things up a little it’s evolved into an alphabetical medley.

Please note: Whilst the following may seem like an elaborate Facebook style copy and paste post, stay with me, there’s a few more poignant messages that apply to us all (I hope) buried in there too!

Oh and don’t judge on the more materialistic items, a girl has needs.


A – Avocado. 

Smashed avocado on sourdough, avocado with poached eggs, avocado in sushi, avocado and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, avocado, avocado, avocado. Love the green stuff.


B – Books. 

After getting to the end of my 4th and final book in Malawi, I came to the conclusion that I bloody love reading and made myself a ‘book bucket list’.

Must. Read. More.


C – Cheese, cocktails and cider. 

Self explanatory.


D – Dog. 

My dog, Alfie, to be precise. Alfie listens, Alfie doesn’t judge and most importantly, Alfie isn’t infested with ticks like most dogs over here.


E – Electricity and education. 

Five power cuts a week does wonders in making you appreciate reliable electricity.

As for the education point, whilst Malawi offers free primary education for all, there is an alarmingly high drop out rate and only one fourth of youths end up in secondary education. ONE FOURTH! A crazily low and harrowing statistic that makes me appreciate the 11 years that I spent in compulsory education.


F – Freedom. 

See back to my previous blog post on feminism. I’m grateful that I can wear shorts at home without offending people, and on a broader (and unrelated to Malawi) scale, I’m thankful for my vote and my ability to move across most country borders freely to gain insights into new cultures.


G – Gym. 

A gym membership has always been my ‘can’t-really-afford-but-want’ expense, that I’d occasionally neglect for weeks then return to although nothing had changed. Malawi is largely entertained by the prospect of exercise, so I’ve actually found myself missing visiting a gym and experiencing the associated feelings of wellbeing that would arrive after a sweaty spinning or body pump class.


H – Hot running water. 

There’s a spot on my back that hasn’t been properly washed for a whole summer thanks to the limitations of the dreaded bucket bath. Whilst some of my team (naming no names) began co-assisted bathing to ensure that every inch of their bodies got clean, and others took to actually sitting in the buckets, I went for a more modest approach of using a trusty jug.

If anyone wants me within my first few hours at home, I’ll be found turning into a prune under the BEST hot shower of my life.


I – iPad.

Read: Technology in general

If you’d asked me within in my first week here what I was missing the most, I’d have told you it was my iPhone, after a WhatsApp and Snapchat shaped hole had appeared in my life and left me feeling strangely homesick.

Embarrassing or what?

Oh and sorry Mum, it’s nothing personal.

My saving grace came in the form of an iPad. The same iPad that I misplaced in Heathrow Terminal 2 security before I’d even boarded the plane but thankfully found in the nick of time. It’s been the ultimate notepad and destination for ramblings such as this.


J – Jude. 

My 70-odd year old sidekick, inspiration and Grandma. Her wit is endless and her innate grasp on life is admirable. As my favourite dinner date and deliverer of practical advice, Jude recently asked if she could be my bridesmaid one day. An extension of J for Jude, is Jude’s family (Mum and Dad, this means you) who are in turn people that I owe a million thanks to. Dad, on this note, I’m sorry for every time I’ve taken IT and bill related dilemmas out on you. Love you really.

K – Ketchup. 

Admittedly I just had to google ‘words that begin with K’ to arrive at this, but anyone who knows me well enough will know that Heinz Tomato Ketchup is my staple.


L – Laughs and love. 

Relating to letters J and P. Mega cringe but I’m extremely lucky to be surrounded by these two basics.


M – Music. 

Isn’t it an Abba lyric “thank you for the music” and all that? Well, yeah.


N – Nice things. 

Whilst it has been an absolute privilege staying with a host in Malawi, the true meaning of the phrase “home comforts” has really become apparent as I’ve lived for weeks in a box room, under a mosquito net and out of a suitcase full of Primark’s finest offerings. I’m now counting down the hours until I can reunite with my collection of cacti, feather down duvet and beloved wardrobe of clothing.


O – Offline time. 

