Sunday, 2 February 2014

Mustafa's Birthday

 Last night we held our first birthday party (in the village) hosting our Nubian friend, Mustafa* and his family.  Mustafa comes to our home 5 days a week to assist us in improving our Arabic.  He's been a wonderful friend helping us understand a rather difficult language and an even more (seemingly) confusing culture.  

We took our cues for the event from the party that Mustafa hosted for John in December.  Mustafa had insisted that he "make a party" to celebrate John's birthday.  He invited John and I to his family's home in the village.  Emileigh and Jacob were also present so they were invited too.  He told us to arrive at 9 pm.  (That's rather an early start for this group of people, but they were trying to accommodate us.)

We arrived right on time and were promptly greeted by his mother, father and siblings.  They ushered us into a reception room that had seating on 3 sides and a TV on the fourth.  After the initial hellos, we were seated and served cold drinks (sodas, water, juice).  Mustafa smiled and said, "Look. I have Diet Pepsi.  I know you like it."  I smiled.

As we sipped our drinks, we made small talk using a bit of English and a bit of Arabic to convey our thoughts.  They did the same.  Mustafa's father had been a principal of a school near the border of Sudan and his mother a teacher.  We had a few things in common so that provided us with a bit of banter for a while.

Mustafa's brother and sister-in-law came in along with their 1 year old twin sons.  Now the fun really started.  These darling boys were completely entertaining and were immediately endearing.

Mustafa left the room and returned with a giant cake with fruit on one side and chocolate on the other.  On top were two candles with a "4" and an "8".  Somehow, he had researched John's age and managed to find the appropriate candles.  

John made a wish, blew out the candles and the cake was served.  Huge wedges were placed on our plates although protests were made.  Mustafa began teasing his sister-in-law about her cooking telling her that I made "perfect" cakes and should learn how to make them from me.  I reassured her saying that I'm sure she's a fine cook.  She shook her head and said, "No, he is right."  I laughed and welcomed her to come to my home anytime.

We ate the cake, watched the boys play and continued our attempt at conversation.  (I should mention that during the visit the TV was on with an episode of NCIS followed by WWE wrestling.  No, I am not kidding.)  So over the "Masked Minion" or whatever the wrestlers were named blasting their threats to each other, we conversed until tea was served.

Tea is the indicator that the visit is coming to a close and that you are free to go anytime afterward.  We were now coming up on 10:30 pm.  I could tell that Jacob and Emileigh were winding down, but we had to wait for John to make the move to head out. 
The Cake...

John began to graciously thank Mustafa and his parents for opening their home.  We stood up and began the hugging and kissing which always takes place for any entrance or exit.  Jacob was a good sport following suit until we were out the door and walking back toward our home.

When we discovered that Mustafa's birthday was at the end of January, we insisted that we "make a party" for him.  He said, "No, no, it's too much."  Then he reminded us that he is shy and doesn't like big events.  We promised that we would only invite his family and a couple of other friends.  He finally agreed and told us a date and time that would work for his family, Saturday at 8 pm.

John and I worked like beavers to get the house ready.  This was our first hosting of an entire family and we wanted to do things right.  I asked Mustafa what his favorite cake was and he said vanilla.  Vanilla?  Vanilla!  Really?  I was prepared for a variety of responses, but had to try to find inspiration for this particular answer.  I looked until I found "The Best Ever Vanilla Cake."  How could I go wrong?

Singing, "Happy Birthday"
I wanted to make it special so I planned a 3 layer cake with strawberry cream icing.  I searched in town for cake pans, but found that they were only sold in packs of 3 which were small, medium, large.  This meant that when I baked the cake I would be baking one layer, cooling, turning it out on a plate, cleaning the pan and starting over with the next layer.  But you gotta do, what you gotta do.

