Happy Birthday to….. me
Today is my birthday. Well… it’s not something special. I have birthday once in a year anyway. One year pass, and I get one year older. I am used not to make my birthday as a special day. I am used to spend birthday lonely, on road, on mountain, in the middle of nowhere, with absence of family and close friends. I am used to it, and I am prepared to it.
I was conditioned to live alone. My family sent me to study in China when I was 19. I remembered my last birthday celebrated, when I was 18, was just few days before being enrolled to a university in Surabaya. High school friends came and congratulated me. It was simple, but there were at least 20 friends coming to my little house. That was the birthday party with the biggest numbers of guests. The most terrific in my history, I think. The yellow rice ‘tumpeng’ replaced my birthday cake, and laughter of newly graduated high school students filled the air. That night I remembered as the last moment of mine being a happy high school students, had no other pressure but to study.
The next five birthdays were celebrated far north in Beijing. Mostly alone. I didn’t know whether I was lucky or unlucky, as my birthday always falls in school holiday period. Foreign student friends, if not go home, then go travel around China. The Chinese schoolmates all go back to their hometowns, as most students in my university in Beijing were not local Beijingers. I, have no luxury of affording international flights, mostly stay in my quiet apartment. It was lucky, I had a small number of relatives living in Beijing, who then in the best effort, made my birthdays celebrated. But not always.
The birthday I had in 2002 was among the special ones. I just finished traveling around Mongolia in summer that year. When I returned back to China, the bus stopped to pick two Polish hitchhikers. The two guys, being unable to speak Chinese and being first-timers in Asia, attracted my sympathy. I invited them to stay in my apartment in Beijing, and with a help of an Indonesian friend, we celebrated my birthday together, under blinking candle light (not to be romantic, but indeed I used to live in darkness at that time, due to electricity problem in my house). It was an international birthday party and I was very touched.
(These two Polish guys are going to visit Indonesia next month – their travel spirit is never off!)
Year by year passed, and birthday parties, as usual, never be my priority of celebration. For me a happy live is sufficient to be a celebration, and everyday is just same as the birthday (or birthday is just the same as other days?). In 2005, I suddenly found myself stranded in Western Tibet, successfully entered the sensitive region illegally, and was happy to be there. Look, it was August 8, 2005. In the nondescript village of Namru somewhere hidden on most maps, I was waiting for further transports to see the Guge Kingdom. We have been waiting for hours but seen nothing except blue sky and empty land. Hans, a senior German hiker, said, “Hope your birthday will bring us good luck.” It didn’t. We had no other choice but to return to the rhetoric town of Ngari, and until today I have never seen the ruins of the old Tibetan kingdom yet.
Three-hundred-sixty-five days later, the journey brought me to the isolated Wakhan corridor: a narrow valley surrounded by high mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. I thought it was a journey of dream, being in such far-to-reach, may I use cliché phrase: end-of-the-world, which for most people it’s just not more than dots and lines on world map. Wakhan Corridor was among the highlights of traveling around Afghanistan, and I have got a special birthday present: fun with Afghan police (August 8, 2006 Baharak – Passport Check, a Birthday Present ).
Every birthday on road whets my personality, each from different direction, and I know every lesson makes a better me. But this year birthday is different from those of previous years.
I was surprised to check my email inbox. Birthday greetings from friends, about a dozen of them, made my early morning. I also received nice messages on my chat messengers, multiply network, friendster, and even some phone calls. This is indeed luxury in my live. I have never been receiving so many kind greetings from dozens of friends, old and new, who are so caring to remember my insignificant birthday (while it’s a pain for me to remember birthdays of others …. I’m curious how people have such a good memory to remember birthdays of all friends).
A friend called me and invited me for a special dinner, to celebrate my birthday. I would have never imagined about such a fortune a year before or two. Even the guys from Indonesian embassy sent me messages about my birthday (they have the list of birthdays of all Indonesians in Afghanistan, and every month they hold small party in embassy building to celebrate the mass birthdays of fellow countrymen)
The Chinese seafood restaurant in Kabul would have been an off-limit place for me, due to my budget, but for the ’special day’ two close friends brought me there. Chinese food was my daily staple in my five and half years in China and those days I was tired of it. But a set of Chinese food, after setting more than two-year journey out of China, brought my memory back to days in Beijing. What was my ‘lonely birthday’ food now became a ’special birthday’ dinner. What was very ordinary now turned to be extraordinary. Traveling changed people mind. And again it’s proved.
Not enough with this, later that night some friends from Indonesian embassy even invited for special dinner in Iranian restaurant, full of meat and kabab. The grilled meat (or counterpart of Indonesian satay) was enormous in size. And it turned my stomach to be enormous as well. How can I be starving if now friends here keep giving me good food, good nutrition, good ‘fertilizer’?
If in Ngari I learnt about survival, Baharak taught me about patience, the 2007 Kabul birthday told me about the value of friendship. No matter how depressed I am these days, no matter how I feel very weak with my burdens, there are always friends who care about me, who support me, and who treat me as a friend. Even the disasters I received these day pushed me to dead ends at all directions, my friends keep encouraging me to get up and struggle.
I know, I am not alone.