The late sun cast a glow of Oscar gold on the girls’ faces and on the fields of lush green crops behind them. Four or five of them sat in the patch of grass in a circle, legs crossed Indian style, each with palms up and slapping against the palms to their left and right in rhythmic beats to the song they sang in Luo. Stella in her red dress, Lucky with those wide and gracious eyes, Pesca in her bright teal and pink with the spirit of an ornery five year old, Sarah shy in pink, and Eunice, soaking it all in from a distance. A chicken strode peacefully toward them but kept a safe distance in the dirt as the girls giggled and fell over at the end of each round. Faster and faster they slapped, keeping perfect cadence with their chants.
Scott was nicknamed “the tree.” He is tall, about 6’4″. The kids loved to play chase with him. He ran towards them with a loud “ROOAAARRRR”, long arms outstretched wide to catch them as they laughed and screamed and tried to run away; a group of them scattering and laughing, and then reconvening for protection and then scattering again as he sped closer. They never tired of taunting him so he would chase them. He never tired of their joy, the squeals and smiles of contentedness.
Pappa T, who glows with an aura of boyish charm and meeknees, climbed to the top of the mattresses stacked in the main hut, “surfing” on them. Several of the boys followed him up there to make the stack sway even farther. Mamma Sylvia quickly scolded her husband, through a smile, for being a bad influence; but we couldn’t help but laugh. It was funny to see a grown man being mischievous and trying to get away with it. He did.
Gymnastics really gets them going. Cartwheels, somersaults, and rolls…but no-one could top the boy who can walk several feet on his hands!
On one of the last nights we were there, I pulled Eunice aside. She’s a thinker and a learner. “Let me teach you a game,” I said. We sat facing each other in the warm glow as the sun made its final decent behind the corn. “Palms up.” I showed her the clapping rhythm: right, clap, left, clap, clap, back, front, clap, to be repeated throughout the song. Then I taught her the lyrics as I learned them when I was a girl:
Say say oh playmate,
Come out and play with me!
And bring your dollies three,
Climb up my apple tree!
Slide down my rainbow,
Into my cellar door!
And we’ll be jolly friends,
Forever more, more,
More, more, more, more !
The other girls wanted to play too, so several of us paired up to teach the clapping game. Eunice caught on quickly with the rhythm but struggled a bit to remember the English song. I took out my journal, the one with the peach colored lined pages adorned with butterflies and flowers, and wrote down the words. She smiled brightly and I could see the wheels turning. “Now this is your job,” I said, tearing out the page and handing it to her, “to teach the other girls. When you sing the friendship song, you will remember that even though we live on the other side of the world, we will be friends forever.” She was beaming, her smile emanating a glow of companionship. She took the paper and got up to go practice by herself.
On the last night, after the goodbyes were sung, Eunice found me in the dark courtyard and pulled me into the light powered by the generator. She was ready to show me that she had memorized the song. Shy, and afraid to start, I said, “I’ll sing with you.” We sang and clapped together with perfect rhythm. “Friends forever,” she said with a hug that will stay with me for a lifetime. “Friends forever,” I said.
–Tara Schiro is the author of “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live” NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon and Barnes and Noble http://www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com