For the first 3 weeks in Malawi I made a deliberate attempt to distance myself from the virtual world. In this time I found myself reading and writing more, undeniably positive past times to rediscover interests. The short time off social media also made me readdress myself without continual comparison.


P – Pals.

Over the years I’ve acquired a diverse mix of brilliant, intelligent, beautiful, independent and hilarious gal pals. Each and every one of them will have been infuriated by me in one way or another (usually for my terrible communication record) but it’s their unwavering patience, praise and belief that always sets them apart.

From the straw thieves, to the Thai prin, to the awful dancers, to the ones that will stay up all night talking, to the seshers, and the partners in crime and adventure, you’re all complete stars and I love you very much.

Now you’re all free to go be sick. I’m not sure what came over me just then either.

Q – Queen Liz. 

Wouldn’t call myself a patriot but she is a mega babe, I guess.

Scraping the barrel now.


R – Radio and running. 

My love affair with the radio began when 11 year old me began staying up way past my bedtime to listen to Colin Murray present the Late Night Specialist Radio 1 show. My love affair with running began 10 years later on the 8th kilometre of a 10km race around London in which I realised that jogging actually isn’t all that bad.

I’ve been deprived on both fronts whilst in Malawi; one out of choice and avoidance at becoming the town celebrity ‘azungu’ (a.k.a white person) and the other one out of a frustrating lack of signal.


S – Stoves (the electric or gas variety) and streetlights. 

Outdoor coal stoves are a nightmare to light and take a lifetime to cook on, so to have a functional hob back in my life will be a relief.

Latterly, the absence of streetlights after dark (which in Malawi is by 6pm) makes your evenings boring to say the least. On the rare occasion we’d venture out after dark, the walk back home in the pitch dark has been terrifying.


T – Toilets that flush. 

Latrines are only good for squatting practice.


U – University. 

An extension of the letter E. I’ve cursed my university and degree an unfair number of times over the last few years. The reality that I’m in a global minority by attending university has only struck me now I’m here as it’s clear that many people would love to go onto further education but it’s a totally unfeasible option for them.


V – Variety. 

Bit of an abstract one, but ‘C’ was already taken up by cheese, cocktails and cider so ‘choice’ had to take on another form with another letter.

There is next to no great variety in Malawi.

For example, go to People’s PTC (the equivalent of Tesco’s Express) and you’re very restricted by the products on offer. When I get back to the UK, it will be a weird and wonderful moment stepping back into a supermarket.

The lack of choice here doesn’t stop with grocery shopping.

It extends to medical options, beauty outlets, hospitality and retail. It is a forgotten privilege that we can choose our GP, cuisine of a takeaway, specific colour of wall paint and to have that skinny grande almond milk latte with low-fat sugar free hazelnut syrup.

W – Washing machines and wifi. 

For one, hand washing is a bitch. For two, 2G internet connections are also bitches.
Enough said.

X – Now I’m regretting this A-Z format. 

Y – Yorkshire tea, Yorkshire puddings, the Yorkshire accent, Yorkshire in general. 

Z – Erm, pass. 

I’m all out of thanks for one sitting, and I’ll have to get back to you on whether I actually sleep any better tonight – but it’s definitely got me thinking.

Your turn.

Are you a feminist yet? 

This isn’t an invitation to take a questionable quiz on how much of a strident feminist you are (sorry if the title deceived you into thinking otherwise). This is the story of how it took a flight 8000 miles across the world to make a Naive Brit* rethink everything she thought she knew on gender and the retelling of it is to save you travelling those 8000 miles to experience the same thing.  

Prior to boarding said flight, Naive Brit had spent 12 months working in a corporate machine. Whilst the company she was lucky enough to spend time at had no glaringly obvious gender imbalances, she was well aware that glass ceilings were very much apparent across many industries. 

Most worryingly, this knowledge didn’t alarm Naive Brit, who held a very selfish “if I want to, I can get just as far as men can and so could all women around the world if they cared enough” attitude. Her view on feminism was equally as detached, if prompted with the question “are you a feminist?” NB would have replied with a very defensive “YES” in the hope that the line of questioning would end there. 

