Friday, May 22, 2009

Island Games

There was an open area right in front of our house that the village used as a central meeting place. It had an enormous tree, the biggest on the island, probably. Three of us kids with hands linked could barely reach around it. Its wise old branches stretched over the dirt commons (called the Marai) where the village feasts and meetings were held. It was under this tree's leaves that my father, before the rest of us came to the island, stood in front of the assembled village, awaiting their verdict as they debated whether or not they needed this foreign family to come and translate the bible for them.

The Marai, as it turned out, was also where the village kids would come to play their games when their household duties were done. Each day I would hide in the shadows of our front door, watching them as they played, squabbled, and ran around on bare feet made hard and wide by the life long absence of any restricting shoes. One day I ventured out to watch them from our gravel front yard, and was soon drawn closer to watch the game they were playing.

Each child had a collection of rubber bands on their wrist, worn like bracelets. They would each contribute a rubber band to the collective pot, which were then balanced on a little gallows a few feet from the group. Each child would take their turn at shooting at the hanging rubber bands; the child who knocked them to the ground, won the pot, and the whole game started over again.

My brother, Nathan, soon became proficient at this gambling game. He proudly wore his large collection of rubber bands that reached from his wrist, half-way up to his elbow. I wasn't allowed to play with him and his friends; village customs tabooed sisters and brothers to have much public interaction. But I would sit a little ways away, enviously watching him and his cool, older friends as they bantered and postured in their little-boys-turning-into-young-men way.

Sometimes I would play an island version of hop-scotch in the dirt of the Marai with the other little girls. There was no gambling involved, as in the boys' games, but you did move up in the childish pecking order among your peers if you got good at it. I was good at it. But not the best.

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