The Bicycle’s Arrival
“I had so many questions about bicycles and riding, so I always looked forward to seeing the rich kids every day. At first, it was rumored that you had to go to a special school to be trained on how to ride. How else would you know how to balance?”Elizabeth Ruigu
My experience with bikes and cycling began in 1998 when I was around six years old. I remember the period with a lot of nostalgia and gratitude.
I was the firstborn of four and was raised in a poverty-stricken village in the heart of central Kenya. My father was a vegetable seller while my mother sold second-hand clothes. Needless to say, every coin earned was pivotal in our survival.
I really can’t complain about my childhood and everything that we faced since it was also one of my happiest periods. Unlike modern times where children are entertained by hooking up to televisions and video games, ours was quite different. We had no electricity or electronics, and the few people who owned televisions were considered to be the wealthiest in society.
I would be lying if I said that we missed out on anything. If nothing else, we had very socialized upbringings—ones that many Millennials never experienced.
After waking up each morning, all of us kids completed our mandatory house chores, including cleaning utensils, fetching water, and gathering firewood. Then, we played.
We sang games, played sports, and challenged each other. It was very fun. By the time everyone went home in the evening, we were all dusty or muddy, but it was okay. That is what our childhood was all about.
The Wealthy Khan Kids & Their Bicycles
I first encountered a bicycle when I was five years old. At the time, a wealthy Asian family (the Khans) had rented a bungalow in our village, and all three of their children owned bikes.
The Khan kids always came out to ride around the same time each day, when all of the neighborhood children were at the field. Everything instantly stopped. We stared at them in awe and disbelief. Second, only to a car, it was one of the best things we had ever laid our eyes on.
Nobody dared talk to the Khan kids, or even go near them, for two primary reasons: First, they were always so clean and collected, unlike our dirty and rowdy group. Secondly, they were so rich, which granted them a huge level of respect.
I had so many questions about bicycles and riding, so I always looked forward to seeing the rich kids every day. At first, it was rumored that you had to go to a special school to be trained on how to ride. How else would you know how to balance? The fact that the Khan kids had achieved such a significant milestone at their ages was just something out of this world.
Within a few weeks, the kids became increasingly social with us. Communication was always a barrier since they spoke English, and most of us were just beginning to learn the language in school. However, they were still very friendly and tried to teach us how to ride. You should have seen us line up for our turns.
Truth be told, none of us really rode the bikes. All we did was hop on, hold the handlebars, and walk around the field while pushing the bike forward with our feet.
It didn’t matter. We were always so happy and looked forward to doing the same thing day after day.
The big boys walked the bigger bike, while the little ones (us) walked the smaller bike. We actually had an advantage, since the small bike had training wheels, allowing us to push each other around the field.
A Breakdown in Communication
As fate would have it, one after the other, the bikes began breaking down from so much use. The big bike was the first to go. Too many boys were handling it, and the number of times it fell was crazy.
The second bike broke down shortly after the first, much to our dismay. The Khan parents were furious! I believe the bikes cost a lot of money at the time, and repairing them would have been both physically taxing and financially costly. There was hardly any bicycle repair shop in the vicinity, and the few open in the capital city were expensive.
The Khan children were banned from talking to us, and the father made it very clear that none of us were to touch any of their bikes from that point forward.
As soon as the bikes were repaired, we could see the Khan’s riding them all over, but none of us went close to them again. Most of the time, their father or nanny would be at the end of the field looking out for them, and we knew that we would be in trouble if we approached.
Many of us were saddened and distraught. Our new addiction was no more. Some older boys tried to make their own bikes out of wood and scrap metal, but it never worked. Gradually, we went back to our traditional games.
The Bicycle Rolls Into the Sunset
As fate would have it, my family became acquainted with the Khan family. I wouldn’t really call it a friendship, per se since my parents helped them with gardening and other adjustments in the village, but it proved very beneficial to me. At least, for a little while.
On days when my mother would go over to their household, I would accompany her, after taking a shower and putting on clean clothes. My goal was to increase my chances that the little Khan would let me ride her bike since we were always left alone to play while the grownups tended to more important matters.
She was a little older than me and absolutely friendly. Despite the fact that we could hardly understand each other, we played with dolls, and she showed me how to ride her bike. You should have seen me pedal! My life was complete.
Due to increased water and electrical problems, the Khans, unfortunately, weren’t able to settle in our village and decided to relocate back to the city. As usual, they called on my parents to help them with packing and loading everything into their moving truck, and I, of course, accompanied them.
My heart sank as I watched the bikes loaded into the truck, and I was utterly shattered. As they drove away, I couldn’t help but cry.
My parents understood why I was so sad. They knew how much I looked forward to riding the bike, and sadly, there was nothing much they could do. I remember kneeling and praying to God to let the Khan family come back.
I promised I would be a good girl! I would no longer go to school late, and I would help my mother with all the chores. It didn’t work. They never came back.
I resorted to bargaining. I made my dad promise that if I did well in school, he would buy me a bike. After turning in an exemplary performance term after term, my dad continued promising me that the bike was on the way.
“They take many years to make after your order,” he’d insist. I believed him. After all, a bicycle was one of the most sophisticated machines ever made.
I waited unabated. Every day, I grew happier, since it meant that the manufacturing company was that much closer to finishing my bike. Whenever students teased me at school, I just smiled. None of them would touch my bike, I swore.
On July 2, 2000, I woke up as I usually did on the weekends. Late!
I stumbled sleepily to the sitting room to get some breakfast, and that’s when I saw it sitting there: a bicycle!
I can’t describe how I felt. It was one of the best days of my life. I cried and thanked God and cried some more. It was my birthday (I had forgotten in all of the excitement), and I’d received the perfect gift.
Within no time, I was the newest cool kid in our village. The other children treated me better, and some even gave me a portion of their food at school so that I would allow them to ride when we played at home.
I was untouchable. My childhood was complete and looking back, I can say that I had the best time ever.
With the wisdom of an adult, I can’t help but gain a new level of respect for my parents. As I said, we were not wealthy. However, my dad struggled and kept his promise, despite our family’s many financial issues. By putting my happiness first, he gave me the best childhood, and I am forever grateful.
That bike lasted for a long, long time. When I eventually outgrew it, it was passed down to my sister, and I continued excelling in my education, fulfilling my father’s dream of seeing me become well-educated.
Currently, I have a Yopin mountain bike that I thoroughly treasure. Not only has cycling enabled me to remain fit, but it is also my primary mode of transportation to work.
To many in my village, owning a bike is still a big hurdle as they are incredibly expensive, compared to the average household income. Once in a while, I meet with an excited child on a bike, and I can’t help but smile. I know exactly how they feel!