Good news: I don't have to invest $249.99 on Amazon to acquire a Playstation--instead, I can have my children build one of their own! We received a "Playstation tutorial" from some amazing Guatemalan children we had the privilege of spending the day with when we visited their country this summer.
I know it won't come as a surprise that Guatemalan children live very different lives than our children in the wealthy suburbs. They are missing many things that we consider "blessings." It is true that most children in Guatemala are impoverished--I grieve the fact that they often do without necessities--clean water, healthy food, and adequate medical care. But I yearn for the abundance of joy these children derive from the simple pleasures of life.
Most Guatemalan children don't have an endless list of wants in order to be satisfied or happy. Nor do they have an entitlement mentality or believe the world revolves around them. They don't think their parents exist in order to buy them stuff, more stuff, and keep upgrading their stuff. Instead, they believe that they need to do what they can to contribute to the family's welfare. They take on difficult tasks or chores (like caring for younger siblings or carrying multiple loads of firewood up a steep, muddy hill) with a positive attitude. They don't expect adults who are trying to eke out a living to put food on the table to solve their disputes and listen to complaining and backtalk.
They have learned they are responsible for keeping themselves entertained, and they will find something, (usually outside in nature) to enjoy and play with. (That is, when they are not working side by side with their parents or performing chores to help the family). Most do not have access to TVs, electronics, video games, and phones, so they have learned to use their creativity and social interaction to make their own merriment.
In addition, Guatemalan children have time for unstructured play. One reason is because most people simply cannot afford extra-curricular activities for their kids, but even families with more discretionary income do not prioritize lots of scheduled lessons, practices, games, and play dates. Instead, they give children the freedom to play with others, explore their world, and discover how to amuse themselves. Sure, they play sports, but it is usually kid-initiated and kid-run instead of a highly regulated activity that includes a rulebook, referees, uniforms, appropriate safety gear, and parents screaming at the coaches, players, and each other.
Our family visited an incredible thirty-two year old widow, Carmen, and her six children. The goal was for Jeff and two other men to fix a huge hole in her roof and lay some pipes and a retaining wall. My task was to entertain the children, both mine and hers, with crafts and my ability to speak what doesn't even pass as "broken" Spanish. The crafts were fun for a little while, but soon they were completed.
What was supposed to be a three hour job on the house turned into an all-day project. I was concerned about what the children would do all day, but Carmen was not. Carmen stays busy chopping wood, growing corn, preparing tortillas, hand washing clothes, and preparing "wipee materials" to sell to car washes. She simply does not have time to add "cruise director" to the list. She knows that her kids, even with no flashy, sophisticated toys available, will easily entertain themselves. And her gracious children are more than happy to include two white-bred U.S. girls (my daughters, ages 6 and 8) into the mix.
I scratched my head and wondered, "what is this gaggle of energetic kids going to do to occupy their time?"
Wait for it: they invent their own games. Because the eight children do not speak the same language, they point, gesture, demonstrate, and giggle. Laughter is universally understood. This family's survival hinges on sharing everything with each other, so the kids patiently wait their turn and make sure everyone is included in the fun. New ideas and experiences give way to different games and more laughter.
The children form an impromptu circle and begin to hold hands, dance, and clap on the discolored concrete floor of the house. After exhausting an interesting combination of "London Bridges" and "Ring Around the Rosy," the gang heads outside. There isn't a sandbox, a swing set, scooter, or soccer ball in sight. The Guatemalan children, adept at creating entertainment with natural and discarded objects, seize upon an opportunity. They find a large rock and a wooden plank that is yet to be used by the workmen.
Right before my eyes, A make-shift see-saw comes to life! I take a few steps back so they cannot see me intently observing them on their newly created "Playstation." The children, Guatemalan and American alike, eagerly climb on, two, three, and four at a time. Sometimes they sit, and sometimes they stand. Everyone laughs and squeals with delight. Everyone takes a turn. Even falling down is fun. Then one of the children realizes that if a bunch of kids sit on the board, a child standing near each end can push and rotate the board in a circle to create a merry-go-round effect. More cheers and laughter. I can't tell who is having more fun--those sitting or those pushing!
I discreetly pull out my camera for a few pictures, figuring I have a fleeting opportunity to capture the moment. I know this activity will last 5-10 minutes at the most. Certainly, the teenager will decide this is a lame activity, a disagreement will ensue, or one gender will gang up on the other. Nope, I was completely wrong. They played variations of the see-saw for over an hour--until the board was needed for it's intended purpose of building a wall.
I don't know when I have seen Mika and Macy so engaged with others and having so much fun without any store bought "props" or adult assistance. They went from the see-saw to playing in the pile of cement pebbles waiting to be mixed with water. Everyone ran in circles under the blue Guatemala sky. Sometimes, and for no apparent reason, they hugged each other. The laughter I heard that day could rival our highly planned, expensive birthday parties or our visit to Disney World. Weeks later, I can almost hear the delightful and unabashed laughter of six "poor" Guatemalan children and my "rich" American children ringing in my ears.
We were all sad as the day drew to a close. Mika and Macy did not want to leave their new friends. Many hugs were exchanged as we wistfully turn to walk back to my friend Chrissy's apartment. The next day, we boarded an airplane for the U.S.A.
The girls have resumed "life as usual"--toys with all the bells and whistles, a plethora of cartoon choices on TV, 3D movies, and demands that their parents take them from one entertainment venue to the next. We encounter the challenges of trying to wedge a few "play dates" in around our family's and other family's scheduled camps, lessons, games, and entertainment destinations. Often it seems like we have returned and picked up right where we left off.