Thursday, 29 March 2012

Michelle kind-of-doesn't-exactly-do-Lent. Again.

This was my dinner today (fork included for scale), and has been my dinner for the past 7 days.

What was I doing?
In a nutshell, the Tearfund Rice and Beans Challenge.  I was Fasting, but rather than cut food out altogether as I have done before, instead I limited my diet to the kind of menu that nearly a billion people in some of the world's poorest countries have to get on with - rice and beans, and not a lot of either.  The  money I didn't spend on food that week is being donated to the Quicken Trust.  My menu for the week was as follows:
Breakfast - 25g porridge oats
Lunch and Dinner - 35g rice and 30g beans, and a tablespoon of veg for the day (I used onion or tomato to flavour my meals.  It works out at about an eighth of either per meal)
Drink - Tap water

Why was I doing it?
Although it is still Lent, this isn't exactly Lent-related (I don't like arbitrarily giving something up just because you're supposed to.  I'd rather use the time to respond to an issue that's on my heart at the time.  See Last Years Lent where I decided to experiment with Fairtrade shopping, buying things instead of abstaining from them!).  In less than a week I'll be heading out to spend 9 days in Kabubbu, a village in Uganda, as a volunteer with the Quicken Trust.  This charity has been working with the villagers to help make Kabubbu self-sufficient and self-perpetuating, so that the people there can provide for themselves in every stage of life.  As you can imagine I'm both excited and nervous about this trip, what I might encounter there, the people I'll meet, and what it will mean for the way I live my life when I get home.  I think as a Christian it will be especially challenging because issues like God, suffering and man's place on earth are all thrown into the mix.  Also, living away from home, I'd been a bit left out of the loop in terms of organising the trip, so I was feeling unprepared about that too.  I felt the need to present all these issues to God somehow, to get his perspective on it all, let him start preparing my heart for this trip, and to start grappling with these issues now, as well as just packing my bags.  Rather than pray in words I decided the best response would be to do something practical as a prayer, so I used the Rice and Beans Challenge as a guide and extended it to the whole week.

What were the results?
This month has been a real grower for me.  I've been taking lessons on the economy, reading about gender issues and sustainable living in my own time, and through this fast I've been empathising with people across the world and learning about corporate and global injustice, so all these things are combining and interlocking in my brain at the moment, but I can identify a few general ideas that stuck out from them all.

  • I fasted once before (a total fast, no food, only drink), God used that to teach me how he is the most essential component to life, even more so than food, and how we need him continuously, not just once.  This time round I sort of levelled up and learned how God also designed us to have lives that are full and display how good he is.  A big part of this is variety and how it displays God's creativity and goodness - turns out variety actually is the spice of life!  There's a difference between existing and living.
  • Became very aware of how of just much we consume as a nation, how we expect food, money and other resources to just be there for us if we want them, even when we don't need them.  Our culture has told us that we should be able to have anything and everything we want; but in reality this is not possible, or sometimes it brings terrible consequences when we do.  We hurt other people, both directly and indirectly, in order to benefit ourselves.
  • I think there needs to be a point somewhere between the two where we get to experience life's diversity but do it in a way which doesn't damage other people, or the world as a whole.  Where we are grateful for what we have but don't get greedy for more.  This is going to take a massive shift in culture and attitude.
  • Accidentally (!) lost a few pounds in weight, which sounds great until you realise that the people who have to live on this diet permanently will continue to lose weight indefinitely until they begin to starve.  I've only been doing this for a week but some people have been living this way their entire lives.  Food (or... lack of food) for thought.

I kept a diary of each day, included below the read more if you want a bit more of an insight as to what the experience was like and just what was going through my head.  As is usual with my diary-write ups I've improved some sentences, but not left anything out.

