Friday, August 28, 2009

Nostalgia- Playing like a Kid Again

August 10th, 2009

The last few days I’ve been playing a lot of the traditional games Paraguayan children play.
It was all prompted because Saturday I had to give a charla (small instructional presentation) about a cultural topic of my choice. Since I spend a lot of time playing with kids, and already knew some of the games, I decided to do my charla on juegos de niños (children’s games). So I began asking the kids and other family members what the most popular games were, and explaining the games in words just wasn’t sufficient. I had to play them to understand them. So we all, including my older, sort of hefty sister, acted like kids again and had tons of fun doing it.
Many of the games are the same traditional games kids used to play in the States.

Muñeca (Doll)

Muñeca (Doll) is a game that resembles hopscotch. You basically draw the photo below in the dirt with a stick, broomstick, your shoe, a rock, or something else. It can also be played on concrete surfaces and chalk is used to draw the doll.

Then you toss a rock into the first square. You have to hop on one foot skipping the square the rock is in. You can use two feet when you get to a sectioned portion of the muñeca. Once you get to the head you turn around come back and bend over and pick the rock up on your way back. Everyone takes a turn. Then the next round you throw the rock into the next section. Repeat the process. If you use two feet when you’re not supposed to, fall, go outside the lines, or toss the rock and it lands on a line or in the wrong square you lose. The person that lasts the longest without mistakes wins.

La Cuerda (Jump rope)

Two people hold two different ends of a long rope. Then they start making circles with the rope. The first person enters, and goes as long as they can, and then tries to exit without the rope touching them. While the person is jumping the people with the ends of the rope turn it faster and faster every time. The next person has their turn, and the game continues. In theory, you count how many times you were able to jump before exiting. The next person has to beat that. If the rope touches you, you’re out, and if you don’t jump as long as someone else, you lose. In practice what ends up happening is everybody just takes turns jumping and holding the ropes. You never really declare a winner or keep track. You can add two ropes if you want to get really advanced.


This is a game where an elastic rope (the elastic in the waste of sweatpants for example) is place around two people. It starts around their ankles. The first person has to step on the two pieces of rope, pressing them to the ground. You are allowed to do one at a time. The next person goes. If you aren’t able to do it, you’re out of the game. This continues until everyone has gone, and then you raise the level of the elastic rope. The game continues until the second to last person has failed in pressing the strings to the ground. Usually by the time the elastic rope is around the peoples’ necks, there is a winner, and if not almost for sure there will be one after that round.

Balitas (Marbles)

A day or so later, I asked the kids about marbles because I had seen some kids playing on a street corner as I was riding home on the bus a few weeks ago. They didn’t have any marbles, so we set out to find a place to buy them. Fabiola, Mary, Junior, Jacquelin, and I all went together. We went to 3 different stores, but finally found them. I bought 20 marbles, and we were off to play. We played a silly version of chicken on the way home. I had Mary on my shoulders and Jacquelin had Fabiola on hers. We would run at each other and ram into each other, and let the two little girls battle a bit. Then one person would take off running and the next person would follow in pursuit.

Shortly after arriving home my sister explained to us exactly how to play the game and we began. You basically draw a circle in the dirt, and put an indented hole in the middle of it. Then you draw a line about 5 feet away from the circle, and each person in turn rolls their marble towards the center of the circle. The first person to enter the whole places their marble outside the hole and waits for someone else to make it in. When that person makes it in they get a chance to knock the other person’s marble outside the circle, which means they lose. This keeps happening until there is only one marble standing, and then you start a new game.
It was a CATASTROPHE. These kids were screaming at each other arguing about the game and vying for position. They would crowd over the person as they were trying to shoot, and would get upset over whose marble was whose, and whether or not someone did it the right way, or whose turn it was, etc... Fabiola quit every time she lost even though she had won the most games or was tied at any given moment. I had to put some order to the game, and the major frustration was they couldn’t remember whose turn it was, and would fight over who got to start the game, which is stupid because the first person to make in the hole has the largest likelihood of getting knocked out first. I mandated that the person who won the previous game would go first in the next, and the rest would be determined by height (to make it easy). Next I wrote down the order every time on a piece of paper and would announce whose turn it was after every turn. Coming from the states, I assumed it would be easy to remember which person you’re always after, but that’s not the case here.

Anyway, after getting some basic rules down and providing structure, everything went fairly smoothly except for the fact that Fabiola ruined our playing spot by squatting about 3 feet from the circle and peeing everywhere. Oh yeah, it’s completely acceptable to just pee pretty much anywhere at anytime. I may have forgot to mention that. I see people, including grown men, pissing on the side of the street, in peoples’ yards, etc... all the time.

