“You don’t have a whipping holiday in America?” asked my friend.
No not really, although we do blow things up on the 4th of July. So while Americans blow stuff up today, boys in Abi Adi are kicking this whipping season off to a thunderous start. Boys all over town are weaving their own custom whips out of tree bark and other odds and ends so that they can participate in the culminating festivities of Hawerya, which falls on July 12th this year. All the boys will congregate on one of the cliffs near Abi Adi to joke and whip the air at each other. They don’t actually hit each other, but it’s still pretty startling to hear the cracking whips of an entire town’s youth.
This is just one example of a pastime for a kid in Abi Adi. While kids here don’t have access to many of the organized sports, clubs, music, art, mass produced toys, and other novelties of the developed world, they still know how to have fun with the resources at hand. Over the past year and half I’ve observed quite a few different pastimes and so here’s a list of some of them.
Just like in the United States, Ethiopian holidays create another time for kids to participate in local traditions and culture. These activities range from dancing, to mobbing around town soliciting donations, to participating in parades.
The most common category of pastimes in probably sports, or “making sport” or “sport” as it’s known here. These include football (soccer), running, basketball, and other ball focused games. Currently there’s a new version of dodge ball on my street. It looks like a combination of kickball and dodgeball and involves a throng of neighborhood kids yelling and screaming at each other. Other popular games include hopscotch, with lines etched in the hardpan dirt of the road, and jump rope type games.
Kids use pebbles to play a game similar to jacks. They use one hand to toss a stone in the air and collect more stones before catching it again. Kids also play with super cheap 0.25 birr /each marbles. At a penny a piece, most kids can afford a few. Another good free game is bottlecaps; you stack up a pile of bottle caps then take turns tossing a rock to try and knock them all over, horseshoes style.
The heel-toe express is the most common form of transportation for kids. Some kids walk extraordinary distances to go to school; I’m talking more than 10km one-way…every day! They joke, sing, and socialize with each other as they walk.
Chasing a hoop with a stick is still a big thing here. All you need a rudimentary hoop, usually made from wire or hose, and a stick, usually made from…stick. For me it conjures images of pre-revolutionary war colonial boys or Oliver Twist. Here in Ethiopia, it’s still extremely popular. Kids make other toys, some more complicated than others. Did you know you can refold a plastic biscuit wrapper into a dart-like arrow? Old bottles make an excellent model car chassis. Scraps of paper attached to a hub make pin-wheel propellers. Some kids get to play with ferenji toys too, but these are usually extremely basic. There are no Erector Sets or Legos here. What’s a Nintendo?
Other Miscellaneous Pastimes
But wait, there’s more. I didn’t know how to categorize these….
It’s Not All Fun and Games…
Kids are called on to pull their weight (or more) in household chores. These include hauling disproportionally huge loads, childcare, cooking and cleaning, selling peanuts on the street, and shining shoes. Here are a few specific examples:
The Importance of Playing
Kids need to play. Games and pastimes play an important role in developing a child’s mind. In fact one of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers wrote an article for our PCE newsletter in which she summarized the negative effects of poverty on a child’s mind. Her conclusion?
Ultimately, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, we can try to alleviate the negative effects of living in an under-resourced community on brain development by helping to create an enriching and stimulating environment for children while encouraging parents, teachers and mentors to do the same. We are probably already doing this by engaging in projects at our local schools, interacting with kids, teaching them about foreign cultures, and helping them to improve their English. However, encouraging others to do the same for sustainability is critical.
While Abi Adi’s resources are extremely limited, kids are creatively engineering solutions to this shortage everyday with unique and thrifty toys, games, and activities. These kids don’t ask me for toys and they don’t ask me to buy them anything. They solved their own problem. It is a child’s job to dream and question the world; it’s a fundamental part of being a kid.
I just wish the rest of us adults could remember to not lose sight of the knowledge we all gained as creative, hell-raising, little thinkers.
“Games spark off fantasy,
fantasy takes us to different realities,
different realities make us dream.”
ጨዋታዎች የሕሊናን ምናብ ያነቃቃሉ፤
ሕሊናዊ ምናብም ወደ ልዩ ልዩ እውነታዎች ይወስደናል፤
እውነታዎችም ሕልም እንድናልም ያደርጉናል።
A few of these pictures and this last quote are from an exhibit at the National Cultural Museum in Addis Ababa. The museum is located in the Sidist Kilo campus of Addis Ababa University. I highly recommend visiting it.