Thursday, December 12, 2013

You can’t make up stuff like this

What was that song? . . .

One of life’s highlights was listening to and watching Africans sing. Their rich harmonies, pulsating rhythms, throbbing beats—they burst into my being and live there still.

Those folks know how to sing! They have full, strong voices and sing out with resounding volume.

Africans feel their songs from deep down in the core of their souls all the way to the tips of their fingers and toes. They clap, they sway, they dance.

Melodies and ululations bounce off the rafters and woo us and encircle us. Their music gets under our skin and becomes part of who we are.

And so, because of my delight in African songs, I thoroughly enjoyed Kenyans singing happy birthday at a local restaurant. A group of faculty and staff from our West Nairobi School had gone out to dinner to celebrate two teachers’ birthdays: Shelly’s and Dave’s.

When we finished our dinners, at just the right moment a long line of Kenyans exited the kitchen, singing, in Swahili, a pounding, blending, rhythmic tune.

The young lady at the head of the line carried a birthday cake and paraded those employees throughout the restaurant, in and out and around other customers. Singing at the top of their lungs, some kept time on improvised instruments—percussion instruments made of silverware and soda pop bottles—and others clapped.

Eventually the procession headed our direction and encircled our table. Their smiles, their dancing, their full, pulsing melodies—they held us spellbound. It was one of those Kodak moments: We knew we’d remember that evening for a long time.

The restaurant staff continued their joy-filled singing and, with a flourish, the waiter placed the birthday cake before Shelly and Dave and lit the candles.

When the song ended, the birthday duo blew out the candles—and then it happened.

One of our party, Sue, asked the staff, “What was that song you were singing?

It never occurred to me that it was anything but a birthday song, but Sue was onto something.

The staff looked at each other and whispered among themselves—and we waited.

They and wrung their hands looked at the floor—and we waited.

They giggled nervously—and we waited.

Eventually one of them spoke in a low, rueful voice (and I’m not making this up), “It is a circumcision song.”

And now, years later, I was right: That was a birthday party—a birthday song—none of us will forget.


  1. What a funny story. I'm sure you were all flabbergasted to learn what the song was about and it is true you will never forget it. The evening looks like lots of fun and I know just how uplifting the African singing can be. They always sing with such joy and gusto!

    1. Penny, you are so faithful to encourage with your comments. Yes, "flabbergasted" describes our reaction! We all kind of gasped, stunned, and then slowly we started to laugh. Thanks for stopping by, Penny.