Tag Archives: Poverty

#12 ~ Broke Friday Meals – Noodles

So it’s Monday, I know, but it doesn’t mean this recipe can’t keep still be of use. As mentioned in my previous post, I survived for almost 2 months on various presentations of the same dish – instant noodles. Below I will chart 3 of the best and easiest ways to make noodles still appear edible after the umpteenth time of consumption. But first, a shopping list.

Considering Broke Friday Meals are for just that – Broke People at the end of a working week, all the ingredients i’ll be listing should be within any good supermarkets basic range. Of course if you have more money to spend you might just do that and be more ethical in your shopping, but if you’re scraping pennies, these menus should help you to at least subsist.

Core Ingredients:

  • 1 packet of Instant Noodles (I prefer Koka which should cost about 20p per packet, but you can get basics for 11p).
  • Some remnants of an onion or a leek – you don’t need much

Extra Ingredients

  • 1 egg ( you can get a pack of 6 for under £2 which means 1 egg should  = 30p or so)
  • Tin of mackerel/sardines/tuna – again should be around the 99p mark and it’s good protein
  • mushrooms and sweet peppers (these could be half dead leftovers, or fresh basics, which puts it at around the £2 mark – a pack of mushrooms is around £1 and a pack of 6 sweet peppers is around 80p-£1).

Cost:

Basic should be no more than 50p in total. If you want added ingredients you’re looking at a split cost (you won’t use e.g. every pepper in the packet) of around £1.50

Miso Noodles Method (Noodle Soup):

  • Place noodles in a bowl with the sachet of seasoning (if no sachet, improvise with All Purpose Seasoning, Salt, Black Pepper and/or Curry Powder)
  • Boil some water in a kettle
  • Pour water over noodles until it is just covering (if you want it extra soupy add more water, but be aware the flavour will be reduced).
  • Place a lid over bowl, wait till noodles are soft.
  • Eat
  • Time: 5mins max
  • If no kettle, do the same thing in a pot and leave on stove for appx 5mins also

Microwave-Fry Noodles:

  • Place noodles in bowl with seasoning and water just covering
  • Place bowl in Microwave for 6mins
  • Water should be absorbed leaving hot, well seasoned noodles
  • Eat
  • Time: 6mins max
  • If no microwave, do the same thing in a pot, just use a little less water so it absorbs faster without becoming mush

Broke Bibimbap Method (stolen from the exquisite Korean dish, Bibimbap):

  • Fry onion/leek leftovers with a little bit of oil (if no oil use water until onions/leeks are soft).
  • Add peppers, mushrooms and seasoning
  • Boil noodles in a separate pot/microwave/kettle and bowl
  • When noodles are soft add to frying pan (try not to add the water with it)
  • Sprinkle seasoning over the concoction
  • Add fish/meat supplements if you so wish/have
  • Once cooked through (noodles should start sticking to the bottom of the pan), crack egg over the stir fry. Leave to fry a little (depending on how much you fear salmonella), then transfer to plate/bowl
  • Eat
  • Should take 10-15mins max

Now that you know the basics, there’s a wide variety of meals you can make depending on what’s at your disposal. You can also add vegetables to the Miso Soup or Microwave-Fry extra, or boil an egg separately and add to either of the dishes – you get the idea, go experiment. You can also find your perfect softness point for noodles, whether it’s closer to al-dente or more like pulp.

Don’t ever presume this is the authentic way to either cook or eat noodles of any kind. Once you have money treat yourself to some authentic Korean, Chinese, Japanese or Singaporean food and savour the quality of their cuisine whilst apologising for butchering it in your poverty. But while your poverty remains, this is a cheaper (and to all accounts far healthier and faster) form of consumption than the £5 McD meal, even with the extra burger from student discount, or the sandwiches, or baguettes or w/e else you might wish to buy. It is also surprisingly filling either with the Miso Soup form (hot water fills you up quickly) or in the stir fry form as noodles swell.

Got a better way of making Instant Noodles tasty, put it in the comments section below.

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#11~ For Sowing

SowingTalking about money is awkward at the best of times. But I like being awkward, and this certainly isn’t the worst of times. So here goes.