She just didn’t quite get it. 

But what exactly is ‘it’? I hear you cry (which is totally okay, Naive Brit was exactly the same). 

Writer and all round funny-nut Caitlyn Moran provides an answer of pure excellence; 

“What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.” 

It’s as straightforward as that. A feminist just wants life to be a bit more equal for all parties. So no, HAVING BODY HAIR AND HATING MEN IS NOT FEMINISM, however a feminist is well within his or her right to grow their hair out long. Whatever floats your boat and all. 

Now, fast forward those 8000 miles to the point where the penny started dropping for Naive Brit. 

After a summer of working in an extremely patriarchal African country (where the men both literally and metaphorically wear the trousers) NB asked her fellow Brit colleagues what it was that they found to be the hardest to swallow throughout their stay. Their responses weren’t tales of inadequate healthcare, striking street child poverty or starvation. Instead a pattern emerged that would hit Naive Brit much closer to her idealistic home. 

One spoke of their shock at a lady’s story of males openly telling her she shouldn’t be wearing trousers or running her own business. 

Another had been taken aback by the exodus of twenty-something men to neighbouring countries leaving behind equally young wives and children whilst they went in search of greener pastures (and women), only to return years later to their formerly abandoned wives. 

Meanwhile, the group as a whole had been left wide mouthed as a youth club erupted into laughter at the prospect of a female raping a male, and even at a younger male raping an older female. It was hilarious to them that a world of non-consensual sex even exists for females. It isn’t, after all, against the law in their country for a male to expect sex with his wife whenever he pleases. 

At the same youth club, NB’s team had a battle on their hands getting female members to introduce their names in front of their male peers.

Others talked of their disbelief when community members opened up about deep rooted myths, cultural faux pas and historic traditions that were directly contributing to the spread of HIV. These included the perception that females shouldn’t carry condoms, the prevalence of sugar daddies, and even wife inheritance. 

The team’s stories went on, and on, and on. With one common denominator: gender inequality. 

But this issue is much wider than the stories of a single team in a single African town can tell and importantly, this issue isn’t contrasted in a west vs. east format. It is global. 

The truth is we all live in a world where more than a third of women experience sexual or physical violence in their lives. We live in a world where 46 countries have no laws protecting females from domestic abuse. We live in a world where only a fifth of parliamentary seats are held by women. We live in a world where women still earn less on average than men in all sectors and all professions. We live in a world where only 55 of the richest 500 people are female. We live in a world where, depressingly, it is estimated that it will be another 118 years until the pay gap closes for good. 

The crushing and quite frankly disillusioning fact that life is crap for many women hit Naive Brit like a tonne of bricks. If fate had altered and she’d been born in a country where society hadn’t yet evolved thanks to decades of tireless hard work by visionary feminists, or even if she’d been born in her own country 100 years earlier, it could all have been very different. Her achievements would have been a hell of a lot harder to get to and barriers would have arisen that she’d never previously considered. 

It’d be far too easy to be rendered useless by the magnitude of the disparity problem, but we’re all a part of a bigger picture whether we like it or not; a small but vital piece of an earth sized jigsaw puzzle. 

Recently the story of the Malawian ‘Hyena Man’ hit western media channels like a storm. The receiving public were outraged that it was legal for young girls to be sexually cleansed by much older men after their first menstruation. The subsequent embarrassment that the spotlight brought the country then encouraged the President to order the arrest of the prominent ‘Hyena’ in question. 

This is just one example of how the power of the collective influenced change. 

The book doesn’t stop with the collective though, as Naive Brit found during her work in Africa after noticing changes in the females she was teaching. By encouraging the girls to speak freely and sharing her own views on equality, NB recognised new found confidence and attitudes surfacing. 

Individual empowerment shouldn’t therefore be played down in the plight to create fruitful environments for worthy citizens. 

We’re fortunate enough to have voices and platforms that are well received, not ignored. Don’t be like Naive Brit and turn your back on inequality. Instead, seek it out, question it and shout about it until people start listening, because until we start talking about it, who’s going to listen? 

