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Things our kids will miss

Can you imagine what it was like growing up back in the day? I always looked forward to school holidays coz that meant that the entire family will be shipped to shags for two weeks and I will get to meet my cousins and friends from shags. It was always something to look forward to if you had a shags like mine.

My shags is in a place called Kibigori just before you get to Chemelil from Kisumu if you are using the Kisumu-Miwani-Chemelil route (which is these days in a very bad shape so we have to go all the way to Chemelil then take a detour to get home). During holidays my cousins would also come from all over the country and we pretty much had so much fun with each other.

One of the reasons I enjoyed going shags was coz my dad worked at Chemelil Sugar Company and he stayed in shags coz it was closer to his work, us going shags meant spending more time with him that the usual weekends when he came home to Kisumu.

My typical day in shags will begin at 5.00 am when I would help my dad with this small kitchen garden we had just behind our house. My family is a lot into farming and stuff as both my folks jobs also had something to do with agriculture. We would do that for an hour before my dad showered and left for work when the company Landrover dropped by which was usually around 7.15 am.

Then my dad would hand me over to my late grandma. She was an awesome lady full of grace and love. She could be very strict at times though. She loved singing those Luo hymns all the time…I think I learned most of the hymns I know in Luo from her. We called her “japuonj” which means teacher in Luo.

She inherited that name from my grand dad whom I never had the chance to meet – actually the only person in my family that knew him was my dad. He died when my dad was still very young. My grand dad was a second world war veteran having fought alongside the British army in Burma, India. He was also a teacher of the word at the local African Inland Church. His government name was Raphael Wambura – now you all know where I get the name Ka’Wambura from :-).

Going back to my shags experiences…there was nothing as fun as taking a morning poop in the sugarcane plantations. There were very few latrines in my ocha hood those days but my family had one, the only problem was that the hole was so big and minors like myself were not allowed to use it. So every morning after everyone else had woken up we would round up each other and go into the sugarcane bushes and make one big mess. What’s funny about the morning poop was that it had it’s unique smell – then you would imagine how we came back home laughing and making fun of each other’s poop.

If it was April holidays it meant that we would go to the maize farms in the morning to weed just before we had breakfast. Kids were not allowed to work in the sugarcane farms because they were very highly valued. August holidays were harvesting seasons for maize and millet. We never grew sorghum in our shags. We had other stuff like potatoes and cassavas but those were out of reach of children as well. December was my favorite holiday because there was not so much to be done in the farms – maybe the kitchen garden my dad kept where he grew onions, tomatoes, kales and such like stuff.

After the early morning labor in the farm we would come back home just as the sun was starting to get hot – this was usually around 11.00 am. If it was during the August holidays we would be carrying some green maize with us from the farm. Bread and suchlike was unheard of on the third day of our stay in ocha as we would have finished everything we carried with us from Kisumu. The green maize would be roasted on open fire by one of my elder siblings or cousins. Some of my cousins are old enough to be my fathers though…then we would make strong tea. Not that there was no milk but there was something just great about strong tea with roasted maize which most of the time will be half burnt. There was this type of maize we used to call “okela” because it had scattered grains in the cob, it was everybody’s favorite.

After breakfast the boys would drive the cattle to River Nyando where the cattle would quench their thirst before they start grazing. The girls would take care of other domestic chores like washing, fetching water, fetching firewood and preparing lunch. Grazing was always fun because we would put all the cattle in a pool together with other families from the village and march with one big herd to the river.

Getting to the river was tricky because at some point we had to cross the railway with the large herd – extremely dangerous if there was an oncoming train. When we got to the river we will take tursn swimming and watching the animals graze so that they don’t get into someone’s farm or get stollen.

Yeah cattle theft is a serious thing in my shags…almost close to what they do in Turkana and Pokot just that instead of guns the raiders who were mainly from the neighboring Nandi County came with bows and arrows. At times tribal conflicts would breakout when we were in shags and dad would rush home with Landrovers and security guys from the factory and bundle us all in for that unplanned trip back to Kisumu. Most of the time the wars dint come though.

With the sun getting hotter and the water games getting sweeter we would at times be carried away and just to be taken out of the water with cane strokes when the herd had strayed into someone’s farm. That meant disaster because the owner of the cattle would be fined and us kids will receive the beating of our lives.

Most of the days again our shifts between swimming and grazing went on well.Then there were the animal fights!! When fed up with the water action we would go to the grazing fields and make the animals fight. I really don’t remember how to make bulls fight but I know how to make rams fight.  With rams it was easy all you had to do was settle on the two rams you want to fight and clear everything else in the “arena” then you would pull one of its hind legs and do the same with the opponent. When you leave their legs they would charge at each other and an exciting duel would ensue. They would fight until one runs away.

