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In the "Cult of Escapism": Dinamicas

Friday, October 14, 2011


I’m whistling loudly and looking at a tree. Behind me, five over 40 year old men are giggling and passing a mango around in a circle. I yell “Ya!” and turn around. The mango is quickly passed one last time and the final recipient squeals and drops it on the ground. Everyone’s laughing, hard. I've never seen these men this happy.

The players are the board of directors of a farmer’s cooperative that I work with. We’re taking a break from a Strategic and Operational Planning session to play hot potato, one of many potential dinamicas we Peace Corps Volunteers use when leading a session. And the board loves it. Why is this kid’s game so popular among grown men?

First, what is a dinamica? Basically, any ice-breaker or five year old birthday party game qualifies. Hot potato, duck-duck-goose, two truths and a lie – they’re all usable as breaks or rejuvenators and are almost guaranteed to be a hit among Panamanian country folk.

During training, we were introduced and overexposed to dinamicas. According to Official Peace Corps Policy*, a two hour session should feature no less than 14 dinamicas. Training already feels like summer camp anyway, so this constant exposure to kid’s games raises large, almost visible question marks as to the relevance of these activities and professional nature of the organization. As such, when training ends and we are sent to our sites, we all vow never to do another dinamica, not even at gunpoint.

After three or four months of dinamica abstinence, we try one out during a meeting. Just the tip. And damn it if those people don’t love that dinamica. We’ll return to the thrilling topic of long-term planning or inventory control and 30 minutes later a hand pops up, “Can we do another dinamica?” This man is 55 years old.

So we accept them and now any time I prepare a lecture, session, or activity, I factor in a few dinamicas. If I’m really on my game, I’ll connect the dinamica to the topic (e.g. “So, like in hot potato, if you successfully pass the responsibility on to someone else, you win!”).
Volunteer Adam leading a dinamica

I admitted defeat to my boss at a recent seminar and she smiled broadly, “We told you. You won’t find a group of kids that enjoy these games more than the adults you work with.”
I found this particularly true when booze was introduced.

A few weeks ago, I attended a friend and counterpart’s birthday party, which involved finishing two buckets of fermented corn liquor, or chicha fuerte. After two hours of listening to the men talk about the 1014 political race, I decided my chicha wasn’t nearly fuerte enough to put up with this, so I introduced them to drinking games.

I explained “Thumper” (aka “Animal Game”) – a game where all players thump the table, clap to the rhythm and “pass” animal signs around. You “receive” a pass by doing your own animal sign and then pass again by doing someone else’s in time to the beat (i.e. thump, thump, clap; thump, thump, tiger; thump, thump, bird…). After explaining the game, a man asked, “So we’re doing a dinamica.” Yep.

Which means children’s games, ice-breakers AND drinking games are all fair game.

The game went well in that everyone but me got drunker and everyone could not stop laughing. Every time my counterpart did his animal, a tiger, the men would start giggling uncontrollably until they lost it completely and started slapping the table and rocking with laughter. We played a few more games over the course of about two hours and it only got funnier.

After discussing with other volunteers this peculiar love for children’s games, we’ve concluded that many of our country companions simply have shorter childhoods, during which they spend a lot of time helping in the house and on the farm. Which means they grow with an unsatisfied desire to be silly.

While at first I resisted on the grounds of unprofessionalism, I now embrace my role as “facilitator of silliness.” With so many games at my disposal, I’m confident I can keep the silliness going. And if I run out of ideas, I can always just bring a few buckets of fermented corn liquor to the meeting and see what happens.

*I have no actual citation for this.


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