I joined the Year 1 class at RICE School as they had just started a lesson on ‘Toys and games of the past’. The young Ethiopian teachers showed the children how to play ‘Wedem’ similar to ‘jacks’ but using stones. They also demonstrated ‘Chocolatta’, a version of ‘cat’s cradle’.
However, it was when a young male teacher demonstrated how to bend a single piece of wire into the front wheels of a ‘mechina’ (car) that the children watched with rapt attention and were completely enthralled. Using a stick and a larger wheel he effectively ended up with a steering column that could be pushed around. I have personally witnessed these being played with in the back streets of Addis, whilst I’ve been travelling by taxi.While he was constructing, the teacher explained how clay could be made by mixing the local orangey-coloured earth with water. Apparently, when he was a boy, his brother had built up quite a reputation for fashioning animals from clay, which neighbours were pleased to display in their houses as ornaments.
Another game I watched being played was ‘Badobait’ which involves a clump of leaves tied together with wool. This is placed on the ankle and tossed. The one who manages the most tosses wins. Also, ‘Susi’ which we would call French skipping. Both of these games are very popular with the Y’tesfa girls.
Circle games were played too. I was amused by the wording of one. It translates as ‘give us your strongest child’, and continues ‘they must drink milk and honey so they won’t be defeated’. The chosen individuals then attempt to pull their opponent towards their own team.
Then came the games drawn on the ground. ‘Carri’ is a game based on a grid with a stone that you have to move from one place to another with your foot whilst hopping only. A grid is also drawn for something that resembles hopscotch which involves chanting the days of the week. The classes went into the courtyard to try out some of these games for themselves and rumbustious fun was enjoyed by all.
These are still contemporary toys and games for many Addis children with limited family income, but were new and fascinating for the six and seven year olds at RICE school.
What became clear was that whatever their social background children are motivated to play and improvised pastimes can be just as engaging as those with a price tag attached.
here’s a few seconds video of the children enjoying their new learning: