It was my birthday and I tried to keep it a complete secret. It didn't work. Thanks, Facebook.Siku yangu ya kuzaliwa literally translates to Day my of to be born, or "My Birthday." I enjoyed my birthday this week but instead of over-the-top celebrations, it was a bit different this year. All but one or two of the kids who live at the Keumbu Rehema Childrens Home don’t know what year they were born or their age, let alone the date of their birth. While we make such a big deal about birthdays in America, I felt out-of-place to celebrate mine here. Most of the former street children have adopted June 26th as their “birthday,” as that is the date they were rescued from the street and brought home. It is also the day we have a big party to celebrate their many accomplishments.
As I said, my plan did not work. Somehow, word got out and everyone (but me) agreed something had to be done. November 4th also happened to be Mirna's last night after volunteering with Arrive for almost two months , as she left for America the following day. In celebration of my birthday and her amazing stay, we held a small but meaningful party with all of the kids that included sodas (a treat) to drink, beef (a delicacy) for dinner, and cake (African style) for desert. Did you know that in traditional Kisii culture, it is the responsibility of the person celebrating his/her birthday to give gifts to all of his/her friends? Completely opposite of American tradition!
But not making a large deal of my birthday doesn’t mean I didn’t receive gifts. I received two amazing gifts - the first I gave myself and the second was given to me like it is given to you and everyone else in the world.
For my birthday I embraced my inner child, the one who built “couch forts” with walls of cushions and a roof of assorted blankets, and built myself a fort. I know it doesn’t look like much, but that’s exactly how I wanted it to be – almost hidden; without looking for it, you may not know it's there. It reminds me of those small secret spots on every snow-covered mountain just off the groomed trails that every local skier knows about but are kept secret to the rest of the world. Even though the fort appears small, believe me when I say it was quite the challenge to build! First I found the perfect location – a small area in the shade hidden between two guava trees. I then collected as many sticks and branches I could find to build a small wall around the area. To ensure the safety of people inside, I decided to then use thorn branches as well. Unfortunately, the sharpest thorns, which are more like small curved blades, can only be found on a specific type of indigenous bush.
I had to search and locate these bushes, cut the branches with my machete, and carry these branches with what felt like shark teeth attached back to my fort. This was by far the hardest part – carrying the razor-sharp thorns hundreds of yards to be used for walls. I had so many cuts on my hands, arms, and legs that I basically took a bath in hydrogen peroxide every night to avoid infections! It was worth it though – the razor thorns keep out any wild animals that may want to enter into the fort and therefore keep everyone inside safe. I then set up a hammock which was donated by an Arrive volunteer, put inside a beautiful handmade chair which I bought for USD $2, and built a small wooden door to fit in the natural “V” of the guava tree. The total price of the fort was 167 thorns I needed to remove from my skin and $2.30 - an extra $0.30 as I needed to buy the door hinges and nails.
Now complete, the door is the only entrance and exit, everyone inside is ensured of their safety from wild animals, and the fort can fit upwards of four people between the hammock, the chair, and the grassy area inside. It has become an ideal spot to relax and escape from the scorching African sun, get lost in a book, or just take a nap; but if it rains, everyone runs for cover! While usually I am the only inhabitant, I have seen many of the children go there alone with homework and textbooks to study. I as well have seen groups of four or five children go to hang out - two in the hammock, one in the chair, and two in the trees. Guava season is in full swing so the kids climb the tree, pick ‘em while they’re ripe, relax, and eat fresh fruit in the branches above the hammock.
The second gift is one that we all share. Vicki, the woman from England whom I referenced two posts back, recently reminded me of the importance of this gift. She shared a quote on Facebook which I will share here. It was, is, and will be my second birthday gift. “Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course? Each of us has such a bank. Its name is time. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off as a lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to a good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no over draft. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no drawing against “tomorrow.” You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success. The clock is running. Make the most of today.”
It didn’t matter that there was no huge celebration. I dedicated my 24th birthday to reflection and relaxation, making the most of that day, and pledging to make the most of my days to come. Maybe it is assumed, but I spent most of my birthday in, where else, my fort.