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The Two Faces of Hunger #8
by Katerina Charisi
2018-03-11 10:38:33
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Tetris on the go

According to a research by the Public Policy Analysis Group of the Athens University of Economics and Business, the cost of a healthy diet for a couple with two children in Greece was estimated at 791 Euros per month (2014).

791 Euros costs our diet to stay healthy. There is absolutely no way we can make it. On average, we have 20-25 Euros per week (during the bad months), 50-60 a week (during the good months), up to 80 Euros three to four times a year.

Not even the half. Not even a third.

I guess that we are hungry, after all.

In 2010, the INE - GSEE Institute of Labor, after exhaustive study of the subject, proposed as the absolute poverty line for a couple with two children the amount of 1724 Euros per month.

Forget it.

And I get back to the funny incident: So, we are to the super market with my husband and we have the unthinkable amount of 100 Euros to spend, so the day is a feast. I do not stand in every shelf checking everything and I don’t get annoying. I just buy. My husband wanders around, checks the shelves with the tools, I do my things. Party. Finally, we are done with shopping and go to the cashier.

peinasuper_400A few steps further stand a little old man. He talks to another customer who just paid for his stuff and heads to the exit. I don’t get much, but I listen to the words “surgery”, “hospital”, “cart”, and I know that the old man could use some help. I let my husband to the cashier and I get closer. The other man apologizes and goes away. “Is there anything I can do for you? I ask the old man. He replies with a bright, porcelain smile. “Could you? Will you help me?”

“Of course, grandpa. Don’t worry. What is it?”

I see he drags an old, rusty shopping cart with two large boxes of pasta. I really want to ask him why on earth he bought so much pasta, but I already know the answer, so I say nothing.

This was one of our very, very rare good days and I bought things that under different circumstances I would never even looked at: a box of chocolates, colored peppers, cherry tomatoes, even a body lotion. I don’t want to think about our misery and our poverty and our hunger; not mine, not anyone else’s. Not today. The old man looks at my full cart. I know what he’s thinking, though he doesn’t know he thinks of it. But I do make the same thought each time I have to come up with two days meals with less than 10 Euros, while everywhere around me I see full shopping carts. The thought lasts only for a moment, but it’s there: You have no idea what we are been through.

But the old man knows very well what we are been through and I know what he is been through. Just… not today.

Today, there’s no space for bad thoughts.

Today we pretend that everything is okay and everything is normal.

So, we have to find a way to put all those packs of pasta in his cart, and while normally I am good at Tetris and it would take me less than a minute to finish, you know how old people are, they want things the way they want them. My husband always says “Say yes and do your thing, or else you’ll be there forever”. And that’s what I did. Ten minutes later, we have a cart just like the old man wants it.

“But it doesn’t close”, he said. “Just wait and see”. I take a plastic bag and tighten it around the cart’s top, like a lid.

The old man is happy and smiles. “Poverty needs you to be smart”, I tell him and we both laugh.

He looks at me and tries to decide if he wants to shake my hand or give me a hug. He shakes my hand. “Thank you. Thank you very, very much.

“No worries, grandpa”.

“Do you think we might be neighbors? If you would come over to my house, I could give you some treat.”

“Well, I can take your cart to your house if you want, but you don’t have to give me anything.”

Treat. For a moment I felt like a 10 year old.

But he insists he can make it by himself, he waves goodbye and goes away.

“People try to stock their cabinets”, the employee of our neighborhood’s grocery store had said. I remembered my week of Hunger and my hysteria after it. I remembered that old man.

“And what about the other stuff? The …expensive ones?” I asked them then. “Well, from the rest, they pick the cheapest.” And she whispers: “And the worst, you know? White cheese, like stucco. UHT milk. Gouda cheese, salami.”

That’s great. Exactly what I do too. The worst.

“Are people hungry?” I ask them in the end. Customers are coming in and they have to get back to work. They are two sweet and kind ladies that always give lollipops to my kids.

They shrug. And there, momentarily, inside a look that lasts only for a second, I see all what they are been through. The “yes, they are”, that never dares to be said out loud. The dignity, the pride, the sense of threat, the self protection instinct that never lets you admit it, because you can stand and listen yourself.

“Sometimes, some people, maybe”, the one said.

“People just do the best they can”, said the other and our conversation was over.

We do the best we can. And we just exist.

791 to remain healthy.

No way.


 The two faces of hunger #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 #8 #


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