By now it’s probably around 4.00 pm and we would start our slow march with the hard back home. This time being cautious on the rail coz about that time there was always a train coming from Kisumu. If your cattle was ran over by the train you were charged by the Kenya Railway. Of course whoever was grazing would receive the beating of a lifetime.

When we got home in the evening we would get the cattle to their shade. Now in my shags things are done a little different. We are used to the cowsheds being somewhere in the middle of the compound…in our shags because of the animal theft we make our cowsheds inside the house. In my home the shade was in my grandma’s house. The cattle passed through her bedroom to their shed. This means that if cattle thief came in the night, they had to pass through my grandma before they get to the cattle. Unfortunately they once did and sweet old Priscilla Nyawagesa died a few months later from the injuries sustained from the beating she got on that fateful night.

When we got home in the evening we would sit and have our late lunch…the ugali would be cold by then but who cares. In shags it was survival for the fittest. At times I think my folks took us to shags so that we would just learn a few lessons about competing for resources. We would at times be in shags for weeks and my dad who usually stays in shags when we are in Kisumu would those day commute from Kisumu to shags daily. In my family we were mostly poor eaters, I remember my older siblings used to do chores for our house help so that she could serve them little food. But in shags there were no such luxuries as snacks so if you missed a meal you really din’t know when the next would come.

After our late lunch we would sit in my grandma’s mud walled house and tell tales. The culmination of it all would be grandma telling us tones of old folk stories just before we retired to bed after dinner. Tomorrow we would do it again with a few twists in between until weekend.

With weekend I mean Sunday. Sundays were special days because there was no working in the farm or grazing the cattle. The cattle would be tethered outside the home to eat grass on the fallows. We would wake up in the morning and have breakfast – special Sunday and if dad was around we would all have bread with butter and jam with some milk tea or Millo. Then we would leave for Sunday school. After Sunday school we took a stroll to Kibigori Shopping center where  we bought sodas from the money we pinched from our sadaka allowance hoping that no one would snitch.

When the holidays were over and we had to come back home…we were always looking forward to the next. I even had a village girlfriend but I don’t remember her name and you can imagine the probability of being related to your village girlfriend but those days we were so pure so it din’t mean nothing. No mobile phone..very few people had post boxes so all you could do is wait for the next three months to see your friends again.

The photo above is from one such days when our stay in shags was over. To the extreme left is my eldest siz called Elizabeth Okoth  in shags we just called her “Olisa.” She is carrying baby Clement Wambura who is now a graduate Engineer from UoN and works at Mumias Sugar Company! Clement is my cousin. Next to her is a cousin I haven’t seen in ages called Betty … we just called her “Kan” in shags. The dude with a creamish (or yellow) shirt is my big bro Raphael Wambura we called him “Mzee” coz he was named after the old man. Actually Clement is also called “Mzee” and there is another “Mzee” who is now a student at UoN but by this time he was not yet born. Next to Raph is Ronald Omondi Okoth we called him “Riggy or Arigo” coz he was named after president Ronald Reagan. Riggy is a die hard Gor Mahia fan, he is my elder bro too. Next to Riggy is myself then the last on the front row is my small bro Clifford Ooko Okoth Ka’wambura, we called him “Akili“…you have to make it sound Luo without implying Swahili for brain. You notice he is still chewing the last juice from his sugarcane? The lady at the back is my Aunt (I don’t know her official names), we call her“Mama Ali” … She is carrying baby Alphayo who is a grown ass man today.

Those are moments my kids won’t really have the opportunity to experience…and of course most of my generation’s parents too. We all live in towns today, there are no more shags to go to. Today taking kids to see their grand parents involve moving from your house in Kileleshwa to visit your folks in South B or Buruburu. Where will they get to eat ochuoga? We don’t have shags anymore with our folks buying land and building in town. For myself I even think it’s me who lives in shags and my folks live in town coz where my house if it’s still more of a rural area that is just starting to get developed by the few individuals putting up real estate projects there. My folks stay in the “leafy suburbs” of Dunga – where my friends like to call it Dunga County and I can imagine my kids calling that their shags? This is an injustice we are doing to our kids, I wish mine would get to experience the life I did.

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  • Anonymous Reply

    November 8, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Reminds me so much of my childhood. My parents retired to our shags so for me going to shags still means making the long scenic journey to Nyanza. Hopefully, I will marry soon so I can take my kids through the same enchanting experience to dala to see their grandparents:-)


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