Birthdays are a serious celebrating, well-wishing extravaganza in Sri Lanka. Your birthday is considered your own personal New Year’s Party and everyone is eager to wish you the best for the next year of your life. People wish you ‘Happy Birthday’ with such sincerity that you can’t help but reflect that it actually is a great achievement to have notched up another year. It’s a day of reveling in your own glory and everyone is on board. In the office, the birthday protocol involves bringing in a cake to share, having the whole office sing you happy birthday, and then getting a hug and a kiss from everyone. It took a bit to get used to affectionate contact from all my male colleagues.
Last week Radhi, our tea leady extraordinaire, had her 50th birthday. Throwing protocol out the window Radhi went one better and invited the whole office to her house for hoppers (which are Sri Lankan pancake like things, that are half crispy and half coconut moist goodness). For a milestone of this magnitude the presence of the whole office was not enough and more people were needed to help celebrate. The previous weekend Radhi took the 12hr bus ride from Colombo to Jaffna to collect her extended family and bring them all back for the party. This was an impressive feat, even more so because it was the first time most of her family had ever been to Colombo. On top of the official invites, the party seemed to be open to anyone else who felt like coming.
Radhi lives with her 4 grown up children (who are all in their early 20’s) in a 2-bedroom annex. Needless to say the place was packed. The main room and balcony was standing room only, the stairs were overflowing, people were hanging over the railings and out windows, and I’m sure there were people on the roof. The event started off with 45 minutes of a cappella singing and prayers, followed by speeches – in Sinhala and Tamil (I totally understood everything…) and then the cutting of the birthday cake. Once the cake was cut Radhi’s kids sprayed everyone with crazy foam, including the birthday girl, the boss’s wife and the entire cake. Thankfully there were no incidences of food poisoning, which felt like a close call because there were no ingredients listed for crazy foam and was it wasn’t marked anywhere as “non-toxic”. After the formalities (and crazy foam) out came the hoppers, hundreds of them. More people kept appearing out of the woodwork until there were no more places to really stand or sit, but no one cared as they all ate, chatted, and laughed as little kids weaved their way through the sea of legs. It was a fantastic night and a wonderful tribute to Radhi and how well she is loved and respected. Her ability to organize, feed and host this many people was an incredible feat of generosity by a lovely lady.
The next day Radhi posted a handmade sign in the tearoom thanking everyone for coming and brought in all her presents to showcase to the office, including her favourite – a revolving illuminated Jesus snow dome. Happy Birthday Radhi!