That’s How They Played

“Wow! A Playstation!”

“Cool! This is the game I wanted!”

“An XBox!”

These phrases were heard from many American children over this past holiday as they excitedly unwrapped their gifts. Tearing through colorfully printed paper, children’s faces lit up and their eyes grew big at the sight of the high-dollar electronic games and game systems that they had hoped to receive.

A young Afghan boy plays with his kite near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, March 2012.

None of the children I met in Afghanistan had toys of this extravagance… no PlayStations, XBoxes, Call of Duty games or anything electronic, for that matter. Those Afghan children had toys that were much simpler: a homemade kite, a ball, or a doll. Kites were made of sticks and thin seed bags or plastic and dolls were hand-sewn with no plastic body parts or fancy accessories.

Hand-crafted Afghan dominoes

Many knew how to play dominoes or chess but their game pieces were not made of molded plastic like the ones used by American children. The game pieces were made of carved stones and were hand-painted. The pieces didn’t come in pressed cardboard boxes with brand names and trademarks; they made their own boxes of thin wood or kept the pieces in felt bags.

They had pride in ownership of their toys and were careful to keep track of their belongings, unlike some of their American counterparts. They did not assume that, if they lost or broke their toys, a replacement would come easily nor did they ask for toys based on what the Jones’ had.

Afghan boys playing in a field near Mazar-e-Sharif, March 2012. The temperature was approximately 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius).

Temperature was not a factor to these children. Wearing winter coats or sweaters and perhaps head coverings, they played outside in the cold winter with bare fingers, thin pants, and worn shoes. They did not wear snowsuits, gloves, or boots.

In the hot summer months with temperatures above 130° F (55° C) , they played outside in the heat with long pants and shirts on. They did not wear shorts nor were they ever shirtless. There were few trees for shade and there were no city or personally owned pools to cool them off.

The Afghan children did not have the luxury of heating or air conditioning. Unlike many American children, they did not lounge around their houses watching television or playing on game systems for hours on end. They did not stand with the refrigerator door open perusing its contents for a sweet snack or soda.

They were outside for hours. The same groups of children I passed while on convoy were the same groups of children I passed when I returned.

There was hardly ever a girl in the group and boys of all ages played together. The older boys would sometimes pick at the younger ones, much like American boys do when they play.

An Afghan boy plays with a stick while atop an empty building near his home.

Sometimes kicking the dirt or smacking rocks with a stick seemed to help to them pass the time. They climbed on top of their mud homes or empty buildings just for the fun of it.

Like patches of flowers in an open field, the children, in their mix-matched outfits, mingled and talked. Occasionally, they chased each other in what I can only imagine was a game of tag.

From the early haze of morning until the last glimpse of daylight in the evening, the Afghan children played in the bare dirt hills near their homes. Their imagination and creativity, not electronics and technology, kept them entertained.

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11 thoughts on “That’s How They Played

  1. This reminds me of when i was a kid in rural Nevada. Most of our toys were from our imagination as well, until finances were better.
    Thank you for your service.

  2. Great writing….women see things with a different pen. Welcome home, thank you for your service and many blessing for you and your family.

  3. I made similar observations during the 7 months that I lived in Hyderabad, India — kids will play, one way or another, and when money is tight, there is a lot of creativity around toys and games.

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