In the new Republic of Tajikistan many children have a comfortable and enjoyable life. While they play it is a community thing for adults to keep an eye on them..
The games the children play are varied and group orientated. The long summer vacation has started and it seems that for Dushanbe children it will be a happy one. Children are everywhere in Dushanbe. Most live in apartments. Generally they live with their mum, dad and brothers and sisters. These days there seems to be more one parent families than in former soviet times. However such families live with the in-laws so that for many children there are no male role models. The number of children varies from one child to several. My neighbour has two children, a boy and a girl. The family next door has three children, a boy and two younger girls. It is a very hot sunny day and the children are playing outside. It sounds like there are 200 children at play but when everyone is out there is at least 15 noisy children on the block, toddlers to 14 year olds. Judging from their laughter they seem happy. Depending on the game they either play together or in their gender groups.
The children find lots of play activities. These are mostly chasing games, football, skipping and hopscotch. Many kids create their own games and play activities. War games called Counter Strike are played and children can be seen chasing each other around with guns that fire little plastic balls. These they fire at each other. Fortunately no-one has got eye damage. There is no particular enemy, even though the computer game is Special Force Army v terrorist. The kids charge after the other group and roll play SWAT tactics to get in position to fire their toy weaponry at them. This is not the most popular game. Ball games are played more by boys. The traditional game of Lanka is still popular in Tajikisran. The boys normally start playing it about the third week in October when sheep shearing commences. It declines in popularity in late November or when the boys tire of playing the game.
Very little Tajik boys and girls often play together. By school age, however, there are normally separate gender plau groups. The girls rarely go in for sports like the boys do.
The children play together around their apartments. They do not seem to stray beyond this boundary. In the centre of the apartments there is a play area. It has wooden benches, swings, a slide and a climbing frame. The ground around this equipment is soft earth. There is a hard surface near by which is used for games such as football, hopscotch, skipping and other games that require a chalked game board to play it. There are many trees and the older boys use the
branches for trial of strength activities. There is a metal bar fixed to a sturdy tall tree and the boys often use it for gymnastic pull up practice. The boys are also the ones who like to climb trees and they find them very inviting activity. They play in groups and are unlikely to play alone while they are in the open air. There is even a picnic area. This resembles a small stand and when carpet material is placed on the boards it becomes a table. Here children have mid morning
drinks and snacks. These are provided by the mums.
Looking after the kids is a community activity. A group of parents are to be found sitting together on the wooded benches chatting while they keep a watchful
eye on their children. I have seen elderly people, no matter how infirm struggle
to the adult gathering. Often they have a grandchild that is either helping them walk there or carrying the chair they will sit upon. It reminds me of the Burnet
story about an ever helpful kind kid who melts the heart of his bad tempered grandfather.
Children show much respect to older people. They do not need to be asked to give up their seat on crowded buses. They are very helpful to me and point me in the
right direction. Children do not speak to strangers and view them, as
do their parents with suspicion. It takes about a month for everyone to feel comfortable when a new face is on the block. It was very soon after that that
children spoke and gave a cheery wave as I passed by. Once it was discovered that I was English they made a bee line for me to practice their English. Now one
runs the daily gauntlet from their friendly barrage of ‘hellos’ and their other inquisitive questions.
The children wear uniforms at school. This is for the boys a black suit and white shirt. Girls wear a black skirt and a white blouse. Once home the children change into play clothes so as not to spoil their school uniforms. The more mischievous boys run barefoot. Many children wear designer leisure wear and dress very similar to Western children. Top designer clothes are worn and these are very likelty to be the genuine thing.
There are many public parks in Dushanbe and at the weekend many children visit them. They dress up for these visits and wear their best clothes. Here there
are tennis courts and play areas. They can go on the roundabouts and other funfair rides. There is also a city zoo and a circus. These are other popular
attractions that interest children.
Lots of ice cream is eaten in summer. There are ice cream vendors everywhere. The one I like is opposite King Somoni Park. The vender has a small serving hatch
in the wall and all you can see from the street is a hand giving out the ice creams. It resembles the Lady of the Lake in the King Arthur legend. The difference
is the hand is holding an ice cream cornet and not Arthur’s sword, Excalibur.