Day 1

  • Messed up breakfast by adding too much water to my oats and creating oat-flavoured water that was completely unpalatable and I couldn't finish it.  I want to honour the challenge but I also need to remain healthy and eat my meals so I'll use milk from now on - maybe half-and-half if it goes well.
  •  I've discovered that I don't like beans.  That's unfortunate.  Onions in the rice help though.
  • I'm not as hungry as I thought I'd be, although I've had a few pangs, but the main thing so far is the lack of variety.  The dryness and blandness of it makes it physically difficult to swallow and microwaved it's even worse.  I had to force myself to finish it.  Already I'm questionning what it must be like to have to eat the same thing over and over again, for food to be about only sustenance and not joy.  No fun or creativity in cooking, no enjoyment of varied taste.
  • I've had a headache of a new kind this morning, and a little this evening.  I don't know if this is related to the rice and beans or not.  Also a couple of whiteheads.

Day 2

  • Headache in the morning again, but tailed off in the afternoon.  Did some googling and I think it's probably something to do with the sudden drop in blood sugar from before I started the fast/challenge.  I was eating brownies that week so it's my own fault.  Had a chat with a Muslim guy in the office about it ('cause of Ramadan) and he reminded me to keep drinking more water than usual.  Now I have a bottle of it on standby all the time.
  • Adding an eighth of an onion per meal as part of my tablespoon of veg per day.  Makes a big difference to the beans.  Also having the porridge with milk now, which helps a lot.
  • Because I couldn't eat the (free!) fish and chips the office had for lunch today people asked about it so I'm now going to end up in the office newsletter when I get back from Uganda.  It's Sports Relief next week so people are already shelling out for that, but I must remember to see if there's a way to publicise Quicken Trust and maybe collect some money when I get back, maybe design a cool artsy newsletter about my trip.
  • Went to the cinema with my housemate and was slightly overwhelmed by the sheer number of snacks.  I do normally have a snack at the cinema, as the whole experience is a treat so I'll go the whole hog and buy a bag of Minstrels or something, but on this occasion I started thinking about the consumerism of it, the bags that are only half full, the sugar and whether or not it was fairly traded, and how many varieties there were - is it really necessary for us to have so many options?  Don't get me wrong, I still wanted a snack, but it was strange to see it in that light.

Day 3 (Saturday)

  • Forgot breakfast but didn't feel particularly hungry.  No headache so far either - it seems I've been accidentally detoxing myself while doing this.  Gotten used to the beans now, although the onion is still a big help.  I wonder how this will all affect me afterwards - will I go back to the same portion sizes as before or will I be able to keep disciplining myself to smaller meals?  It's always a bit tricky to cook for one when most packages of food give you enough for 2-3 people at once.  I guess the more you get used to having, the more you expect to keep having it.
  • Bought another onion and, just for variety, a tomato!  Egad!  Ambassador, you're spoiling us.  I'm going to have a quarter of it per meal, so Sunday looks very exciting.  The rice can be quite dry so having something like a tomato will be amazing.
  • I'm glad this fast has a weekend in the middle of it.  Takes the pressure off somewhat to be able to chill out and get stuff done rather than be at work while I'm adjusting.