As Frieda Pinto said “gender equality is a human fight, not a female fight”. 

So, are you a feminist yet?  

*Naive Brit is in no way a representation of the author, I promise

The F Word 

Fat. fat/

noun

1.  a natural oily substance occurring in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs.

adjective

1. (of a person or animal) having a large amount of excess flesh.

– 
We have it in common the world over, but I’m fast learning the conations attached to the short 3 letter word don’t translate across cultures. Just as a body shape is unique to an individual, beauty ideals are equally as unique and varied across the community boundaries in which they originate from. 

My conundrum into the conflicting fat meaning hit me, smacked me in fact – and so hard it hurt a little, as my Malawian host Mama spooned out a second portion of deep fried chips onto my plate. 

“You’ve got fat, I can even see it in your cheeks” she said, with the goodwill of a compliment written on her face. 

Now I’ll put my hands up, I’m by no means Alexa Chung (if only). Yes I have fat, I am human, but I’m hesitant to assign that label to myself. 

So here lies the crux of her comment; the reason my host said I’d got fat like a compliment was because IT WAS a compliment, and rather than starving myself for the remainder of the placement – which admittedly crossed my mind as an option for roughly 5 seconds – I decided I’d instead make it my mission to get to the bottom of African body image. 

It turns out we could learn a thing or two from the Malawians…

1. Fat = full 

Owing to its location Africa has experienced its fair share of drought over the years and as a consequence famine is sadly not unheard of. 

As I write this Malawi is in the midst of a maize deficit whereby crop failure has pushed the cost of the country’s staple food past affordable boundaries and is endangering the lives of over 2 million people. 

Food is a luxury. 

So to eat enough food to be full is healthy, and to have fat is also, funnily enough, deemed here to be healthy. 

Obviously it would be ignorant to pretend that having too much fat is truly healthy, and likewise is the case for having too little – but it seems from the general Malawian perspective, a heavier weight indicates that you a.) haven’t starved and b.) are no longer a child and have grown. Both factors pointing to the fact you’re healthy. 

Interestingly, this point was further confirmed when a member of my team, Tom, came into work in a baggy shirt. Whilst wearing oversized garments in the UK may be seen as a fashion statement, out here Tom’s move was met with laughter from the national volunteers. For them, it seemed absurd that he’d willingly choose to look like he’d lost weight by wearing clothes that were too big. 

2. WARNING: FULL LENGTH MIRRORS ARE NOT ALWAYS YOUR FRIEND 

It’s day 45 of my time in Malawi and I’ve only seen a full length reflection of myself once or twice.

There is a severe mirror shortage. 

At first the lack of mirrors was a major annoyance. How was I supposed to check out my middle-aged Mum outfit ensembles and track the progress of my tan lines? 

However, after just a few days I’d forgotten that full-length mirrors were even a thing and the revelation that I was actually feeling happier without being reminded daily that I have stretch marks, an occasionally bloated stomach and slight love handles was unsurprising. 

Now I understand why there is a mirror shortage here. In one of the world’s poorest countries, why would anyone waste money on a possession that only makes you question yourself? 

3. Consumerism hasn’t fully reached Malawi 

We’re all products of our own cultures and I am no different. I’m a marketing student with career aspirations lying in the advertising world. I also buy fashion magazines and shop on the high street, domains which actively promote a certain size, shape and image, in order to drive profits, whilst being upheld by said advertising world and The Man (but I’ll save that for a later blog post). 

So forgive me whilst I get mildly hypocritical and political on you. Capitalism sucks sometimes, undeniably it has it’s advantages, but overall it dictates a how and a why on society, and as western consumers you’d have to be living under a rock not to feel the wrath of capital influence. 

Living in Malawi has provided a somewhat refreshing break. 

The media and advertising spheres haven’t crept into every inch of life – instead of billboards plastered with scantily clad, thin and often airbrushed models, you’re more likely to be confronted with a bible verse or simply ‘God Loves You’. 

What’s more, young girls and boys aren’t being continually force fed images that reinforce the standpoint that only one body shape can be beautiful. As a result, terms such as Atkins, 5:2, BootTea, SlimFast, Paleo and Volumetrics remain alien, whilst the word ‘fat’ continues to be celebrated and not feared.  

