Last Friday was my birthday. In rural Burundi, there are no places to buy presents, there are no restaurants to go to for a birthday dinner, and there is no Scotch. So, how does one celebrate a birthday in a place like this? Since we came to Burundi last August, each member of my family has had a birthday here, and so we have learned how to celebrate without all the frills of a typical birthday celebration in the U.S. This is in many ways freeing, and gives people an opportunity to express their creative side. I had a wonderful birthday, and felt greatly loved by my family as well as by the community we are living amongst here in Kibuye. So, how did we celebrate my birthday?
The day started with my usual Friday morning jog with Joel and John. After returning, the kids cooked breakfast for me and gave me their gifts, including home-made cards, crafts and home-baked cookies. Later that day they shared with me the music video they put together to one of my favorite songs. Steph and the kids had a school field trip planned that day, so I thought I would hike up to Kibuye rock to be alone and reflect on my life. However, I have been here long enough to know that there is nowhere in Burundi where you can go for a walk and be alone. So, off I went, and as usual was quickly accompanied by about a dozen Burundian children, who followed me all the way to the rock, and then sat with me, for my entire time on the rock, and then walked all the way back home with me, all the while trying to talk to me in Kirundi. So much for solitude.
That evening we had all the other muzungus over to our house for cake, tea and board games. They gave me cards, a stick of pepperoni, homemade trail mix, and Joel recited a poem that he wrote for me (see below). They also sang for me the birthday dirge, taught to them by Frank Ogden and sung with great morose: “Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Pain and sorrow fill the air, Death and Dying everywhere, Happy Birthday”.
Saturday afternoon, John gave me his gift, my much anticipated “piki” (motorcycle) ride. Much thanks to Jason who let me use his motorcycle. John led me through about 30 minutes of dirt paths to the top of a hill with one of the most spectacular views of Burundi I have seen. It was such a joy and I am pleased to announce that I have since decided to retire from medicine to pursue a career as a motorcyclist.
To finish off the weekend, Heather arranged on Sunday for us all to drive to Mweya, a local town where there is a bible college and a couple who hosted us for the morning. There were 2 visiting pastors (from Washington state!) who led us in an open air church service on top of Mount Hope, and afterward we had a wonderful potluck lunch.
I think I will likely remember this birthday weekend for the rest of my life. And all this took place without expensive gifts or dinners … and somehow without Scotch.
Joel’s birthday poem:
Today’s the day our ode to give
Two score and one is a long time to live
We’ve only know you a few months tis’ true
Bur friends are made quickly in this milieu
Your gentle spirit is evident to all
And among Burundians you sure are tall
Thoughtful and concerned for patients and students
Does that grace extend even to rodents?
When you pray and sing it seems that you know
The One who has called you to step out and go
Despite the risks you’ve brought kids and wife
Choosing Kingdom over the so-called “good life”
The faithful obedience is to me an example
We can trust God’s provision to be more than ample
In this year and in the ones yet ahead
May most of your patients be alive and not dead
May the gases flow freely and the access be easy
May those early morning runs not leave you too wheezy
Keep seeking and serving in this year 41
Happy birthday intern, AKA Greg Sund.
Mweya as seen from Mount Hope.
Shay's birthday card. A few more years in Burundi and I could look like this guy.