Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Language of Play

Riding in style.

This evening, I was looking through some of my fellow team member's photos from our recent trip to India and I was surprised to see photos of one of the best days' play I've had in a long time. While most of the team took the school kids to the amusement park,  I stayed behind to observe the medical clinic that took place in Khalpur with Ryan, a doctor from Oregon who was seeing patients. For a good part of the afternoon,  I watched quite a crowd of people come and present their complaints to the doctors in front of their friends and neighbours and family members, with no privacy whatsoever. It struck me how we take so much for granted in our health care systems in North America.

Once the last patient left, Ryan and I walked around Khalpur. It is just a slum on the side of what used to be a canal. It's congested and cramped and haphazard, with no services other than what One Life has brought in...a generator to run the fans and computers in the school and bio toilets so that the inhabitants of the slum would have access to...well...you know. Just another thing we take for granted, that we have somewhere to go to the bathroom, in privacy and cleanliness for good health sake. Not so here, before the bio toilets, there was no designated place to relieve yourself so it was basically wherever the need hit you...

As we walked through the community, people were very friendly and wanted their photos taken with family members, in front of their homes, with their children or with their dogs. It was quite something to communicate without English or Bengali on our side. We were outsiders but we weren't unwelcome, in fact, just the opposite. We felt very welcome and there were many who spoke a little bit of English, enough to say hello and ask how we were.  We wandered around for a bit and soon attracted quite a following of kids. So, with no agenda, I just began to play with the group of little girls and boys surrounding me. I soon figured out that games needed to be as simple as possible, not because the kids weren't capable, but because I was unable to explain intricate rules without knowing Bengali. So, we started with simple clapping games which always seem to translate well. I simplified them as we went along and soon, there were children joining in from out of nowhere. We exhausted that game and went to "Duck, Duck, Goose" and "Go, Go, Go, Stop!" and straight into "Hide and Go Seek" where I found myself searching for children in the most incredible places. Imagine playing as children in a literal garbage dump and submerging yourself in garbage to secure a hiding spot. As I would find one child, covered in discarded plastic and cardboard and many other things I choose not to think about, three others would pop up from their hiding spots, just as deep in the garbage. I actually wanted to stop the game in an effort to keep them from playing in the garbage but then I took a look at our surroundings and realized that this is the environment they know and deal with every day. When it came my time to "hide", it became like a game of sardines very quickly. Of course, I had no great knowledge of good hiding spots so I ducked into a small alley and hid behind a barrel between two homes with about 15 children around me. I was leaning against a small house and startled the poor older man napping there, just on the other side of the open wall.  I'm sure he thought he was dreaming to see some strange woman and children crouching just inches from where he lay his head.  

The amazing thing about children is that they all have such an incredible spirit about them. Here in this community, amongst the garbage and the rubble, they have the brightest smiles and just play wholeheartedly, without the need for toys or electronics or anything other than each others' company to entertain themselves. It's not to say that their lives wouldn't be improved with these things but  in our North American culture, we lament the end of imaginative play, and yet the very things that have squelched it are those things we have that are luxuries and excess.  
Anything becomes a plaything when there is nothing.
These children and I played for over an hour, in the heat, and through it, I watched each of them. Each child has their own unique personality and even without language, I could easily identify the mischievous, the shy, the courageous and those that could lead. I could see the girls who are strong and whose physical athleticism challenged the boys in a way that other boys did not. I watched as children's faces lit up when they were acknowledged and whose demeanour changed just by a hug or by being the hand I chose to hold when we lost and regrouped. 

I learned a lot this day. I learned the art of play again. The language it speaks. And the bonds it builds. And it felt an awful lot like love. 


Explanations with a little language and a lot of actions. 

Dirty knees and a full heart.
I love this photo that Ryan took...just two small hands...
And our hands. Mine and hers. 

*Thanks to Dr. Ryan Hutchinson for sharing his photos...and for capturing so many great memories of that day in Khalpur.  

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