Hokey Pokey in the Rain

Dancing African boys

We danced. All of us in one line, I in the middle, under the moonlight. Our mom was preparing food in the kitchen, and goats were chewing the gut right beside us. Crickets were chirping and the cows were mooing as they await their calves. It was just about milking time, and we would all be helter-skelter once mother gives the decree. Father was resting his back on a sack, and his head on a three-legged traditional chair near the gate, looking up to the sky with his legs folded.


The day had been hectic. Being the last born of the eleven-member family, I was left at home to look after chicken. Young as I was, I was afraid of being alone in the house; but I could not refuse to perform my duties. I feared silence, the sound of birds singing, and the thought of snakes wandering into our home compound hunting for lizards. But I had one companion – our charming black-and-white cat. The dog was in the bush hunting with two of my brothers. I was always eager to become old enough to start hunting. It sounded like a wonderful experience chasing squirrels, hares and antelopes in the savanna forest. Not today, though.

My two eldest brothers and two eldest sisters were at home for the school holidays, and they would soon go back to their respective high schools. For today, they were in the shamba planting various varieties of crops. I had accompanied mum and three of my elder sisters – Jude, Jemuge and Elizabeth – to the shamba when I was too young and afraid to stay at home alone. I had seen them making a line in front of stones that were grouped and arranged in a straight line. I had asked why the stones were assembled and arranged in a straight line, and my sister could only laugh at me cynically. I had cried.

I later learned that the stones were arranged to prevent erosion of the soil and to divide the land for easy planting, and we called them pereji. All shambas in the village had the same pattern. If you stood at the slopes of Kisok hills, on the other side of the village, you could see the beauty of all the shambas in Bartum village. The arrangement of stones made the land look like a child’s play game.

During the planting season, people were always seen between two perejis scratching the ground with a farming tool called mokombe. This was to cover the millet and sorghum seeds for easy germination once the rains start. That was what my mother and siblings had gone to do. Mokombe was made of wood and a metallic hook on the head, making it look like a mini jembe. Its small size and sharp head made it easy to scratch around stones.

Our shambas were full of stones – so, so many of them. I saw my mother one day hitting her leg with a stone. She was scratching the ground to cover the seeds when her mokombe slid and threw the stone on her leg. She groaned mournfully and sat under the shade of an acacia tree to nurse her ailing leg.



I sat under a tree called ng’oswo outside our homestead, with my eyes fixed on a hen feeding her chicks. The cock was crowing koo-ki-koo-kooooo on top of the fence. As I watched the chicken carefully, my mind got engaged in a thoughtful exercise. I imagined an eagle descending in a lightning speed from the sky and grapping one chick. My mother would beat me several times on the buttocks using a stick. My brothers would be laughing and teasing me. I would cry and run away from home, and no one would look for me until hunger brought me back during dinner. Such thoughts scared me, so I started singing.

Ng’o no mi yoo, Aiya Yaya,

Ane Cheptuke, Aiya yaya,

Iyoe nee, Aiya yaya

Aome lamai, Aiya yaya

In a short while, a lizard came running towards me, chased by our cat, who was definitely hungry. It was only two hours to noon, and I was becoming hungry too. Thinking they were attacked by a wild cat, the chicken, who were becoming my friendly companions, dispersed in different directions into the bushes. I did not fear lizards, but my instincts made me climb the tree quickly. The lizard followed me. Our cat was also a master in climbing trees. The three of us raced up, but I had no chance against natural climbers. Just as the lizard was approaching my belly, I jumped three meters down, landing awkwardly on a stony ground. I felt excruciating pain running through my spinal cord.

While I was still crying, I heard somebody laughing behind me. When I turned, I saw my friend Kemboi standing with small round stones in his hands. I forgot my duties and my troubles immediately. I knew it was time to play pantai. We went to our usual playing ground by the riverbank. We played, and played, and played. The sun went past our heads, and the shadows turned to face the east. It was 3 P.M., and we were still playing. My friend and I never notice the passage of time whenever we started playing. On that day we did not have the company of other friends because they were all occupied with home duties. Kemboi had left their new goats alone in the bushes to get a taste of the game for a few minutes. Minutes turned into hours, and only God knows where the goats had gone and how many chicks had been eaten by eagles.

