Have you ever thought about what a refugee eats while in a camp?
If you’re like me, it has probably never really crossed your mind.
So perhaps you’d be just as surprised to learn a week’s worth of their food fits within a 30cm x 30cm box. Inside is rice, chickpeas, lentils, sardines, red kidney beans, oil and some coupons for flour and more rice.
How can someone eat like that? Wouldn't they starve? Well, taking on Act For Peace's Refugee Ration Challenge, I was about to find out. All I ate for a week was the contents of this box, plus some flour and extra rice and some minor earned additions.
I can tell you one thing - they don't call it a challenge for nothing.
I decide to do some batch cooking in preparation for the week ahead. I look at the resource booklet for recipes and find they suggest hummus, flat bread, fried rice (which is really rice and sardines) a few lentil and rice dishes and something involving the red kidney beans.
Thank goodness I sponsored myself and earned a spice. I chose cumin, and I'm using it to make everything taste a bit less bland. I make a week's worth of patties out of the red kidney beans and some flour and then about three serves of fried rice.
Not too bad if I do say so myself, though I am not underestimating the power of frying in making this dish taste decent. Later in the day I make some nice thin, flat bread and some questionable hummus to go with it. By day's end, I'm not actually hungry like I thought I would be.
When I start to think this might not be too bad I remind myself it's day one - there are six days of this to go.
By sending an email to 10 friends asking them to donate, I earned myself two teaspoons of instant coffee. My brain says I should save them for later in the week when I really need them, but my body says, 'Go for it now'.
So I wake up with a coffee and then have some more of the worst hummus I've ever tasted and flatbread for breakfast, followed by fried rice and a patty for lunch. When I get home from work and decide to start on dinner I'm looking forward to trying a new dish and using the lentils.
Listen: Why Kon Karapanagiotidis founded the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. (Post continues after audio.)
I try to follow the very, very simple recipe for mushid dera. But I'm not sure I've done it right. What I end up with is sort of like a risotto - only without any veggies or meat and instead of cheese, lentils and instead of flavour, blandness.
I've read that if challengers reach certain fundraising targets before the challenge week (June 18-25) they can earn a vegetable and even a small portion of meat. I think an onion would go a really long way in a challenge like this.
After my "risotto" (which I ate next to my housemate who had actual risotto for dinner) I realise I'm pretty satiated at least.
I make some more flat bread for breakfast and in the context of this week I would describe it as delicious. (I added a lot more vegetable oil to the hummus and I think that improved it a lot - also my tastebuds have adjusted to bland).
My day starts to go downhill, however, as I head to work. I look on in jealousy at everyone I pass; they all seem to have a takeaway coffee in hand. The smell of Bahn Mi hits me at least 20 metres from Vietnamese cafe at the bottom of the building. Does hunger give you a heightened sense of smell?
The "risotto" I cooked tastes so much worse heated up the next day. But at least it's filling.
Then at 4pm, after begging my workmates to donate to my page, I finally reach my $200 goal. Tea bags! It's too late in the day to have a caffeinated cuppa and no way am I wasting this on chamomile, but just knowing I have two teas a day for the rest of the week to look forward to fills me with legitimate excitement.
I'm also really looking forward to my fried rice with specks of sardine and two red kidney bean patties for dinner.
After dinner as I relay my complaints to a friend I remind myself this is a self-imposed challenge, and more importantly, it's nothing compared to what refugees go through.
Two very real plus sides of this challenge: for the first time ever I am eating a diet Sarah Wilson would approve of, and I have mastered the art of flat bread making.
Oh, and the money raised for refugees - also that.
As I approach the tail end of the week I realise I'm going to have to rein in my flour and hummus use if I want any left for the last day. I won't run out of rice, though — I still have more than 1kg left. Oil supply is also looking good.
The joy the cup of tea brings me forces me to accept that I have a very real caffeine addiction. But I also know this is not the week to kick it.
This morning I made the mistake of going for a 5km jog. I say 'mistake' because after my breakfast of flatbread and hummus that's normally filling enough, I'm still hungry.
Still, caffeine suppresses your appetite and sipping some tea helps a lot. And I get over it when I remember there's no more mush for lunch! I'm back to fried rice and a patty. There are only two and a bit days left of this challenge and I'm finding my willpower is strong.
I think you just get used to saying no.
Two days to go and the rations are running out, but there's still plenty of rice. I'm using the last of my flour to make flatbread and the leftover lentils to make soup. I eat the last of my hummus with some flatbread and use the rest of the sardines cook up some fried rice for today and tomorrow.
Overall, I think I've rationed pretty well.
My boyfriend is having dinner with friends at the football club after his match and I stay home because I don't think I could stand to be around schnitzel and chips right now. One more day to go!
I get up and use the second teaspoon of instant coffee to wake up before I catch the train into the city for Run For The Kids.
I'm eating plain leftover rice for brekky before the 5km run and feeling thankful Mum and I didn't sign up for the 15km! Although I have about 500g of rice still left unboiled, so I'd actually be prepared for that too.
I finish the run and celebrate with a take away green tea... and boiled rice.
When the end is nigh my boyfriend asks me if it really matters if I just start eating tonight. Yes, it does matter. I haven't come this far to cheat myself now - and that's who I feel like I'd be cheating if I ate anything but the rest of my fried rice and my last patty for dinner tonight.
I was like a kid on Christmas Eve - I did a happy dance before I went to bed and was almost too excited to sleep.
My reward breakfast of hot cross buns and milky tea tasted all the sweeter knowing I'd raised $300 to help refugees in camps across the world, including Syrian refugees living in Jordan.
Reflecting on the past week, I'm mainly just bloody glad it's over, but am also feeling just a little bit proud of my dedication to eating rations when really, the world would have been none the wiser if I'd sneaked in a pizza or two.
I don't want to kid myself and say I've done anything spectacularly hard - it's not like I experienced anything remotely close to what refugees go through.
But I did have something small in common with them for the week, and — if I can be a bit lame here — that was a humbling experience.
If you want to sign up for Act For Peace's Refugee Ration Challenge, visit actforpeace.rationchallenge.org.au. You can also donate to my page. And if you'd like to find out more about where the money goes and learn more about who you're supporting, click here.