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What Birthday Celebrations Should Mean

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Last week Thursday, August 16th was my birthday. Going by the astonishing rate of personal messages, calls and other forms of pure warmth, one could have easily mistaken me for some mega superstar who was being lauded by his millions of teeming global fans. Even crazier was the love shown to me on my main social medium platform, Facebook, where I seem to engage more with a lot of virtual and personally known friends.

Trust Nigerians, some friends of mine asked where the Isi Ewu na Nkwobi would be peppered with Orijin. Some very special ones, particularly those in this Los Angeles, California space were so curious they asked if they were not getting invited to the “big show” already, even as some other Nigerians who, thankfully, hadn’t forgotten their roots, inquired about the availability of our famous Jollof rice. I took all these with the receptive finesse of someone who knew where they were coming from, but fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately, for the love of Jollof—I was no longer at. Someone who had previously shared in such enthusiasms but somehow, had been mentally reconfigured by the possibilities of time; of life; and of living.

For more than half a decade now, I stopped being a “birthday person,” that is, the all worked-up person who took all practically conceivable measures to have the best birthday celebrations, intensely planning how I would look, who I would invite, where I would spend it, or who I would spend it with. Or even true to Nigerian epic style, the chosen colour of the day for express uniformity in the mould of Asoebi (well, that was a bit exaggerated but I bet you catch my drift). This had been ingrained from a childhood which took me from my place of birth, Lomé, Togo to my paternal grandparents’ home in Aba to my ever-gracious late grand uncle, Chief Ude Ukoha Akanu’s abode also in Aba and back to my grandparents’ until I got into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2008.

But this awakening didn’t happen immediately. No. This monumental mental change occurred in 2012—my final year as an undergraduate.

In-between the reality of growing up, the fear of the unknown world I was about to be thrown into as a graduate with no idea of who or what I wanted from a chaotic world mysteriously becoming even more so with the highly sophisticated attacks of the Boko Haram terrorists, the force of conscious reckoning which threatened to swallow me if I didn’t realise the dangerous times I was living in—a Nigeria of fear and gloom, of pain and high-end connectedness, of who you sabi, which sadly still exists—I knew this could be it.

So, my Bachelor of Arts final semester examination and my seemingly never-ending baccalaureate project coincided with my birthday in the August of 2012. The euphoria surrounding its anticipated celebration by my friends, particularly my girlfriend at the time, was one I wanted but didn’t really need. Don’t get me wrong. The buzzing calls and good-willed messages would have undoubtedly made my day, or even lasted through the entire year. However, those feelings had become more fleeting with each passing day.

By the time my birthday rolled by, something had changed. Maybe it was the aforementioned fear or the unbridled joy of finally being termed a “Graduate.” But for the first time, I saw my birthday as my birthday. I wanted to know why I was here. What I needed to do to make it happen. How I was going to do it. Most importantly, the time-frame to get it done. It was the beginning of a new me. I had become, in every sense of the word: born again. So, now, each year I look forward to my birthday. Not to celebrate it as one who didn’t know the essence of its gift, but with a renewed insight to maximise it; to check my long-term and short-term goals; analyse, edit, or even delete entirely. It had renewed my faith in the entirety of my being as the driver of my life. This life was mine to shape however I deemed fit, and my birthday had become the perfect day to create—or recreate—such masterpiece I could live in and with.

I still find pleasure in the celebration of my “birthday” with loved ones though. Like last year when I went to the film theatre with my dad to see Kathryn Bigelow’s deeply troubling movie Detroit, and got home to be celebrated with a beautiful cake which had my name lavishly iced on it.

But more often than not, at least in the last few years, I have spent my birthday as a day of renewal, living within the peaceful and purposeful ambience of a new beginning.

This is what my birthday now means to me. And it is everything!

To engage me, follow on Facebook @Eleanya Ndukwe Jr.


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