Hungry for knowledge
By Reagan Duplisea
semester in London.
which I'd studied only from slides in the Moudy Building now appeared
inches from me in The National Gallery.
I took walks
along the Thames River, with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament gleaming
gold on my right. I had a front row seat to the Lord Mayor's Parade and
watched gilded carriages meander down the street.
I could think of sometimes was a chicken strip. I was hungry. I was living
on sandwiches and baked potatoes -- enough to get me by, but never enough
to quench the ache.
have just been grateful to be in London. I was blessed to be in that great
metropolitan world capital. It was better to walk down the bustling streets
of London with a pence in my pocket than be back in sprawling Cowtown
with all the money in the world. The chance to be in London, with the
world at my feet, had skewed my priorities.
I had scrimped
and saved -- to live on the bare essentials so I could take advantage of
London while I could. I lived on whatever was cheapest at the grocery
store so I could attend a show (many of which were required for my theater
class) or buy a few Christmas presents.
Let me reiterate
that I did not starve (which is obvious to anyone who looks at me now).
And at first, it really wasn't too bad, but then the ache got to me. It's
just an ever-present feeling of never being satisfied, of craving more
than a baked potato. Of wishing you could have two sandwiches but knowing
you need to save the bread for dinner.
think any of the other TCU London students knew what I was going through,
not even my roommate. But I didn't want them to. It was humiliating then
and still hard to write about now. Some of them will probably read this
and say, "Why didn't you just ask?"
But I couldn't.
It was hard enough asking my roommate for a slice of cheese to spice up
my baked potato, knowing that I hadn't chipped in for it. Toward the end
of the semester, money became especially tight; I took advantage of every
free thing to do in London.
When I couldn't
afford the tube fare (about $1.75), I walked. In addition to my London
Centre classes, I also enrolled in a short night course at The National
Gallery. I loved it but dreaded walking to the museum, for it meant a
trip down Tottenham Court and Charing Cross roads.
its melange of used bookstores, Charing Cross Road could just as easily
be called "Restaurant Row." With everything from Pizza Hut to Indian fare
to fish and chips, it was all I could do not to press my nose against
the giant glass windows like some degenerate Charles Dickens character.
I often caught
myself glaring at the diners inside, fiercely jealous. I wondered if they
realized how lucky they were, having such a selection to choose from,
as I gobbled half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And I had to force
down those sandwiches there at the end. (You don't realize the importance
of variety until you eat the same thing every day. It took me more than
three months after returning to the States to be able to eat another sandwich.)
It was about
that time I volunteered at a soup kitchen. It was ironic, really -- a hungry
person volunteering to help the hungry. I couldn't bring myself to ask
for some of the leftover soup the first time I worked there. But the second
time, I couldn't resist, playing it off as being just "a poor college
It just smelled
too good. So I took my Styrofoam cup of steaming soup and savored every
drop. Yes, I served the traditional unshaven men in flannel shirts and
ripped pants, but there were others also. Clean-cut, seemingly middle-class
men that I would not know were going hungry if I passed them on the street.
We shared that secret kind of hunger.
of those men -- with whom I had now personal contact -- had I ignored on the
street? What was I to do if I recognized them begging on the local street
corner? When I'm living on potatoes and sandwiches myself, could I spare
a few pence for these hungry souls?
is gone now, but the effect stays with me. I can barely refrain from rolling
my eyes when I hear students complain about Marriott food. Hunger is such
a horrible thing; some days, I would rather have slept on the street with
a full stomach than to have never been quite satisfied under my own roof.
don't have enough to eat, there are far more important needs in the world
than the latest fashions or Heisman trophies or even a 4.0 grade average.
To see me now, it doesn't seem like I have ever gone hungry. The only
wanted side effect of doing so -- shrinking down to skin and bones -- never
at that soup kitchen, I filled up three thermoses with the soup for a
very large, very friendly 30-something man with a full head of thick blond
hair. He asked me if there were soup kitchens back in my hometown of El
Paso. I nodded, and he then said, "Well, I hope you have never needed
to use one."
It felt like
he had ripped my heart out of my body; I felt guilty for volunteering
at the El Paso food bank only once in 18 years.
I also knew
then that we were not the same. I was hungry, but I was also earning a
college education, seeing the world and knowing that in two months, I'd
be sitting down to a plate of Mom's home cooking.
I don't remember
that man as often as I should. I didn't come back to the States and throw
myself into championing for the hungry children of Fort Worth or even
the occasional volunteer hour at a local soup kitchen.
Maybe I just
don't want to remember being hungry.
But I should.
Duplisea is a journalism senior from El Paso and currently serves as managing
editor of the student magazine, Image.