Coming to University my finances weren’t great. Like many, my family faced the middle class squeeze. When you have three children all in the same year at elite institutions and Student Finance only reads what’s on the paper and doesn’t take account of whats in your actual pocket, sometimes you fare worse than those termed the ‘poorest’. But I have been very privileged to attend a college that is proficient if not exceptional in financial support. The only problem however, is timing. By my second week of University I had run out of money. My loan didn’t cover my room bill let alone food and though I knew that grants were hopefully coming, they weren’t coming any time soon. In real time my savings were wiped with 32p being all that I owned in the entire world. Seriously. I’m not kidding, it looked as mournful to me on the screen as it does to you reading.

I was open and honest about my financial situ with my mother who kept reminding me (sometimes very forcefully) that if needs be she could make it work, she would make it work. But that’s a parents job. To put their children before them. However, I think when you’re a child of the economic crunch you start to learn how to add pretty fast, and you know that even as they scrimp and save here and there, a massive deficit is looming – and as you get older your parents become less capable of hiding it from you. Unlike the Bogeyman, debt, poverty and financial limitations really do exist, and they don’t hide in the shadows. So I refused. I told her i’d hold out. I had enough in my fridge, I had all my essentials, i didn’t need money per se, what I needed was some kind of financial security, but seeing as I wasn’t going to get evicted anytime soon, we could wait.  When she came up by my third week of Uni to watch my play, my mother brought a box of instant noodles and some homemade food. I shelved and froze it all, and as the days went by salvaged a limited variety of meals from that hamper. There’s a lot you can do with instant noodles if you have to.

I wasn’t the only person struggling in my house. One of my closest friends was in a similar situation, and so together we worked to make ends meet. Last year when she was in particular difficulty I had the means to support her. It was ironic this time round, 4 weeks into term when she returned the favour. How quickly positions and situations are flipped around. But I was extremely, extremely grateful. However, 2 weeks ago, bar about 12 packets of noodles, I ran out of food. Nothing, unless you count half a dried leek, 3/4 of scotch bonnet pepper, and 1/4 of butter. Realising that All Purpose Seasoning, Salt, Pepper, Basil, Oregano and Dried Chilli Pepper don’t constitute a meal, hunger loomed expectantly before me. Said friend and I had taken to eating dried granola at night as I boiled yet another pot of hot water for instant noodles. We hadn’t had breakfast for about a month. I’d taken to going to Chapel on Sunday mornings not just because it was a great space to worship in, but, and I won’t lie, because of the more or less free english breakfast served afterwards. That meal would also make up for lunch, while extras were packed into a container for later and then we’d be back on the noodles in the evening.

I have a PhD student living in my house from India. His name is Rajesh and i’ll write about him at a later period, but for now, just know that he is an official legend. After seeing me eating yet another packet of instant noodles (thus depleting my limited stock, which at this point only consisted of 2 flavours – Chicken and Stir Fry), he took to feeding me the fresh vegetarian curries he made every day. In an 8 week term Rajesh has fed me 6 times. Every time I tell him that before the year is up i’ll cook him some real Nigerian food. He aways replies – I don’t need your food, I just want to make sure you’re eating well. He reminds me of a father figure, except he’s too young and too funny. So maybe an older brother. He cooks really well, and luckily he’s always let me have seconds.

Considering the 32p in the bank account wasn’t accumulating any interest and there’s only so many noodles any one person can eat in any given week, I had, I admit, also taken to common thievery at my church. Every Tuesday before student group they have a Student Dinner, with a required £3 donation. There were a number of weeks when I turned up and ate without paying. I also took left overs. That made up dinner and a good 4 subsequent meals for the coming week between myself and my housemate, carefully rationed but eaten with gusto (and sometimes more salt than necessary). I will pay my church back the difference.

It’s not so much that I was walking around hungry. Luckily I don’t get that hungry. And it’s not so much that I was in dire, dire, straits. I had chosen to refuse my mums offer of money, not because I wanted to be a martyr, but because I wanted to exhaust all possible avenues. I figured, once I literally had nothing – had finished all the noodles and had gotten round to eating the frozen container of egusi soup – then I’d reach out for help. Because to be honest, food is food. Sure lack of variety isn’t great, but I wasn’t starving. Some people have it much worse.