At 4P.M, it started raining. We always enjoyed dancing in the rain. It was the beginning of the rainy season, and it has been raining for a few days now. This was fun. Holding each other’s hands, we danced in a circle. If we were the usual five or ten kids, we would be merrier. The circle would be longer and the sound louder. Now it was only the two of us, but we danced nonetheless! Going round and round under the rain, we sang:

Ng’o no mi yoo, Aiya Yaya,

Ane Cheptuke, Aiya yaya,

Iyoe nee, Aiya yaya

Aome lamai, Aiya yaya

As the dance became funnier, the rain intensified. Our clothes were terribly wet, but we could not stop dancing. Suddenly, I remembered the cat, the lizard, and the chicken. I started worrying. Coincidentally, Kemboi also remembered the goats. He suddenly dropped my hands and ran as fast as deer towards the hills. I walked slowly towards home. I knew everybody was home now. I wondered whether we have lost one of the chicken.

When I was about to reach home, I stood at a safe distance to assess the situation. Mum was in the house washing the dishes. Of course we only had one house and one store inside a compound fenced by sticks and logs of trees. We shared the compound with the goats, and during the rainy season some of the goats, especially the sick and the weak, would share the fireplace with us to get warm. Dad was sitting under the store, surrounded by goats. The other siblings were gathered around the fireplace chewing things. My stomach started to crumble.

I could not stand it anymore. I walked slowly into the house, and past everyone to my favorite spot at the corner of the house. I was trembling terribly, but no one seemed to take notice of me. They were all busy chewing their roasted maize. My mother broke the silence with a worrying question. “Where have you been?” she asked. “I was looking for a chicken that got lost in the bush,” I lied. My brother Kiptoo laughed loudly and sarcastically. He always liked laughing, especially at me. As children, we always lied about everything, even the obvious. “Where is the chicken now?” mother asked. I remained silent. I did not know what to say. Kiptoo said, “Mother is asking you a question.” I started crying.

Now my mother started beating me seriously. He always beat us for anything, including crying and absolutely nothing. “I am sorry! I was playing with Kemboi.” She stopped and turned to Kiptoo who was laughing at me all this time. “Keep quiet or I will cane you too,” she warned him. The room became silent again. My favourite sister Jemuge gave me a bowl of maize, and I started chewing and swallowing passionately. Whenever I am hungry, I sweat. Today I was wet, so it was difficult to differentiate between sweat and wetness. Once I was done with my food, I went to the chicken’s house. One of the chicks was missing. I started crying with guilt.

Suddenly, Kemboi came crying too. “What is wrong? I inquired. He said that her grandma wanted to beat him, but he ran away. The new goats had apparently gotten lost. “I surrendered myself to the beating because one of our chicks is also missing. We should not have played,” I said. “It was your fault, why did you invite me?” He blamed me. I became angry. “I did not welcome you here, you came by yourself. It is you who has brought all this mess.” I counter-blamed, then we started to fight. Jemuge came to separate us. We sat down to explain everything to her. She told us not to worry, and promised to help Kemboi find the goats. We were happy again. The three of us searched the entire village from 5 P.M. until 7 P.M. We finally found the goats and drove them back. We left Kemboi outside their compound. “You have to face the music, my friend,” I said as I left him standing like a statue outside the gate.


My mother called us at 8 P.M to go and milk the cows. Five of us heeded the call of duty. The other four stayed behind to cook, clean the house, and prepare the store. I watched Jemuge as she milked her favorite cow. Kulei, Monica and Peter milked the other three cows as I stood at the gate to prevent the cows from escaping. After a while, one of the cows standing near the gate was beaten by a tsetse fly. She kicked me on the stomach. Jemuge stopped milking and came to my aid. I was fine.

The clouds in the sky cleared, giving way to the moon. We were all glad to see the moon. Each one of us was also happy to see our cows producing milk again at the start of the rainy season. We stood outside the cowshed, all five of us. I said, “Come, brothers and sisters. Let us dance.” They put the milk under a tree. We held our hands, formed a circle and started singing and dancing under the moonlight.

Ng’o no mi yoo, Aiya Yaya,

Ane Cheptuke, Aiya yaya,

Iyoe nee, Aiya yaya

Aome lamai, Aiya yaya

The rest of the siblings heard us singing. They had finished cooking, so they joined the dance. Mum called us to supper, but we continued singing and dancing. We went round and round in a circle, dancing hokey pokey under the moonlight.

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Fredrick Chepkonga

Mr. Fredrick Chepkonga is an educator and writer in Kenya with great experience in writing and research on education, economics, and finance topics. He has passion in mentoring young people to develop responsible citizens and future leaders.

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