As kids growing up in the UAE in the ‘80s, a period devoid of digital distractions, a lot of our time was spent outdoors — whether it was loafing in the vicinity of our buildings, or (in school breaks and games periods) playing in the grounds; even in the peak of summer time (July and August vacations) we would pester our parents to let us go downstairs.
There was a freedom to be had outside which nothing could quite match up to — the boundaries were bigger than the four walls of a room, the games more varied than what we could indulge in indoors.
I remember when my father and brother played cricket in the corridor of our first floor home in Karama and we were banished from the premises after the ball knocked over my mother’s cherished Greek vase. The games occasionally continued (after an elongated break) with all breakable items moved to a safer location.
But the fun to be had in playing outside gave us kids a completely different sense of satisfaction. We would be out from early evening till sunset, return home with flushed faces, our hair in disarray, our clothes and shoes sandy, and would face with much greater enthusiasm our pending homework, than if we had been stuck at home all evening.
The company outdoors was diverse — there were kids from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, South Africa, UAE and several Arab countries who played in the sandy pit between the Pioneer buildings in Karama, on a daily basis. Games included seven tiles, hopscotch, hide and seek, and when we were a bit older, badminton.
Many boys also played soccer. We used a tennis ball for most of our games including a strange one called ‘Kings’ where the whole idea was to aim and hit anyone as hard as possible with the ball. Needless to say, kids you had a bit of beef with were best avoided for this one.
In a community it’s impossible to indulge in outdoor games without ticking off someone or the other — the tennis ball often became a bone of contention when it landed in balconies, or rattle someone’s window a bit too violently.
I remember being among a bunch of kids knocking on doors — facing surly ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’, begging for our ball back, promising it wouldn’t happen again. It did, of course.
Then there was the elderly gentleman we nicknamed ‘lampshade’ — courtesy his constantly red face — who would give chase to some of the more cheeky kids when we were supposedly making too much of a racket.
Looking back on childhood, I appreciate more now the adults who let us be who we were, noisy, bratty but generally harmless kids just trying to pack in as much fun and activity as we could into our leisure hours outdoors. Kids will be kids, right?
On my occasional visits to Karama, I notice the old playground has fallen somewhat silent — but seeing it come to life even with even a small bunch of kids is amazing, and takes me back to a great childhood spent there.
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