Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tag--You're It! and Other Universals

It’s always amazing what we take for granted as “stable” and “unchanging”—until circumstances alter, and we find ourselves slightly off-kilter. It didn’t really matter that I had studied astronomy, made charts, and read all the right books…it wasn’t until I craned my neck back, searching frantically for familiar constellations, that it finally dawned on me that even the sky here is different. Different grass, different bird calls, different side of the sink that controls the hot water. Plenty of differences abound as you cross the ocean.

Except for one.

Children, in my opinion, seem to be remarkably similar whether they grow up in the inner city of Minneapolis, carry their championship cornstalk to the Sibley County Fair, or live in a bamboo house in Silum, Papua New Guinea.

Perhaps one of the highlights of living five weeks with my wasfemili (host family) was having over thirty younger brothers and sisters (and nieces and nephews and cousins and great-cousins and neighbors and every other relation you can imagine) interact with us on almost a daily basis. Not only did they haul our water and wash our dishes and guide us through the bush and bring us every kind of delicious fruit you can imagine, but they also were thoroughly entertaining :)

You know that Oboshinatintatin-whatchamacallit clapping game that preteen girls in the US will play for hours? Well, PNG kids have variations on that too. In fact, as Jessica and I were immersed in the world of PNG Childhood Games, we found that many of the games we taught them had their own South Pacific counterparts—nonsense songs, chasing games (tag is definitely universal), games with rocks, games with bugs, games with sticks, games with water… It’s all here, and it’s all worthy of pulling up a chair to watch!

Little boys and bugs. Universal
Rocks. Perhaps the most versatile toy ever.

The Memory tournaments, for example, were so competitive that you could have been watching the final elimination for the Superbowl. And their stamina at playing Uno (or Last Card) will easily put you to shame.

Preparing for Round 172 of Memory!

Among the older youth, these traits were exemplified in the hard-hitting, high-flying volleyball tournaments, where teams from all over the valley met to play. (When the country’s lifestyle develops nearly every youth into the fitness of an Olympic athlete, the games can be rather intense.) Of course, it was the first volleyball tournament I attended where the concessions were muli (citrus fruit), various nuts, and coffee candies, and the referee wore a bilum (string bag) on his head. Soccer, rugby, and basketball are also favorite sports and have their own seasons and tournaments.

Several of the girls loved to sing, whether in English, Tok Pisin, or Bargam, and often begged us to teach them songs from the US. As a result, Jessica and I sang every Sunday School and VBS song we could possibly remember, scraping back to those years in AWANA or children’s choir. If the song had actions, it was an even bigger hit. And so, when Father Abraham entered the queue, I found myself hopping around (Right leg! Left leg!), dodging chickens and puppies (Right arm! Left arm!), hoping I wasn’t too close to the fire and large pot of boiling rice (Nod your head! Turn around!), to everyone’s great amusement (Sit down!).

Yes, the children provided us with hours of entertainment.

And, so, in turn, did we.

I’m glad some things don’t change. :)