Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I "Fed The Hungry"...And It Was Nothing Like I Planned.

Once upon a time I had a bucket list (I'll be reviving it soon, but that's for another post), and Item #14 read: "Feed The Hungry".

I had it nicely planned out in my head. I would visit a third-world country, and I would choose a poverty-stricken family and simply arrive with a big box of food. I imagined how I would smile serenely, like Angelina Jolie in those African photos used so often by the media. 

The chosen family would be ever-so-grateful (of course! Because if they weren't thankful, then that would really ruin my nice fantasy!), and I would go back to my comfortable life feeling good about myself and "forever changed" by the experience.

Real life has a way of turning out vastly different, doesn't it?

We came to Tonga in January 2012 (almost 2 years ago). I knew Tonga was a "poor" country - I'd already visited 5 times before.

But living in a country is somewhat different to a holiday where you take lots of photos, give generously to the locals and then go back to your "real" life...

One night, after we'd been here about 10 months, I was standing in the kitchen, surrounded by hungry people all hoping for some leftovers of the meal that I'd made for my family....

Let me digress here for just a moment to explain what it's like for me to cook a meal here. There is no gas supply connected to the house, you have your own gas bottle connected to the stove, and when it runs out, you take the bottle into the Fiji Gas depot in town and get it refilled (costs about $50 for our bottle, which lasts about 4-6 wks). The stove doesn't light automatically, you have to light it manually with a match.

In order to cook a meal, I first make several trips from the bedroom to the kitchen with ingredients and vegetables/knife/oil etc. (This post explains why all our food is stored in our bedroom.)

Then, with vegetables chopped and ingredients ready, it's time to light the stove.

Drat! Who's got my matches?! Oh, I know! I lent them to Suli last night to light the mosquito coil.

Off I go to find Suli...

Me: Suli, have you got my matches?

Suli: No. Kaveinga used them to light his cigarette.

Off to find Kaveinga...

Me: Kaveinga, have you got the matches?!

Kaveinga: Oh, sorry. I gave them to Lotu to light the fire.

Me: Where's Lotu?

Kaveinga: He's gone to the bush.

Me: (Muttering under my breath), walks to the shop to buy a 10c box of matches.

Right! Back again. Let's get on with cooking the dinner. Halfway through cooking...

Crap!! The gas has run out!

Oh, I know! I'll use the electric fry-pan to finish cooking dinner...Ah, but first let me explain the electrical situation.

A few years back, the kitchen and back of the house was wired by Bodgy Brothers Electrical. The light in the toilet doesn't work, but if you flick the light-switch on the toilet wall, you can turn the adjoining bathroom light on and off. 

(Hence, it is often the case that you can be sitting on the toilet minding your own business, and a hand comes sneaking around the corner of the door - which doesn't close properly, surprise surprise! - and flicks the switch on the wall. After a while, you get used to these sorts of things...)

There are two switches in the kitchen but only one "works"....

And it looks like this.

It can only run one appliance at a time, and even then the voltage is quite low. So, with freezer unplugged and fry-pan set up, at last dinner is getting back on track.

By now, my two youngest children are starting to get restless and cranky.

Unfortunately, the electric fry-pan has a curious habit of shutting off the fuse at the fuse-box. This entails a trip to the fuse-box to "flip the switch" back on again.

 In the time it takes to cook a meal, this might happen anywhere from 5 - 20 times (resulting in 5 - 20 trips back and forth to the fuse-box.)

By the time the meal is cooked and plates dished up, I'm exhausted and covered in sweat (and possibly look like a mad-woman), and feeling as though I've just triumphed in battle.

I'm secretly hoping to myself that maybe this time there will be enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow, so I don't have to go through this process all over again in the heat of the day...

And with this thought in mind, I notice the people milling expectantly around the kitchen, hoping for some leftovers. Some of them probably haven't had a meal since breakfast time.

And like a lightning bolt from heaven, the bucket list flashed before my eyes.

Feed the Hungry.

I realised in that moment that I'd already been "feeding the hungry" for 10 months. And lending them my phone charger. And giving them lifts. And loaning them money. And cooking utensils. And needles and thread. And knives. And shampoo, and toilet paper....and toothpaste...and medical supplies....and all sorts of random tools and implements....On and on the list goes.

And none of it made me feel good about myself. In fact, it revealed me to myself. (I'm also fairly certain that I never once smiled serenely like Angelina - it was more a case of revealing my gritted teeth.)

I really did think I was a generous person...until I came to Tonga and was constantly being asked to give more than I wanted to give. 

I was talking it over with a dear friend of ours - a minister - and he made the most insightful comment:

"If it doesn't hurt a little bit, it's not really giving. It's just getting rid of your excess..."


#14 Feed The Hungry. 


A powerful lesson on the true meaning of giving, and the art of doing it gracefully - and everyday I struggle to learn it over again.


Nikki said...

Awesome post!

www.madebynikki.blogspot.com - blog design to support my work in India, fostering 7 children with special needs

Femme Frugality said...

Oh, wow. What a powerful statement by the minister. I guess it really is the sacrifice that makes giving meaningful. So often I get tied up in wanting to make more and have more so I can give more...I'll have to reevaluate and see what I can give with what I have now, even if it is inconvenient.

Kate Punivai said...

Femme Frugality..I hear you completely. For much of my life I've wanted more, and I've justified that by saying that if I had more then I could give more. But now I've started to wonder if we aren't putting the proverbial carriage before the horse?! Maybe we don't give more when we have more...we have more when we give more.
It's certainly changed my perspective on many things.