Wednesday, 26 November 2008


When was the last time you were hungry? I mean, starving. So hungry that the searing stomach pains incapacitated you, preventing you from doing anything. So starving that those pains passed and you started to feel numb.

The last time I felt this hungry was in Zimbabwe. I volunteered with an environmental NGO for three weeks during the summer of 2006. We were working to protect the natural resources around Victoria Falls. Squished in tents, twenty of us slept next to hippos and cooked our meals together over an open fire. I was the only American. As it was a Zimbabwean organization, there was very limited funding for food. We were able to buy fruits, vegetables and a little meat every now and then but we mostly subsisted on mealie meal, which is like tasteless cream of wheat with a slightly drier consistency. Ugh. Unfortunately, I could never adjust to stuffing myself with the heavy starches to keep full. Combined with the long days of manual labor in the parks, the lack of food meant that I sometimes woke up in the middle of the night, doubled over in stomach pain. I was just so hungry. And once the hunger pains set in, it is all you can think about. They were very long nights.

It was an incredibly sad experience to be in Zimbabwe then – but that time could be considered the good old days now. Iinflation was only at two thousand percent and the grocery store shelves were scantily clad, but not totally bare. Now the country is an absolute mess. Forget about the actual inflation percentage. Just listen to the story of Katy, a starving 70 year old woman who is scavenging for corn kernels in a field. She has not eaten in three days. Meanwhile children pick through cow dung for seeds or dig around in the dirt for termites. Check out the whole story in an amazing piece from NPR yesterday (click here).

This story of hunger stopped me in my tracks yesterday. Though the villain is Robert Mugabe, the current president-dictator who taken his country on a hellish journey from independence to insolvency, I don’t want to get political. As I heard 10 year old Rebecca talk about eating termites for dinner, I just kept thinking about Thanksgiving and all the food I will eat tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. I realized how fortunate I am to never be hungry, unless I put myself in that position on one of my crazy overseas adventures.

So I made an impulse donation. You know, like impulse shopping where you buy something without fully thinking about it. I got online and checked out local non-profits that serve the hungy. I donated to two highly-rated DC area programs. My money won’t solve the problem. It won’t help Katy or Rebecca or anyone else in Zimbabwe. But it made me feel slightly better. And I hope that it means that at least one child in my community will have one less sleepless night because of hunger.