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The two faces of hunger #1 The two faces of hunger #1
by Katerina Charisi
2018-01-14 10:12:28
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The first time I openly admitted - more to my own self than any other - that we are dealing with a really serious financial struggle, it was after a bad week with very little and poor meals, that ended with me eating only a few crackers and drinking a lot of water; it ended with anger, desperation and finally …paranoia.

Hunger’s Face

I never felt hungry before; not like this. I mean, okay, I have listened to my stomach rumbling before, while running home from school for example, twenty years ago. And many other times I have felt my stomach shrinking somehow after 12 hour shifts at work with a poor lunch. But those were individual cases among normal days that were forgotten right away, even dealt with a little humor. It was kind of funny to work so hard, that I forgot or had no time at all to eat properly. I never saw Hunger’s face before. Not before that week.

Realizing that I am really hungry, was like running straight on a wall.

When financial crisis settled in our home, I had a few glimpses of Hunger’s face; I just couldn’t realize it then. Hunger was there, behind my children, when they stood one next to the other asking me for something to eat, while I had nothing more than old bread and some sugar, or plain pasta.

Hunger was there, watching us eating another poor meal, cutting a small piece of bread at four to feed us all.

Hunger was right there, pacing with me at nights, when unable to sleep I opened and closed the fridge and cabinets trying to find anything to eat, like checking on them once more would actually put something inside and fill their emptiness - along with my stomach.

hungr01_400I will never forget that week. It passed like a bad dream. It passed somehow like winter’s colds, where you just stay in bed doing nothing at all, in a state between sleep and awakening, without remembering in the end how exactly those endless hours of nothingness had passed. The bank had once again bind money from our account - our last money - and at home, everything seemed to finish all together: The food, the dish soap, the toilet paper, the toothpaste. Of course, nothing mattered more than the food that finished so fast.

When I started to think that I might have nothing at all to give to the kids the following days, I limited my meals to few cream crackers that none of us liked, and a lot of water. I remember there was a last tuna can on a shelf. I kept it for cases of emergency, like being two days and two nights with a single pack of cream crackers and water was not enough of an emergency, already.

It never really occurred to me that talking about emergency, empty fridge, empty shelves, deep needs and hunger in Greece of 2017 was so absurd. But it was true. It was happening for real, in my house. To me and my family.

Hunger brought fights for totally stupid reasons, too. I remember the kids fighting constantly over something - not that they don’t fight a lot anyway, or I was so broken that I couldn’t even stand them breathing next to me, I can’t tell. I remember being upset all the time, I remember all of us being extremely stressed, I remember a weight over my chest; I remember fear and insecurity. What would happen to us? Guilt was all over me. What did I do wrong? How many wrong choices had I done? Why didn’t we predict the future’s difficulties and why didn’t we prevent this from happening? I was thinking that it was all my fault, that I spent money in the wrong way, while both I and my husband knew very well that the last years we only spend for our food and some of our bills and nothing more.

Last day of Hunger’s Week (that’s how I named it) third day for me with only water. I felt so tired; My heart was beating faster than normal, even with the slightest movement. The kids had plain pasta - again - and they didn’t even finish their meal. They were sick of eating plain pasta. I was trying to joke that at least they were not hungry enough - if they were, they would have licked their plates.

When my husband came home later that evening, he left some money on the table. “I got paid in advance for a couple of days”, he said. I said nothing. I grabbed the money and ran outside. It was Saturday evening and thinking that I would have to spend the weekend like this, it panicked me. I went to the super market and spent it all for food.

I still felt guilty. I spent it all. We had nothing again. I tried not to think that there was no money left in the house for anything. If a kid catches a cold, I wouldn’t even have money to buy a cough syrup. I couldn’t help it but think all the people getting sick and die for not having the simplest of medicines. I didn’t let me think anymore. I had food. That would have to be enough for a while. I just prayed for nothing else to happen.

 It is so strange how everyone’s world shrinks or expands in a moment, depending on what are people dealing with. Those days, our whole world was the food on the table. There wasn’t room for anything else. Not the upcoming winter, not the unpaid bills, not the winter jackets the kids didn’t have. As for the rest of the world, little I cared. If the planet caught fire, I didn’t give a damn. We were hungry. That’s all that mattered.

When I got back home a little later with the grocery bags, pizza was steaming on the table. I stared at my husband and he stared at me back, sharing the guilt: That kind of luxury, ordering food, was forbidden in our situation. With this money we could eat two days. But we both said nothing. The previous days’ panic didn’t let me complain openly for anything that had to do with food.

Paranoia though, came later.

Paranoia came, when the following days my husband got paid in time and I could buy enough food to fill the refrigerator and the cabinets and still cooked plain pasta - ok, with a little cheese or ketchup - and I was still eating a single meal every day.

I didn’t want to see an empty fridge again.

I didn’t want to spend food.

I didn’t want to see empty cabinets.

Until came the day that I had to throw groceries because they were out of date, and that happened because I refused to use them,  and I refused to use them because I was scared we might run out again. And then, while tossing in the trash can rotten fruits and soured milk, I said to myself: Alright, it’s time to stop doing this, now. You have to get yourself back together.

Hunger got me so scared, so unsecured, that I kept leaving myself hungry to make sure the kids would have enough. I did that, even when I had to throw away food because there was so much food in the house that it was impossible to eat it in time.

Much later I realized that I became paranoid about food. I think that was the reason I decided to write about Hunger in Greece. I was thinking that there’s no way that this is happening only in our home. Others deal with hunger, too.

I went on with my compulsive diet for a while. Maybe that was when I understood my grandma’s occupational syndrome. My grandma used to say all the time “No one leaves this house with an empty stomach! That’s a rule!” and I used to find it funny.

Not anymore.

 


    
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