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She writes simply to put her thoughts together.
Sometimes they're well-structured, sometimes they're in absolute mess.
But always, they're personal.

Ultimately, this is all for Him.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Living Below The Line: A Taste of Poverty

I am currently joining a project called Living Below The Line where it is basically a challenge for us to live with just £1 every single day for 5 days (or you can choose to make it £5 as a cumulative for 5 days). The rule was to count every single food or drink that we have, no matter if it is from our current stock or given by someone else. The only non-restriction that we have is the consumption of plain water since it is straight from the tap and should not cost us anything.

I came to know this when I was in the middle of my exam mess. It was a day before the start of my paper when my roommate told me of this and I didn't even allow any time for me to digest it in. I just joined because all of my friends are doing it and that my roommate was willing to sign me up.

As my roommate and I planned on what and how to eat, we tried to make rough estimation of the costs of the things what we normally consume day to day. Excluding the snacks, we probably just surpass that £1 limit since we normally don't spend in the uni (except for me indulging coffee occasionally) and that lunch and dinner are usually combined since we pack our food from home and stay at uni till late. So we concluded, it's not going to be that hard.

Or so we thought.

Day 1
I did my voluntary Monday fasting so everything appeared normal. With the fajr prayer now so early, I did not take any sahur at all (which is still normal to me) so my account remained £1 till the end of the day. It was just that, everytime I fast, I would develop some kind of cravings or thoughts of eating delicious food after I break my fast. I was thinking of chocolates and juice and coffee and a bunch of other stuff I saw while I'm at uni. Although I usually don't actually buy them (because I know it's just my nafs talking) or eat them after I break my fast (because I would already be full by then), it tore me apart that I CANNOT, RESTRICTED, PROHIBITED to consume those things because it would burst my budget. Already, I had a mental issue (even when I'm not even allowed to eat yet).

So I went back from uni after my exam, deciding what to cook for dinner. Thing is, I have this meat that I have always been wanting to cook because it has been in the freezer for ages. I am a meat lover so I don't want it to get spoiled even further. Thinking that I still have plenty of "cash" in my pocket, I decided to just cook it anyway, with the simplest dish that I have in mind: Daging Masak Kunyit (or literally translating it, meat cooked with turmeric). While cooking, my roommate and I were trying to estimate the price of things that we put in our dish, with me always saying "it can't be THAT expensive" and her being "I don't think it's that cheap".

Cut down the story short, with a dish that could be eaten by 3 people, eaten with rice that costed 40p per kg, along with some dates, we concluded that we had eaten 60p worth of food (though my roommate insisted that it was more and me holding to my ground that it's just 55p).

While planning for our meal tomorrow and realising how expensive things actually are, I already have the thoughts of giving up "But I'm having my exams. I need my energy. I eat a lot."
Weak. Lemah.

Day 2
This was a tough one.
The first hurdle was to have breakfast. Of course, the cheapest is some cereals with milk. But my cereal was a Special K with Strawberries and Chocolates! I bought it off Home Bargain last week because I thought it was rather cheap as compared to the price at other shops. Also for the fact that I grew tired of eating the ever-so-cheapest Crunchy Nut and Kellogg's Frosties that I deemed unhealthy because they are too sweet. Little did I know that I would be having to be on a very tight budget! So instead of being able to get it for lower than 20p (of which what my roommate concluded hers), mine had to be 40p (or possibly higher since I obviously eat at a larger volume than her).

Next, I was sleepless the night before and had to wake up around 4 am for fajr and had to stay awake afterwards because my exam would be at 2. I was still kind of sleepy and thought "I cannot be drowsy all morning! I wouldn't be productive!" so I said "Screw this. I need my coffee." and made a cup of instant latte that cost 37p.

Then, my roommate and I decided to study at the library of our university's Prayer Hall for that day. Of course we didn't grab our choice of chocolates or biscuits from our cupboard for this challenge but boy, for as long as we've been living in Britain, snacking is almost compulsory! So my roommate grabbed her large pack of cereal (which is the cheap one) so it can be our cheaper alternative of snack. Despite refraining ourselves, we ended up gobbling half of the whole pack which is like 50p for each of us (probably more). I don't know. I just couldn't stop. I was hungry. And I couldn't eat anything else. God knows how much moans I gave out that day. I became cranky just for not having food.

I kept on reasoning that I am having my exams, I cannot not eat, I need glucose, yadayada. But when I reflected back, my brothers and sisters in Syria and Palestine have a whole bigger reason to need food yet they're the ones who least have it. Shame on you Sofina! How petty is your struggle if it were to be compared with the people who are at war. It is true that Allah will never burden a person more than they can bear because frankly, I am more than 100% sure now that I would never ever survive this, not even poverty, let alone Syria. If I were there, I might even be one of the first ones to die. These people had to suffer so much and I thought that my suffering because of exam is beyond everything. What a shame.

As I went to my exam hall, I passed through the university's Piazza which is the centre of uni where everyone and everything is there. I was enjoying the sunshine when my eyes caught the sight of the ice-cream van. I was geared with joy! The van had already been coming regularly since the last days of last term but I was so busy back then to even bother its existence (and the weather was still cold to me). By the time I wanted a taste of ice-cream on my tongue, it was term break. And now it is right in front of my eyes!! I gleefully thought "Oh I'm gonna buy one right after my exam" then all of a sudden reality hit me. I can't. I. just. can't. You have absolutely no idea how heart broken I was at that time.

