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by Ricardo Alberto Pérez

While all the world over, kids are playing computer games on their cell phones, tablets or laptops, in Cuba, the street, the block and the neighborhood take center stage and are very important to the lives of Cuban children. It would be difficult to find such warmth and meaning in any other locations. In Cuba these are all safe areas where kids can develop their sense of fantasy and acquire friends. The games they play there are the focus because they create bonds and strengthen the important relationships children form within society.

I speak specifically about games that have been passed down from generation to generation. Cuba has a solid tradition of homemade toys. These may not be too sophisticated in appearance and sometimes they aren’t too beautiful, but they make a lot of children very happy.

Is there any Cuban who has never owned a top and set it to dance on any street corner? Who here has never had a little cart or wagon, put together by the neighborhood carpenter or by their uncle or father, or even made by themselves? With such trophies, children go out on the street to share them with their friends and everyone has loads of fun. All they need sometimes are some old wheels and a bit of recycled wood and they have a “chivichana”. We adults gaze with wonder at these simple little vehicles as they zoom by at top speed, carrying their crews of improvised pilots.

Cuban kites require their own chapter in this childhood tale. They can be small or they can be huge colorful devices named “coroneles”. Kids get together to fly them and to hold competitions. We can see this activity going on in parks, on the Malecón and even on rooftops. What you need is a good stiff wind, and you are set to go.

The noisy joy emanating from such games makes up part of the soundtrack of our cities. “Bolas” (marbles) or a ball game named “cuatro esquinas” (a simplified form of street baseball) give rise to spontaneous heated discussions that lend them an added unique flavor.

It is also very common to see little girls playing “pon”, our hopscotch. They use common classroom chalk to mark out the territory and a battered tin can. You can also see girls skipping. The rope doesn’t have to be anything special: a piece of industrial rope or something that has been homemade out of a variety of materials will do. Another favorite girls’ game is jacks (here we call it “yaquis”). I wonder in how many countries is jacks still played.

Imaginations run wild when games are involved. Other pastimes requiring large numbers of participants are also included, such as the one they call “la gallinita ciega” (little blind hen); it’s a sort of game of tag where kids make a circle around a participant who stands in the middle, blindfolded with a scarf.

Everything begins when the circle of children begins to chant: Little blind hen; what have you lost? The blindfolded child answers: A needle and a thimble. To which the others reply: well go out and find it because I have it and I won’t give it to you. Faced with this challenge, the “little blind hen” chases everyone and when they tag someone, there will be a new little blind hen.

Some other well-known games played by Cuban children are “la vuelta al tronco” (round the tree trunk), “el gato y el ratón” (cat and mouse), “los prisioneros” (prisoners, and “el lobo y los corderos” (wolf and lambs). Of course there are many more, too many to mention. The games go in and out of fashion, following cycles, appearing and disappearing, and the new game becomes all the rage, spreading over the Island like wildfire.

Our cities’ public areas in just wouldn’t be the same without all those energetic and enthusiastic kids, sometimes bordering on the rowdy, but always brimming with the intensity of living.

Thanks to LaHabana.com for this article.

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