Monday, May 23, 2011

A Botswana Birthday Party

In Botswana, birthdays are not a big deal. They come and go without much commotion, if they're even remembered at all. This is surprising because Botswana is all about community and family means a lot. This is also surprising to me because birthdays are so so so much fun! If you have spent much time around me then you realize that I could not sit idly by not celebrating birthdays as they come along... This was the case with my 20-year-old host brother's birthday.

When my host brother, Kesaobaka, told me that in his nearly two decades of life that he had never had a birthday party, I decided to throw him a celebration to remember! And celebrate we did!

Yesterday I hosted Kesaobaka's birthday party. I had invited a number of the other trainees to come over that he had become close with and I told him to invite some of his friends to join us. He didn't know what to expect and so his excitement was penetrable. For weeks, he kept coming over to me with big smiles and he looked like he was going to jump out of his skin with anticipation! I seriously wondered if he was going to make it until the party!

In preparation for the event, I had asked my mom to send birthday balloons (which came in my care package) and I made a big birthday sign with candles, balloons, and confetti to hang in the house. I also prepared a menu for the party and made a few trips back and forth to the local grocery store, Choppies. (Creating a menu is extra challenging in Botswana because a lot of the things we are used to finding at the store are not available here. It was an exciting challenge though and we had a lot of fun learning how to make everything from scratch!)

The party began with a few of my fellow trainees coming over to help me cook. We made veggie pizzas, quesadillas, guacamole, tortilla chips, sandwiches, fruit salad, American-style magwinya, and cake! Of course, we taste-tested during the cooking process and knew that we were on the right track! Delish! Cheese is a rarity in Botswana (despite all the cows here) so this was a special treat for all of us.

Once everything was ready, Kesaobaka, his friends, the rest of my host family, some relatives and their children, a bunch of visitors, and seven trainees joined us in the main house. After singing the "Happy Birthday" song, Kesaobaka made a speech where he thanked me for having a party in his honor and said he was eternally grateful for everyone showing up for him. It was soooo sweet. And then we all chowed down! (Note: my host mom is obsessed with guacamole now and wants me to teach her how to make it. You're welcome to the Bots 12 group or whomever gets my family as a host in the future!) Music blared and, under the commandment of my host mother ("Are you full? If you're full then you must dance!") started bustin' a move around the house! At the same time, the kids all started playing don't-let-the-balloon-hit-the-ground in the adjoining room! Laughter filled the entire house! My host brother was constantly thanking me and saying how he was so happy because he had never had a celebration dedicated to him before. It was amazing! I then gave my host brother a friendship bracelet that I made him as a birthday present that was half American flag colors and the other half the Botswana flag. He put it on immediately and gave me a big hug! More amazingness!

But nothing could have prepared me for later in the night... After all was settled down and I had finished cleaning up, my family gathered around the television to watch My Star (Botswana's version of American Idol). At a lull in the show, my host mom came over to me and said that she wanted to thank me for the day. She said that I had taught her a lot that day, mostly that it is possible to make a day special and memorable for someone even if you don't have a lot of money. She said that she never knew the importance of a day like this for someone before and that I shared that with her. She thanked me again and smiled at me a great big smile. I teared up. Wow. I was taken aback by it and truly awed. Compliments are not common in Botswana and I felt like this was the epitome. Here I was just wanting to do something nice for someone and have a little shindig and it turned into something so much more meaningful and powerful than that. It was truly a special day for all of us and I am so happy that I could have that experience.


  1. AWWWWW this makes me SO happy! Tija, you rock! I'm happy that he was SO happy and excited. That's awesome!!!!

  2. Soooo Sweet! I'm all teary! Way to share the joy Tija!!!

  3. Amazing! Everything looked fantastic, especially the smile on your brother's face! I will share this with the kids tomorrow! You are beyond the best!

  4. Did you make that birthday cake your brother is holding? Wow, that looks like it came off the shelves of Just've become quite the chef!!