It all started with a street vendor who lived in a three-room house and sold fruits and vegetables from a cart to support his family in Sidi Bouzid, a small dusty place maybe 200 kilometres south of Tunis.
No, he wasn't a university student, despite the reports to the contrary. He barely made it through high school, and gave up his chances at university to support his family. But by all accounts 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi was a hard-working, well-liked young man who often gave away his produce to families in need.
After he tried and failed to get back the bag of apples and his electric scale that an overzealous policewoman and her cohorts had grabbed, he lit a match that sparked not one, but what looks like a series of revolutions.
Throughout the recent headlines, an image sticks in my mind: Mohamed Bouazizi and that policewoman struggling over a bag of apples.
When people are hungry and desperate, anything can happen.
Even though the commonalities of food, clean water and shelter link all of humanity, for those of us sitting in our safe, comfortable little houses anywhere in this neck of the woods - heck, anywhere in Canada - it remains, for the most part, a huge stretch to understand the realities of the impotent under-classes who've been living for decades in poverty and fear in countries like Egypt and Tunisia.
January saw the highest food prices in recorded history, according to UN reports. Now we can add Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Libya to the list of places where the lack of food compounded by soaring prices became one of the proverbial last straws breaking the camel's back. A straw along with chronic unemployment, strongman governments, and collective futures without hope for even hope itself.
For years, through Plan International, my husband and I have "supported" a young Egyptian girl in the tiny village of Elwaha near Beheira, northwest of Cairo. I use quotation marks around "supported" because with Plan, like similar agencies doing work in developing areas, you don't really support anyone per se. Rather your monies go into a pool of funds used for projects in the area where "your" child lives.
I have to admit when we were first connected with Aya in Egypt I felt disappointed. Egypt, I wondered? On the web site I'd indicated we would support a child in an area where need was the greatest. Wouldn't that be, say, Mozambique, Somalia or Mali?
But Aya's case reports soon set us straight, describing how our monthly donations went to things like benches to sit on and lights in the classroom at the local school, and clean running water and latrines for homes. (By comparison, Mubarak's family amassed a fortune worth up to USD $70 billion USD.)