Day 4

  • Fine.  Overslept and missed breakfast again but didn't mind it.  Went to the park with friends and took lunch with me, then went to Spoons (pub) where two of them had burgers and chips right in front of me.  Noooo!  We had a big talk about what I was doing and why, and what I should eat first when I'm done with this challenge.  I'm really not sure, because I kind of want to splash out and get some kind of takeaway, but after 7 days of rice is that a good idea?  Will I get the blood-sugar headache all over again?  What portion size will I want to eat?  How should my diet change in light of all this, or do I just go back to normal?
  • Had to do baking tonight for Marriage Course and Sports Relief at work, which was fine.  My housemate is being very sympathetic about it but it really wasn't hard except for I did allow myself to lick my fingers - I'm quite a messy cook.  I did break the rules though.  I ate the excess from the mixing bowl and tested one of the biscuits.  Normally it's because I want one, but this time it was more because I made them differently to normal and I was a bit worried since they were going to work.  Still cheating though.  I find I don't want to eat whole things, just have tastes of different flavours.  Anyway, it didn't bother me eating that biscuit, and the thing that bothers me is that it didn't bother me.
  • Got the email of the schedule for the week in Kabubbu, read through it and felt kind of indignant about it.  All I can see that relates to any of us personally is puppets, which appears several times, and that's Mum's thing, not mine.  To be honest I'm still the reluctant one when it comes to puppets.  I'm good enough at it but that's only because I can turn my hand to most things and I'm more doing this out of obedience than joy.  I guess obedience is better than nothing.  Still that's only 2 assemblies and 1 workshop on the last day, which should be fine.  A lot of this seems to be quite selfish of me.  I want to do what I want to do, I want to be differentiated from the rest of my family and seen to be me, not somebody else.  Something in me rails against being told what to do by people I don't know or trust, have barely spoken to, managed to insult me the one time they have, and spell my name wrong on a form.  I feel like if I go I'll be just another generic volunteer (but when are volunteers ever generic?) and I'm afraid I won't do anything useful to help while I'm there.  I'm also a bit concerned about having to work with my parents for an entire week, that I'll end up falling back into old patterns of behaviour with them or that they'll expect me to act one way but actually I don't really act that way any more and we'll get a conflict.  Is this all very selfish of me?  Am I being too individualistic?  Lately I've been trying to prove to myself that I have skills, can be capable and confident and make things happen, and now I'll have to lay that down...  
  • All of this throws one thing clearly into light - I've lost sight of why I'm fasting.  The idea was to have, in some sort of way, a discussion with God about how I feel about this trip and asking him to prepare my heart for what's going to happen out there, but actually I've got so caught up in the experience of the challenge that I haven't actually been very prayerful about this.  I've not really discussed the trip like I wanted to.  I have 3 days left, and this needs to change.  I need to start talking to Him about this, otherwise this whole idea will have been for nothing.

Day 5

  • So I had that talk with God last night and ended up crying a little bit.  Turns out a lot of my problems go back to my little Sunday School Complex again, which is just great.  I'd like to be over that now please.  But at least I was able to pray about it.  Today I want to be praying for/about Kabubbu itself, all that's already been done there and all that is still left to do.
  • Today was Sports Relief day at work, so surrounded by cake and chocolate I couldn't eat.  Really feeling it today - OH:BOC was the same - chocolate everywhere.  I need to not talk about this so much because it feels like whining and/or showing off, and I need to remember to ask after others and listen patiently to them.  I know sometimes I don't look at people when I talk to them but that's more insecurity than because I'm not paying attention.  
  • Been considering what to eat after the fast.  Want chips, but on the first day something with rice is probably smarter - maybe Indian - or pasta.
  • Overwhelmed by the food options I have, I thank God for His incredible creativity, and pray for those whose experience is hampered unfairly.  I ask that when I'm in Uganda I can bless the people there by being someone new in their world, as they will be in mine, so that both our lives become richer through it.  Please help me to humbly share what I have in objects, skills, time and emotions/experience, and to be open enough to receive even the things that hurt, without asking for less of either. Amen.

