A memorable 21st birthday

13 Oct

**disclaimer-any misspellings, incorrect synonym usage (i.e. preying vs. praying), sentence structure or other types of poor English grammar usage are not intentional and are purely result of the ratio of Yoruba to English use in my life over the last month**

Although many college students in America have a hard time remembering their 21st birthdays, I will have a hard time forgetting mine. As I eluded to in my last entry, I knew it would not be a minute occurrence based on the perpetration I witnessed in the days before the big event. Starting last Thursday (the day before my birthday), my family was frantically scrambling around making last minute arrangements for my party-assembling a program, inviting “guests of honor,” picking up our new clothes from the tailor, picking up my birthday cake, writing invitation letters, etc.

Bday Cake

One interesting cultural observation I made relates to the formality of invitations. Last week, I casually invited several friends and acquaintances to my party, some by choice and others by default (if a friend hears from a friend you’re having a party, they’ll sarcastically whine to you like a little girl until you give in and invite them). Many of these acquaintances I invited asked for invitations, and were quite perplexed when I said I didn’t have any yet.

Okadas (don't worry there were no goats on mine)

Several asserted that they would not come without an invitation. I remember one man asking, “In America, if someone invites you to a party, you don’t just show up without an invitation do you?” “A lot of the time, yes,” was my response. He thought that was so strange. Due to the fact that my dad finished the invitation letters on Wednesday night, I woke up early Thursday to scurry around campus on my feet, okadas (riding on the back of a motorcycle), and taxis to make all of my deliveries before my morning class began.

Friday, the big day itself, unfortunately provided me with no opportunity to sleep in. I was first awoken at 5:15AM by eight continuous phone calls. I didn’t answer until the last, and realized it was my older host brother calling to wish my a happy birthday (I wish I could learn how this culture survives on so little sleep). At 5:50AM, my younger host brother came into my room and wanted me to read the program for my birthday party to make sure it satisfied me. If you haven’t already caught on, its hard to satisfy my with anything before 7AM except a shot of espresso (nonexistent here). A half hour later, he came wanting to know what I wanted for breakfast. Just as it is in my culture to sleep until the sun comes up, it is in theirs to be as hospitable as possible, and I tried to repeat this over and over in my head as I sulked out of bed at 6:30. I went outside to turn on our running water supply (which I can use usually twice a week to shower as an alternative to the bucket shower), and returned again after I showered wearing only a towel.

Lookin' Spiffy

As I was navigating between two banana trees to turn the water back off, my towel fell off. I heard “Òyìnbó n rín hòhò!” (white person is walking around naked) from across the yard. I quickly returned the towel to its proper place and scurried back in the house without turning my face toward the direction of the voice. I came out of my room wearing the outfit my family chose as my “birthday fabric,” but this was apparently not appropriate to wear until the party started, so my mom made me go change into the other outfit they bought me. I never really mastered this growing up at home, but I’ve definitely mastered doing what I’m told without asking anyone but myself why (a very frequent occurrence). To my embarrassment, about 10 minutes after the towel incident outside, my host brother took me outside to introduce me to the woman making all the food for my party, who turned out to be the one who saw me naked.

The day passed by quickly, and before I knew it I was suited up in my new guinea fabric traditional Yoruba outfit. My parents arrived ten minutes after the party was supposed to start to begin setting up the food, etc. Although I still had a slight inclination to worry that none of the other guests had yet arrived , “africa time” has pretty much settled into my daily routine. I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, but things in Nigeria rarely start on time. This isn’t because people aren’t punctual, or because they disregard schedules. More accurately, the common American saying “time is money” is highly frowned upon here.

Opening Prayer from my mom at my party

In fact, there is a Yoruba proverb that states, “Àìfarabálè, olórí àrùn ni,” which means the frustrated/impatient/not calm/in a hurry person is the chief of disease. The pace of life here is very relaxed, and events are arranged (usually last minute) by relative importance in a spacial method of organization, as opposed to a pre-determined linear time schedule. Everyone has their own reasons for not showing up on time, but usually people are still focused on not being late. One of the most common farewell greetings in Yoruba you hear countless times per day is “E má pé o!” which means don’t be late, and is almost synonymous with goodbye here. I chuckle to myself overtime I hear this, as it turns out to be highly paradoxical in practice. I realize I just went out on a tangent, but it suffices to explain why I waited a little over an hour longer for the party to start. When it finally began, only half the guests had arrived.

Experiencing a traditional Yorùbá party in its natural cultural habitat is really something to see! As the program stated, the schedule for my party went as follows: 1.) Beginning prayer (if you haven’t caught on by now, Yoruba people are ‘incurably religious’). 2.) Introduction of the important guests by the master of ceremony. 3.) Short speech from the head of the household (my host father).

