Tibetans don't keep track of their birthdays. When I asked Amalah which day is her birthday, she told me June 6. I asked Gyurme when his birthday is. June 6. Then I asked Tashi which day he was born. June 6. What are the odds of that?
Actually, the reason they all have the birthday of June 6 is because they don't know which day they were born, but for official refugee documents they need a birth date. It's easier to remember one date than three, so they all chose the same day for their "birthday."
When I found out, in July, that I had missed their communal "birthday," I was determined to make it up to them. I decided to purchase dessert for each of them on three separate days. The only dessert they ever eat is fruit, since they don't like things to be too sweet. I asked them what their favorite fruit was--Amalah loves watermelon, Tashi likes litchi berries and bananas, and Gyurme's favorite is pineapple--and then I planned the celebrations. A birthday celebration day meant that I would say, in the morning, "Happy birthday, Amalah!" and she would laugh, knowing that I'd be bringing fruit for after dinner. I, having always had special accommodations on my birthdays, couldn't feel right about forgetting the birthdays of my Tibetan family members.
In her essay "St. Augustine and the Bullfight," Katherine Anne Porter argues that we should not simply live through adventures but allow them to affect and change us, to fully experience adventures. A few days after we finished our final fruit-dessert birthday celebration, I had the chance to see some change in myself. It was my penultimate night in McLeod when I came home to my very own birthday party. Since August 3 is a few weeks in advance of the date I was born, I was quite surprised by the event. We had mothuk, or momo soup, which is so delicious and so difficult to prepare that my host family eats it only once per year. It's like the turkey and stuffing that we only make on Thanksgiving. It was my special birthday dinner. The momos were mutton filled, which we've never had before. We also had the special Tibetan pastry that we eat only on holidays. And lands, let me tell you, it was delicious. I ate way more than I should have.
Dorjay, Amalah's cousin, came over to help make the mothuk and attend my advance birthday party. Then, after dinner, Gyurme gave me a tee-shirt that I'd liked and tried on in Chonor House a few weeks ago. That was so kind of him! That store is very expensive, though he probably gets a good discount because he's the manager. Anyway, it was so sweet and I said thank you and cato tashi too many times. Then Amalah pulled out her beautiful little bracelets that she braids by hand and told me to pick one. I was debating between two and she just gave me both, tying one around my ankle and one around my wrist. I was just overwhelmed. I am going to miss my sweet host family so much.
Who knew that I would come to love a Tibetan family in India?