I began on Friday in case disaster ensued I would have another day for Plan B.  I worked through layer one, then two, then three.  I was trying to recall any episode of "Cake Boss" that I had ever watched in order to get that professional look.  (It's WAY harder than it looks, let's just say.)

The buttercream frosting turned out nicely according to John's taste test.  I bought fresh strawberries and attempted to make them into roses.  Not too shabby.  I put it in the refrigerator to set and cleaned the rest of the house.

At 7:30 pm, our Canadian friends arrived with extra serving trays.  I hadn't known how many to plan for so I wanted to be prepared.  Soon Mustafa, his mother, two brothers, their wives, 3 children and 1 sister arrived.  We gave each other greetings (handshakes for men and kisses for the women) and directed them into our living room.

Make a wish!

They were as nervous as we were.  I tried to greet each one warmly and make them feel at home.  I had candles burning, soft music playing and cold drinks poured.  I could see that they were relaxing a bit and we talked with them a while.  Mustafa was still a bit nervous not sure what kind of party he would be getting.  We had promised him low-key, but added jokingly that we had invited the governor.  He laughed and then said, "Not really, right?"

My friend, Sarah, helped me prepare Mustafa's birthday cake complete with 3 candles she had acquired.  As I carried the cake in, we all sang "Happy Birthday."  He smiled broadly and blew out the candles.  We clapped and began slicing pieces for everyone (large wedges, mind you).

Great Friends!
I had also made a chocolate cake to make sure we had enough to go around.  It's the Hershey cake recipe and frankly there's nothing better on planet Earth than that cake.  In fact, if I were the Cake Boss I would write in my will that my company's final act would be to produce a life-size casket cake made from this recipe and put me in it.  However, that's for another day.

Mustafa began to tease his sister-in-law again telling her that this cake is so good and hers are always so bad.  She said something in Arabic that sounded like sass, but then whispered to me, "I want you to teach me."  I patted her hand and told her I would be happy to do it.

The twin boys liked the cake so much that they screamed in between bites.  Mustafa's mother has diabetes so I brought her a plate of fresh fruit to nibble on.

I went to the kitchen to make tea and my friend, Sarah, came with me.  We began boiling the water and preparing the cups.  Soon Sarah's husband came around the corner, "No tea.  No tea."


He said, "They're leaving."

"Leaving?! No one leaves before tea!"  I ran to the living room to see if something had happened.  John looked at me and said that Mustafa assured them they had a wonderful time but that they must go.  We looked at our clock; it was exactly 9 pm.  One hour.  It seems Mustafa must have set a time limit for himself and his family.

I went to each one and thank them for coming.  I told Mustafa's mother how much we appreciated her son and what a good man he was.  She looked at me and said, "No.  I see that you are good people.  I know.  I can tell."  I smiled and gave her a hug.  

Mustafa said over and over, "It was so nice.  Too much.  Too much."  I told him that he's been a wonderful friend and we were happy to celebrate with him.

We made it through each person and John walked them to the front gate toward their home.  He returned and I said, "What was that? Why did they leave?"  Truly it was the shortest visit we had ever had.

John said that Mustafa was just trying to be a good guest.  He knew that his nephews and niece were getting tired and didn't want to risk them going into full meltdown.  I understood having had two children close in age and remembering the panic of knowing when enough was "enough."

Our friends stayed and helped us clean up still shocked by the brevity of the party.  I joked and said, "I bet they'd have stayed longer if we'd had wrestling on."

So another event in our village has happened.  Life on life is what we do.  Sharing highs and lows and simply living life together.  Friendships are formed.  Trust is built.  There's just no shortcut.  It takes time, patience, openness, understanding, vulnerability and more time.  

Thanks for the relationship you've built with us. Thanks for your friendship.  We pray that Jesus would be front and center in all we do here.  But we couldn't do it without you and your trust in us.  Pray with us that we have opportunity to celebrate many more "births" in months and years to come among these beautiful people.

*Not their real names


Today's BOGO Blog:  I Resolve!

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