My sister gave me a copy of Suzanne Collins’ book, The Hunger Games. At first I was repulsed by the idea of teens hacking one another to death in an arena for the purpose of punishment and televised entertainment. But the way the novel was written, I couldn’t help devouring the novel (pun intended). I couldn’t put it down until I got to the very end. I haven’t read such a gripping novel for a long time, and it was a welcome treat. Never mind that it is a book for ‘young adults’,’ hahaha. I loved it! I think I even fell in love with Peeta.
I ended up reading all three books – The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay – but I think that the latter two unfortunately failed to reach the same heights as the first book. For me, the impact made by the first book actually provided the impulse to read the next two books in the trilogy, but in the end it was pretty clear that all the fresh and original ideas went into the first one.
It is seldom for me to reflect on a novel several days after I have finished reading it, but this one is an exception. Indeed, I couldn’t help but think about how the poor districts in Panem mirrors the situation of my country, where it is a common sight to see both adults AND children digging through garbage bins on the streets. Not surprising for a Third World country. What is surprising perhaps is to actually see rich people comfortably sitting in their Mercedes Benzs while plying the same streets with people digging through garbage bins. What is surprising is seeing grand mansions side by side with shanties. The contrast couldn’t be any more dramatic. The people of the Capitol reminded me of the rich people in the country, who seemed to have too much of everything. Why is it that wealth is the privilege of only a select few?
The entire country is a Hunger-Games arena in itself. People make do with whatever resources they have to stay alive. Survival is the name of the game.
And hunger? Believe it or not, it was a familiar companion to me and my family, a long, long time ago. When resources were scarce, we made do with what we have – harvesting the alugbati from our meager garden, adding more water to the noodle soup so that everyone would be able to eat, picking up sayote from the ground to add to the canned sardines bought on credit from the nearby sarisari store. Sometimes rice was all we had, and we would have lugaw with nothing in it. It didn’t happen all the time, of course. But there had never been a time when we always had plenty to eat – you know, like opening the refrigerator at home and finding it stuffed full of food. Or that we could go buy and eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. The meager income brought home simply wasn’t enough for a family of five. Still, we survived. But if you think that was bad, you should take a look at what the children at the squatter’s area were eating. Indeed, we should consider ourselves lucky.
Reading the novel reminded me once upon a time I had known how it feels to be truly hungry, not having anything to eat, not having enough to eat. As a teenager, I was left on my own in another city, living apart from my family. It’s a long story why I ended up on my own at a tender age of fourteen. Money was sent to me, of course, although it was never enough to last until the next, and more often than not, it was delayed. So on those days when there was not enough money to buy food, I simply went to sleep on an empty stomach. Sometimes I would leave school to hide somewhere so my classmates wouldn’t see that I wasn’t eating lunch. I hated those days. Yet, in a way, I could still consider myself more fortunate than others who had to constantly face hunger and not being able to get a reprieve.
Those days are long gone, but each time I go home to my home country and see young children scavenging through someone else’s trash, I am reminded that for most of them, the nightmare is still ongoing. What, I wonder, will become of them? What would they be forced to do in order to survive? Hunger drives you insane. Hunger makes you do bad things to one another. Hunger can make you blind to the fact that you can be taken advantage of.
And somehow, being so far away from all that, sometimes I forget that little has truly changed.