And Many Happy Returns of the Day

My group on the roof of the bus in Namibia

It was my birthday yesterday! It was a lovely day, and I also got a new camera, so expect much better photos from my next trip. I’m not a birthday obsessive but I do expect a certain level of birthday fuss.

It got me thinking about birthdays abroad. I’m not one to miss out on a holiday just because it coincides with my birthday and so I’ve spent three birthdays in far flung parts. I expect to spend either next birthday or the one after in some exotic location so I thought I’d take the opportunity to put down some reflections and considerations.

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Sweet 16 under the Namibian sun

I was in Namibia because of a school trip. I know, what kind of school goes on trips to the other side of the world. My school, I guess. We were there to do the classic white people trip: one week doing inconsequential teaching/DIY for a photogenic, impoverished school; and one week trekking (allegedly tracking elephants but we never found any).

On the day before my birthday we did the Big Trek. We had been preparing for this for a few days. They taught us how to use compasses and maps and then sent us out into the desert to find them on the other side. It was very exciting and we did very well, we were the fastest group ever to do the trek and I think we still are.

The finale of the day was that we were to sleep in a field all by ourselves (as in, each person sleeping at least 10m away from anybody, even other students). I thought this was a great opportunity since the teachers had been very strict about smoking the entire trip so I found myself a nice corner of the field and, when it was dark, settled down for a nice smoke.

The thing about Namibia is that it rarely rains. Everything is very very very dry. So when I casually threw my match to the side, it immediately started a small fire. I was terrified because I knew how quickly it could spread and the prison sentence for starting a bush fire in Namibia is ‘until it next rains’. I was also terrified that the fire would attract attention and I would get in trouble with the teachers. Fortunately I smothered the fire with my coat and didn’t burn down the entire Namibia savannah. (I found out later that my coat was extremely flammable but that’s a whole different story).

On my actual birthday, I woke up to the most sensational sunrise. I could see everything and I was totally alone and it was so great. I’d love to sleep outside like that again.

The staff had brought a cake for me (I have no idea how since we were in the desert) and my mum had hidden a few presents for me in my friend’s suitcase. That evening was our last night in Namibia so we had a party. I have very mixed feelings out my trip to Namibia but that sunrise was unforgettable and perfect.

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Not a great photo – the camera actually died quite soon after this due to the sand. But you get the idea.

Disappointing 18th in Portugal

When I finished school my friends and I went interrailing, like everyone else. It was imperative that we were all 18 by the time we arrived in Amsterdam (for obvious reasons). I’m quite tall so it wasn’t a huge problem getting served in other countries but we were taking no risks where the Netherlands was involved.

My 18th was two days into our trip. We started off in Portugal staying with my friend’s gran and his parents. His birthday was the day after mine and we were heading off around Europe the day after that.

When we were planning the trip I was worried that my birthday would be forgotten or overshadowed by my friend’s birthday, what with how he was with his family. He assured me that he would make sure to tell his parents that it was my birthday so that there could be cake and attention.

Of course, he did not.

I spent the whole day in expectation that some sort of birthday celebration or surprise was about to happen. I didn’t want to draw attention, especially since I thought his family knew and were ignoring it on purpose. They were not, they simply had no idea.

There is no happy ending to this story. I still hold a major grudge although we continue to be friends.

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This is not technically a picture from Portugal but it’s from the same trip! and Portugal looks very much like this…

20 years old in India

The last birthday I spent abroad started off very much like my 18th. I’d just arrived in India and although I’d said quietly, several times, that it was my birthday the next day, nobody really noticed. It all came to a head when we were in this fancy club (and I hate fancy clubs) being told what to eat for our dinner (and I hate being told what to do) and somebody finally asked me why I was so grumpy. Once I told them, everything changed. There was cake, special songs, dancing, free drinks. Proper birthday stuff.

After the club, we drove (drove?! I know, do I want to die?) to McDonalds and smoked some hash and ate some fries. It was delightful.

Admittedly, the half of my birthday that happened after I woke up wasn’t so great. The guy we were staying with kicked us out (/’had an urgent business trip’) and we were isolated without our luggage or anything. However, by the end of the day we had found a new place to stay with a fantastic view from the roof, and internet! So I could call my mum.

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Last thoughts

My favourite birthdays at home have always been the ones where I have very little expectation. I say exactly what presents I would like, we go out to eat at a nice local restaurant or otherwise I just cook for everyone, I go to bed early. Whenever I get my expectations up it is invariably disappointing and maybe this is what has blighted my birthdays abroad. If I never mentioned it was a special day then it would still be the same magical loveliness that any holiday day is.

Then again, if you don’t mention it’s your birthday then there is no chance of free cake.

Anyone out there had a birthday abroad? Let me know x

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9 thoughts on “And Many Happy Returns of the Day

  1. Happy belated birthday! Hope you have a wonderful year. Looking forward to photos taken with your new camera.
    My birthday abroad? One of my best ones was…. in London – my flatmate took me out to Hampstead Heath for some stroll, and celebrated my birthday over dinner with his friends. I was a stranger there, so it was really heartwarming.

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  4. Ah! 21 of July? My sister too, she is 1977. She would be disappointed in just the same way. And instead of my own birthdays, I’m reminded of hers abroad. Sometimes I was there with her, many times not. There is a great French guy with this birthday, 1976, and a great guy in Boston, a bit older. All in all, you are great people. I wish you were never disappointed again.

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