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!
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.
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.