Stockholm, on 1$ a day

“It can’t be. This is not possible”

There I was, looking at the receipt, utterly befuddled. I couldn’t believe I spent THAT much money in less than two hours! “It’s a mistake, a technical glitch maybe” I thought, trying to reassure myself. But as I went through the items, there was no room for speculation. That was no mistake. I DID spend that colossal amount of money. And even though I’m 27 years old and thousands of miles away from home, I could almost hear my mother’s voice, lamenting my poor money management skills!

I’m not usually a spendthrift! Before buying anything I do my homework, compare prices, read reviews and spend hours looking for the best deal. And when I make my mind, I go for the kill (figuratively, that is). Shopping with me is “not at all fun”, as a friend of mine once complained. I try to stay laser-focused, get in and get out as fast as I could, and I try not to succumb to the lure of the playfully lit and seductively displayed electronic gadgets, my one true weakness. I pride myself for being money-conscious, and – I admit- I sometimes gloat and dwell on my sound financial judgment to others who find it difficult to control their spending.

There’s a reason why hubris is a sin!

Letting my guard down for an hour was all it took. I was elated at something I don’t even remember now. I thought “Ayman, my friend, you did well. You should treat yourself. Go to Elgiganten (a big electronics store in Stockholm) and buy that headset you’ve been coveting… oh yeah I know you want to”. It was like putting yourself on a really strict diet, and then letting yourself go all at once. I went berserk on an electronics shopping spree. It was all a blur. When I regained consciousness, sort of, I found myself holding a heavy bag that definitely contains more than just a headset, and the cute cashier handing me a receipt that I dare not look at.

I took the subway back home and – trying not to think about the financial calamity that has befallen me – logged in to Study In Sweden’s blog to see what my fellow bloggers posted recently. Mohamed Atwa posted something new? NICE. Mo always cracks me up. “Makin’ Bank in Sweden”… ah… making money… Mo is talking about making money and I’m squandering it like there’s no tomorrow… I should be ashamed of myself.

And then out of nowhere it hit me. I thought “You know what would be a worthy challenge (and a good way to discipline myself, grumpy ol’ me added)? Living on 1 dollar a day for an entire week, in one of the most expensive cities in the world” so, for one week, I’ll spend no more than 60 kronor(7$).

The more I thought about it, the more unrealistic it seemed (which made it even more attractive). I started a messaging group on Facebook and added some of my friends to ask for advice. “NO WAY”’ was the unanimous response. “That’s ludicrous, let alone impossible!”

I went shopping, again, but with a different motivation this time. “How can one bring the most amount of calories (bearing in mind I consume copious amounts of food) for only 60 kronor?”. Based on the calorie-to-kronor ratio I invented (patent pending) the most economical yet nutritious foods I can bring are oat meals (3 kilos, for 30 kronor) and that dreadful brown bread (3 kilos, 30 kronor). I was all set, and ready to start with my experiment first thing next morning.

So that’s how it was supposed to work: 3 meals a day (half a kilo of bread for breakfast, ¼ kilo of oatmeal for lunch, and another ¼ kilo of oatmeal for dinner)

Day #1 was abysmal, and I’m not saying it lightly. I was bereft of energy, enthusiasm, and the will to get up from my bed. The flames of excitement about my experiment faded away as the angry, deafening roars of my gurgling stomach took over. When the clock ticked 5 p.m I rushed to the kitchen to prepare meal#2, wholesome oatmeal cereal in plain water (milk was too expensive). Too hungry to think rationally, I used two portions instead of one, which meant I have nothing left to eat for the rest of the day. 2 hours later, I was hungry again. And I swear to god even my chair looked delicious.

Day #2 started rather abruptly. With only three hours of sleep, I woke up around 3 a.m. and literally devoured what’s left of the bread. Two and a half kilos were monstrously annihilated in less than half an hour. I washed it down with the ¼ liter of orange juice I have left from the week before, smiled for the first time in 30 hours, and went back to sleep.
With no bread left, all I had was two and a half kilos of oatmeal that were supposed to sustain me for six days. I realized it was practically impossible, but I was too stubborn to call it quits. I made it through day #2 at the expense of almost 80% of the food I had left.

Before it was 7 a.m. in day #3, all the 60-kronor-worth food was gone.

I was disappointed I didn’t make it even half way through the challenge, yet it got me thinking. I had water, electricity and a roof that sheltered me, all of which was outside the 1$ limit. I had emotional security, knowing that I can put an end to my misery whenever I wanted. What about those who don’t really have a choice? According to the World Bank, 17% of people in the developing world live at or below 1.25$. What a life it must be.


Written by Ayman

04 Feb 2015