Hunger Culture

By Rachel

from worldmapper.org  Country sizes have been adjusted to reflect the percentage of the population that is undernourished.  Congo is the brick red country in the middle of Africa; Burundi is the lighter brick red just to its right.

Last week, Jason and I headed into Gitega to do some shopping and errand running for the team.  Several of our Burundian friends/employees came along on the ride as well.  We loaded about 5-6 boxes of food from the Indian grocery store in the trunk, along with 4 crates of sodas, and the stopped by the local grain “wholesaler” and picked up 3-25kg bags of flour, a 25kg bag of rice, and a 50kg bag of sugar for all of the families to split.  The flour/rice/sugar will probably last us 6-8wks.  And then for good measure, Carlan was hosting a party for the workers who had finished the ER renovations, so we got 5kg of potatos and some green beans and pineapple for the fete.  As we pulled onto the road heading back to Kibuye, I glanced back at the piles of food spread across the back of the van, and I looked at our Burundian friends, and I leaned forward and said quietly to Jason in the front seat, “I think there’s more food in the back of our van than the average Burundian family eats in a year.”  It was a little embarrassing.  I felt guilty about my eating habits, maybe for the first time in my life.  I mean, we almost never eat meat anymore, and rarely eat anything packaged or processed, but we eat well here at Kibuye.  Every day we have beans or cheese or eggs (or all three).  Our team splits 28 liters of milk a week (about 6-7 gallons) from local cows.  I get about 20 eggs and a huge basket of produce delivered to my door every week.  How can I justify this when so many are going hungry around me?

It’s been challenging in the hospital, too.  Last week, Alyssa took care of a very sick kid who had a disease “killing” his blood cells.  He was bleeding spontaneously from his nose and vomiting blood, and no one expected him to survive.  Lo and behold, thanks probably in large part to prayers, when she saw him this weekend he was sitting up and shook her hand.  They talked about going home.  But 10 minutes later she was called back to the bedside because he had lost consciousness.  The story emerged that he actually hadn’t been fed in three days because the mom had run out of money (the hospital doesn’t provide meals to the patients, it’s the responsibility of the family to feed the patient).  There have also been several kids admitted with malnutrition, and the families obviously don’t have the money to provide the high calorie nourishment desperately needed.  Several McCropder families have donated milk, 1/2 liter at a time, to give to these kids who have so few options.

Many families in Burundi will only eat one meal a day.  In Kenya, chai was a national institution.  Here, it’s not, because people can’t afford the tea leaves, milk, and sugar.  Sixty percent of kids are malnourished to some degree.  World Relief, an organization based here at Kibuye, does a lot of public health work and education in the villages.  They are trying to get moms to feed their kids one egg, once a week, to decrease malnutrition.  So we asked a Burundian this week why more Burundians don’t eat eggs.  They seem plentiful enough.  Too expensive.  The cost of an egg?  About 13 cents.

I can’t seem to keep enough sugar in the house...it disappears at an almost alarming rate.  I was initially worried about the sugar going into my families’ bodies, but then one week realized that over half of our sugar consumption goes into chai for 6 different Burundian workers (some hospital employees that work on our property, some our employees).  I was so frustrated.  I came up with plans to limit the amount of sugar I put into the canister, thought about talking to the person who made the chai every day, grumbled to myself and to Eric.  And then one day I realized that the amount of money I spent on that sugar (and milk, and tea for that matter) was less than $10/week.  For six people.  Who make less than $50/month.  And the calories they consume in that cup of chai might be the only calories they get all day until they go home for dinner (and who knows how much they eat for dinner).  And I was ashamed of my stinginess.

What do we do with this?

Give us this day our daily bread.  Or in Kirundi, give us to eat that which is sufficient for us.  How many times in my life have I gone to bed hungry because I didn’t have enough food or money to buy food?  Never.  How many times have I sat down to eat and been truly TRULY thankful at the gifts provided in front of me, provided by grace and not because I earned it?  And when I am tempted to grumble and complain at all the things in my life that are not going the way I wanted them to, how many times do I stop and thank God that He never ceases to provide for my most basic needs?

I’m not here in this place to provide handouts, and that probably isn’t in anyone’s best interest long term.  But what does a world full of hunger and famine mean to me, a relatively rich American Christian with plenty to eat?  Does it mean less Starbucks lattes?  Less lunches at Panera?  No more Reese’s PB cups?  Become a vegetarian?  Donate all my money to some organization that goes around and drops off food to hungry villages each week?  I don’t know.  This is something I’m just really starting to struggle with, and I don’t have any good answers.  I know that some people who eat out three dinners a week are far more generous with their money than I am.  Eating less in order to save money to hoard it, or spend it on myself, is missing the point.  Maybe, being more grateful for what I have, and recognizing it for what it is instead of wishing I had more of something.  Being more generous with what I’ve been given.  Being aware of what is happening in the world around me.  Working, somehow, for mercy and justice, to care for orphans and widows and starving families, and praying that God continues to fix what is broken in our world...


John and Jessica Cropsey said...

I just saw a lady in Gitega today wearing a shirt that said, "1 out of 6 Americans suffer from hunger." I never would have thought much about that before. Now it's laughable (and not in a good kind of way)!

Becky said...

That was really moving Rachel. Thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

This is good, thought-provoking writing. Thanks for posting! I just read Mt 26:6-13 (the woman with the alabaster jar). I wonder how Christ was able to enjoy dinner parties with undoubtedly good food and wine with full knowledge of the poor and suffering around the corner from Simon's house... I take it that it's good to enjoy the blessings of good food and company *in proportion* while working for justice for the oppressed. The "in proportion" bit gets tricky - it seems to be highly personal, and I don't think anyone has a satisfactory answer that applies to everyone. What might help is to always think about food as a gift (read: alabaster jar). Why did Christ teach us to thank the Father for our food? We certainly don't deserve anything other than bland sustenance, and so we should appreciate and enjoy good food as a gift. To feel guilty about what we receive would be disingenuous to the giver.


Unknown said...

Put some Nido out with tea. It will diappear a lot faster than sugar.