Monday, July 20, 2009

Celebrating a birthday in a foreign land

If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.
~Abraham Sutzkever
As many of my friends and family are aware, the date of my birth remains in July (at least I'm pretty sure it does).
It just so happened that this year, my birthday happened to come while I am living in Kenya. Time flies and I can still remember my training in Loitokitok last Nov/Dec like it was just yesterday. I suppose in my mind's eye, it was yesterday.
At any rate, this blog is meant to depict my birthday experience in Kenya for my friends and family abroad. So let me begin by saying that in Kenya, age is treated very differently than in the U.S.
In the U.S., old age tends to be seen as a negative thing -- the older one is the closer to death they are... In Kenya, however, old age is seen as a respectable thing. To be called an Mzee (an old person) is a sign of great respect.
Another thing about age is that specific age is not typically stated. For example, once I was asked by a colleague if I had reached 25 years. My colleague did not ask my specific age, but she was looking for a range (20-25; 25-30) and so on. In another instance, I had asked a friend how old he was, circumstantially he thought I was much older than he. His response was also a range of several years.
Now then, at the school where I am teaching, a few teachers had asked me when my birthday was as they understand that Wazungu (foreigners) tend to celebrate such an occasion. About 2 weeks before my birthday I told them when it was. By the time my actual birthday arrived, they had forgotten the specific day it was but still said happy birthday nontheless.
To celebrate my birthday, Wazungu wawili (two foreigners) who were in this town arranged to have a cake made to celebrate my birthday.
So we had cake to celebrate my birthday. The following pictures depict the staff at the hotel where we had the cake, and the tea mug birthday present from the hotel staff.

On a slightly different note, it was an amazing feeling to wake up on two different days and receive happy birthday emails, phone calls, text messages, facebook wall posts, etc. Thank you everyone for all of your warm wishes. Though you may not be aware, its easy to sometimes feel like we've been forgotten while we serve man kind in a different part of the world. As such it is truly a remarkable feeling to receive so much attention from all over the world durin a few days :)
A very warm thank you to everyone.

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