Last year on my 19th birthday, I had no idea that I would be celebrating my next birthday in Rwanda. Studying abroad here wasn’t even a thought in my head. Now, one month since arriving, I have celebrated my 20th birthday in the Land of a Thousand Hills. The greatest gift that my birthday gave me this year was an understanding that no matter where I am, I will be loved. Feeling such love from family and friends in the states, friends in Rwanda, and even friends elsewhere in the world was a magnificent way to spend my birthday. Facebook was a great way for my friends back at home to send their witty remarks on my birthday and for my friends studying abroad to do the same, and in one case send a birthday message from the top of the Eiffel Tower (thanks Elena). As for my friends here in Rwanda, they outdid themselves with an attempt to surprise me in the morning at school. The surprise could have been more successful if they hadn’t opened the bathroom door and revealed themselves standing in there with balloons in hand before they were ready, but I appreciated it nonetheless. Isn’t it great that no matter where you go there are caring, thoughtful people? At lunch at an amazing restaurant in Kigali, the SIT staff bought me a cake and I got “Happy Birthday” sung to me (my friends sang “Isabukuriunziza” earlier that day in Kinyarwanda class). When I was home from class that night, the well wishes from my family put a great end to a great day.
In addition to my wonderful birthday, I also got to experience a wedding the Rwandan way. My father’s cousin (my siblings still call him Uncle) was getting married yesterday. Weddings in Rwanda are much more than the ceremony that day and include seven important events. Among them are the engagement party, introduction (where dowry of 4-8 cows is paid from the man’s family to the woman’s), church ceremony, reception, and the day after (I don’t really know what this is called and my father had a hard time translating the idea to English but essentially it takes place the day after the first night together for the families to make sure everything is a-okay in the love-making department). Yesterday, was the ceremony and reception. The Christian ceremony was, for the most part, in English and was almost identical to the ceremonies I have attended in the United States. The reception on the other hand was almost entirely new to me. It began as most do, waiting for the wedding party, but then traditional Rwandan performers came into the large, beautifully lit tent filled with hundreds of guests, and performed traditional dances. The drumming was fascinating and the dancing was amazing to watch. Many of the dances revolve around the “Inyambo” or traditional Rwandan long-horned cow. After the music, toasts began from the families of the bride and groom, however the toasts seemed to never stop. Different groups of family are called before the couple to share words of well-wishes and bear gifts. We even ate during what I will call halftime of the toasts and gifts. In the end, the reception lasted for over five hours and with all of it being in Kinyarwanda, it was hard to understand what was going on but it was an experience I couldn’t have had elsewhere. While many of the guests left after the conclusion of the reception, my parents and I and many others stayed and danced the night away. It was a long day but was a great cultural experience. I hope to get my hands on some pictures soon.