Monday, August 24, 2009

Happy yourself, or burn the sea.

You have been warned. The Gulf of Guinea is in danger because merekɛhyew po (I am going to burn the sea).

Reason being, 22nd August was my birthday and all I got were about 4 text messages ( from my little sister, an old friend, my work colleague, a guy I went to kindergarten with in my village school in Aboso, and the man i’m going to marry), 4 phone calls (from my mom, my aunt, 1 friend and the man I’m going to marry), and 5 facebook messages (from 2 people who were reminded by a birthday reminder, a friend who shares my birthday, and one who remembered a day late).

Point being...

I nashed.

Big time.

When I told my little brother, he suggested that if I’m not happy, I should go burn the sea. haha!

Well, I did get 2 gifts. One from the man I’m going to marry. A book titled: Made to Stick. With the following very sweet message: May you always come up with ideas that stick and may some of these ideas change the world. Perfect gift. Very me.

The second gift was from my boss. 3 purses from trashy bags. Again very me. Good choice.

But yeah, that was it...

More reason to burn the sea
So anyway, birthday passed and yesterday, I went to Kokrobite beach with 2 friends. On the way back from kokrobite beach, one of my friends asked me if I’d at least gotten a birthday cake. I said no, and he was surprised. Maybe i should go burn the sea about that too. Lol.

But for real, I’ve never had a birthday party or a party for anything really. Graduations. Church Confirmations. For winning prizes. Nope. Never had a cake either. All reasons to burn the sea, I guess. But growing up, there were people who had parties and I guess I just accepted that I wasn’t one of them. It always seemed to me like the people who didn’t have parties were more than those who did, anyway. I mean wasn’t it kind of a big deal if someone brought a birthday cake to school? Well, maybe not if you went to a dadabee school, but does the ordinary Ghanaian on the street celebrate birthdays much? I don’t think so. It’s not really our thing.

Reasons others might want to burn the sea
I know my uncle once had a girlfriend who complained because he never remembered her birthday. I guess she was pissed a lot. Someone should have told her to burn the sea. Lol. I know about it because my uncle felt bad, and told me about it. He reasoned that he himself had never had fuss made over his birthday, and that there had even been times when he had forgotten his own birthday so really, it’s not like he doesn’t care about you because he forgot your birthday. It’s just that he hasn’t been conditioned to think it’s a big deal and so as his girlfriend you need to understand where he’s coming from (the village) and realise it’s not personal, but that it will take him time to learn.

Same for the rest of my extended family. I can’t think of any kind of party we’ve ever had. So if you’re marrying into my family, you should probably not to expect surprise birthday parties. I believe there are many families like this in Ghana who don’t really think too much about birthdays an’ tins.

For example, at the beach yesterday, 17-year old Aryeetey who watched our car does not even know his birthday. He knows he’ll be 18 in September but he doesn’t know the date. The guy feeds himself all week from the 5 cedis he made yesterday. Such a person is definitely not going to be having a celebration when September comes.

I’m not doing as badly as Aryeetey when it comes to money matters. So one would wonder why I still don’t really celebrate the birthday. I could have easily rounded up some friends and paid for dinner at a nice restaurant, so why didn’t I? I think it’s because since I haven’t done it all my life, I don’t see the point now. I think what happens with people like me and Aryeetey is that when you start off, you don’t have it because you can’t afford it. And by the time you reach a point when you can afford it, it’s not part of your way of life, so you never fully appreciate and own that culture.

So I guess if you’re the kind of person who has always had a birthday celebration, you’ll probably wonder what people like me do on our birthdays. I don’t know how other people celebrate it. But personally, in the last few years, I’ve always done something memorable for myself.
• 5 years ago, I bought myself a laptop, on loan
• 4 years ago, I finished paying for that laptop
• 3 years ago, I bought myself a palm pilot. I’d gotten one from my college as a prize when I graduated but it got stolen that same summer at kokrobite beach so on my birthday, I bought myself a new one.
• 2 years ago, I cut off my perm and started wearing my natural hair.
• Last year, my move to Ghana was the big thing for my birthday.
• This year, I paid for my first set of furniture...a lovely couch and dining set, and took out a significant portion of my savings to invest in a business a friend and I are starting.

So I guess I always do significant, growing-up things. But it’s always for myself and so far, has not involved other people. So the biggest, most exciting gift always comes from me. There is always that moment in the day when I sit someplace alone and I feel proud of myself for doing something big. Maybe that’s why I feel the party, the cake and the rest of it does not matter so much. That’s how I spend my birthdays.

What about you? The bigger question is, how do Ghanaians celebrate their birthdays? Do they even celebrate it? It would be interesting to see if the people who read this blog generally have parties like some of my friends or personal celebrations like I do, or just do nothing like my parents.

And to all those who don’t get parties, all I can say is, if no one throws a party for you, you can happy yourself,

Or burn the sea.


  1. loved this blog post, Esi.
    i think i fall under the category of people who do celebrate birthdays with parties and whatnots. my family is always cooking up one thing or the other. half the time, even when you don't mean to do anything, u'll have friends and family coming over on their own accord to wish u a happy birthday, and before u know it, u're having a party!

    while growing up, i was one of the kids who would carry a basket to school on her birthday, give out sweets in class and be the centre of attention in class.

    but as i grew older i preferred the quiet somber moods for my bdays, but thanks to my family, i never get to have that. maybe one day when i'm much older, i'll be like aryeetey or ur uncle who forget their birthday.

    but until then, i'll always have some celebratory event or the other for my bday!!!