But it was still a pretty shitty experience. I’d been in a similar situation in my first year and had managed to write a funny (in my opinion) post about it (read it here). But this time round Sainsbury’s basics wasn’t even on the cards. Just a lot of water…and noodles (i’m going to start a thread called Broke Friday with ingenious recipes for times like these).

I say all this because last year, and for all my previous years at Uni, I was known as Miss Hospitality. I cooked meals for my friends, if people were in a bad way, they new my room always had a fresh supply of tea, probably even some form of home made vegetable soup (and even homemade bread if you were lucky). My mother’s love language is service, so all of us know how to be excellent hosts. So, I think I sowed a lot of seeds, fed a lot of people, definitely made a lot of herbal tea.

And this time round, during these past 6 weeks when I couldn’t even afford to buy asthma pumps and discovered that the placebo effect is a real thing because if you press your empty inhaler and inhale normal air, somehow, your lungs wish themselves to relax – and they do (mind over matter) – but this time round, I had the privilege to reap.

None of my friends, bar my housemate, knew about my situation. There was no reason for them to know, I was too busy writing essays and doing my thang to even think about it till I got home. I’m only writing about it now because the situation has been rectified, and I can now look back and see that I was blessed. Because over these past 8 weeks, for random reasons, friends have, out of the blue, offered to take me to lunch. Or bought me apples, oranges, lemons. Made rice, stew and chicken and just because, have handed it to me in the library (you know us Nigerians at Uni, we gotta stick together when it comes to home cooking). Little, Random, Acts of Important Kindness. ‘Cause those random meals weren’t just feeding me, they were feeding my friend too. And they all tasted so good. They kept us going.

There’s a saying in the Bible which is applicable to all life – you reap what you sow. Most people relate it to good and bad deeds, and I guess that’s the general gist. But I think it’s even more than that. I believe in a God who provides, I really do, and I have seen God provide for me in fantastic ways, and often in financial ways too. Some might be skeptical, but i’m not preaching a prosperity gospel here. I’m talking about a God who doesn’t turn his back on those in need. See when I had much, or at least enough because grants had come through on time, having been raised to share I shared. And there were times i’ll admit last year when I was like – all my friends do is take, take, take. They come, they eat, they don’t wash up, they leave. Sometimes I got tired of doing the right thing, of being aware that said neighbour needed food, or had had an awful essay week and maybe some hot choc would pick them up. And now here I am, a year later, being the one that can’t feed herself sufficiently. But I had the privilege to reap, to receive. See, I don’t think God (and for those of you that don’t believe in God, let’s call it Universal Kindness,or Goodness whatever suits your fancy), I don’t think God always provides by dropping a cash sum at your doorstep. But I do believe that God provides through the little acts of kindness. Through people buying you tea, or buying you apples, or bringing you left over food. I believe God, through friends, strangers and neighbours has sustained me over these past 2 months when I was in need. And it’s really humbling.

Obviously I interpret these things from a place of faith. For those that don’t have faith, I do hope however you can recognise similar instances when you’ve been helped at a time of need – maybe you put it down to Human Goodness. The thing is, however you see/interpret/understand it, it’s important to pay it forwards.

Tonight I shared this, somewhat embarrassing experience (because money is always embarrassing) with members of my student group. It was weird being that vulnerable. But after the service a guy by the name of Dave came up to me and said – this is for sowing – handing me an envelope.

This is for Sowing. 

We always have something that we can give and we can share – even a packet of noodles can go far between friends. This morning,  my friend and I ate our first breakfast at home for the first time in a month – cereal and bananas never tasted so good. I also went on a “massive” (as in, in comparison to the nothing I had before, boy!) grocery spree and my shelf is now flooded with vegetables – you don’t know how much you miss greens till they’re gone! But, saying all that, now I have food in my fridge I will make Rajesh a Nigerian dinner. I will pay back my church for the ‘stolen’ meals. I will keep sharing my food with my housemate. I will keep my eyes open and my heart ready for others who are in need. And sometimes it doesn’t have to be overt, you don’t need to put your name on the envelope so people feel ‘indebted’. You can sow quietly. You, the receiver and God know – that’s enough.

