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birthday recap

May 16, 2011

On Friday I turned 23.

I am not a big birthday person. I’m not good at remembering them, I’m not good at celebrating them, and I am kind of indifferent towards my own. Despite that (or maybe because of that??), I am always overwhelmed with gratitude by how much love people show me around this time each year.

In life in general but especially during my stay here, I’ve fully embraced the policy of having no expectations. Letting yourself be surprised no matter what happens is kind of a great approach to life. Case in point: for my birthday I wasn’t expecting anything at all, which made every little thing I got feel that much more special. Some highlights:

-I woke up to a phone call from one of my very sweet (adult) students, who somehow remembered it was my birthday and called me before she went to work, singing into the phone as I rubbed my bleary eyes.

-Later that morning, I helped chaperone some teens on a trip to a bazaar/fundraiser-thing that turned out to be a bit of an adventure, as rainclouds rolled in halfway through and caused a bit of a commotion. Anyway, the photo below is not a particularly great one, but I love it because…see that little boy in the blue running straight towards me? He’s just starting to talk up a storm, and he was yelling my name at this point in gleeful recognition. “Ste-fun-EEE!” Oh do I love him. (He’s the son of a friend/student/neighbor/hero.)

-My mom called me while I was at the bazaar too. It’s been so difficult this year to find a time when we are mutually available to talk on a regular basis, so that was kind of great.

-When I came back, I headed to the girls’ meeting at my church (where I help out each week), which concluded with a surprise homemade carrot cake (for me!), secretly dropped off by another incredible friend before I arrived. Yum.

-On Thursday, as I’d left my tutoring session with the family who has basically adopted me into their home, they’d told me to come back the next day in the evening so we could eat a little cake together. So after girls’ meeting, I headed over there with my friend J by my side. But when we arrived, we were greeted by extended family members who had stuck around from an earlier visit just to meet me/celebrate with me, as well as some other mutual friends of the teenage girl variety. And I had not realized that by “cake,” they meant two cakes, five kinds of homemade sweets, chicken and potatoes, and tabbouleh. [I really should’ve known.] I was speechless. J and I spent a few hours with them, goofing off and taking pictures and eating. A lot.

-On my way back home, I ran into another good friend with her mom, who greeted me by wishing me an enthusiastic Happy Birthday right there on the street. They are precious to me, and just seeing them made me grin. Then when I saw her today, she gave me a present! What. I never give presents. I’m a terrible friend.

-I also received a few other little gifts from people who had no compelling reason to give me anything other than the goodness of their hearts…the women in my life are just the sweetest. I love them.

-Bonus birthday present: on Saturday, one of my Arabic teachers told me I was “gifted” at Arabic, and I better not give it up when I leave. She said, “It’s not just that you know lots of words, it’s your accent and intonation, the way you listen and learn to talk like us [what I find most difficult!]. Lots of people spend all their time mixing with Arabs and don’t sound like you do. You are unusual.” Be still my ecstatic heart. That’s the kind of compliment that could keep me warm on a winter night in one of these unheated stone houses. Learning/speaking Arabic often makes me want to punch myself in the face and I’m not nearly disciplined enough about studying it…so that might have been the best unintentional present of all.

There was a lot of other stuff that made my birthday special–these are just the highlights, after all. But do not fear. I treasured every detail. And I am thankful for…everything.

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