  2. Hahaha!

    Esi Cleland nashed. Who would have thought? I am very surprised to hear that Esi, and then I checked your facebook page and your birthday and month is not listed on your page. So your friends probably were not prompted about it. We didn't know! Your wall would have been flooded with wishes.

    I always had parties thrown for me when I was young. Kwatakwata birthday cake. Not always though, but most years.Things changed after I left Ghana. I have had only one cake plus celebration since I turned 18yrs 2007.So the past 10 years have been quiet. Wait, I got a cake 2 years ago, and a small get-together. I promised to treat myself this year, but I haven't had the time. I told myself I would go to a fancy NYC bakery and get me a custom made cake. Lol.

    But before you throw yourself into the sea, here's a big belated happy birthday!

  3. @famosfreddy: i see a case of the grass being greener...see me counting you lucky since some of us have been halla-ing for even one party and we still haven't gotten it yet. And all the while you're also waiting for your fam to stop fussing so you can celebrate it quietly. Let's switch places, shall we?

    @Marian: who would have thought indeed. You know what they say, wo ti pu pu a, wo bi di, ebi a na EyE koobi nkwan. hehe.

    I took off the facebook birthday prompt a few years ago, so it is really only those who know who know. And since then, just as i thought, i hardly get any facebook wishes. Maybe next year.

    I'm about to go throw myself into the sea. aww aww...nobody loves me. hehe.

  4. I had a BIG ASS PARTY when I was 8 and that has been far. My birthday falls during exam week so go figure. I've had my friends and roomates buy me cake before, and my most awesome-est cake was a spongebob cake- cupcakes covered with a butt load of icing made to look like a regular cake. DELICIOUS. Eventhough I was a grown ass woman in college at the time, I think it was the best cake ever! But really, I dont celebrate birthdays. I always buy myself something nice and call it a day.

    PS. Like your uncle, I've forgotten my birthday a few times.

  5. Hmmm, Esi I'm like you. Never had a birthday party, never had a birthday cake, never done any get together/drink up/bbq....nada. (So I don't have any of those childhood pictures where you're in a funny hat, party dress with your friends around a table with a cake, jollof and bottles of coke and fanta!)I get phone calls, text messages and sometimes go out to dinner with family or friends. But its almost always a low key thing where I just make myself happy. So I'm planning to have my FIRST bday party when I'm 30! Wohoo!

  6. Esi,

    I'll share my birthday cake with you; I'm sending you a picture by e-mail.

    I made this cake myself. Because otherwise I wouldn't have had one, poor me. If I feel like it I follow the birthday custom in my home country of Holland where I haven't lived for ages (since I'm married to a globetrotting American.)

    What custom you ask? This: The birthday person buys a cake or small cakes and invites friends and family over for coffee or tea and the said pastries. The guests bring gifts of flowers or whatever they want.

    Other than that, my dh will take me out for a nice dinner and give me a gift if he can think of what ;)

    Happy (belated) birthday to you!

    Miss Footloose
    Tales of the Globetrotting Life

  7. How many people from aboso celebrate birthday. It is not part of their lexicon and will never be part of it.The only time you will hear an aboso man or woman celebrating a birthday means they are in the 70's .So maame esi dont burn the sea. It is part of us

  8. Happy belated birthday.

    Honestly i'm not too sure where i stand. I've had only two parties, one when i turned five ( i have the pictures to prove it lol) and the other in secondary school ( that is if we can call it a party, but we had cake_ gari cake :-))

    Over the years, it's been on the quiet side, text messages, phone calls, a couple of gifts_ oh yeah my brother and his friends ponded me when i turned eighteen, does that count as a party?

    This year,i had drinks with three of my favorite people at "honeysuckle" boyfriend included lol!

  9. I like the fact that in recent years you have celebrated your birthday by buying significant presents for yourself. Growing up my birthday was generally celebrated by a party especially the significant ones, 13, 16, 18 etc...Yes, I am dadaba and proud of it.

    In more recent years I prefer to go away for my birthday. My last birthday I spent with friends and we toured the western region. That is the kind of thing I want to do from now on...go away, somewhere I have never been, I want to work my way down a list...Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago, the Maldives, etc

  10. Left to myself, I'm not much into making a fuss, but my family very much is and so we had lots of parties growing up and at all the landmark ages, including a surprise 25th orchestrated from across the Atlantic! I will admit even when you get dragged in kicking and screaming it's pretty nice to be fussed over for whatever reason. I wouldn't knock the idea of celebrating with friends and family...when/if you can afford it, of course.

  11. Hi Esi, didn't realize so many Ghana bloggers were born in this auspicious month! I do tend to celebrate the 'milestone' birthdays, simply because I see them as ending and starting yet another decade of my life, and which I am grateful for. I think that probably kicked in when my mother had my first real party at ten :-) The others tend to be a lot more chilled and just hanging out with the people that matter, which tends to be my family and very close friends.
    There are many other things to think about burning the sea about, lack of a birthday party certainly isn't one of them!
    Happy belated birthday and have a fabulous year.

  12. Belated Happy Birthday Esi Woarabae. May your next birthdays be big deals for everyone around you. (This wish will come true now that we all know your birthday).
    I have always been surrounded by friends and family that celebrate birthdays. Since my teens when I didn't want to do much with the family (feeling all grown-up), my friends & I would always come up with fun things to do. Our birthdays were excuses to do crazy stuff. I'll keep them off this entry b4 it gives them ideas for our next birthday get-together. "They" might actually try to burn the sea.