Because it’s hard to keep track of time here– what the hour is, what the day is, what the month is– my birthday might have gone by entirely without my having noticed it. Cambodians, for their part, do not celebrate birthdays. I’m told that this has to do with money; maybe it’s the bad influence of the “West”, but birthdays are equated with lots of presents, and parties, and going out for dinner or drinking. One of my brothers told me he doesn’t even know the birthdates of his friends, let alone tell them “happy birthday” the day of.
And in spite of all this normal birthday negligence, my host family threw me a birthday party! My host siblings, their parents, a few cousins, and the kids were all there. After dinner was cleaned up, my brother led me into the kitchen where all the lights were off and I saw the rest of the family huddled around something glowing. When they turned around, I saw it was a birthday cake! A very beautiful cake, I might add, with flowers and leaves and a colourful message wishing me a happy birthday. They all sang to me (in English)– those of you who know me well know that my usual birthday request is ‘no singing’, but I loved their botched Cambodian version– and then they had me cut the cake up into enormous pieces, which we ate ’til we were sick. My sister and my cousin also gave me a couple of presents, a diary and a souvenier that was a towel wrapped up like a miniature cake (don’t ask me; I like it, it’s cute). And my sister’s mom gave me a t-shirt, classic Cambodian: pink with “VOLVO Club” in big letters on the front, covered in tiny rhinestones. Now I am truly enculturated.
Almost three weeks later, I got my birthday mail! It was really wonderful and a little sad all at once; it made me feel very spoiled but it was also nice to know that people are thinking of me back home. I am definitely thinking about you guys! (Believe me, there’s lots of time to think here.) Plus reading all the letters and cards and opening the presents was just plain fun. The cool thing about getting my mail so late in the month was that it made October feel like a “birthday month”– thank you for that!
And, thanks of course to my host family for making it a great 24th birthday. ^_^