A BBC World Service interview this week got me thinking that, perhaps, I should say something about, “Why I Celebrate Birthdays. The interviewee was a former Somali refugee, resettled to Australia, where she has since campaigned for a seat in the Australian Parliament [If I listened to that correctly.]
In the course of the interview, the interviewee mentioned that on her nineteenth birthday, she found out that the Australian government had granted her resettlement to its country. She was living in a Kenya refugee camp, with her family had lived since fleeing Somalia at the age of twelve.
“I had not celebrated my birthday since fleeing to the camp because I did not have reason to, with my family not well. But that was the best birthday gift,” she said.
Her statement made perfect sense to me, given my attachment to celebrating Child of Mine’s and my birthday! Regardless of what others may say to me or think about birthdays, I will continue to celebrate our birthdays. I treat each birthday, as a very significant milestone in our lives. Plus, it is a memorable tradition I carry from my childhood, and a family tradition.
“Why do I care to explain,” you may ask?
Because within Child of Mine’s family, are religious opinions that, “Birthdays are pagan celebrations”. Recall, I have said before that, I do not pre-empt discussions about religion or politics with family. I stray very far away, to avoid antagonizing any souls, especially on subjects often very passionately, very dogmatically adhered to by the followers.
I will discuss or comment on politics and religion to “The World”, that is people within my social network, whom I do not share very close personal relationships. Folks, I am not exactly concerned would explode into eternally wounded hearts, if we were to disagree. I am comfortable on platforms, where I believe are for intellectual public discussions and interrogation of our differences and different understandings of social life, not personal attacks.
Still, I pride myself as tolerant of differences, never to dictate to others their ways of life, nor speak ill of their life choices and dogmas. I will raise concern and disagreement, but never to do harm to anybody! I am not religious, but I have family and friends across the religious divide – Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, Muslim, Seventhly Adventist, Mormon, Mennonite, and plenty more religions. Religious tolerance is not a cliché in my life; it is a way of life. After all, we are all humans first!
So, I take offense to anyone trying to dissuade me from celebrating a birthday using, “Because it is evil!” I do not speak ill about your religious practices, regardless of my views on religion, and I would expect the same respect. Anyway, no arrows from here, but let me give a little insight into why others, like me celebrate birthdays, and will keep doing so.
For the Somali refugee on BBC, she left behind a lavish middle class family background in Somalia, when she fled to a life of living displaced, desperate and disposable in a refugee camp in Kenya. Thus, her nineteenth birthday gave her an insurmountable reason to celebrate, yet again!
In her words, she had not celebrate since she left Mogadishu at twelve years of age! Her father and brother were shot and killed in front of her mother and herself. Her family had been involved in a life-threatening accident while in the refugee camp, and had remained terribly sick; conditions had never been the same again. In fact, she turned down a scholarship opportunity to study in Canada, deciding against leaving her family without a caretaker.
So, a resettlement opportunity to Australia, to start life anew was more than enough reason to celebrate her nineteenth birthday; as a promise of living life anew and rebuilding hers and that of her family. And to smile again, in safety, away from the fear of rape and physical violence that characterize life within the refugee camp.
I am also reminded that, where I am from, children are not guaranteed to live beyond their fifth birthday. For instance, in my country of origin Uganda, under-five childhood mortality, the number of children who do not live to their fifth birthday, is 69 out of 1,000 live births. And with life expectancy at birth at 59 years, these are more than justifiable reason to celebrate every year beyond the fifth birthday, and every year beyond 59 years of age.
Perhaps more personal to me, celebrating birthdays was a significant part of my family tradition, growing up. Even if we ate popcorn and black tea, we still celebrated each and everyone’s birthday in my family. Only my father did not know his exact birthday, but guesstimated from his mother’s death.
My paternal grandmother died when my father was still breastfeeding. Nor did his father keep an exact record of his birthday. Popsy finally settled for one date December 12, he would get rather excited, order whatever anyone wanted, and made all us danced the night away on our living room floor! We partied! We enjoyed each other!
All the many ways why I love celebrating birthdays, believe in the social value of celebrating birthdays, and as I have said, will continue, until child of mine says, No More!