For the past month I have been living on a dollar a day, which is below the international poverty line. A friend and I decided we wanted to see what it was like to live like most of the world who live in poverty, or as close to it as we can get. I calculated the cost of all the food, candles, propane, everything, even soap. The first week was by far the hardest—I craved sweet things, and was hungry all the time. I noticed a trend with my mood according to if I was hungry or full. When I was hungry it was hard to think about other things. As part of our experiment, Adam and I agreed that we could not ask for free food. But I never turned down any food that someone offered me! It didn’t matter what it was or if I was hungry, if someone offered food, I ate it. I lived almost entirely on lesheleshele (sorghum porridge) and roasted maize for the first week. After twelve days Adam dropped out, he said it making him really tired and not able to concentrate at work. His quitting made me less motivated, but I stuck with it. Although I no longer counted transport costs if it was for work purposes, I didn’t want it to affect my work. I also took two days off for Peace Corps get-togethers.
By the second week I was getting jealous of my host family’s food. A definite change from before, I did not really like papa, which is the staple food. Papa is bland, has almost no flavor and no nutritional value. But my perception of food changed, taste and nutrition no longer were my main concerns, but how filling and cheap a food was, and papa is both. I started eating the same foods, cooked the same way, as basically everyone in my village. By the end of the month, I thought that I could keep doing this, no problem, if I wasn’t worried about nutrition and getting so little protein (and could include chocolate!).
In the end I averaged how much I spent per day, and I came in under a dollar, just 84 cents a day. Though I don’t pretend that I truly know what it is like to live on the poverty line, I was just testing myself, I still had the option to stop and it was only a month. But afterwards I did find myself really missing the traditional foods, the papa and meroho (chopped and cooked cabbage), foods I didn’t really like before. Eating together with my neighbors, and sharing their food, creates a kind of closeness or bond that’s hard to describe. But I feel much closer to my host family and neighbours, sharing food with them and understanding their lives a little better.
The contents of this article are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.