El Cumpleaños en Tarija

I feel just the same way!

     February 26, the day of my birthday. For a long time I haven’t really celebrated my birthday.  Just a dinner with a few friends, and my mother would cook something special in the weekend. That was it. Always we had an exam period in the beginning of March, and had been busy preparing for it.  Never had I really been in a mood to celebrate.

     This year I had no idea what my birthday would be like, but kind of knew that it would be a special one. I spent my birthday away from Japan twice in my childhood in the States and 3 times in Canada or Mexico. Every each of them was very unique because of the cultural difference. In the States, it was the day I felt very special about myself and was the highlight of my golden days. In the morning I received a present from my parents, and my mother would bake a small cake for each of my classmates. I got lots of cards and small gifts during a party in the classroom. In the afternoon some of my best friends came over to the house with their parents. We went playing in the snow or skating on the pond behind our house. When the cold got unbearable, we went back to the house where all the parents were drinking and chatting, warmed up ourselves in front of the fireplace, had a cup of hot tea and a birthday cake, and opened presents. The birthday in Canada was the first time I ever hosted a party in my house, and that in Mexico was the only time my friends hold a surprise party for me.

     On the morning of 25th, my colleagues started talking secretly behind me. I knew what was going on since we did the same thing to my counterpart Ilsen 3 months ago and was asked the day before if I would be in the office in the morning. But I just kept pretending not realizing anything. At 10:30, all the colleagues gathered around the table and I was called. The “Saice”, typical dish of Tarija, was prepared on the table. The oldest colleague, Nora who is always making jokes and fooling around, made a small speech for me, and in a minute we were busily moving our mouth. The Saice, a spicy minced meat with pasta and dried potatoes was one of my favorite dishes and was really good. Afterwards everybody came to hug me and wished me for a good year.

     In the afternoon on that day I got a call from Gabriel, a family we got to know a while ago who had lived in Japan for 5 years. He asked if I would be busy on Saturday. He wanted to hold a birthday party for me. I said I had another plan, a little confused and overwhelmed. He said no problem, telling me we could do it on Sunday or the next weekend. And then on our way back home my counterpart Ilsen invited me for lunch on Saturday to celebrate my birthday. Again, confused and overwhelmed, I had to tell I had another appointment. I am still not very much used to Chapaco’s ways of making plans in a very last minute.

     A week ago, when I was visiting my friend Mauricio, he invited me to come to see his friends from France in the weekend. When he said February 26, the word slipped out of my mouth without thinking, and I was telling him it’s my birthday. I felt ashamed afterwards. He was surprised and then happily told me we could have a welcome party for his French friends, farewell party for an American couple, and a birthday party for me altogether. That was a nice idea. The decision was made and I was going to spend my birthday at Mauricio’s. I kind of liked the idea because the Mauricio’s house was where I met David, and got to know Jeni, and could socialize with other travelers all over the world. It was also nice that the party was not all for me, and everybody had a reason to make this day special.

     In the morning of 26, I woke up around 5:30. The sky was pinkish ready to start a new day. I went out into the fresh air to join my first class of yoga in Bolivia with Jeni. It was a wonderful way to start a day. The yoga class lasted 90 minutes, and was refreshing and relaxing. After the class we went to the Mercado central to have a breakfast of pastel and a cup of mate. Then we parted, and I went back home to take a shower. Olga was there waiting for me. She hugged me warmly, and gave me a beautiful pairs of pendant and earrings. We had a coffee and small cookies made of yucca as my second breakfast, which her sister had sent from Beni.

     At 11, Jeni came to pick me up to see the warms which I have been raising for more than 2 months to use in my project.  Olga always teases me by calling them “your daughters”.  I think my daughters are quite happy since they are much bigger and started laying what look like eggs.  We walked to Marucio’s place, talking about our new experience in the day of ComPadre.

     When we got to Mauricio’s, there was nobody except Mauricio. The American couple, Rachel and Nick was gone to buy meat and use the Internet.   We greeted and Mauricio said, "Happy birthday".  We had a cup of coffee, my second for a day, but this time not an instant Nescafe which is commonly used in Bolivia, but a real coffee made with Italian coffee maker which Mauricio brought from Italy. While Jeni was doing her laundry, I read a book. I felt so relaxed and sleepy, and eventually dozed off a bit. French couple, Helene and Nicolas, came but left to find out the party was not ready to start. It happened that friends of Mauricio who supposed to arrive on lunch time was late because of the delay of the plane, so we decided to have a quick lunch, a pasta with a tomato sauce. Rachel and Nick came back, and Mauricio left to pick up his friends and to buy some more meat. While Jeni was clearing the place to do a parillada, a barbecue, I made a salad. And then we went out to buy some bottles of wine. Helene and Nicolas arrived with more wine, and we started drinking and chatting.