So Dave, thank you – it will go to sowing. To everyone else who has helped me in the little ways, my family, my friends and the strangers – I look forward to the day when I’ve helped pay it so far forwards it makes you smile when it comes back round again.

For those that know me in real life – i’m OK. Don’t feel obliged to now overwhelm my doorstep or pidgeon hole with goods. Honestly. There’s someone you sit next to everyday in the library who needs it way more. There’s someone on your corridor or in your lecture hall who would love you to take them to dinner, because they’re really hungry and can’t face another bowl of cereal without milk (that’s if they even have any more cereal). So sow into them. Pay any goodness you’ve experienced this term to them. And #payitforwards with gusto, that’s the only way you grow big trees.

This is for sowing. Life is for sowing. And quiet joy is found in an unexpected reaping.

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#263 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 28

Why do you have Zulu hair?

When I first travelled to South Africa to work with Ithemba Projects, a young girl asked me that question. She had assumed, that if I came from the UK, I could afford weave, extensions, hair accessories, and was perplexed when I chose to wear my hair short and natural. Having Zulu hair obviously had negative, or financial connotations in her still-forming mind. I explained that I loved my hair the way it was, and she nodded in a non-committed fashion. Ok crazy westerner.

Walking into a Mega-Store in downtown Pietermaritzburg last week,  I was driven to a spontaneous bark of laughter, when I saw the sign ‘ethnic hair care’ over black hair products. In my experience the term ethnic often implies ethnic minorities, something, whether it is art, fashion or jewelry that is not indigenous to the land it is being sold in. As much as the term irritates me; in my opinion all produce is ethnic, even the dominant white culture is itself ethnic, it is a term I must accept in the context of the UK. Hair oil, cow-bone earrings, printed cloth are all ethnic items to the UK, and those who wear or utilize such produce are either part of or sympathetic to that ethnic minority.

Yet in South Africa where blacks are the majority, to use the term ethnic in relation to their, for example hair produce, seems highly incongruous to me. What should be seen as ethnic are the white, or indian produce, clothing, art and hair care. Why do I make this point?

I remember, when I was a primary school student, desperately wanting to be white. I believed a fairer  complexion automatically meant beauty. Wherever I went white models peered back at me, smiled from billboards, engaged in romantic relationship in films and shows, graced the stage and album covers. One had to struggle to see a black face in a positive light, and with the same quality of professional editing as mainstream media.

The image that was compounded into my mind stated, flowing locks that could be tied into a pony tail or swept into a fringe were not only normal, but a sign of beauty. Braids were an unfortunate hairstyle only utilized until a weave could be found. And that premise, is often one ‘ethnic minorities’ are still under. The black celebrities that now grace our television screens still, in my opinion, emphasize the image. That’s not to say they aren’t ‘black’ or proud of their ethnicity. Far from it, but it seems to me, that there is still a subtle allusion that there is something ugly, or unattractive to natural kinks.

To hear a young child in ‘deepest darkest Africa’ (though SA is one of if not the most westernised country), surprised to see a ‘wealthy westerner’ with natural hair is saddening. That one easily elides wealth with the necessity to transform natural beauty, to me has deeper connotations and implications.

So it has been encouraging and warming to see, over my five weeks here, the initial surprise and the final, perhaps pride, or gratitude even, in the young students i’ve been teaching in Sweetwaters. To hear whispers of ‘she’s pretty,’ ‘I love the way you do your hair,’ demonstrates to me, that if i’ve done nothing else here, i’ve worked at dispelling the lie that once someone has emigrated to the West, once someone has become wealthy, they must deny their natural beauty. Perhaps it has even empowered some of the young girls in Sweetwaters, to remind them that, just the way they are, with their shaved heads, or short afro’s, they are beautiful. And that having ‘Zulu hair’ categorically  does not mean you’r epoor, and has none of the negative connotations they might associate with it.

Prayer for Day 28: That young girls the world over, especially in Sweetwaters, would be empowered in their own natural beauty. They would understand that their own complexions, hair styles or body figures have no relation to social or financial positions, and they would be liberated in that understanding.

