I attended quite the birthday recently. It was the 50th birthday of one of our drivers, Alex. Most birthdays in Ghana seem to come and go without much to-do, so I was surprised to receive an invitation to a birthday party.
I should have known better than to arrive on time, but I did anyways. You would think I would learn such things after a year here. 6:30pm on Saturday. The music blared over the empty courtyard set with plastic chairs and a decorated table full of fake flowers, glasses, and cake. I waited outside the courtyard making small talk with teachers and staff members who also were somewhat early. One particular teacher seemed to be assigned as the MC for the evening. Turns out my name was on the list of mentionable people in attendance. I was a bit caught off guard, because how did they know I was coming anyways? I didn’t think much of it, until the party was in full swing and I heard my name being announced. Of course, the party did not get rolling until after 7:30pm.
As it turns out, Ghanaian birthday parties are much like other ceremonies, in that they come with a full set of chairpersons for the event. After a brief introduction the party, the MC announced the particular individuals who would occupy the high table. Our chair person for the event was the director's wife, and I was among of the assistants. All of this was going on in Twi, so when the announcer switched to English I was surprised to suddenly hear my name. I was introduced and asked to come and sit at the "high table." The table situated at the front of the crowd laden with decorations, treats, and drinks. I felt a bit awkward, especially since the birthday boy (man) himself was not even seated at the table, and nor were any of his family members. The rest of the program proceeded on in Twi (the local language) and I sat and pretended as if I could understand (while stifling yawns threatening to offend). The MC continued on with the evening's program of tributes, dances, songs, etc. At one point I was called away from the table to join in the dancing. Now, despite the fact that I have been here more than a year, I have not yet perfected my Ghanaian dance moves. I think I managed to spare some dignity despite my haphazard rhythm. We were served drinks, and a small plate of snacks (made from scratch by his wife).
Birthday gifts were presented in political fashion, accepted with a handshake and photograph as if they were national presidents signing a treaty. We then "assisted" in cutting the cake, of which we were served larger slices than the rest of the party guests who only received a small bite. Then a birthday quiche was cut, and again the portions were in our favor. Finally, we received our party favor. The goody bag. Literally. Inside the bag was a plastic bowl. To top it all off, inside the bowl was a bag of meat. Cooked chicken pieces to be exact. This is considered quite the gift. I couldn't suppress the smile that threatened to appear as I discovered my party favors. It was the perfect finale to the most unique and exciting birthday party I have ever attended. I am considering instituting the tradition of having a chairman and chair people to assist at my next birthday party. After all, 25 will be a big year too right?