For many years, my cake page had a link to'S_BIRTHDAY.pdf, but that link stopped working. In June 2014, I went to look for it, and found a wayback machine link, but also found that the work is now available easily in two other ways (both linked below).

An excerpt from Betty's Birthday   by Paul Rippey
My friends Richard and Rama Kimball held the baptism for their son Keefer at our house. Richard is American, Rama is Guinean. As part of the ceremony they sacrificed a sheep, as is the custom at Guinean baptisms. The sacrifice reminded me of when I was a young Peace Corps Volunteer, around the time of the Warran Harding administration. At the time I worked in a school in Côte d'Ivoire, teaching English as a foreign language, in French.

Our English books came from France, so I was in the interesting position of being an American trying to communicate a French view of British culture to African children. I coped with this situation by being extraordinarily enthusiastic about my work, even when I had no idea why I was there. The textbooks havd a lot of pictures of British kids doing incomprehensible things, and my job was to encourage the students to talk about the pictures in English. I often had to relax my rule about not speaking French in class, since otherwise no one would have said anything.

One memorable day, the lesson was called "Betty's Birthday", and the book contained a picture of an English girl blowing out the candles on her cake.

Me: Who knows what Betty is doing?

Class: [silence]

Me: Well, she's got a cake in front of her, hasn't she? And what is on her cake?

Pupil: Bougies?

Me: That's right! Or, candles, as we say in English. Do you know why Betty has candles on her cake?

Class: [silence]

Me: Well, let's think about this, shall we? Why has Betty got candles on her cake?

Pupil: I do not say the English.

Me: That's okay. You can say it in French.

Pupil: Sacrifice?"

Actually, the student was pretty close, because a sacrifice in African cultures is different from what I think of as a sacrifice. Where I come from, a sacrifice has an element of doing without, like not eating meat on Friday. But in Africa a sacrifice is a feast where whatever is sacrificed is quickly and enthusiastically consumed. The animal has to give something up, all right, but the people at the party are supposed to have a good time...


The answer was good! Same as my son Kirby's, when Kirby was little.

The question was bad. How should African kids (or young adults) know why candles were on a birthday cake? Had Mr. Rippey asked that question in Oregon, or London, he would have been met with the same silence or blank stares, or by "Because it's her birthday," or "That's how birthday cakes are." Or even if someone had said "So she can blow them out and make a wish," would he have jumped to the concept of "sacrifice"?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR and where you could get the rest of this.

"Paul Rippey lived in Africa for twenty years with his wife and four children through coups d'état in four countries, many weird diseases, and lots of inconvenience." (from's bio of the author).
He lived there in the early 1990's, but the Peace Corps time was probably in the 1960's or '70's. For younger or foreign readers, the Warran Harding comment was a joke. The Peace Corps was established during President Kennedy's tenure, in the early 1960's.

You can buy a kindle copy of the booklet Cow of Gueckedou which contains the full story, or download individual stories free from Friends of Guinea. After the cake part, though, it's about animals who don't live (unrelated to the birthday at that point).

AND in the kindle version, there is a line between these that isn't in the original PDF.

Me: That's okay. You can say it in French.

Pupil: Sacrifice?"

It says "Please!" And it's unclear, because it's at the top of a new page, whose voice it was supposed to have been. I think it's misplaced.

Back to the cake page