August is the month of freedom for children in school in my country. Exams are over, the results of end-of-year exams are out and the lucky ones who have successfully finished their school year, reap the benefits of not having to suffer through hours of homework. It’s a time for kids to be kids, play outside for hours, and make the best out of their free time. Coming home from work couple of weeks ago, I was passed by a group of four boys, ages between 7 or 10, speeding on the dirt road, on their bikes. I was reminded of that time in my life, when just like them, I would ride my bike around the neighborhood, all afternoon.
With my friends, and sometimes my siblings and their own friends, we would take on the streets, in search of hidden roads, fruit trees, and any random treasures we could find. Those adventurous and thrilling times riding our BMX bikes, were always fruitful, for we would come with incredible stories to tell classmates, or whoever was willing to listen to our tales. Our stories mainly consisted of being lost, being chased by rabid dogs, falling and scraping our knees, and eating too much street food.
I particularly remember one incident where we had been chased by a herd of sheep. Tough I live in a big city of 4 million souls, it is not unusual to encounter wandering animals such as dogs, goats, and sheep. Now this herd of sheep, lead by a very angry old ram, had a peculiar taste for ice cream. The herd belonged to an old lady in the neighborhood who would let them roam around freely. Because she was respected, nobody would hurt her sheep or try to eat them. They strolled around the neighborhood, terrorizing kids and adults, carrying ice cream cones. Once they spotted their victims, they would bulk up, charge, and chase you until you were forced to drop your frozen treat for them to devour. It got to a point, where you had to make a detour after going to the ice cream shop, because the sheep would wait at the exit of the street leading to the shop, hoping to rob us of our ice cream cones. A true gang of vicious and threatening sheep.
Feeling all-powerful on our bikes, and refusing to be bullied by some crazed sheep, we decided to treat ourselves to some well deserved ice cream, after riding in the hot sun. Armed with courage, we braved the road, while our bullies were standing around, waiting to collect their afternoon snack too. We thought we could outsmart them with the speed of our bikes: we were so wrong. As soon as the sheep saw us, they ran to us, as we pedaled as fast as our legs could take us. Emboldened by their love of ice cream, they chased us even faster than we could have anticipated. The faster we tried to escape with dripping, melting ice creams in our hands, the crazier and more furious they got in their pursuit. By the end of the road, We had to sign abandon, and drop our ice cream, to the joy of our bullies. They may have won the chase that day, but we had at least stories and a bonding experience to share for years to come.
As I was being passed by the group of boys, I wondered if, they too, would have similar stories like I had, to relate to their family and friends. The beauty of growing up in Africa, is the chance for kids, to enjoy their childhood for the longest. It made me happy to see children running in the streets, just like I did, when I was a child, many moons ago. It’s not just like in the movies, or tv shows where you see children playing outside, in the grass or the dirt; here, it is a daily sight that warms your soul. In a way, maybe because parents know the harsh realities of our environment, they try to preserve the innocence of our childhoods, for as long as they can. It is not an easy task these days, with omnipresent technology and the ever, changing fast paced world we are in, but seeing kids riding their bikes, being carefree and enjoying their school vacations, made me happy for them, that they are able to live out the simplest and joyous things of childhood.