Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Ginormous Birthday Party

It took me a week from the time I wrote my last blog until I was able to actually post it online (actually, Chris posted it—I still haven’t gotten a chance to get online!), so who knows how long it will be until this is actually made public! I am sitting on a reed mat in my mud hut on the night of my 30th birthday, and even though it is only 8:30pm, almost everyone is quietly tucked into their huts for the night.

Usually at this time of the evening, our team is gathered in a classroom in the Child Voice compound, having just finished our dinner of rice & beans (curiously similar to our lunch of rice & beans). From 7-10pm, we enjoy the light illuminating out of the single bulb in our little classroom—some of us chatting, some of us tucked in a corner, reading a book.

But tonight is a little different—we had a change up from our normal routine of rice & beans in the classroom. Instead, we had no dinner, and rain—meaning that everyone skipped the 5 minute walk to electricity, and went to bed early. About half our team is sick, anyway, so I don’t know that anyone minded much.

But lest you feel sorry for me, I should tell you that I had a great afternoon. The reason we didn’t have dinner was because we had a huge party today, officially celebrating the opening of Child Voice (which actually opened in October, but I guess they’re running on African time!). After about 4 hours of speeches (yikes!) the celebrations began with a huge feast for the 300-ish guests, and then morphed into a giant dance party. It was incredible. Africans really know how to celebrate.

As I leaned against the tent pole and looked out on all the festivities, I had a smile glued to my face. It was beautiful. Women dressed in their traditional African garb perched on reed mats, feeding the babies out of colorful plastic bowls—and there is something so vibrant about the colors of an African dress or a green plastic bowl when it is help up against the blue-black skin of an African. A band played, children danced, women belted out the chant/scream that means they are happy (similar to the war whoop a little boy would make if he was pretending to be a Native American, but louder & higher pitched). As I took it all in, I noticed that a group of elderly women were all looking at me, trying to get me to dance. They were sprawled on their mats, sipping sodas with wrinkled faces, bobbing their heads and shrugging their shoulders up & down to the music, trying to get me to join in. When I did, they exploded in giggles, and one even got up to dance with me.

The party lasted for hours, and everyone was truly celebrating what God had done to restore the community & the lives of the girls at the Center. It ended dramatically with a huge rainbow sweeping across the sky, as though God was giving his blessing. Everyone noticed & was struck by it.

After the party was over, I treated myself to a “shower”, and just as I finished, it began sprinkling and grew dark, signaling the end to our evening. Apparently, Chris had bought a ton of fruit & chocolate, and the plan was to have a little birthday party for me tonight… but he is sick in bed with an asthma attack, as well as half our team (only they are sick to their stomachs). No problem, though—I am happy to celebrate with our treasured fruit (which is surprisingly difficult to come by up here) in the morning.

This has definitely been one of the most memorable birthday celebrations ever (even if the celebration wasn’t really for me!), and it was truly beautiful to be a part of such a joyful cultural experience. Even now, I can hear the girls laughing & quietly singing African praise songs from across the compound as they clean up & get ready for bed. It has been a good day.

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