Good thing our meal plan for lunch and dinner was carefully laid out. They were both combined to be of fried rice with some eggs and half a packet of Malaysian fried rice flavouring (which I'm not sure if it's considered cheating or not because the price is almost negligible once converted to GBP). All in all, the maximum price it would be is just 20p per person. The struggle was that there wasn't plenty. We made it just enough for both meals and since I was not the one who did the cooking and everyone else don't eat as large a portion as I do, the meal was literally just enough to make me not hungry (i.e. barely full).

Towards the end of the day, I was drained. Partly because I've been up since 4 in the morning, another part is because of the tremendous amount of study and doing exam, and another part is of course, minimum food intake. Yet, we went to the Islamic Society's talk in the evening. They provided some refreshments and we account this as "courtesy food" so no charge on us (we're not supposed to but we weren't aware of this before). By golly, we (read: I) hoarded all the Bourbons and digestive biscuits. It was such such pleasure to get to eat even these simple biscuits. My heart bloomed with every bite that I get. Now I appreciate that every little amount of sadaqah (donation) that we give matters a lot to the people of need.

Day 3
I misread my lectures' timetable and was late for class. I didn't have breakfast and grabbed a couple of granola bars. I became cross at myself because I know that having one of these bars won't fill me up, let alone keeping me full until lunch. Good thing is that I bought them off Home Bargain which cost me 99p for one whole box instead of £2.99 so for each bar, I spent 16p. Luckily my roommate cooked noodle for lunch+dinner and brought them with her or else I might just beg for food later on.

Today would most probably be the saddest day of all. I was in the prayer hall's library when my stomach growled like there's no tomorrow. Long and loud. Everyone was looking at me so I decided it was time for lunch. I lasted with only that one single granola bar till 11.30. Hence, I ate that lunch that my roommate made. I was supposed to eat it with a friend of mine but she wanted to go to the toilet first. I put the meal in a bowl where I estimated enough for the two of us and started eating first but by the time she came back from the toilet, the food in the bowl was gone. I didn't know that I was that hungry to the part that the food just.... dissappeared. and I wasn't even full yet. and that is all that I can eat for now. I was on the verge of tears. Sumpah sedih gila wo.

Afterwards, I went to another lecture, with hunger still bears in me. I tried to concentrate in the class, not thinking about the hunger at all but I can't. Imagine someone, living a life that appeared to be the same as you, go to class with you, walk along with you, when actually they are dying of hunger. I was really really sad. Sad of myself being hungry, sad of the realisation these kinds of people really do exist. How ignorant I am!

I went back to the library and told my roommate that I need more of that noodle. I know it's for dinner but I am starving. Literally. When I looked into the bag, there was clearly not much left and I asked her if this is for 3 people's dinner and she said yes. I don't know what I felt at that time. It was a mixture of a whole bunch of thing. Angry, "You have got to be kidding me. If this is only for me, it might finish in two seatings. At this time, I can probably just finish it now". Sad, because food is scarce and all I could think of at that moment was "I am hungry. I want to eat". As I ate, I pondered that that kind of argument that I just had with my roommate could further be amplified in the case of an extremely poor family. "Yes I know you're hungry. I'm hungry too but there's just not enough food. If you eat now then there wouldn't be any food left for later. You need to hold on a little bit longer." Realising that this is actually a real case somewhere, I lost my appetite. I ate just a few spoons of that noodle, enough to stop myself from starving, and kept the rest for later.

Thank goodness for the no-restrictions for water because at least I don't feel thirsty at all. Though of course, it's still sad that I need to rely on water everytime hunger strikes.

Alhamdulillah, if there isn't going to be any other intakes besides dinner for today, I spent 32p on granola bars, and 50p on noodles.

My emotions are still bitter from today. Now that I have tasted actual hunger and starvation, I feel sick of those time that I moaned on twitter that I am hungry. How could I complain of being hungry and not do anything about it when there are other people who literally can't do anything about it. And in actual reality, if you're really hungry, you don't even feel the need of telling it to the people. All you want is food.

Then, in terms of sadaqah, I used to think that my monthly charity is good enough. Well yeah, better than not giving at all. But in truth, what can a £10 do to even one single person? My groceries are at least £50 a month and I expect that I could do my part in feeding the poor just by giving £20-£30 per month? Shame on me. Truly shame on me. All along I thought I had empathy towards these people but no, I was just sorry for them. Only now do I really feel them (well, still not entirely).

Alhamdulillah I'm already halfway there. Honestly, I'm dreading for this to end but imagine those people that lead this kind of life, not knowing when would be the end. I can bet that they are experiencing worse than this. I have to live off food and drink over £1 but they have to live off EVERY.SINGLE.THING. over that £1. And this doesn't just apply in places like Syria, Palestine, Africa, etc. Poverty happens everywhere. Even in the UK. Now I truly understand this, watching this video by NZF (National Zakat Foundation) again tears my heart.

And alhamdulillah, I learn new things everyday. I appreciate more things everyday. If you want to really know how I feel, how these unfortunate people feel, you can still participate in this challenge. I can tell you that it is all going to be worth it. But if you're not, you can still do your part. We took part in this challenge as to raise funds for charity under the name of Made In UK so you donate as to support what we're doing. You can visit our event page and get all the informations you need.