How I’m giving up possibilities for a week

My name is Lis. My trip to S.A.L.V.E. In Uganda last Autumn made me realise that the biggest inequality  I see is that I live in a world that is full of possibilities. So for my inequality challenge I am going to try to give up as many of those choices as possible.  I have set the following limits for life this week:

Food – porridge oats, beans, potatoes and milk plus a small amount of oil and 5 tea bags ( reuse allowed)

Clothes – 1 pair of trousers and shoes, 1 work shirt, 1 home shirt, 1 hoody, 2 pairs of socks and knickers, 1 coat.  Hand washing allowed!

Transport – bike or walking

Work – cutting flexible hours. I will be at work every morning at 9.

Money – none

Electricity – none – so no IPad, computer (except for work), kettle, lights. Etc etc

The only preparation I have made apart from a stock of food is to buy a wind up torch for £1.99.

If you would like to support me in my challenge, please donate here. 

The adventure begins…….

Coming to the end of day one has made me realise just how much I take for granted!  I have realised that I am so reliant on electricity that I don’t even realise I am using it!  I started the day with a cup of tea which my husband made before realising that he used the kettle – all future cups need to be made with water boiled on the hob! No microwave porridge for me today – I measured out oats and a little milk and water and boiled it on the hob. Can’t just walk away today like I do normally since it needs to be stirred . All this took a lot more time and I need to be at work on time – no choice about flexing today!  As I cook my porridge a horrible realisation hits me – there is no gas at work so no way to heat food or water – fortunately I have made a lot of porridge so can take that for lunch!

I intend to make my 2 pints of milk last for the week by watering it down.  Then realise that I have no way to store it (or replace it) since the fridge runs on electricity and I have no money.  Brainwave – since it has turned cold again I leave the milk in the garden.

Off to do my teeth – can’t turn my electric toothbrush on but at least it feels like I have brushed them! And then a mad dash to work – I realise that in my clothes for the week there are no warm hat or gloves – brrrrrr!

The morning passes quickly.  I drink water today since have no water to make my beloved cuppa. Dash to the toilet to find myself in pitch black since I can’t switch the light on. Decide for the sake of my colleagues (and to save embarrassment)  that I will break the rule today and bring my torch tomorrow.  My lunch looks rather sad today – cold porridge which has congealed to a sticky mass. Pick at it slowly – need to think and plan more for tomorrow.

I avoid the sweets at work today and try to supress my stomach rumbling in company – still feeling positive but hungry.

As i go home, I realise that it will be a long evening ahead without TV,  my iPad or the radio.  Decide instead to visit a friend in hospital on my way home.

I arrive home tired and hungry to find my washing up sitting in the sink  including the glorious porridge pot – dishwasher light winks at me temptingly but I resist and do the washing up in cold water. An early night beckons after a busy weekend but I do need to eat and a baked potato is going to take an awfully long time since the microwave is off limits! I have a small glass of watered down milk and determine to be better prepared tomorrow. I try to persuade myself that an early night is a luxury item but it would have been so much nicer after a long hot bath. I try not to think about the cold shower in the morning………

Day 2

As I went to bed last night, I realised that I  have no alarm clock that is not powered by electricity. Since I went to bed early I was confident that I would wake up in time but realised just how dependent everything in my life has become on power!

I awoke very early, feeling freezing cold.  The thought of a cold shower did not fill me with joy. I stumbled downstairs and started to prepare oats, milk and water for my porridge, boil an enormous pan of water for tea. I put potatoes in the oven to bake – decided to do more than one since I have a long day at work and am starving after my meagre rations the day before.  I sit down to my porridge and dream of a few raisins or a little sugar or  golden syrup.  However it is definitely better hot and before I know it, I have eaten both breakfast and lunch portions! I tip boiling water into a cup for a much anticipated cup of tea – it has been a long time since the last one! I almost ditch the precious tea bag but remember in time and put it in a little pot to take with me for the day.

Light bulb moment: I tip the water into a large thermos so I can enjoy hot drinks all day! I put on another large pan of water and when that is boiled take it upstairs – run a 2 inch bath and use the hot water to wash my hair and bring the water up to a level slightly above freezing!

As I leap into my puddle of a bath there is another light bulb moment! I enjoy the tepid water and realise it can be reused for the clothes washing I need to do on my limited wardrobe. A quick dash to our utility room makes me realise that I only have washing liquid pouches but sharp scissors enable me to release the washing liquid inside to re-use the bath water for clothes washing.  Feeling quite accomplished now, I rescue my baked potatoes and a small portion of beans to take to work for lunch/tea and head for the door. It is bitingly cold and I break my first rule and gather up a hat and gloves for the cycle ride. I have already put on both my T-shirts as I dress in an effort to keep warm but I am determined not to get ill this week.

As I head for my bike, I realise that I have also broken another rule – all my prep has been time consuming and I am not going to make my 9.00am deadline. It is another busy day at work. I am out at a meeting and get bought a cup of tea – delicious! After all that porridge I am not hungry enough to eat cold potato and beans so power on through with my cups of tea as those around me tuck into delicious sandwiches. My colleagues watch in amazement as I bring out my tea bag and water but much to their surprise, the water is still hot enough for a decent brew up to the 4th cup.

