Bedouin Toys

I've seen village kids playing with anything and everything. There are no sanitary rules here, and nothing is off-limits.
My neighbor had a "junk pile" of broken house supplies: a broken tea pot, a handle-less broom, about twenty plastic water bottles that she had saved for fifteen years but finally admitted were useless, and broken water hoses. One day while I was helping her prepare lunch, she asked me to check on the kids. I found her five children playing with these gadgets: the two-year old was scooping dirt into the tea pot with her bare hands, the oldest three were stacking the water bottles on top of each other to imitate a game of Jenga, and the eleven-year-old was attempting to jump rope with the broken water hose. Grabbing the tea pot from the clenched fists of the youngest daughter, I told the girls to go into the kitchen to wash their hands for lunch.

I've seen boys playing football (the American soccer) barefoot in the street – with a flat soccer ball! When I asked why they didn't pump it up, they simply said there were no pumps, and the ball's always been broken. Well, duct tape fixes everything, so I sealed up the tear with strong black tape and am now known as the "girl mechanic who fixes balls." Hmmm…I'm not sure I like that label.

My neighbor has a two-year-old son who has an underbite and runs around saying "Fuss! Fuss!" This translates to "Fart! Fart!" For the past two weeks, his new obsession has been to climb the cabinet by scaling the tea table, then grab the knives that stand in the utensil cup. Dangerous? I would think so, too, after watching him run around with the knife, slashing it through the air like a sword. Yet, he's never hurt himself or anyone who comes in the path of his sporadic Samurai outbursts. I fail to understand why his mother doesn’t take this hazardous tool from him when he's flailing it recklessly…but she seems to enjoy the fact that when her son is preoccupied, he's not interfering with her cooking or cleaning. Only when he begins stabbing the furniture in the house or dragging the knife across the painted walls does she rob him of his toy.

An interesting conversation in Arabic between me and my neighbor, an old Bedouin lady, while watching two of her grandchildren play with their new plastic gun and doll, translated below:
Me: "I think your son is a good father because he buys Bader and Fatin toys. Last month, I saw Sajida playing jump rope with a broken water hose. Your grandkids are lucky because they have real toys."
Her: "Of course he's a good father. He's my son."
Silence for ten minutes
Her: "When I was a kid, I didn't have toys."
Me: "So what did you play with?"
Her: "The bones of sheep."
Me: "Really?"
Her: "Really."
Silence for ten minutes
Her: "My cousins and my sisters and my brothers would play outside all day, because my mom didn't like us in the tent. We didn't have a house. So we'd go out in the desert and find old sheep or goat bones or sometimes we found skulls. But not often."
Me: "Wow. You weren't scared?"
Her: "Why would we be?"
Silence for two minutes
Her: "Of course, that was when I was a kid."
Me: "How old are you?"
Her: "I'm sixty."
Me, staring at her 90-lb. frame, frail hands, crippled toes, toothless mouth, and failing eyes: "Really? You're only sixty?"
Her: "Hm...maybe I'm seventy. Or eighty. Somewhere around there."

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