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#249 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 16

When my sister was around 5, she got checked for glue ear. My mother had noticed she wasn’t pronouncing the ends of words, and her spelling was jumbled, dyslexic. Perhaps because she is a teacher, or maybe because she had had the privilege and opportunity to attend pre and ante-natal birth classes, my mother was aware that hearing and child development were connected. If a child cannot hear properly, then their vocabulary is reduced. With a reduced and half-formed vocabulary they can only comprehend so much, therefore they can only do so much.

When I first attended the Drop in Centre Creche I had a runny nose and a phlegm filled cough just like the children. Now I am on antibiotics. The nose has reduced to a sniff, the cough to a wheeze. The children’s mucus however, is turning green. Infection is setting in. I mentioned before, how sometimes, due to a lack of stimuli, the children sit, dazed, eyes glazed over, not listening or responding. Whilst some of that I’m sure is due to neglect from home and from teachers that are swamped by too many children, some, I’m beginning to think, is due to poor hearing.

The children’s snacks often consist of crisps, which, when speaking to those who live in the community, can be more expensive than fruit or vegetables. However, parents think they are doing right by their children, feeding and even spoiling them by buying the more expensive, yet (unknowingly) less nutritious foods. Poor parental education therefore, is having an adverse affect on these children. Without the much-needed vitamin C’s D’s and B’s too boost immunity, children are coming down constantly with colds. As sinuses are filled with mucus which exposes itself in the curves of their nostrils, bacteria is also building up in their eardrums. Speaking to a former nurse, she explained that often eardrums, under the pressure of wax and other fluids can pop and pop untill the eardrum is so damaged partial or complete deafness can occur.

If these children cannot hear when you are doing the alphabet with them, teaching them numbers, colours, how to structure sentences, then how much will they be able to learn their basic educational skills? They are being prematurely stunted from successful lives due to a poor diet and poor immunity.

Ithemba Projects  is in the process of building a community centre situated in the heart of Sweetwaters, for the people of Sweetwaters. Containing a crèche, a garden, and a community hall, it will also become the site where mothers and parents of the community can come to have those much-needed ante and neo-natal pregnancy classes. Where they can be educated on the things such as one’s 5 a day, nutritional information we take for granted, yet can be the difference between life and death. It ensures having a strong immune system to combat common colds and at the extreme end, to build up immunity so that HIV/AIDS does not become the silent killer in the night, but can be restrained for years.

Prayer for Day 16: For swift progress in the building o the Ithemba Community Centre. That in time the Government and Ithemba Projects will be able to provide parents with basic health information to ensure the children of Sweetwaters are getting the most beneficial diet possible. That Government Health initiatives come and work in the communities, and simple things like blocked ears are no longer a barrier to education.

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#17 ~ Take me to New York I want to see L.A ?

Recently the video of the ‘African genius’ who at 14 discovered how to use wind energy as a power source in his rural Malawian Village embedded itself on my Facebook page. It had obviously gone viral on the way reigniting the admiration people feel when the underdog wins. I clicked ‘like’ before I watched it. Then, scrolling through my notifications a friend had commented on it and I felt duty bound to actually watch the video. Neatly subtitled and smartly shot, it was a compelling video, not quite a tear jerker, but definitely an emotional heart warmer. The inspiring hope and potential of the uneducated African boy in the midst of poverty, desolation and a life of hard labour. By all means I congratulate and applaud his initiative. Living in the West, to a degree I feel has corroded our innate creative genius which has enabled the human race to become the top dogs in the food chain. Instead of forcing ourselves to figure out how to create, make something work, generate electricity, we simply type our query into Google and are happy to take someone else’s ideas. We live, perhaps, a life of ease. So I take joy in the fact that the world can celebrate the ingenuity and fighting spirit of said underdog. It pleases me that his story has been spread to remind people that we make our own destiny. Let it not be said that in the midst of brokenness something whole cannot be found. Whilst Europe is struggling with a recession and people bemoaning the democratic welfare states that have pampered us, the drought ridden, corruption induced countries of Africa are filled with entrepreneurs and market fighters who every day are finding ingenious ways to stay alive.

