Simple Toys
category: Jims Guatemala

My friend Jerry Hoffman once told me, “People that spend a lot of money on toys for their kids are pretty dumb, because kids are simpler than that. If you buy them a really fancy toy, they have as much fun playing with the box it came in.” I mentioned that to my mom, and she said I was even more so- I would often spend MORE time playing with the box.

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I think about this a lot in Guatemala. Here, the kids seem just as happy as any kids I’ve worked with in the US, but they prettymuch have nothing. This isn’t a message of “oh, pity the Mayan kids,” I just think it’s an interesting social observation. Maybe we give our kids too much? I have several friends who have a room FULL of toys for their kids (literally), and in some cases have so many toys that they need to take them in and out of circulation, hiding some in the attic just to keep the mess under control. Mayan parents every now and then give their kids a plastic car from the market, but in general kids just play with whatever is laying around. They build houses out of sticks, like this one Chalio made. They use a pickaxe to dig a racetrack in the cornfield. They make a kitchen out of rocks. They go walking in the hills and fields, catching dragonflies and splashing in creeks. They roll around and wrestle with their dogs. It kindof reminds me of an idealized frontier-days America.

jugete2bothSM.jpgSome kids that DO want toys realize they have to take it upon themselves. I was walking by a construction site, and saw this kid making toy camionetas (busses) from scrap wood and nails during his break. He even put some spare batteries in the luggage rack on top, as suitcases. I asked him if he was making them to sell, and he looked baffled. Nope, just making them for the hell of it. I saw some different kids playing with two of his camionetas a week later. Santa Claus Junior, I guess.  

jugete1SM.jpgOf course, if they are too young to make toys, they convert other things. Delmi likes to come to our house to play with our measuring cups and dishes. We have more of these things than most of our neighbors put together, though we have about a tenth of what we had in the US. And when they all want to play with the same toy? They share, even to the point of being rediculous. The neighbor kids have this old, beat-up plastic horse with wheels instead of feet. It’s about 18 inches tall, barely big enough for a toddler to ride. But everyone LOVES it, and it get so much use it’s falling apart. Or maybe it’s falling apart because of HOW they sometimes share it: here we see three kids riding it at once, while a fourth looks on. Hilarious.

xikin_chejSM.jpg Of course, there is a darker side of this. Because their culture is not a “things” culture, they don’t respect personal property, privacy, or ownership. The things they DO have are in ratty condition because they don’t take care of their stuff. I first thought this was a poverty issue, and in some cases it is, but I’ve seen kids break a toy by accident and just throw it in the bushes, as though nothing happened. The toy is instantly gone from memory. It’s not until they are adults that they clean things, maintain them, repair them… but even then, things of quality and workmanship are rare and undervalued.

Posted by: jfanjoy