Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, July 3

Thankful Birthday

 The Senegalese don’t really celebrate birthdays. Case in point: I returned a few days after my youngest brother Saliou’s birthday and when I asked my mom what they’d done to celebrate it she replied, “Oh yeah. I forgot it was this week. Well, if we have money we’ll make a cake for him and Baba (my other brother with a birthday a few weeks prior) on Saturday.” That never happened.
As Christine’s host family member remarked, “Age doesn’t matter. It will only stress you to worry about how old you are and then start comparing yourself to others of the same age.” I figured this year I’d attempt to try it their way. I didn’t tell anyone it was my day and decided to spend it in Mboro like any other lazy Saturday. I woke up to some great Happy Birthday emails, messages, and even a card and present from my sister. I ate mangoes, Nutella, and millet and yogurt in the sort of gluttonous breakfast only dreamed about in Senegal… which went perfectly with the episodes of Sex and the City I watched with it. Later both my Dad and sister would call from America (thanks!).

Christine came out to spend the day with me, the family, and the members of Mboro for her last time. Awesome friend that she is, she came armed with a bag full of ingredients for a no-bake oatmeal chocolate peanut butter creation that I’m still enjoying. We borrowed some kitchen time, a pan, and some space in the fridge. Later we’d share pieces with both our families with leftovers for breakfast this morning. After lunch we went to my favorite watering hole for a drink. We weren’t there long enough to get beers from the fridge before a couple of trainees stationed in Mboro called looking to meet up for exactly that. Come on down. Cold drinks, new friends, and good chats. It was great.

Aida had been asking to throw me a goodbye dinner where she could make my favorite dish and invite my closest Mboro friends. I figured it would be nice to have in on my birthday even though I wouldn’t say so. The invitees were my parents Anna Ba and Samba Ndaw, Demba Mbow the leather worker, Suzanne Faye my host mother during training, Anna Ndieye a tailor and member of the women’s group I worked with and her husband François Diouf, Aida Seck the restaurant owner, and Christine. We asked the trainees to come along as well, and my Dad would later drive them home because they aren’t allowed to walk after dark. Everyone was dressed to impress, except me who hadn't been thinking of it and appeared in my t-shirt and yoga pants. Ooops!

For appetizers we drank bissap juice and ate toothpicks filled with pieces of spam, pickles and cocktail onions. I’d never seen this before, but certainly felt the need to eat about twenty of them. Don't judge, I wasn’t alone. For dinner we ate large plates of chicken stir fry with Asian rice noodles. You may remember this as the dish Aida and I had made together as part of the marketing idea to bring new items to the Resto Porokhane menu. It just so happens that my friends all love it. For dessert we consumed ginger-lemon juice and pieces of apples, oranges and bananas. We were each handed a cold can of either soda or another drink as well.

A quick note: earlier in the week I had a conversation with Aida about the financing of the party. I placed $30 in her pocketbook and told her that while I sincerely appreciate the gesture of throwing me a party... this was the right thing for me to do. After all, I have been spending weeks helping her create a ledger in our accounting classes; I’m fully aware that a dinner party was something she could only afford through the sacrifice of some of our exciting investment plans. She tried to fight me, but I reasoned with her that she would have two years to save for the going away party of my replacement.  After all, that's why we'd spent time learning both accounting and financial planning, right? That seemed to be the most reasonable argument to settle the matter.

After dinner, it was time for my friends to say a few words. They figured out it was my birthday and sang to me in French and then English. They spoke about the type of person who leaves their family and home for two years to volunteer their time. They spoke about the things I had taught or helped them with during my service. They proclaimed an inability to sufficiently express their gratitude. They cried. They gave me presents. Aida’s son painted a large canvas of a traditional African woman at work. Demba gifted me the largest item we’d ever created together: an Alan bag with wax interior. Mama Suzanne gave me meters of beautifully dyed blue fabric. Still others promised parting gifts to come. I admittedly felt mildly less guilty accepting them because it was my birthday.

And I was touched. I’ve never felt for one second that my Peace Corps service anything other than entertaining my own selfish dream to experience the world. But here were my friends reminding me that regardless, I had made a difference. In return I told them how important it was to me to have formed a family of friends in my  home away from home. That in fact it was I who could not thank them enough! We may have gathered to say thank you and goodbye, but it was a wonderful way to spend my birthday.

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