Escondida (Literally translated hidden, the game is a lot like Hide and Seek, but with several major differences)

Escondida starts like this. Everyone puts their hands together and going up and down say, “Ma..yo...ri...a.” On “a” everyone throws their hand face up or down. The majority stay in and the oddball steps out. This process repeats until there is only one person left. That person has to stand at the “tambo” and count. They will count somewhere between 10 and 50 seconds, depending on another game. A person says a saying while touching the person’s back with alternating fingers of one hand. At the end the person has to guess which finger touched them last. Then they have to pull that finger. If the finger pops, you double the seconds that finger corresponds to, and if not, they just count the number of seconds that finger corresponds to.
While the person counts, the others run and hide. Then the person at the “tambo” starts looking for people. If they see someone they can yell out their position, their name, and say “tambo,” which means that person can’t get to the tambo. The idea is to not be the last person to get to the tambo. While the seeker is looking for hiders you could take a chance and run for the tambo, and if you make it there before the seeker does, you’re safe. The last one to get back to the tambo, or caught before making it to the tambo has to be the seeker the next time.

I struggled with this game at first because it’s illogical to me. The game is called escondida, which means hidden, but the rules of the game are such that the person who hides the best loses. If I hide really well, I will be the last found, and will have to be the seeker the next time. The trick is to hide yourself near the tambo, and make a run for it, or you could just get found first and most likely everyone else won’t make it back to the tambo without being caught by the seeker. A little illogical...but the kids love it here.

Polibandi (Cops and Robbers)

In Polibandi, you play ha kem bo (paper, rocks, scissors) to determine the cops from the robbers. I’ll explain the Paraguayan version of Paper, Rock, Scissors. It’s basically the same, but there is a well too. The scissors and rock fall in the well and the paper tops it. Also, the first to five wins, and you keep track using fingers on the hand your not using to throw your weapon.
Once the cops and robbers are determined. The cops go to the area designated as jail and the robbers to the area designated as their home base. Then the robbers have to run, and the cops have to catch them and take them to jail. Once in jail, another robber can break their fellow robber out by tagging them inside the jail. The robbers can always run back to their home base where they are safe from being arrested. I guess this is kind of like the idea of cops not going into certain areas because it’s so dangerous.

Once all the robbers have been caught and taken to jail, you switch roles and start it over.
This continues until people quit because their either too bored or tired to play it anymore.

Casita Robada

This is played with cards. You deal each player 3 cards and turn up four in the middle. The player to the left of the dealer starts and tries to make a match from the cards in the middle. If they can, they place those cards face up in their “casita” pile. If they can’t, they discard a card. At any moment someone that has the top card in someone’s casita pile, can rob it and place it in their pile. When all the players run out of cards in their hand, you deal 3 more cards to every player, and flip up cards if necessary in the middle.

When all the cards run out, you count your cards like this, “Casa, Casita, Rancho, Palacio, Casa, Casita, Rancho, Palacio.” That would be 8 cards for example. The translation is house, small house, ranch, palace. Palace is the highest valued and casa the lowest. Yet again, it’s illogical to me that small house has a bigger value than house, but that’s just the way it is.
You keep saying that, one word for every card, and the word you land on for your last card is what you own. Then you compare that with the other players. For example, if I had 4 cards I would have a Palace and if you had 3 cards you would have a ranch, therefore, I would win. If there are any ties, you settle it with Ha Kem Bo (Paper, Rock, Scissors).

I find the game really interesting from a social perspective because we normally would never play a game like that. You spend the whole game trying to collect as many cards as possible (capitalism) but in the end its up to luck (and basic math –if you’re final number of cards is divisible by 4, you’ll always win) (communism or socialism) that determines your material standing at the end of the day.

American Games

I taught the kids to play Go Fish, which they absolutely loved, and later taught them crazy 8s (thanks Mom for the cards), which they also loved.

Fabiola only knows numbers one, two, three, five, and ten by memory so it was difficult playing with her at times. We would help her, because it was simply not an option not to allow her to play. I tried teaching her numbers and made some progress. I ended up giving her the Crazy 8s cards because it made the perfect gift for her...something fun and educational. With those cards, she’ll have a fun time and learn her colors and numbers.

It’s really fun to play with kids here, and much easier and more fun than passing time with the adults. Sometimes you might think parts of the games are illogical, and usually they are, but just spending time having fun with the kids is what matters most.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your EVERY word! Always know that you are touching LIVES, and having YOURS touched! Mom