Cutting the cake

4.) Important speech about the meaning of a birthday from Mr. Yisa Oladele Gbadamose, Former Registrar, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo, Nigeria. 5.) Lecture by Dr. Matthew Olawale, Bolarinwa, Professor of Yoruba Language on language usage as a means of bringing peace and unity to the world. 6.) Short speech and toast to the celebrant by Keegan Kolade Adekola. 7.) Eat dinner and drink refreshments. 8.) Various speeches from the guests about the celebrant. 9.) Presentation of gifts to the celebrant. 10.) Take photos outside in the park. 11.) Thank you from the celebrant.

dancing with the mc

12.) Closing prayer. This is no joke! This agenda also resembles pretty much any other formal event I have attended since I arrived, whether it be a wedding, birthday party, retirement party, or religious gathering. My parents also hired two photographers (very common here), one to take video, and one to take still shots of the entire party. Cara also took a video so once I have access to these things you can see what happened for yourselves.

Needless to say, this party left me feeling like I got hit by a bus. I had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, but it’s not easy being the center of 50 peoples’ attention for three hours. Another contributing factor to my exhaustion was the fact that I knew less than half of the people there, and I had pretty much no say in what was happening nor when it happened. Events began to transpire when someone commanded me, “Kayode, dance! Kayode, walk to the front! Kayode, unwrap the knife and cut the cake! No! That’s too much, don’t spoil it we still have pictures to take!,” etc, etc. I passed out feeling drunk as a skunk from exhaustion, even though I hadn’t consumed a drop of alcohol the entire night.

Most 21st birthday celebrants who pass out at 8PM wake up kneeling down to worship the porcelain gods; I woke up alive, awake, alert and, enthusiastic! Saturday, I was fortunately able to sleep in. I had fun all day. I played drums in a wedding in the morning, went for a relaxing 1800 meter swim in the afternoon (that’s right, University of Ibadan has an olympic-size pool albeit it’s hard to see more than a foot beneath the surface), and went to a second birthday party for myself in the evening.

beautiful sunset as the party was wrapping up

This party was thrown by Glenn, a professor from America here for the year on Fullbright to teach courses. Glenn, us five Flagship students, and Matt and Sarah (a UW grad student and his wife here doing research) have bonded as we are some of the only white people around and have had many experiences adapting to this strange and new culture. This party was slightly more of a traditional American 21st birthday party, and it was a nice change of pace from the formal Yoruba party I had the night before. All in all, I am honored and feel so loved by my family and everyone here. I’ve never been treated this well in America for a birthday and it is certainly one I’ll never forget! I’m also relieved that “Kayode-fest” has finally come to an end and the spotlight isn’t on me anymore.

guests of honor (whom I'd never met before)

my neighbors

faculty of arts staff

the oyinbos

flagship staff

Program for Saturday's Party (we didn't actually follow this in case you were wondering)


7 Responses to “A memorable 21st birthday”

  1. Barney October 14, 2010 at 2:13 AM #

    Hi Kev–I’m glad Kayodefest was successful! I would have thought the translation would have been Kayodepalooza, though.

  2. Karen Born October 14, 2010 at 2:44 AM #

    Wow! They really went all out!! Love the birthday cake! Your attire is quite something too…very special! Thank you for sharing your birthday celebration with us, it was fascinating to learn about! The photos are awesome!

    Happy Belated Birthday, Kevin!

  3. Stephen October 15, 2010 at 10:30 PM #

    Òyìnbó n rín hòhò!

  4. Cathy Rotstein October 19, 2010 at 8:21 PM #

    Kevin: Happy 21st Birthday. We’ll have to take you to Las Vegas to offically celebrate when you and the rest of the UW group returns. Your bloging is fantastic, great detail. Keep it up.
    Love, Cara’s Mom, Cathy

  5. Toni November 21, 2010 at 2:20 PM #

    “Òyìnbó n rín hòhò!” ………LOL

  6. Tomi November 30, 2010 at 11:19 AM #

    Loved the Video! You got a typical Ibadan birthday party. I grew up in Lagos and went to the University of Ibadan so it was a bit of a suprise to see how elaborate 21st birthday celebrations were. Almost like weddings in my opinion!

  7. Oge April 1, 2012 at 2:21 AM #

    You had me cracking up! The guests of honor that you had never met! Typical yoruba party. My friend used to drag me to those parties and most of the time I was bored out of my mind.

    I don’t know why more people don’t break away from that


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