Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January 1 Celebration

Some Alaskans probably "celebrated" the first day of the New Year with a soft pillow, drawn curtains, and saltine crackers. Many of our Darfuri friends, however, celebrated with music, balloons, and birthday cake. Yep, birthday cake.

It seemed the fitting way to ring in the new year seeing how several of the Darfur refugees now living in Anchorage have January 1 as their birthdays. No, they weren't actually born on January 1. Birthdays aren't traditionally celebrated in Darfur, as is the case for much of Africa, nor are they recorded in any consistent fashion, so the Darfur refugees don't actually know what day of the year they were born.

This is a problem, however, when you're trying to leave your country. You can't exactly get a passport or immigration papers without a birth date. Some of the Darfur refugees were given the option to choose one, but most were simply assigned January 1. A recent article by The Boston Globe states, "It is unclear when the practice began, but more than 31,000 of the 203,566 refugees admitted to the United States over the past four years have been assigned the Jan. 1 birthday."

Fake birthdays or not, the party that occurred on January 1 in a small Mountain View apartment was most definitely real. Laughter, drumming, traditional Sudanese songs, and of course cake and balloons, filed the place. Jokes were told, wishes were made, tears were shed, and all felt gratitude for life.