As I return to the UK I will carry home a renewed outlook on body image. One that will force me to view fat as a reality of life. One that will encourage me to value health and wellbeing over the concern of societal ideals. And finally, one that will give me the courage to approach issues surrounding body image in my future career with the upmost care and social responsibility.

After all, healthy isn’t one size fits all. 

ICS Fundraising: A Week of Dry Toast, Porridge and Spinach

6 days on since I wrote about how much of a pathetic and wasteful food shopper I am, and 5 days on of consuming said shop, and I’m now looking back on a pretty eventful week of eating what can be only described as the dullest diet ever.

Before I divulge into the hilarity of my attempt, it’s worth explaining again why I’m doing this; A staggering number of people live on less than £1 a day globally. Over 1.2 billion to be precise – with around 60% of these being women and children. From my experience in the past 5 days, I’ve realised that trying to even just eat and drink on such a small amount leaves you extremely vulnerable to feeling tired and run-down. I can’t begin to imagine how this must be for mothers, or fathers for that matter, caring for their families, and also having to factor in other expenses like travel, healthcare and education. 

As you’ll read below, I managed it, but it wasn’t easy and I won’t be repeating it. What I will be doing is starting to think about undertaking more mindful food shops, reducing my waste and looking to donate to local food banks. 

I grew up with the phrase “eat all of your meal, children are starving out there”. I totally get it now. Without sounding completely patronising and losing you here, we should all probably be much more grateful for what we have in front of us and maybe even stop and pause from time to time to reflect on the greed that consumes our society, a greed that I’m very much guilty of. Soppy/reflective part over. 

My daily diary looked something like this…

(Enjoy, please try not to cringe at me too much.)

Monday

Monday began pretty slowly, it was a bank holiday and I’d been out until the early hours the night before making the most of the extra day off. Inevitably, this left me feeling a tiny bit fragile and not hungry until midday. When I finally ventured out of my bed, I was greeted with a “Becca, I’ve made you a tea”. My heart sank, but it was too early in the game to quit as i’d decided the day before that freebies were going to be a no-no. I politely declined. 

Image-1😦

After turning down the tea, I set out to make a yummy brunch to rival my flatmate’s smashed avo and poached egg that she was eating. My obvious/only option (other than porridge) was beans on toast. Not that bad. Alas, I’d forgotten to include butter in my food shop – obviously. 

Image-2Dry toast with beans.

I slept for the rest of the day conserving energy, until I felt better and went on a 7km run – using up all that energy from the filling beans on toast. Famished and weak from running a stupid distance on a stupid hangover, I cooked myself half the bag of pasta and used up half the passata sauce.

Image-3Pasta party in Mile End. 

Served with spinach, this meal was actually pretty tasty, but I was hungry by this point so anything would have been tasty. For my own sanity, I allowed myself a really small amount of salt and pepper – which was incredibly needed on this occasion for flavour. 

Tuesday 

Back to work and I started as I meant to go on by tucking into a hearty bowl of Porridge made with water (aka tripe) and no sugar, because I didn’t buy any did I.

Image-4Just call me Oliver Twist. 

For lunch, I had the first of my sachet soups. Coming in at just 35p for a pack of 4, I didn’t have high hopes. The 64 calorie treat of a lunch didn’t taste TOO bad (emphasis on too), but it was still bad. As my Mum took pride in reminding me, I could’ve made my own – which I actually think I will try in future.

Image-8

After lunch I discovered that I actually strangely like boiled water on its own. This is also something that I think I’ll definitely carry on, only drinking boiled water and cold tap water where possible. It’s so easy, cheap and obviously healthy too.  

Next up was dinner, a spinach and mushroom omelette. Yes, I ate the cage eggs. I’m not proud – but after speaking to a vegan friend, she rightly pointed out that it was better that I didn’t waste the eggs now I had them. This meal was actually okay (aside from the moral dilemma it presented) and is something I normally eat quite a lot of given it’s high protein value. After an intense step class in the gym too, it was also surprisingly filling. The only thing that I did find tricky was my inability to drown it in ketchup, not sure if this is normal behaviour on omelettes, but yeah, I missed my ketchup here. 

