Bananas, Birthdays and Boxes of Chocolate

I turned 23 a couple days ago. This means I’m three years from being kicked off my parents’ health care plan, 12 years from becoming eligible to run for president and 42 years from getting the senior discount to whatever Fast and the Furious movie they’re on in 42 years. Thank God I have so much to look forward to.

This was my first birthday celebrated outside the United States. Because I’m making about $60 a month and, as part of JVC’s mission, committed to “living simply,” I wasn’t expecting anything too lavish. Maybe a nice hike and a pleasant dinner with my four community mates.

A few of us did end up hiking. Before that, however, my community mate Sam made all of us a delicious breakfast of banana smoothies. This would have been a treat anyways, but because we had spent some time without a blender after I broke the glass vase in which the liquids do their blending, the drinks were particularly succulent (thanks for that one, Noah Webster).

Sam did another solid in including our community in a seafood lunch he was having as part of a church retreat. There were more bananas for dessert, which basically left me set on my fiber intake for awhile.

An unusual technical opportunity allowed me to Skype with my parents and older brother in the afternoon. An even more unusual technical deficiency meant that we lost our connection every four minutes and 50 seconds. Nonetheless, it was good to actually see some of my family members’ faces. If you’re reading this, Mom and Dad, whatever you’ve done in the family room looks good. And if you’re reading this, Mamie the dog, you need a bath.

I accompanied a couple of my community mates to evening mass, mainly for the noble reason of my not wanting to wake up and go the following morning. When I returned home, I unexpectedly discovered my community mate Mallory in our kitchen with Made, Rubi and Lili, three of the women who do tourism work in Andahuaylillas’s parish. They had come to cook a surprise dinner for my birthday.

Now I’ve never had a surprise party before. I previously thought common practice was for people to suddenly turn on the lights and come out from hiding spots or, if you’re really lucky, jump out of a birthday cake. But those who know me well can say that I’ll always choose surprise food, especially when it is authentic Peruvian cuisine.

A few other guests soon arrived–some of whom I had never met–and joined us for dinner and a post-meal dance party. If there was any downside to the day, it was that SheWolf did not make the playlist. At some point I opened my gifts, which were a much-appreciated box of chocolate and an alpaca scarf that, when worn, kind of makes me look like our French housemate Jean Marie.

I thought this birthday had came, seen and conquered as birthdays tend to do, but this afternoon, my community mates and some of our other friends who work in Andahuaylillas surprised me again with a birthday cake. It was really unnecessary, as I already had ample reason to celebrate today. Not only is February 6 my cousin Kevin’s birthday but also Ronald Reagan’s. I mean, besides Rob Schneider and the kid from Dunston Checks In, Reagan is probably my favorite actor.

As is custom in Peru, someone pushed the cake into my face as I leaned in to take the first bite. I was pretty grateful, as the frosting on my nose and cheeks made me look considerably more attractive in the pictures that followed (see below). Plus, my beard has had a welcome sugary taste for the past seven hours. Win-win.

All in all, this extended birthday season was probably one of the best I’ve had. And this is coming from the guy who got Robin Hood action figures when he turned 4.

I don’t know exactly what made this such a good one. The food was fantastic, but good food has always pretty much been a given on my birthday. The presents were also thoughtful, but presents are to birthdays as artistry is to Randy Quaid. Dancing, too, was fun, but I love to cut a rug all year round.

Maybe I had such a good time because I wasn’t anticipating anything special. If taken at face value, that sounds like a depressing lesson–you’ll have a great experience when you don’t expect to.

But I think the take away is to be grateful for the kind things others do for you, however small they seem. If the only birthday gifts I received last year had been a scarf and chocolates, I would have angrily taken back every macaroni sculpture I ever made my mom in elementary school.

This year, however, these presents meant the world to me, because despite having little to give, the friends I’ve made over the last two months were generous in the ways they could be. I’ve never appreciated that as much as I should, but I guess that’s what getting older does. It teaches you valuable lessons and, if you wait long enough, gets you cheaper seats to Vin Diesel movies.


About brianharperu

A recent Marquette University graduate who inexplicably finds himself living and working as a Jesuit Volunteer in Peru, Brian enjoys writing, learning new musical instruments, imagining himself to be a better athlete than he is, eating pancakes and voting as part of his civic duty.
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1 Response to Bananas, Birthdays and Boxes of Chocolate

  1. Jessica Williams says:

    I was eating a banana while reading this, and now have the sudden urge to eat cake. Happy Birthday Brian, glad it was filled with all sorts of wonderfulness. 😉

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