     At around 4 o’clock, friends of Mauricio arrived. Mauricio, looking very happy, introduced them to everybody and started to prepare the meat and my favorite chorizo. Both the meat and chorizo were really good.  I ate too much as usual and could barely move. The common language at the table was Spanish, but there were French and English, too. I often got confused which language I was using; English or Spanish. Of course, French was out of question.

    When everybody finished eating, I started to prepare for a tea ceremony which Mauricio had been asking to do for a long time. I told them before the tea they had to eat something sweet, and when I turned around there were a cake of zucchini bathed with chocolate and peanut butter cookies which Rachel and Nick made. Everybody said, "Happy birthday", and I felt a bit shy but very very happy. Then first to Mauricio I made a tea in a simplified version of Ryakubon, a simplest version of the tea ceremony, followed by his friends Cecil and her husband, Lionel. I told them how to drink and what to say before drinking. A French guy Nicolas who told me he has been practicing Jyujyutu (shamefully I was not quite sure what it was exactly), was very much interested in the philosophy behind the tea ceremony, so I told him a brief history and the meaning. Doing and talking about tea ceremony made me miss the meditative moments I had at my teacher’s house in Kyoto practicing the tea ceremony.

     So my birthday turned out to be really nice and special. David called just before I started a tea ceremony when I was waiting for the water to be boiled, and some friends called, too, including my new friend, Durvyn. I liked the warm atmosphere of the place that people talking here and there. The American, Nick, who does not like a big group of people according to Rachel, was coming and going, and I, who can hardly mange a group of more than 5 people and often feel awkward, saw it favorably. People have their ways to enjoy their time even in a public environment, and I am slowly beginning to realize it. I began to accept myself who usually got very reserved in a group, and laern to enjoy and feel at home just being in a group listening to people talking.

     It was quite late when I made a last tea for a friend of Mauricio, Claudia. She asked me how old I have become, and when I told her, she was almost falling off the chair. I was by now quite used to the Bolivian's reactions when they knew my age, and could casually tell that I knew she was surprised and that when I went to school, the students saw me as the same age as them. I always looked younger than my actual age even in Japan and secretly felt happy about it, but here in Bolivia it was just too much.  Not liking to see their surprised reaction I have often lied my age. I know I look young mostly because of my face, which is a heredity (all of my relatives look comparatively young for their age), but sometimes I can not help thinking that it is probably because I have not achieved anything which I should have at my age.  However, I knew deep in my heart it was just a stupid idea.  The most important is my attitude toward life: I love what I'm doing, I have an interest in the world, I'm learning to accept any kind of change, and I have a hope for the future.  Claudia happened to be working in PROMETA, a NGO which I have once visited soon after my arrival to Tarija looking for information and the opportunity to collaborate. We promised to get in contact.

     I got home about 10:00, feeling tired but happy. Olga was waiting for me and told me to have lunch at home tomorrow since Elvira and her husband Wolfgang would come with their daughter Carina who is almost at the same age of me. Miguel came to say "Happy birthday" as well , and told me Maria Lilia was looking for me to give a present and would come tomorrow for the lunch.

     The next morning, I went to the Mercado central again to have breakfast with Jeni, Rachel and Nick. We had two pastels and one Sopaipilla, a deep fried pastel with honey, along with a cup of coffee and mate. Rachel and Nick were leaving to Salta afterwards, and I asked them to let me know how much time and money they needed to get there.  I wanted the information for my trip to Argentina to meet my brother. After the breakfast, I went to café Nougat to use the Internet with my computer. Since the American who used to live upstairs left, I did not have the Internet at home. Some friends sent me birthday messages, and it was nice to read them. Luckily my mother was awake and we could enjoy talking for about an hour. March 1 is her birthday, and we used to celebrate our birthdays together. We talked about how we are, how I spent my birthday, if she got my present, if I got her present (I have to go to the post office to see if it arrived!), how my brother and I are planning our trip to Argentina, what was happening in Egypt and Libya, and in China influenced by them… I went back home satisfied, to be ready for my second birthday party. It was a great weekend; one of the most memorable and relaxing birthday in my life.