The Good Young Days


When the weekend rolls around, the possibilities for children are endless. Or are they? There used to be very many unique games that were played by kids everywhere. Nowadays, recreational activities for the young ones have been largely reduced to playing video games and surfing the online world. Back in the day, though, child’s play had a certain thing about it. It was all about adventure, dexterity, aim, and other physical skills. But, mostly, it was about having loads of fun.  

Locals walk through the streets of Santa Cruz La Laguna, one of the towns on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Sololá, Guatemala. Photo: Victor Peña

“Our youth doesn’t play like we used to”, says Gustavo Adolfo Morales, a former pediatrician who now writes creative compilatory books about guatemalan culture. According to Morales, who wrote a book on children’s games not too long ago, child’s play required only simple objects, a place to play and imagination. “There was always something to do. A lot of the games, we would play inside. For instance, after a ball game, we would dip our heads in the basin to cool off. After a while, we started to try and hold our breath underwater to see who could do it the longest.”

“Then we would go eat something and listen to some music”, he continues. “Back then, rock-and-roll was just starting, so we would try to see who was the first one to guess what song was playing on the radio. Of course, there were only about eight radio stations back then. As soon as a song started playing, everyone would scream out the name and then argue about who called it first. There were always arguments, but we had a good time. When we relaxed, there was always something to do.”

And that was that. Communities back then used to be closer to each other. As Morales says, everyone knew their neighbor and they all tried to be nice to one another. So, arguments mostly ended with words. “Everything started changing back then, but the environment was still 100% friendly. Of course, there was always that one feisty neighbor kid who beat the crap out of everyone. What’s interesting is that, back then, you’d punch each other. Now, you just get shot”, Morales explains.

Children play with PVC pipes and steel hoops on a basketball court in Santa Cruz La Laguna’s central plaza. Photo: Victor Peña

Nowadays, it is safe to say that violence has increased everywhere in Guatemala and most people don’t know each other anymore. It only makes sense once you consider that the population of the country has gone up from 2.8 million to 16.7 million since the time of Morales’ childhood. That’s a roughly 600% increase. So, now it’s more dangerous to play outside. Not just because of what people might do; there are more cars and trucks going around also. The safer option is to stay inside.

Houses on the hillside in Santa Cruz La Laguna. The town has a population of nearly 6000 people. Photo: Victor Peña

However, as Morales points out, there were games that were played inside back then as well. “There was always someone watching over and we would make a mess of everything inside the house, but we’d still do stuff”, he says. “It’s just that technology has absorbed, doomed and buried all of these games”. But much more than the technology itself, Morales places the blame on the parents. After all, it’s easier to keep a bored child entertained with a phone or a tablet. “It’s got more to do with what parents teach their children. Y’know, the things they inculcate. For instance, all of those games of old could still be played by kids, even if you have a 55’’ TV and Barcelona is playing Real Madrid. Kids were just never taught to play these kinds of games.”

Children play in Lake Atitlán near Cerro Tzankujil in San Marcos La Laguna. Photo: Victor Peña

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