A dive into deprivation

I watched a documentary a while ago about some friends from America that go to a small village in Guatemala for 56 days to see if they can each live on a dollar a day.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze72rpWp_Dg&w=560&h=315]


Their experience keeps coming back to me and reminding me of how privileged I am to have my basic needs met. I have often thought I would like to try a similar thing, to know how it feels to be deprived of things I’ve, in some ways, taken for granted. Although, I wonder whether doing that for only a few weeks would really be an authentic experience, because in the back of my mind I know I have satisfying, nutritious meals and a warm, soft bed to go back home to at the end of it. It’s easier to endure hardship when you know you have something pleasurable to look forward to.

So, to have a more genuine experience of a place, I think I would need to be there for a long time, at least a year or two, and really immerse myself in the culture and ways of the locals. As was shown in this film, the longer one stays in a place the more one gets to know ways to cut corners and save when it comes to knowing where/how to get what you need and what to do with it when you’ve got it. By means of bartering and sharing of resources and skills, one is able to do a little better than just survive.

What struck me is how generous the people they met in the village were with the little they had, providing only the best for their visitors and showering them with practical tips and encouragement.

Many of the people that live on very little materially don’t have a hope of anything else on the horizon. That is their life and the enjoyment of it often hangs on how resourceful they can be and how determined they are to improve their experience of it.

Pic from Geralt

One man in this village came up with a money saving system where everyone puts a certain amount of money into the “pot” and then each person has a turn to use however much they need from that “pot” to buy something. Perhaps a stove or something that would help them to earn a living.

There is a strong sense of community. There’s much to say about not going it alone as previously said here.

By means of community, they make the best of their situation and sometimes better it. Just having the basics – food and a roof over their heads, even though not necessarily that spacious – is made more bearable when accompanied by a sense of belonging to a community of people determined not to give up. Although their life is a struggle, it seems the simplicity of it leaves room for being in the present and revelling in the joys of even the smallest moments.

Shot by Victoriano 

By contrast, there is a channel on Youtube called “Invisible People” about the homeless on the streets of various cities such as London, Cardiff and Pasadena. They are asked to tell their stories – why they are there and what their lives are like and if they have a plan.


A pensioner deciding between a home or being able to eat.

A young man tired of being handed McDonald’s burgers when what he needs is a toothbrush and wet wipes.

A guy with a full-time job still unable to afford to pay rent.

Just a few of the hundreds of heart-breaking tales.


At the end of each interview, the question “If you had three wishes, what would you wish for” is posed.

Of course, what mostly comes up first is wanting a home, or at least somewhere warm, clean and safe to sleep.

There are some that manage to remain hopeful that their situation will change.

But many are hopeless and lonely. Although some of them say they are part of the homeless community and getting support from charity organisations/friends, you get the feeling that they are alone in their situation. Outcasts. Unsafe and misunderstood.

The more I listened to these people’s plights the more I wondered whether, for some of them, the problem didn’t come down to a lack of effective communication and nurturing of relationships with others. Of course, there are very many other reasons why people end up in these situations, many of which couldn’t have been prevented. However, they seemed more dispirited and jaded than those living in the rurals. As if they had become weighed down by their past and unable to see anything else. That they had become rigid in their ways, less humble, maybe even a bit too stubborn or belligerent to tolerate and be tolerated by others. And because of this, they’d become more and more isolated, their belonging in community evaporating with every relationship going awry.

I wondered how they would fair in a small, impoverished village in Guatemala instead. If perhaps their outlook on life would improve being in a place completely different to everything they knew, where there are fewer reminders of the past and what they no longer have, where they are embraced by community in a shared experience, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient that may be.

Much food for thought.

Speaking of which, in preparation for a longer future excursion into poverty in a foreign land, I’d like to start experimenting with how little food I can survive on.

Over the last few years I have scaled down quite a bit and try to only buy things I really need, but there is always more whittling down that can be done.

I have many times tried to stick to a strict food budget and have just as many times failed at doing so. It’s quite a mind shift getting around that feeling of deprivation and missing something you’ve gotten used to having. Much of what we choose to eat and drink (especially in excess) is to satisfy an emotional need. I’m not a coffee addict but there are times when I really have to wrestle against my desire to buy, out of habit, a very conveniently prepared-by-someone-else warm drink on a cold morning. I can be seen on the street telling myself out loud that I really don’t need to buy that coffee now and that when I get to work I can boil the kettle and make myself instant coffee with honey and that it will be nice and everything is going to be ok.

Seems like a lot of energy spent on trying to save R25. But, you know, all the little bits of money add up to big chunks that you can’t account for, and all that.

In South Africa the price of food is getting increasingly dear. Even buying the most simple and basic things, that will last perhaps a week, takes a big chunk of one’s salary.

I think of people that take a pittance home at the end of a long day and have only mielie pap. Is the staple food of our nation nutritious enough? I’m not so sure, but according to this article you can lower the GI of pap by eating it cold (same goes for pasta) so it’s at least less detrimental on blood sugar levels.

Rice is also a staple for many and brown rice seems like a more nutritious choice to me than pap. Although not as affordable, it should provide more satiety which would mean you would need less and the costs should level out.

I once thought I could live on bananas and avocados alone because they seemed to me to be the most satiating and nutritional whole foods available. But after 3 days of only that, I started seeing things. Like braais oozing with juicy flesh and hearty stews.

Clearly, my body was trying to tell me something. Perhaps a little more variety is sensible. 

My initial ideal to-be-whittled-down-more list looks something like this:

  • Some kind of healthy-ish, whole ingredient bread with as few preservatives and colourants as possible
  • Oats
  • Brown rice or Quinoa
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Peanut Butter
  • Butter
  • Sardines
  • Tinned tuna. When I die it will likely be from Mercury poisoning, apparently.
  • Eggs
  • Marmite. For those days when you are more “maer” than you are “might” (“maer” is the Afrikaans word for “thin”. Yes, it’s  a silly joke, a very, very silly joke.)
  • White and sweet potatoes
  • Kidney Beans or Chickpeas
  • Spinach/Kale
  • Avocados
  • Carrots
  • Lemons
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Dates/raisins
  • Red-skinned peanuts
  • Honey. (Honey is, to me, what cigarettes are to others – I always have money for it, no matter how broke.)
  • Pesto
  • Olives
  • Chillies
  • Black rooibos/herbal tea, Kefir water, Kefir milk, water, chicory
  • Best quality dark chocolate I can afford (a luxury, I know)

I haven’t yet been able to successfully eat these things, and only these things, for a month yet (I blame it on the coffee) so I’m not sure whether they all actually fit into the budget I’m hoping to fit them in. But I will do an update on how this experiment goes in a future post.

Have you done any such experiments?

Leave your findings in a comment below!

We love it when you leave us comments. Warms our little bunny paws.


A dive into deprivation
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6 thoughts on “A dive into deprivation

  1. I am very glad to hear that your banana and avo diet didn’t last long. You should consider adding barley to your diet. Super cheap and has the lowest GI of all the grains ever tested. I believe in spending money on healthy food because that’s what keeps your immune system up. I spend very little on “junk food” such biscuits, rusks and chips. When it comes to saving money on food I usually take the eat-it-before-it-goes-off approach rather than buying less variety.

  2. PS: I don’t buy expensive food like asparagus (or even “wonder foods” such as chia seeds), but I do think the health benefits of avocado outweigh the cost.

    1. Yes, I too am glad the avo-nana idea made a brief appearance. Interesting to hear about the barley. I think I shall add it to my list! Do you use that as a substitute for other grains or starches?

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