About a month ago I decided that I would throw myself an American-style birthday party at my host family’s compound. Since tacos are becoming more American by the minute and since tacos are doable when your kitchen is a gas tank, I chose them for the menu. Thanks to my parents and the postal services of the US and Senegal, I was also able to serve some Duncan Heinz cake, complete with frosting and candles.
My friend Connor helped me with the preparations and decided that he would refry some beans to make the meal even more authentic. I even bought cheese, many of the people who attended had never eaten cheese before, and my host mother was shocked at how much I paid for it. We got my host fam to help out with cutting up the veggies but with minutes to go in the food prep, the rain started. We moved indoors and it turned from the fiesta I had planned into some sort of strange half-breed when Senegalese fete forces took over. I wanted everyone to serve themselves – mostly because I knew not many would want all the veggies on their taco, but the women went into serve mode and started making tacos for everyone. They were enjoyed for the most part, I heard lots of “Neex na’s” – it’s delicious, but what everyone really liked was the cake.
After cake, several totally unexpected presents appeared. I really should’ve said no presents but I guess I didn’t think I had to. After the photographer showed up, each person took turns handing me their present and posing for photos – I now have each photo in an album to prove it. On a side-note the photography here tends to have sort of a strange tint to it so that dark skin looks less dark. Because of this, my skin, which is quite tan for me, looks like I just finished a nice Wisconsin winter. I’m sure if I really wasn’t tan I’d look sheet white in the photos. I didn’t open the presents right away, as I learned from Maguette’s birthday party. Since the rain had now stopped, that was a good time for the American music that I had planned for the kids to dance to. I played my totally random mix that included Dixie Chicks, U2, Thievery Corporation, etc. The kids started out enthusiastic enough but were soon asking for Senegalese music. This is when I put to use my new-found talent of Senegalese-style refusing, or ‘ma buñ!’ Senegalese toddlers get a lot of use out of this one and along with saying ‘ma buñ!’ there is this sort of half chicken wing flap(just the down motion) that one does with one’s arm or arms. Along with that I said, “this is my birthday, I refuse to play Senegalese music!” Though in the end I gave in and played a little.
My presents ended up including fabric – a great gift since clothes are so fun to have made here, pop corn (they call it puff corn here), two second-hand t-shirts – one that used to be my host-bro’s and another XL with a big picture of a deer on it from some place in Tennessee, and three second-hand stuffed animals. So I’m actually still trying to understand the stuffed animals. I turned 27. Here I guess birthday parties are something that only kids do, and also my host dad told me he was trying to find a cat since he won’t allow me to have an actual cat, he gave me a small stuffed tiger.
Even with the rain, this ended up being one of the best and I’m sure it’ll remain one of my most memorable birthdays.