What is it like to live without food or water? Chronicles of life in Africa

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ July 1st, 2010. Updated on July 2nd, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Africa - the missing years » Discover World Culture.

I spent over two years living and working in Africa. I’ve not written much about it here; as at the time lack of electricity and the internet made it a near impossibility. I have everything written in hand journals.

Many people have written to me asking for more about my time there and, I was planning to write an excerpt. However, something happened recently that ticked me off a little. I wasn’t going to write about it here, but the two things merged.

Here’s what happened …

(please take note, if you are easily offended, or don’t like graphic descriptions don’t read any more)

Village African girl standing by a corner

Africa can make or break you, either way, it will live with you (click to enlarge)

Why am I writing a one-off entry about Africa now?

Recently I sent a message out on twitter. Here’s what I wrote:

“Having known what it’s really like to go hungry & without water myself, I recommend this well put together site http://bit.ly/c5nEpH

The link is to a site called Starved for Attention. It’s a non-profit site run by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and VII Photo. All they ask is for you to sign a petition to get governments to supply aid food that meet the minimum standards. They don’t ask for money, or anything like that.

I found the site to be well put together, and the videos impressive. So, like many other sites or articles I sent the link out via twitter.

Little did I know that “someone” who I presume likes my tweets, or my journey well enough to follow me; took great offence to this!

Their story:

I am not going to copy their whole email to me, as in part, I understand where they are coming from. The main area they were upset with were my words Having known what it’s really like to go hungry & without water myself

-“How could you possibly fathom what it’s like to be a starving child, or a mother trying to feed her infant” was repeated several times in the email.

I did reply back, in far greater detail than in this article here today, about my background and experience.

I will also admit to you, the reader of my regular journals, that this subject and the way it was put to me, makes me a little “impassioned” to put it mildly.

Hence the person in question got a fairly blunt reply back as well.

Sharing a bowl of beans in Africa

We all eat the same when we are hungry ... and if we have the food to hand

My side of the story:

No, I am not a mother trying to feed a starving child. Have I been a starving child?  Not to the extent nor circumstances that many of these people are going through.

Have I gone hungry as a child? Yes, for many years. Not starved, but I had to fend for myself at a single digit age onwards. I’ve eaten many a dry meal of pasta before I knew how to cook it, if indeed the cooker was working.

As a teenager near to living on the streets I ate the same meal everyday for a year so I could save to get out.

Still not the same? Okay …

When I was in Africa I lived on below $4 a day. My transport to work was $2.50 +.

My water supply came from a city pipe, that I had to collect from the road at 4am, bring to my room before boiling and filtering it for drinking.

When the Government stopped supplying water on a regular basis (they were busy demolishing people’s houses in the area), I had to ration my water.

I stored my water in two large containers in a bathroom. I used it for cooking, drinking and washing clothes.

During the increased rationing I would have a bucket bath within another bucket and use the run off water to wash my clothes. The rinsed off water from that, I would then use to flush my toilet.

I also used the left over water from cooking to soak beans in overnight.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work out so well on one occasion. And, I got very sick. 2 days of 24 hour vomiting mixed with 4 days of 30 minute intervals of running to the toilet. Feeling as if  my rectum was trying to tear itself outwards by passing something akin to the agony of razor blades.

I couldn’t afford the scarce water to bucket flush the toilet after the first 6 hours of this. I used an old t-shirt to clean myself. It was not a pretty scene.

I became seriously dehydrated and was not doing so well at all. During all this I still had to collect my water. But by now the street water only came every third or fourth day. I was also seriously weak at this stage.

Sad to say, but during the worst of it, I slept in past 4am one day and missed the water pipe being turned on.

Facing mortality:

Near empty water container in Africa

My near empty water container, a most terrifying sight if you've ever been in this situation

Going into my bathroom to get water to boil &  filter for drinking I opened my dwindling bucket only to see a mere two inches of green stagnant water left.

I can promise you that in all my travels, and life, I have not felt the sheer panic, need, nor gravity that this feeling brings.

“It’s like staring at something that gives life; only to see it’s no longer there.”

Once I was better, the water shortages continued on for the rest of the year. The following year things were a bit better. That was 3 years ago. I still have huge hangups about water as I travel. I always check.

And, today, my point:

Believe me when I say, I know what it’s like to be thirsty, and, not have anything to drink. It’s a terrifying feeling. Perhaps more so when you are alone, and have no one around to help you.

In my life I have gone to bed many a time hungry. And, it’s another thing compared to that other feeling of not being able to afford to eat while others around you are. There is a difference. And, it’s not nice.

Am I starving now, no. Am I thirsty now, no. Have I been in the past … in my own circumstances, yes.

Twitter is what it is. 140 characters cannot give the whole picture. I certainly believe in free speech, and free opinions.

However, if a person is going to comment on something that they personally take offense to, I would perhaps suggest that they read up a little on the person before sending an accusing email to them. Least such an approach is needed in the first place.

Something that’s not hard to do if you send an email via my website in the first place.

We are all born into different circumstances, we can’t do anything about this.

While a malnourished mother trying to feed her child in a country might not relate to me, nor I to her exact extent, we’ve all experienced things relevant to ourselves that have been devastating. Or, life changing.

Some closer than others.

The result:

The person who emailed did reply. It was short & minutely apologetic. I consider the issue closed now.

Starved for Attention banner


Point of note:

In regards to the site Starved for Attention. I do actually think it’s a good thing to sign. If governments are not supplying aid food that meet basic nutritional requirements. People should let their voices be heard.

Is it a means to an end to world starvation and food shortages? Personally I believe it’s only a small fraction. Supplying endless amounts of aid is not something I agree with at all.

Sustainability, education and proper governance are in my view the key.

Regulating NGO’s, removing for profit organisations, and requiring accounting transparency for all levels of said organisations is a must.

International Aid Organisations should not be allowed to push their own cultural ways, politics, bureaucracy nor will upon a local community. There needs to be a middle ground, otherwise it does not work. The modern history of development work shows this.

This is not just a problem that can be fixed in a year nor decade, it’s become endemic within regions of the world. Long term action needs to occur within the society in need; itself.

However sometimes even when there is a world tragedy it’s ignored.

There’s an oil spill along the coast of the U.S.A. right now generating a lot of publicity. What doesn’t get publicity, or is actually blatantly ignored by the U.S.A. and Europe are the 7,000+ oil spills that have occurred along the coast of the Niger Delta in Nigeria. And that’s not including the last ten years.

Here the local people who protest and ask for compensation are beaten by private security firms. Many oil companies, including the Shell in partnership with Nigerian government produce billions of dollars. Yet this still hasn’t helped this a state like Bayelsa get connected to the national electrical grid! Here’s an article by the Guardian

End Note:

I might get some criticism for writing about this here, and / or my views. Or, I might not. This is however my travel journal from the past and present. Documenting my life’s journey, and this is a part of it.

In regards to Africa, and my journals. As much as I would like to write them here. No one pays me for anything I write about here. The frankness of it is this, to transcribe two years of journals to online content is not feasible at the moment.

For now, there’s a portion of this part of my journey in my book. When that get’s published, is another days work …

Chronicles of a Life in Africa: I will try & write another entry at some stage from the past over the coming months. But for now, it’s back to the journey on hand.

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