Day 6
  • Realised I've not eaten fruit for a week.  That can't be good.  So this diet keeps you alive, but it's really not healthy in the long run.  Imagine never getting anything other than carbohydrates.  I don't mind what I'm eating now but I don't look forward to it.  It's fuel but that's all; there's no enjoyment in it.  Not that you can always have that, but surely life at it's best needs to be about more than just surviving.
  • More cake and stuff floating about.  As the challenge comes to an end it's becoming more and more difficult not to look at other food.  I keep wanting to eat other tasty things, and it's striking me that of course some people can't do that.  Their challenge doesn't come to an end, there's no chance of a change of diet, or food provided so conveniently as we have it here.  Food takes effort to produce and I think I need to respect that more, post-challenge, and to go out of my way to continue buying products (food and otherwise) that support the people that work to make them and whose standard of living -and daily diets!- depend on it.
  • I think I expected to re-learn the same thing on this fast that I did on the last one (where I ate nothing for 2 days), but this time the lessons are subtler, more nuanced, and harder to define.  The last time I learned about God, what He is like, how much I need Him for my day-to-day existence, but this one is more about me learning some hard truths about myself and the hypocrisies and injustices that exist in my own society.  This week has been hard for me?  Well it's hard for other people, and it's my fault.  Yours too.  Ours collectively.  I live in one of the most powerful nations in the world, and it's only the powerful that can oppress the weak.  Our actions keep others living like this, and maybe only our actions can start getting them out of it.  I'm not saying we all need to start camping outside the Houses of Parliament, but in my immediate everyday life there has to be more I can do.  Maybe that does include some kind of campaigning.
  • This kind of ties in to the class on the economy and financial crisis I did today.  We've been ta it for 3 sessions and it went kind of like this:
1) Here is how the banking system and money came into being ->  2) Here are some problems with that system  -> 3) Yeah there are a lot of problems.  We probably should have seen this recession coming. ->  4) What are the government doing and why?  -> 5) What do we think about this and what do we need to do in our own lives?
  • Something I discovered is that the current financial crisis means less to me than the bigger 'environmental crisis' which states that Earth is a finite resource which we are using up.  The effects of this will take longer than this sudden recession to appear but have far deadlier consequences.  Surely that ought to be our main concern, and it feels like our focus is being removed from it by more immediate issues like the recession.  However the environmental crisis feels like something I can begin to tackle in my everyday life choices and my buying choices as a consumer (Hmm, maybe I do affect the economy... So I can affect the bigger problem but not the smaller one, or the smaller one by aiming at the bigger one.  Weird...)
  • God, let this drive me to action.  Don't let me remain passive or indifferent to all these thought I'm having.  Help me and empower me by Your Spirit to stand up for those unable to do so themselves.  Thank you that You are the best comfort when things are hard, and that You will be with those who love You even in the most difficult circumstance, giving them a hope that goes beyond the world right now.  I ask that You'd bring down corrupt organisations, replacing their CEOs and Directors with people that love and serve You and will protect Your creation with the same fervour and determination You do.  Amen.
Day 7
  • Tomorrow = Sweet and sour pork with rice takeaway.  Breaking it back in gently :)  Also, cinema again tonight.  A bit of fun, but also a bit of a reward.  3 meals to go
  • So, I've done it.  I've just finished the final meal of my fast; I'm done.  Now I can go back to eating like I used to (or not!)  What a strange thought.
What's changed?
  • I've successfully made the switch from my old white rice to Fairtrade brown rice.  I think I prefer it actually; it's a little more interesting and holds up to reheating in a microwave better than the white.
  • I've lost a few pounds in weight.  I couldn't tell you how much as I didn't consider it before I started so I never weighed myself (I never do anyway), but I can see it in the mirror.  On the one hand this is a nice side-effect, although it'll probably go back on once my diet changes back, but on the other hand let's think this through to it's conclusion.  I've lost weight because my daily activity burns up more energy than my food is giving me - and I'm not an overly active person.  It's fine for a week long challenge but if I kept this up I'd quickly become unhealthily thin and begin to starve.  And let's think of all the thing's I've not been eating; vitamins from fruit and vegetables, protein from meat, calcium, extra water, sugar and fat (we do need a little, but most of it should come from sources other than desserts).  This diet in the short term is ok, but in the long run, with no other food available, it's actually dangerous and some people have lived on what I've eaten this week - or less- for their entire lives.  It's a disturbing thought.
  • Lord, thank You for everything You've taught me through this experience, especially when combined with my new knowledge on the economy, gender issues and sustainability.  I've had a little glimpse of how some people have to live their lives and how hard it is for them.  I pray that they'd be extra aware of Your loving presence near them right now, and take courage and compassion from that.  And I pray you'd give me compassion too, and a fire for justice in this world You've created.  Help me be a good steward toward my home planet and the people I share it with.  Don't let me just rest apathetically on everything You've taught me.  Thanks again.  Amen.

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