Kiddos today might have computer games, video games, consoles, etc, but the sheer joy of playing with a mkebe in the 80s cannot be matched. I pendad ‘Shake’ (why was it called shake?) ‘cause it brought together nearly everyone from the Esto. I bet some people even met their future mchumba right there whilst playing shake. The good bit was being in the team lengaring the gate-keepers, the bad bit was being tapped or being the gate-keeper. There was also hide & seek of course, which I also loved, but that one’s been there since the 1780s (or from Huckleberry Fin’s time) so it’s not really unique to our childhood. In one episode of hide & seek we decided to actually hide in someone’s hao – a complete stranger’s, and we just went into their living room and burudikad on their velvet sofas! Haiya, the mathe walked in and she just smiled, saying ‘hello children’! Amazing that community spirit in Estos.
Then there were marbles and conkers; I never liked these. Kuna faida gani hapo? And there was patco (?) or was it pata? It involved the insides of soda bottle tops (kumbuka those round, white things lining the inside of a bottle top). The point of the game was to blow them or something. Then Coca Cola tokead with a competition, whereby if you found certain images on those white mamthings you could win something (usually a tennis racket or ball), so people kept a collection.
Aah what about Bladder? Hiyo ni innovation ya Kenya pekee, someone should patent it. That idea of recycling tyre-tubes (baada ya making ‘Kala’ shoes) is so Nai 1980s. Some people could ruka that bladder even when it was held as high as someone’s shoulders, and sijui there was a thing where a player twisted the bladder round one ankle, rukad with the other – aah mambo mingi with just one elastic rope. If you lacked vironda it showed you didn’t have Bladder prowess as the road to conquering the game involved many falls and scratches.
Skipping is like hide & seek – not particular to 80s, but can any one remember making their own skipping rope? In class we used to be asked to bring sisal for art/craft lessons, and so we would plait our own skipping rope. These wouldn’t have the necessary nguvu, as skipping ropes were supposed to be heavy, so they were too flimsy to skip with. At some point double-dutch arrived in Kenya, but I never got to mastering it.
As for “electronic” games, there were various varieties of Nintendo hand-held thingis. Uchumi tried to make their own version (I think the concept was ‘shoot the fish in the barrel’ – how marvellous) with bits of plastic fish surrounded by water, and the thing you ‘shot’ with either failed to materialise or it went in one direction, so that was pointless. Those were mainly for boys, though; for girls there were just dolls. Lakini hakukuwa na Barbie, Cindy, and other stick-dolls. Those dolls were chubby, rosy cheeked, with mathe hairstyles, and although I was never a dolls kinda person, they were okey to play with.
Other games included Monopoly, Snakes & Ladders, Cards (is it still true that playing cards outside is arrestable?), Scrabble. These games were played in the hao or in chuo in the week before closing day – kumbuka that feeling, exams over, no lessons, aah what bliss. There was also Lido (or is it ludo or cludo?), Dominoes, Chess, Drafts (hata grownups used to play drafts – just take cardboard, chora checks into it with Bic, find bottle-tops and voila).
Then there were silly or sinister games like ‘tapo’ (run around, tap someone and they’re “it”), kaka (was it the one with a stick and a mkebe?), play-pretend (imagine and act as if you are a teacher/nurse/ policeman [“Maze toa kitu kidogo hiyo toy moti ina mwaga brake fluid”]) constructing your own language (ours had an extensive vocab and additional sign language).
I almost forgot that game “STOP”. It involved 2 or more players and sheets of paper with columns drawn into them for names of cars, countries, foodstuffs, people names, etc. So basically, someone would name a letter from A-Z and the players would have to fill in the columns (so for letter A: Alfa-romeo, Algeria, Apple, Alice). The first person to complete the column would say “Stop”, then everyone would exchange their answers and award points. That was an enjoyable game unless someone said X, Z, V or some other such letter (“ufala kabisa”). Other games involving paper and pencils included noughts & crosses, hangman (what a sadistic concept), join-the-dots, and crosswords or word puzzles from Sunday Nation (Young Nation was a must-read then; sijui walifanya nini nayo).
Then there were bicycles. Kiddos would ride their bikes up and down the Esto tirelessly, all day and all week in the holls, and they would nyima others a ride. Sometimes it was after dark, and you could still find a kiddo riding their bike. Some could do “wheelies,” or the equivalent of vehicle handbrake turns (when you spin a car with the handbrake on – err not that I’ve tried it myself). There were BMXs, Raleigh bikes, Mountain bikes, but a bike was a bike, and they were in demand.
The entire school holls were spent playing these games (no TV before 5.30, remember?) – but then chuo came up with the not-so-nice idea of compelling pupils to attend “holiday classes” and TV expanded, so I guess that’s when the bliss of Nai childhood started going down the drain.