What irritates me is the media response. Let’s take William’s story into perspective. His 20 strong family could not afford to send him to school. I would assume William is the eldest. Therefore he’s been removed to enable his younger siblings to at least learn basic numeracy and literary skills before they too are sent to the farm to earn their keep. In the midst of this, perhaps sudden, perhaps gradual decline into ‘abject’ poverty, this young boy of 14 has trekked to the library which is probably located a good few miles in the nearest large town or city from his rural village, to borrow a library book on windmills. This is Malawi not the UK. That book would have cost money to borrow, if not because the State decrees it, then because the librarian is fearful that it may never return. Here we have a boy whose family are struggling to educate him using some means of money to borrow a book on windmills. He then somehow, after his eureka moment, manages to find, buy, borrow or steal the materials needed to make his prototypes. Anyone who has grown up in an African/Asian family would know that all the while his mother would have harassed him – Go and help your father. Look after your brother. Why are you wasting time with those sticks. Will they feed you? [ insert some native dialect cussing]. But this is a happy story. William finally succeeds, the librarian tells his friends and no doubt gets a cut on the side for exposing this ‘miraculous’ find.

Now I don’t mean to be a cynic about William’s success. It truly is a wonderful thing and will have done great good for his family and his community, and most definitely for his future (William is now enrolled in the first pan-african preparatory School, the African Leadership Academy, in Jo’burg). What upsets me is that William’s ‘prize,’ for discovering something his own Government, or at least all these UN/Charity Aid Projects should have been pioneering, is a trip to New York. He gets to fly over the city, visit some wind-farms in Cali and go on the radio speaking to people who will most likely forget his name, let alone the country he’s from when they step out of their cars, if not before the next song comes on. The amount of money it would’ve cost to send, maintain, house, feed William for however long his trip was, considering he was coming from south-east Africa to north-east America before flying over to the West Coast, would more than likely have afforded the building of a dozen more windmills in his village. It could probably have paid for his whole family to go to school considering school fees are only $80, and a trip to America could easily exceed $500. After all the media hype and patronising congratulations for figuring out what we in the West are still struggling to put in place, he is sent back home to continue his fight for the survival for himself, his family and his village.

Is this how we encourage and promote a better future? Is a trip to a America really what William needed? Yes, it was probably an exciting experience, but let’s be real. He was given a taste of a future that many never come into existence and which didn’t sustainably promote his desires. He says he wants to discover more ways of providing electricity. The reason he couldn’t do it earlier was because he wasn’t in school. His ‘genius’ can only be furthered with more education. Lets stop patronising those less fortunate and their attempts at taking hold of their own futures and not waiting around on the various and dubious aid agencies to realise they exist, lets stop putting on a facade of global charity which is really a mask for increasing globalisation, and in this case, Americanization as the ideal dream and Utopia we must all aim for, and practically make a difference. In the case of William and his initiative, I would bet it would cost our debt riddled West a lot less if we actually gave him what he needed and not what we think he desired. What I hope from William’s story is that the world realises once again that what all of us in difficult situations, whether it is poverty, depression, self-esteem or war need, is not the glimpse of a better life, not even the concerned visit or exciting trip, but a practical economical way for us to pull ourselves up. And not just ourselves; though William has found fame and opportunity, he has ‘seen the world’ and provided electricity for his family, there are still millions of people living in his former situation. They may not have the genius, the means or simply the time to do what he has done. So instead of us shining a quick spot light let’s be practical. Either make an appeal at the end of your expose, show people how to contribute to a fund, or simply don’t fly expensive equipment out there to make a sweet film, but invest that money in a productive means to alleviate the current situation.

There is a lot of good in this film, no doubt many people’s eyes will have been opened. I just fear that stories such as these will become a curtain behind which we can shout – Look at the good news – but fail to support it and continue that good news from travelling, flourishing until William’s story becomes the norm, not the exception. Let’s exchange the carbon footprinted trip to a far away country, for an education that costs less than a full tank of petrol and maybe we will see an actual change in the world.

[Rant over]

To follow William’s life story visit

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