As a young boy growing up on the Kano plains of Kisumu County in Western Kenya, I took care of my family’s herd of goats — it was a favorite pastime. My older brothers and cousins would wake up before sunrise to plough the fields, and every member of the family, young and old alike, was involved in various farming activities on the family land. The communal nature of the village meant that enough food was grown to feed the entire community and that no child ever went hungry and was welcome to have a meal in any household within the village.
The Kano plains are renowned for their irrigated rice fields. Rice farming is an intensive activity, and having no machinery or hired labor, family members were often the only source of labor. My brothers and I would brave the cold waters and leeches in the rice fields and join our parents in rice production activities from planting to harvesting. The involvement of the children in the household’s livelihood and food security was the case for every other family in our village. There was nothing like child labor in Kano.
Being a flat land, we experienced floods, those floods that come at night without notice. If you are a true luo who goes to the village you know young men in the village do this thing called chasing sleep. This is translated to looking for a place to sleep. Never mind the night runners you meet along the way or stepping on hot layered dumplings ‘poop’ freshly laid by your fellow villagers, the trip to your ‘lawo nindo’ base was like a movie if you were one of those scared town boys.
My brother’s house was famous for chasing sleep. There were numerous houses people could go to but this one was special. I also think it was because we had quite a number of female cousins coming to visit. The agweng phenomenon.
One night as the boys were sleeping, after a vicious game of cards, it suddenly became very cold. We could hear a slight wind blow across the house with the Mabati tingling and turning like the common nightrunner had come check on us for the second night in a row. I could not sleep that night, being December, I was still fearing the coming of the famous depe or as you May have heard them called ‘nyawawa’ ( I’m not even sure how to explain what a nyawawa is sincerely).
The sleep chasers were all fast asleep, some on the floor, some on the bed, and the occasional crazy cousin who slept in the ceiling. As I stared at the door, I saw a light crawl beneath the door and creep into the house. In my mind, Omieri was in the area ( I’m sure you all remember Omieri the famous snake). My village has a lot of interesting creatures, Nyakach is not too far too from us. If you know floods, they never knock. They just come in. My poor cousin Blasio was wondering why he was so cold and the ‘par’/mat’ was not as hard as it usually is. All this while he was swimming with the ‘mumi’ under his blanket. “Pi obiro, pi obiro auru maloo, cried my dad. The sleepchasers were so gone blasio was floating with no effort. His buoyancy was that of a young man used to swimming in his own ‘pool’.
As we run out of the house, Ouma sees a snake-like creature crawling along the pathway, he jumps up and starts to scream only to see the animal scatter into smaller creatures. These, my friends, are what we call Mumi. Fish so sweet you would kill to eat the belly. Just like the nduthi guys my villagers appeared from nowhere with pangas and baskets. It turned into a night of harvest. Harvesting fish. These were great times. Yes, there were floods but it came with goodies. Fish, rice, and a range of other good things. Free swimming too for us who were not afraid of malaria. Our parents believed that water gave you malaria. Not mosquitoes.
My village is flooded right now, most people have no shelter, food is running scarce but the saddest part is that the floods bring nothing nowadays. For us, we would come back home from school kama ume weka maji ya ugali and head out to fish for lunch during the flood season. Sikuhizi ni serikali saidia. Jakano tek to tar!
Narration by my good friend Olosky Victor