I have an evening meeting in a room where there is a kitchen next door so I find a pan and heat my beans on the gas hob and pour over my cold but cooked potato.  A friend looks on in horror as I tuck in to my ‘lavish’ dinner. “Are you really doing that all week?”  – “oh yes indeed” I think but am aware that I am already looking forward to Saturday! I break a third rule as I pass by a large plate of fruit and absent mindedly put a grape into my mouth!  Not feeling so clever now, I head into my meeting clutching the fifth cup of tea from my teabag and flask – starting to become a little pale but still better than nothing. I chuckle to myself – the children in Uganda all eat the fruit before it is fully ripe and I now understand the temptation of that little pop of sweetness in a limited diet.

Leaving my meeting I realise that the wind up torch – essential for loo stops at work – is still at work and I will have no light tonight when I get home in the dark.  Fortunately I will only have to get myself into bed and am confident I can do that with no light.  The lack of alarm clock feels more scary tonight – I am interviewing in the morning so have to get in for the right time. I am also missing my bedside radio which normally lulls me to sleep. Now there’s a thought – can I find somewhere to buy an alarm clock and a wind up radio?

The lack of money or power to buy things that could improve my situation hits me hard – there is always money for small items like this! I lie in my bed ready to sleep thinking just how privileged my life is…… sadly I don’t fall asleep – my head is spinning from the busy meeting I have just attended. Normally some radio or a podcast would distract me from my whirring thoughts and lull me to sleep but those are forbidden items.  The previous night I had read my book to relax but the missing torch prevents that. I don’t know how long I lie awake – it is an odd sensation not having a clue what the time is (since the clock radio is switched off) before drifting off to a dream of a lovely picnic!

Day 3

I awoke this morning with a start.  “What time is it?” Fortunately, there was enough time for the well rehearsed porridge, thermos and tea routine, with a quick spot of washing up.  Outside it is grey and I can hear the rain on the window pane.  I realise that washing up in the dim light is tricky – the porridge pan is still messy and precious minutes are ticking by so I leave the pan for the evening.  Can’t be late today so I can’t wait to see if the rain will stop.  As I leave, a friend arrives with a bag of sweet goodies as a thank you – thank them profusely but explain that I must dash. So pleased that the coat I had chosen for the week is waterproof, but so sad that my waterproof trousers are not on my allowed. I wear my illicit gloves and hat again! Cycle as fast as I can through the pouring rain – at least no one will see my wet trousers in the interview room.  Park my bike up and stop to take a “drowned rat selfie” but unfortunately my phone has not been charged all week and there is no charge left.

A full day of interviews follows which include a task for the participants to do a presentation.  One of the participants is teaching First Aid and wants us to lie on the floor and demonstrate being put in the recovery position – (don’t they know this hoodie needs to do another 3 days?) – no of course they don’t! It is starting to look a little grey around the cuffs and I wonder if I am starting to smell – must remember perfume tomorrow!

I’m given slightly strange looks when I get out my teabag and thermos, but it doesn’t matter when I have such a busy day with interviews running back to back. We do some role playing to try and distract the presenters – wind up torch comes in handy and after several minutes winding it up and flashing it on and off I sit and make shadow puppets on the screen. I get told to stop fiddling and put it away! Full marks to that presenter for dealing with badly behaved participants! No time for lunch so the biscuits are passed around – after two refusals I give in and enjoy a forbidden snack. I calculate that I am currently eating 600 calories each day and can sense the edge of hunger all the time after 3 days.

Towards the end of the day my old boss rings to explain they have an emergency and can I minute their Board  meeting – my replacement has had a family crisis. It feels like a good diversion from going home so I agree immediately.  Retreat to the kitchen I used the previous day where I am able to heat some beans. I have also remembered that the previous week I had left a tiny piece of cheese (about half the size of a matchbox) in the work fridge and decide that I definitely need to crumble the cheese into the mix to add to the taste – can’t believe how good it tastes – salty and creamy all at the same time! I decide I am no good at sticking to rules – even my own rules! As a thank you for turning up at short notice, I am given a large box of Celebrations and a bottle of wine – neither of which I am allowed to eat this week – I decide God has a sense of humour sending temptation my way!

I arrive home after the meeting for one final reuse of my teabag – not good on it’s 5th outing – and take a photo to demonstrate the poor colour.  Add the chocs and wine to the other goodies on the kitchen table and walk away from them after a quick photo! I realise that no electricity may not be helping the quality of the photos for my blog but am too tired to care. I retreat in the dark aided by my wonderful torch to the bathroom and then realise that I need to do some washing or I will have no clean underwear. Why oh why did I not do this in the daylight with warm water. Have you ever tried washing by torchlight in cold water using a punctured washing tablet? No I can’t recommend it either! I wring out as much water as possible and put it to dry on the radiator – resolved to do my washing in the morning in future!

I go to lock the back door but realise I have no idea where I put my keys down. Hunt the keys is always a challenging game but the addition of darkness and a small wind up torch adds a certain excitement to the proceedings. I finallly find them in the hall from when I went to collect the post.