Image-6By this point though I was getting pretty sick of spinach. Who the hell would spend 1/5th of their £5 budget on spinach? – Oh wait, me. 

Wednesday 

Another day at werk began with another bowl of porridge. I was getting de-ja vu and the porridge actually made me feel a little ill this time, to the extent that I’d rather have not eaten. I also noticed myself feeling embarrassed and hiding my bowl from other people in the office, dashing in and out of the kitchen stealth style whilst there was no one there in a tragic bid to avoid awkward small talk about how terrible my breakfast looked.

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Next up came lunch, which was another mug of vegetable sachet soup. On this second sitting of sachet soup, I began noticing how putrid it tasted with an almost chemical after taste. I definitely wasn’t full afterwards and found myself already thinking about dinner. 

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After moaning about still being hungry my colleague kindly offered me a mid-afternoon snack, which was really considerate of her given the circumstances. Her efforts to derail the challenge failed though and for the first time in my life I found the willpower to say no to chocolate.

Image-9Sneaky gal, tryna catch me out.

By about 4pm my energy levels crashed, concentration had waned and I was starting to get a headache – which for a self-confessed sugar addict is probably just side effect of reducing this intake to basically nothing. After taking a handy detour home from work (instead of to the gym as planned), I wolfed down some more pasta, passata sauce and of course, spinach, and went for a nap at about 6.30pm, only to not wake up until 10.00pm. It’s mad how differently I was feeling and the only thing that had really changed was my diet.  

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Another day, another bowl of pasta ft. spinach and passata. Mmm.

Thursday 

Following an early morning run, I wanted a semi-substantial breakfast and couldn’t stomach the thought of another bowl of stodgy porridge, so instead Pinterest searched ‘eggs and beans’ and found a recipe for microwaveable baked eggs and beans to use up my leftovers. 

Image-10This was definitely my favourite meal, so tasty yet so fast. I’ll 100% be making this again. 

For lunch I threw together some toast (dry, again), a tin of tuna and the remainder of my spinach. It wasn’t great and desperately needed some mayonnaise. To make it bearable, I ate it as a sandwich but I still wouldn’t recommend it to my enemies unless they want to feel sick afterwards.

Image-11All aboard the protein gain train.

Around dinner time I was due to travel home to Yorkshire, so before leaving the office had some leftover pasta with the passata and spinach (shock). It wasn’t the most pleasant thing to eat cold but once more, I was hungry and not fussy. 

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After 3 hours on the train with no water (bad move), I felt very lightheaded and all I wanted to do was have a sugary cup of tea and a biscuit – to avoid this temptation I went straight to bed when I finally got in. 

Friday/Saturday 

Onto day 5, and here comes the twist – an ill timed wisdom teeth removal. I had known about this but genuinely hadn’t considered that it would impact my eating. Idiot. Apparently it’s a thing on the day of an operation to have to starve yourself, who knew? Idiot. 

I was allowed a light breakfast  before 7am, so got up early and tried to eat something, which came in the form of packed-up tesco value bread all the way from London.

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I think the combination of nerves and dryness of the toasted brown bread just made it completely inedible to me and I immediately started gagging – no breakfast for Becca.  

After arrival at the Hospital at 12.30pm, the wait until I was finally put under was a long 4 hours and my tummy sounded like it was eating itself. For the first time in the week, this felt like genuine hunger and every time I stood up I became very faint. 

Not going to bore you anymore with the nitty gritty, instead I’ll share two photos (full disclaimer: if you don’t like blood, don’t scroll on) that accurately sum up the rest of my day: 

Image-14My new best pals, the nurses – taken shortly after I told the whole ward I’d turned into a walrus, the shame. 

What. A. Beauty. (That’s gauze not my tongue, fyi.)

I was planning on having another sachet soup and a mashed banana this evening to finish off the 5th day of the challenge, but it turns out that I don’t clot well and I’m bleeding myself dry right now so I’m going to pass until tomorrow.

