Happy Birthday to Me!/La cheville qui enfle

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 24th birthday. In Armenia. I had a great day.

My birthday eve, something managed to get into my boot and sting or bite me on the ankle through my thick wool socks and pants. Many suggestions about what it might have been were forthcoming, including spider, bee, and scorpion.

Whatever it was, it was poisonous. The epicentre of the bite was a mere centimetre across, but by the time the thing finished swelling it was about 15 centimetres across. The pain radiated even further up my leg and it could not bear weight. I spent the day hopping around my hostel on one foot and texting friends things like, “Woe is me, it’s my birthday, a bug just took out a chunk of my leg, and I might die. Just kidding. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. The swelling is only six inches across, and I can’t walk. But I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.” Most of the texts back said, “You should go to the doctor” but since the only words I knew how to say in Armenian were “no,” “wood,” “eggplant,” and “beans,” this was easier said than done.

Lest you think this small detail derailed my birthday, think again. On the train into Yerevan, I met an Armenian woman. When I told her it was my birthday the next day, she immediately offered to help me celebrate it. The night of my birthday, she showed up in a cab with a group of her friends and they carted me around town, helped me shuffle in and out of restaurants and cafés, bought me shawarma and cake and got the restaurant staff to play a happy birthday playlist in Russian and Armenian as background music the whole time. They even arranged candles.

The best part of the night, however, was how genuinely interested they all seemed in me. One of my major self-improvement goals is to learn to ask better questions. It’s something that I’ve actively tried to work on improving this year, and I still have a long way to go before it will be truly easy for me.

But I’ll be darned if these people didn’t ask me loads of good questions. Things like, “What dreams do you have for your life?” and “What are the most important things you’ve ever learned?” and “What do you think about God?” When I answered the questions and returned them, they were game to engage as well. Their serendipitous sincerity and interest completely eclipsed the bug bite as the main detail of my birthday. At the end of the night, they all said things like, “Wow, you’re a really good person, we’re really glad we met you.”

I had worried about celebrating alone or with people I would turn out not to like. In the end, I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday. Not only was I really impressed by these complete strangers, I felt totally loved by them. They had no particular reason to do something so nice for me or to be interested in my dreams, and they still were.

They also offered to take me to the doctor if the bite got any worse. Thankfully it was visibly better the next day so I didn’t take them up on the offer. I am now walking around with ease, although I can still feel a bump where the bite was two weeks later.

P.S. To all my other friends who sent me birthday wishes, I love you all too.

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  1. Paul says:

    Awesome. The word for “poison” in German is “Gift”, and it certainly seems you got one this year.

    Hahahahaha, I am high-fiving myself even as I write this epic pun.


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