It must have been late last year when I asked Amadou for his birthday. He had murmured a bit, not mentioning a particular date, stating that birthdays are for the rich only. I had respected his choice of not giving the date and had only written down the year of his birth in my file.
Many Malians do not attach great value to birthdays. The older ones may not even know the exact date or year, for others it’s a day like all other days. Celebrating the birth and life of people pretty much comes to an end once the baptism ceremony is over.
Imagining life in previous times, regulated by sun, moon and seasons – as it is still today for many Malians – working hard, little income and large families, I do understand that birthdays are not of the highest importance and dates may also often be forgotten.
Whether it’s April 4th or July 1st is of minor importance compared to the necessities of life.
My birthday went by without anyone in Mali paying attention to it, being in The Netherlands at that moment and not being a big fan of birthday parties anyway, I couldn’t really be bothered.
When I found Amadou up early last week with a wide grin on his face, announcing that he would not fast that day, I felt a bit surprised. Ramadan was nearing its end, only a few more days to go and he seemed to be in good health. But, who am I to doubt his decision of taking a day off from fasting? Not being a Muslim myself I saw the sunny side of it: we would be sharing meals that day!
Nevertheless it kept me wondering and all in a sudden I remembered our talk late last year…
‘Amadou’, I said standing in the kitchen doorpost, waiting for his head to turn around, ‘is today your birthday?’
The expression on his face changed rapidly from surprise to happiness and a big smile.
‘Yes, it is’, he said shrugging his shoulders, ‘who told you that?’
He also remembered our talk and that he had stated it being for the rich only. Neither of us can claim to be rich in terms of money in the bank, but I couldn’t think of that being an obstacle to not celebrate his life and being around on Planet Earth for 25 years that day.
I told him of my own youth and that even in the years when money wasn’t abundantly available, we were always given the choice on what we wanted to eat that day. I’m sure my mom added an extra bit of love to those birthday dinners to make them even more special.
His eyes started sparkling and his smile became even bigger.
We had a lovely home cooked late lunch with peintard (a kind of bird the size of a small turkey) and spaghetti. A soft drink on the side and a Malian tea afterwards.
Birthdays may be for the rich, but even a true Malian like Amadou appreciates and enjoys an extra bit of attention and his life being celebrated!