At home children have an environment similar to their European and American counterparts. They have TV and many homes also have satellite channels. Some children
have their own radio or a TV and often a hi-fi system in their bedroom. Children also have a variety of personal stereos, cassette, a C.D or mini disk
players. Many children and adults can play the piano and lots of homes have one.Some even have two. It is a pleasant experience in the late afternoon sunshine when walking
home to hear piano music drifting down from an open window. Now that I know the kids and where they live I know who is playing! The kid’s bedroom mimics the Western fashion for it being the place for the computer. Many children have
extraordinary specialist knowledge of computers. The Internet Centres have a room where children and teenagers, even adults go to play computer games.
Girls have a fondness for cuddly toys and they display them on top of their book shelves. They also enjoy playing with dolls. It is not unknown for them too to
be in an internet centre playing computer games.
Children and bikes often go hand in hand but it is not how things are in Dushanbe. Children who own a bike are the lucky few. The children where I live do not
have one. Other children do. I have seen one mum out with her child teaching him to ride his bike. Children keep close to home and ride around the park area in the
centre of the apartment block. I saw a group of young cyclists riding through puddles
yesterday evening. One boy fell off into the water, much to the amusement of the other kids. They were clearly enjoying their cycling. I was surprised the other evening to see several youngsters who I took to be bare footed street children taking turns to ride a bike that seemed to be the property of one of them. There were six boys,
dressed in an odd assortment of casual clothes pushing and shoving each other as they eagerly sought to have their ride. It was about 10.30 at night and it is a late hour for adults to be on the street let alone children. It was for this reason that I thought these were street children. I was left wondering where they had ‘found’ their bike. In my neighbourhood, a well off area of the city older teenagers ride around while listening to their personal stereo systems. It’s the adults that kids go to when things go wrong. I was with friends on one occasion and a lady known as ‘Babushka’ (‘Grandma’) was the fixer of bicycles. One
boy wheeled over his bike. The chain kept coming off. She smiled and had the problem fixed in no time at all. This was much to the delight of the boy who peddled of waving goodbye and shouting his joyful thanks.
A HBC reader notes boys playing with micro go-karts. " They were big enough for one boy to sit on. The rider pushes off and enjoys a downhill run. The structure was made from four main pieces of wood and was fixed together in a triangular shape. There were four wheels. Two at the front and two at the sides. Wheels the best runners had small ex-pram wheels. The noisy and less manoverable had tiny casters. The front of the go-carts were decorated to the indivual owners taste. Some were better built than others. One big tough boy was in tears because his had broken. The wheels had come off! Of course the clothes the boys wore is also interesting. These were street urchind who came from a nearby shanti town. They were spending their Sunday afternoon go-cart racing. This was the first to the bottom of the hill. The rule was to try to stop your opponent on the way. This was achieved by crashing into him and forcing him off his go-cart.
The clothes and how they are worn tell more about these free spirits than my words. They were the go-cart kings of the road. The boys call these go-carts 'tarantes' and I believe it means 'silly cart'."
Here are some scenes from a trip into the country from Dushambe. We see a boy on a donkey collecting foder for cattle. Peasant children are playing with catapult (slingshot). This is something they hunt with. They are very good shots and know how to stalk their prey. These are very ill disciplined children. They have little parental guidance and roam far away from home in groups of between 10 to 15. They get into all sorts of activities including petty crime. They know the hills and the paths and can escape pretty quickly if they are chased by adults because of their mischief. They are supposed to be in school but they do not go when it is harvest or seed planting time or when they are needed to do agricultural work. The boy in blue is a Tajik boy from the town. He is visiting relatives in the countryside. He is with a group of adults from Dushanbe who are out hiking in the countryside around a village called Neftyanik. He was befriended by the peasant children who showed him how to fire their catapult. That's the nice story but in reality they were trying to isolate him from the adults so they they steal his back pack which he is wearing.
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