Remember the parties you had when you were a kid? Imagine being a girl here in a village in Burkina Faso on your 9th birthday. There is what it would have been like. When you get home from school at 5:30, some of the neighborhood kids are already there, waiting for you. While you go into the house to wash and put on your party clothes, they sit quietly on a bench, waiting (something African kids do amazingly well).
Your best friend goes into the house with you and puts on the clothes you wore to school, because they are prettier than what she was wearing. When you have on your party dress, your adopted “extra grandma,” the Peace Corps Volunteer, takes your picture.
Your mom has brought the tables and adult chairs out onto the porch and put on the nice table cloths. There is a big plate of the kind of shrimp chips we get in Chinese restaurants as appetizers that your mother made. She gets a package of little disks at the boutique and drops them into hot oil. They expand and get crispy as they cook.
After a while your father rides into the courtyard with a bag of things from town. He went to look for candles and something for the adult guests to drink. Your mom and big cousin, who is living with you so she can attend the Lycée, put each candle on a little piece of cardboard to make it stand up and to catch the wax. Your mom puts a big thermal insulated bowl and a couple of metal cooking pots on the table, along with a few plates and silverware for any adult guests who might want to use them, and dinner is ready. You look at the table with your nine candles spread all around and wonder how you are going to blow them out.
Fortunately your mom and dad are joking with you, and they gather them together so you have a chance to blow them all out at once. A few people try to sing “Joyeux Anniversaire” (AKA Happy Birthday to You) but they do not seem to know the tune. You try to blow out the candles, and, success! Maybe your wish will come true.
Your mom spreads a mat on the porch for the kids to eat on and reminds you all that you need to wash your hands. While everyone is running to the water buckets, Mom gets a big bowl of spaghetti ready putting sauce on the top. When everyone is gathered around the bowl, you all dig in, eating only with your right hands, of course. It is hard for you American friend to believe how quiet and cooperative all the kids are. She takes their picture, too.
While you all are eating, the adults are served on plates at the table, and they even get pieces of fish on top of their spaghetti and sauce. Unlike a birthday party for kids in the US, there are no party games, and no favors to take home, although Mom does package up some of the shrimp chips or spaghetti and sauce to send home with some of the kids. There are no presents from your friends and no birthday cake, although your neighbor baked something chocolate, called brownies, in her Dutch Oven. They were yummy! Quite a different experience.