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Butare Birthday Party

We’re back in Butare. Last night we got the rare opportunity to visit the home of one of the students we’ve been spending time with. It was her 20th birthday.

We drove a short distance out of downtown Butare to a suburb called Tumba. The sun had set and except for dimly lit storefronts the space around us was devoid of light. We bumped along an eroded road and pulled up at the birthday party house. We entered at a bamboo gate and walked down a short dirt path to the porch and into a concrete L-shaped room lined with benches and couches where party guests sat as if shy 7th graders at a dance – looking straight ahead and not talking. We were greeted at the door by a beautifully regal woman in a pink and white traditional dress and were ushered to available seats on a couch in a corner.

For a few minutes we sat quietly exchanging a few words in kinyarwanda with the other guests. A little boy came over and showed me that by folding his foldy-cube toy he could display a variety of bible scenes. A young man and woman came around with a wooden crate filled with glass bottles of Fanta and Coke for us.

Apparently, they were waiting for our arrival because shortly after we sat down, the birthday girl's mother stood up and welcomed everyone, taking time to introduce each group and asking them to stand. There were church friends, neighbors, family and members of Rwanda for Jesus. We were introduced as the Americans.

A student translated for me as the introduction led into an expressive recount of the day that her daughter was born 20 years ago. It was really moving and clear what pride and love this mother has for her daughter -- and so wonderful to have the stories told reflect what we were in fact there to celebrate: the story of a person's arrival in the world.

Then big plates heaped with food were brought out -- a real feast of cassava leaves (which tastes a lot like sag paneer), fried irish potatoes, buttery rice and stewy beef. Then cubes of birthday cake were passed around in a basket. It all tasted so good.

Singing, clapping, more stories followed and then guests paraded up to present their gifts. Her brother re-gifted a stuffed animal with a missing eye. A fellow student gave a bag of popcorn and a carton of milk. We gave her a bottle of perfume called Passion -- I think the imitation version of CK's Obsession.

It was a real treat of a night.

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