I managed to escape Juba where birthday tradition dictates that you get doused with water at some unsuspecting point during your day and thought I would keep things mum in Kodok to avoid any other unusual birthday traditions. This plan went well until I spoke to my boss by sat phone in the morning.
‘Happy Birthday!’ she announced. ‘How’s it going?’
‘Great!’ I replied. ‘Got a couple of e-mails and have a series of meetings. You know, work and stuff. It’s good.’
She turned serious. ‘Have you told the team?’ Geez, she made it sound like I was dying.
‘Ummm, no.’ There was a pause and I knew what was coming – either I told the team or she would. ‘I’ll tell them tonight,’ I said.
So, as we gathered around in the evening I told everyone that it is my birthday. They all congratulated me and then proceeded to shuffle around mysteriously.
Right before dinner, our health coordinator starting fussing around the table. She put down a lace cloth, started stacking biscuits on a tray and found a big candle to put in the middle, she poured orange soda into enough glasses for us all. They sang 'happy birthday' and then gave me one of the traditional cloths the women wear over their clothes, some gum, and a bar a chocolate.
And the funny thing about the celebration was that I realised how much doesn’t really matter. All the stuff – the nice restaurant, good wine, having your best friends around – sure all those things are nice but sometimes you can be out in the middle of nowhere with perfect strangers, a plate of biscuits, a candle, some orange soda and it’s still special. The important thing is that we are alive, that we have something to celebrate, and we have people to celebrate it with.