From ROP Stories
A Birthday in Kigali
Posted on November 15, 2011 by Jonathon
It seems no matter how old you get your birthday is always a day you look forward to. Who among us doesn’t enjoy the extra attention and well wishes from friends and family? The fact that I share the same birthday as my Mother has certainly made the annual event more significant, as for as long as I can remember that day was always spent with Mom and it was something unique which I could claim as “mine” as a child and even into adulthood.
Thus, when October 26, 2011 neared, I found myself contemplating what it might be like, how it may be a lonely day, nothing like birthdays back home. I wondered how I might celebrate this day being so far from home, so far from my friends and family. I began to feel a bit blue about the day. Naturally, being in Rwanda for almost 3 months brings with it at times its own longing for familiar places and faces. The birthday only exacerbated that longing.
That morning, I set off to the Centre for what I expected to be a usual day – conferring with Elisabeth and Jean D’Amour on things related to the boys, talking with some of the older boys about their upcoming national exams and helping them sort through some of their feelings and anxiety over reintegrating into society after the holiday season. Around lunchtime, Sean called me and asked me if I’d like to go to lunch at a local buffet we sometimes frequent in nearby Kanombe. I accepted and we set off down the long dirt road to the restaurant, completely unassuming.
We returned to the Center near 1:30pm and were informed that as the school year had ended, there was a small ceremony to celebrate in the dining hall. As Sean and I approached, I saw a large group of the boys lined up in standard fashion on their seats, all facing a row of chairs filled with the staff of the ROP. As I entered the building, Elisabeth and Louise (one of the caretakers) greeted me by dousing me in two large pitchers of water, to which the boys cheered and began to sing “Happy Birthday” – first in English, then in Kinyarwanda. They had managed to pull off the ultimate surprise party.
Celestin and Jean de Dieu, the director and supervisor at ROP, then began to speak. They spoke of how today was a special day for me, and thanked me for giving of my time and efforts to help the Center and the boys. From there, a group of 6 of the older boys, members of the ROP’s dance troupe, put on a choreographed dance for me – an impressive one at that!
I was then asked to speak – something which is not uncommon in Rwandan culture. Not being a very natural public speaker, I was immediately nervous. I tried to explain to the boys that back home a birthday is a very significant day, one which is usually spent surrounded by family and friends. I discussed how as my birthday neared, I was feeling a general sense of apathy as I was convinced the day would pass without much notice. I then explained to them that even in my short time here in Rwanda, the ROP family has indeed welcomed me into their own, and I felt loved and very grateful for their inviting spirit and generous hospitality. Indeed, in that moment, I realized how much I have grown to love the ROP family, of which I hope to be considered a part of.
I was then presented with a plate of biscuits and hard candies and invited to serve the staff of the Center. When I finished serving the staff, I was told that everything left on the plate was for me – it was my special day and I was to enjoy it. The expense of something so simple as biscuits and hard candy is something that the ROP can’t expend on everyone, and the gesture was a bit overwhelming. Candies were provided for each of the boys, as Louise and Elisabeth approached me with 3 simple candles on a plate, upon which I was to make the traditional birthday wish before blowing them out.
Read entire story at ROP Stories
If you’d like to find out more about the Rwandan Orphan’s Project, go to Rwandan Orphan’s Project.