I am yet to recover from a birthday party I was invited to last week by a Nigerian family friend. The good woman clocked 50, and thought it wise to throw a ‘small’ celebratory party in a central London hotel.
It turns out our definitions of ‘small’ were worlds apart. The giveaway for me should have been in the dress code. Weeks before the party, birthday girl brought in a bale worth of African cloth material from which the invited guests were to have their outfits made.
Mine was a simple hat for which I parted with £15 (approximately Shs 72,000). I was to team with my go-to African party shirt under a blazer jacket.
On the D-day, the party hall was full of men and women in different hats, body wrapper and headgear designs made from the imported cloth material. What a beautiful spectacle it was!
Arriving at the party, the location and size of the hotel hall were more worthy of a wedding reception than a birthday party. I can tell you, our wedding was nothing compared to the pomp and splendour that was on display here.
The crowd was in the region of 150, and to entertain us was a live band, accompanied by a master of ceremonies, speeches and all.
The birthday girl and her partner in tow changed outfits three times that evening. I couldn’t wait to wow friends and colleagues at work with my story.
To my surprise, not a single soul thought there was anything abnormal about the party. They rather seemed surprised I was that much dazzled by a simple normal birthday party.
“Get out more” was the tone in all the replies.
I guess my astonishment stems from the fact that like many Ugandans my age, ours was an upbringing of modesty and humility.
First, there was no big deal about celebrating birthdays, at least not until we were of girlfriend/boyfriend age, then the flowers and cards started trickling in.
Other celebrations like weddings were very intimate affairs where the main worry for the host was ensuring all guests were well fed and watered. The gifts and small donations from family and friends were more than enough to cover the costs of these functions. Ours were usually held at home in the compound.
Subtle prodding on how normal human beings could afford these ‘small’ birthday parties like the one I attended brought forth answers of debts, loans and living only once.
With mere birthday parties having climbed to these levels, you can imagine what is happening to weddings and marriage ceremonies.
Video clips of brides and grooms ‘disco-jamming’ and pulling dance hall moves to take that marriage vow, is now part and parcel of social media. It is no longer enough to simply walk down the aisle.
The same applies to burial rituals and ceremonies. If you ever go to YouTube, do check out the amazing professional funeral dancers and pall bearers of West Africa. It’s a whole different level of affairs.
Are the dead much happier and peaceful for it? I wonder!
For the living, we seemed to be resigned to a life of debt and of course outdoing one another on who throws the most glamorous of parties.
Thank God, we are potential grooms no more; practicing the ‘Oluddewo’ steps were hard enough.