Hunger Diary


Byline: Alek Wek

Africa is famished. America is fat. Sudanese-born model Alek Wek knows both worlds.

I know how it feels to go hungry. When I was 7 years old, my family and I became trapped in our own home, huddled together amid the bullets and bombs of the civil war that raged around us in Southern Sudan. To leave home meant the risk of rape, or kidnapping, or death. We did have to step outside sometimes, to use the toilet in our backyard, but we crawled there, low to the ground, to avoid gunfire. One night, my mother turned the latch in the front door to make sure we were safely locked inside; a gunman in the yard thought it was the click of a rifle and began shooting like crazy into the night. My parents, my eight siblings, and I survived on food our mother had grown in the yard: vegetables, grains, peanuts. We shared what little we had with the neighbors--those who hadn't disappeared. It's an awful feeling, being hungry.

When I was 14, I became a refugee, fleeing to London with one of my sisters; our mother would come two long years later. There, I entered a whole new world when a talent scout spotted me at a street fair and told me I should model. "What?" I laughed. "You're taking the mick out of me." She wasn't. Suddenly I was posing for photographers and facing a new kind of terror--high heels and runways. I remember at one rather avant-garde show, I had to wear clothes stained with fake blood and pretend to fight with another model on the catwalk while wearing towering heels. I just tried not to fall, to get to the end of the runway and back while on my feet. In this world, I found, many people were hungry too, but for different reasons. They wanted their bodies to look a certain way, whether their bodies were meant to or not. …

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