Image-16Til’ tomorrow

I hope that this waffly post has provided you with some form of entertainment, and if you felt yourself laughing at my expense at all, you could possibly please donate to Progressio. They are doing amazing work to alleviate poverty and raise that £1 a day average for people around the world.

My JustGiving page is: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Becca-Fostr

If you’ve been bothered to read this far (poor you), well done and THANK YOU XXXX 

ICS Fundraising: Live Below the Line Challenge. 5 days, 5 pounds

Resurrecting this abandoned blog space (excuse the name – lol) to document my next 5 days. As part of my fundraising for Progressio, I wanted to do something that could not only raise funds but would also get me thinking about what poverty really means in the twenty first century – and hopefully those around me too!

My challenge of choice is to ‘Live Below the Line’. Across the world, over 1.2 billion people live on less than £1 a day – this includes everything from food and drink to healthcare, education and travel.

Whilst I can’t, unfortunately, sacrifice my already incurred travel costs, I’ll still be living off just £5 of food purchased at the supermarket, no freebies, no extras and (most upsettingly) no tea and coffee from the office kitchen – I definitely think this will be the hardest part!

To prepare for the week I ventured out to my local Tesco, stupidly unarmed without a shopping list, and attempted to get the most for my £5. The whole experience was alien to me and I learnt some eye-opening lessons.

Lesson 1:

I am the world’s biggest waster and I should be ashamed of myself. This was probably the biggest thing that struck me, I have no concept of price – I spent a good 30 minutes wandering around adding things to my basket, only to have to return minutes later upon realising it would make up half of my budget and that my basic primary school maths skills were failing me completely. I also got to the till and the total had come to £5.03 – a whole 3p over, so I had to ask to remove my yogurts, sadly.

Lesson 2:

This lesson is pretty much is an extension of the last. The most I paid for a single item was £1 for a bag of SPINACH?! Why spinach I hear you ask? I’d like to know this too. My logic went out the window, I don’t even like spinach but some dumb voice in my head told me that this would justify the lack of nutrition across the rest of my food shop.

Lesson 3:

Eating and drinking on such a tight budget = zero choice. Vegetable sachet soup or chicken sachet soup became a hard decision.

Lesson 4:

Bring your own bags to the supermarket. I forgot and had to carry half of my shop home in my hands because I really couldn’t afford the 5p expense. This is such a basic point and related back to the fact I am blindly wasting on a daily basis.

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Lesson 5:

I usually always buy free range eggs, now the vegan/moral/vegetarians amongst you are going to be horrified in me. I stupidly picked up UK caged eggs – disgusting, I know. In the quest for cheapness, I completely lost touch with my values. I walked home with this playing on my mind, now, if I can get away with it I’m really tempted to avoid these eggs so have incorporated them into the latter part of my food plan.

Lesson 6:

Upon coming home to my housemates and showing them my shop, they found it hilarious that I (of all people) was going to even attempt this – especially Becca, who also works with me, who came out with the line “what are you going to do everyday when I eat my Itsu lunch in front of you?” and I guess my only answer could be “watch”. I think when taking on something like this it’s essential to challenge other people’s views. Even just doing a food shop on such a small amount has made me feel a little queasy about that £6 a day Itsu lunch I’d usually be eating alongside Becca.

Lesson 7:

Make a meal plan BEFORE shopping and then a shopping list too. I’m most likely going to be lighter and slightly malnourished by Friday due to my poor choice of food.  In the developing world, and even in this country people have no other choice than to live off this amount – they can’t not consider their nutrition and therefore, if I was to sustain this into the future I would a.) have to learn how to cook b.) get veg/fruit from a local market to eat fresh, wholesome food.

The shop in total came to £4.70 (after the yogurt removal) and with this final 30p I’m going to go to the fruit man and get a few bananas to treat myself to. I’ll be keeping a food diary throughout the week and will post my experience next weekend.

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If you’d like to sponsor me in anyway, please check out my JustGiving: https://www.justgiving.com/Becca-Fostr