Go Play Outside

“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.

A boy uses a homemade whip in the Simian Mountains

A boy uses a homemade whip in the Simian Mountains

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.

Holidays

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.

Around Ethiopian Christmas boys make their own special stick by burning the whole thing then carefully removing the bark in a carved spiral pattern.  They use this stick to go around town banging and chanting their special Christmas song asking for donations from homes and businesses.  Think of it as a combination of caroling and trick-or-treating.

Around Ethiopian Christmas boys make their own special stick by burning the whole thing then carefully removing the bark in a carved spiral pattern. They use this stick to go around town banging and chanting their special Christmas song asking for donations from homes and businesses. Think of it as a combination of caroling and trick-or-treating. (photo from Mira)

The girl's answer to the hullabaloo created by the boys at Christmas is called Ashenda.  "Ashenda Girls" form little groups who "beatify" themselves together and then roam the streets accosting men for donations by singing and dancing.  The girls love it.  The boys end up spending all their money.

The girl’s answer to the hullabaloo created by the boys at Christmas is called Ashenda. “Ashenda Girls” form little groups who “beatify” themselves together and then roam the streets accosting men for donations by singing and dancing. The girls love it. The boys end up spending all their money.

Here are some youth dancing in a public ceremony during Ashenda last year.  They are dancing a form of Awrs, the traditional dance endemic to the Tembien region of Tigray, Ethiopia.

Here are some youth dancing in a public ceremony during Ashenda last year. They are dancing a form of Awrs, the traditional dance endemic to the Tembien region of Tigray, Ethiopia.

All kids love parades.  Throughout the year there are a few times to participate in one.  In this case, these elementary school kids are chanting slogans and marching to commemorate Lekatit 11th, the beginning of the revolution that overthrew the last repressive regime.

All kids love parades. Throughout the year there are a few times to participate in one. In this case, these elementary school kids are chanting slogans and marching to commemorate Lekatit 11th, the beginning of the revolution that overthrew the last repressive regime.

Making Sport

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.

There are some organized running events set up by the Ministry of Sport and Youth.  While not very common, they happen in most towns once or twice a year.  This one was in Kombolcha.

There are some organized running events set up by the Ministry of Sport and Youth. While not very common, they happen in most towns once or twice a year. This one was in Kombolcha.

Here is another race in Abi Adi.  I think this was a 6km race.  I ran in the general entry 5K and got my ass kicked.

Here is another race in Abi Adi. I think this was a 6km race. I ran in the general entry 5K and got my ass kicked.

Kids make footballs out of rags and twine then stuff it full of old plastic bags.  These homemade balls  are surprisingly bouncy and cost nothing to make.

Kids make footballs out of rags and twine then stuff it full of old plastic bags. These homemade balls are surprisingly bouncy and cost nothing to make.

Here is an assortment of handmade footballs at the National Cultural Museum in Addis Ababa.

Here is an assortment of handmade footballs at the National Cultural Museum in Addis Ababa.

The neighbor kid playing with an imported ball.

The neighbor kid playing with an imported ball.

Here's a kid playing in Asella

Here’s a kid playing in Asella

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.

Checkers: a universal classic.  Except here you don't need a king to jump backwards, sometimes.  ???

Checkers: a universal classic. Except here you don’t need a king to jump backwards, sometimes. ???

More advanced games include a type of Mancala.  Here my friend Todd fruitlessly attempts to learn how to play from some goat herder boys in the mountains above Abi Adi.  These 'boards' are carved into the rock all over the place...including on this cliff edge.

More advanced games include a type of Mancala. Here my friend Todd fruitlessly attempts to learn how to play from some goat herder boys in the mountains above Abi Adi. These ‘boards’ are carved into the rock all over the place…including on this cliff edge.

Getting Places

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.

Kids walking to School near Negash, Tigray.

Kids walking to School near Negash, Tigray.

Kids walking to School near Negash, Tigray.

Kids walking to School near Negash, Tigray.

Kids walking to School near Negash, Tigray.

Kids walking to School near Negash, Tigray.

Toys

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?

This is a car made from shoe shine lids, wire, and plastic.  Now it hangs in the National Cultural Museum in Addis Ababa.  Based on the craftsmanship, I hope the curators compensated the unfortunate kid they took this from.

This is a car made from shoe shine lids, wire, and plastic. Now it hangs in the National Cultural Museum in Addis Ababa. Based on the craftsmanship, I hope the curators compensated the unfortunate kid they took this from.

Some kids in Abi Adi made a sled out of a bit of plastic and a rope.  Our dusty streets make a great sledding hill...I'm sure their mom is thrilled with their clothes after this activity.

Some kids in Abi Adi made a sled out of a bit of plastic and a rope. Our dusty streets make a great sledding hill…I’m sure their mom is thrilled with their clothes after this activity. (photo from Mira)

Some kids get to play with other ferenji toys, like this coloring book...

Some kids get to play with other ferenji toys, like this coloring book…

...or these bubbles.

…or these bubbles.

Other Miscellaneous Pastimes

But wait, there’s more.  I didn’t know how to categorize these….

Staring at strange foreigners is always entertaining.  I feel like a clown as kids scream with glee when the strange huge white man approaches.  And just like clowns in America, I usually make babies cry.

Staring at strange foreigners is always entertaining. I feel like a clown as kids scream with glee when the strange huge white man approaches. And just like clowns in America, I usually make babies cry.

Horseplay and wrestling is common here especially among teenage boys.  Most kids know about America's WWE television wrestling and John Cena is a superstar here.  In this photo, this kid is emulating John Cena's signature finishing move by waving his hand in front of his face.

Horseplay and wrestling is common here especially among teenage boys. Most kids know about America’s WWE television wrestling and John Cena is a superstar here. In this photo, this kid is emulating John Cena’s signature finishing move by waving his hand in front of his face.

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:

Childcare is usually delegated to older siblings or neighbor kids.  It's pretty striking to see a 5 year old with a 1 year old on her back, but I see it almost daily.

Childcare is usually delegated to older siblings or neighbor kids. It’s pretty striking to see a 5 year old with a 1 year old on her back, but I see it almost daily.

Kids start herding at a very young age here.  I've seen a fearless 40 pound kid shoeing along a 1000 pound bull with a stick.  More commonly you'll see boys herding sheep and goats into the countryside to forage.  This kid decided he would rather ride his donkey instead of chasing behind.

Kids start herding at a very young age here. I’ve seen a fearless 40 pound kid shoeing along a 1000 pound bull with a stick. More commonly you’ll see boys herding sheep and goats into the countryside to forage. This kid decided he would rather ride his donkey instead of chasing behind.

Kids carry a lot of stuff in this country: water, babies, firewood, grain, items from the market, or your bag at to the bus station.  It's hard work, difficult and decidedly not fun.  This little girl is a long way from home with a big load of firewood twigs on her back.

Kids carry a lot of stuff in this country: water, babies, firewood, grain, items from the market, or your bag at to the bus station. It’s hard work, difficult and decidedly not fun. This little girl is a long way from home with a big load of firewood twigs on her back.

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.

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About copelaf

photographer, writer, engineer, eater, traveler, and - occasionally - a thinker.
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