I brush my teeth with my static electric toothbrush, check with my torch that my spitting aim has been accurate and retreat to bed. Fortunately, my lengthy sessions of winding my torch to be irritating in the presentations pay off and rather than the torch fading after 15-20 minutes, I have over an hour of reading time – now that is a win! My book is about life in 1940 when there was food rationing because of world war 2  – one of the characters celebrates that they have been able to get an onion for their stew. Probably for the first time ever I understand their excitement. I think I better take a photo for the blog but can’t prop the book open – my Ipad comes in handy for the first time all week to prop the book! Relaxed, I drift off to sleep.

Day 4

Mad panic to get to work again – on a training today so must be in on time! Usual routine for heating porridge and water and need to cook more potatoes for lunch.  Getting proficient at this and decide to upgrade to the biggest pan I can find so I have water for tea all day and washing up.  Second pan used for my “bath” to take the chill off again – got the routine down to a fine art now and the bigger pan means that the water temperature  is really quite pleasant!  Or maybe I am just getting used to it!

Go to get underwear from the radiator and it is not quite dry – grit my teeth and get dressed anyway – it will dry quickly I hope.  Glad that I am doing my washing at a more sensible time.

Look at the clock and realise that it will be a mad dash to work on my bike – thermos and potato on board I pedal through the traffic.  Just make it in time and spend the morning in training.  Feeling like I have finally mastered this!

– Enormous bowl of porridge for breakfast

– Tea all day from flask and teabag

– Baked potato for lunch/dinner

I realise that in all honesty I have not been good at keeping my rules; have added a hat and gloves to my clothes and eaten a grape, a biscuit, a small piece of cheese and had 2 fresh cups of tea that were bought/made for me. I have also cheated and sent a few emails/messages  to people who needed to book forthcoming events. But I have adapted well and made the best use of my resources. Now I am getting tired – I am heart broken when, mid-afternoon, I throw away my teabag without thinking. What will I do for the rest of the day? Back to water it is.  Enormous temptation to start my last tea bag early or use an extra one but I am going to resist.

I do have one extra option tonight – feeling so fortunate to liven a democratic country, I cycle the extra mile or two to vote.  Lots of options on the ballot paper – make my choice feeling very empowered!

Arriving home I cannot face baked potato. Then remember that I have a little oil in my rations.  I carefully slice thin potato strips and put on a baking sheet and carefully brush on oil and bake in the oven.  So excited as I take beautifully cooked chips out of the oven and add illicit salt – best meal of the week!

The evening drags – it feels like there is so little to do without all my usual entertainment.  And then I realise I have time to work in the garden, to chat to my parents on the phone, to pop in to see a neighbour – things I normally struggle to make time for because I get home, cook dinner and slump in front of the TV or dash to hear the latest episode of the Archers or catch up on Facebook or …. well there are just so many options!

Whilst I feel well fed tonight I am still weary and am still struggling to sleep without entertainment……

Day 5

Wake, Cook , Eat, Clean, Wash, Work, Eat, Sleep, Repeat – another day just like the rest of the week – same old, same old – starting to feel tired and bored of this routine. And then I am thrown – my new fridge arrangements were fine but it looks like summer has arrived and the sun shone all day yesterday = gone off milk = Yuck!.  I am fortunate that I still have oats left but porridge made with water is not good – even hot I have to force it down!  Forgetting to fill my thermos, the water goes cold – no point in taking any for tea!

I arrive at work feeling disgruntled and glad the challenge is coming to an end and then someone challenges me. “What a stupid game” they exclaim when I explain why I am drinking water today.  “What good can that possibly do?”

I think long and hard and realise that they may be right  – maybe it has been a silly game and a decidedly odd way to live –  the rules are artificial and I haven’t even kept to them.  But sometimes we need to do something to draw attention to what we feel passionate about. I explain that this week has given me a tiny insight into the lack of choices that many people in the world live with every day, particularly those who have little or no income. At the S.A.L.V.E projects, the children have a typical Ugandan diet, they eat  groundnuts for breakfast and posho (maize flour)  and beans for lunch most days, washed down by water or tea. Many people don’t have lots of clothes or their own transport and in many places in the world there is limited electricity – even on the S.A.L.V.E. land we depend on solar electricity which is not always reliable.

I can’t say I have enjoyed the week but I have enjoyed the challenge – it makes me realise how much I take for granted every single day of my life. I know that in the Lottery of Life I drew one of the winning tickets and that is why I choose to change my life full of choice and privileges this week for something more limited.

If you have enjoyed reading my blog then I would like to challenge you – could you give up just one cup of coffee or a pint of beer  or a sandwich every month. £3 a month will buy you a ticket for the SALVE lottery – you might even win the £100 monthly prize.  But just that small amount will enable a street connected child to eat lunch every day for a week.  It doesn’t take a big change in our lifestyle to help make an enormous change in the life of one of the children that S.A.L.V.E. works with – a small amount of money can provide so much for a street connected child in Uganda. Come and join us and help to make other people winners!

 If you have enjoyed reading this, please consider donating to our Inequality Challenge fundraising Campaign. 
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