The other night, I was invited to attend Joana’s 10th birthday party. I had never been to a Mozambican party before, so I was excited cause I wanted to see what they’re like. Turns out they aren’t too different from an American birthday party – the tune to happy birthday is the same (just a little slower, in Portuguese, and more clapping on the downbeat) and there are the gifts, dinner, cake, and party favors.
When I arrived, the ten or so little girls were already busy dancing in the living room, which had been decorated with balloons taped to the beams on the ceiling. I stayed outside talking to Joana’s brothers on the veranda until it was time for dinner. Mother and sister served dinner and there was a can of coke for each of the adults and one for the birthday girl.
When it was time for presents, the gifts that the guests brought were white envelopes carrying about 30 to 50 Mozambican meticais each (current exchange rate is 32 meticais per US dollars). For context, the median Mozambican earns about 40 USD per month, although that number is not representative of Tete. We all clapped when each envelope was open and Teresa announced the amounts. Then Joana opened a new shirt from her parents Lastly, she opened a gift from her siblings that turned out to be a new doll.
Haha, there was this noise that Joana made when she saw the doll. It was this “mmm” sound that climbed in pitch and trailed off in volume. In the course of the night, she would periodically go back and check on her new doll, making that same noise each time. It was the same old gift giving you see at every birthday party in the States, but not quite. I am not sure I’ve ever seen gift giving like that. In that moment, I felt years cultural consumerism sloughing off. It was so humble that it was clear it was genuine or maybe even pure. I just couldn’t help but be a little convicted, but mostly I just felt refreshed (is that the word I'm looking for?). It was nice to see.
I hope to remember this for a long time.
P.S. Speaking of birthdays, tomorrow is my brother Ryan's birthday in Hawaii. Happy birthday bro-sef.