Salvadoran children must learn to fill the large amounts of unstructured and unsupervised time they have. Education, like most everything else in this country, is terribly under-funded, resulting in half-day school schedules. The younger students attend school from 9-12 A.M. and the older ones from 1-5 P.M. Their parents are either working a job or working to survive and unable to entertain them the rest of the time.
In addition to having much time, they have limited commercial toys and games with which to play. Some of the playgrounds may have a long jump rope or a basketball, but that is the extent of the recess equipment.
After school or between school sessions, you frequently will see children kicking around soccer balls even on the steepest of streets, including those roads on the sides of the many volcanoes. I’m guessing the better players, who can easily retrieve an errant kick, play on the lower sides of the slopes.
Children with no toys or games can be quite resourceful. When no ball is available, a firm green orange from a handy tree serves well for a game of catch. Without a Fisher-Price garage to provide a playing place, a scrap of flat wood becomes a ramp for a small rusty car and at the same time doubles as a gun to shoot the pestering sister sneaking around the corner to infringe on her brother’s space. A plastic rod left by the plumber transforms into a twirling baton sailing into the air. A discarded roll of electrical tape can be rolled back and forth with a friend or sibling or spun up and down a stick if no playmate is available. Even a simple piece of string engages children in a variety of ways within the poor, rural campesino communities.
I’d forgotten the fun I had as a child stringing buttons from my mothers’ button box on rainy days until I saw a little boy stringing colorful leaves on to a long toothpick one day. Rolling the flat bicycle inner tubes through the mud puddles was the perfect distraction for some boys fleeing the rigors of the catechist who was approaching them to recite Bible verses from the outside children’s church service.
A particularly clever, not to mention functional, device was a cut coffee can attached to a long stick which the children used to knock down a nona fruit from the trees to eat. They would hit it with the stick at just the right angle so that the fruit would drop and become trapped in the can rather than fall to the ground and become bruised.
When the children discover they have an audience, suddenly they turn acrobatic right before your eyes. Limbs fly every which way as the tykes perform energetic handsprings and cartwheels for their new-found audience. A young girl grabs an empty water jug and follows behind her mother, mimicking carrying a full one on her head, the whole time turning to watch to see if you are taking HER picture as you did her mother’s.
Sense of community is strong in the Salvadoran culture, and the children reflect such solidarity as they interact in play. They run, giggle, and play with carefree abandon seeming to enjoy themselves in whatever play they create.