Games Night

I’m getting used to the routine. I knew it would come. Once I’d settled and got used to the pattern, it would be like being back at school again. Just more interesting. And in another country.

On Thursday we go to work and settle in, but there’s no power. Luckily, all we need to do today is have a chat with Samwell (I’m sure it’s spelt Samuel, but this is how it’s pronounced, and I like Samwell more), so the power situation’s no biggie. Samwell is another of Gemma’s children who is helping to run the business. After gaining some of his insights and explaining our role, we go home to try and send in our report documents to head office. First of all our wifi isn’t working properly, and when we eventually make it online we discover that all our word documents can only be submitted in the form of the most obscure document types I’ve ever heard of. The kinds you think someone must’ve made up, like .fmg and .pxr. The only one I recognize is JPEG, but even that’s ridiculous; they want us to photograph a spreadsheet? Our Whatsapp group is going mad; we’re one of the last to come across the snag, and we’re reassured that it’ll be fixed by the end of the weekend. I’m indifferent but fuming. Indifferent because that means we don’t have to do anything for a few days. Fuming because it’s the latest in a long list of screw ups from our charity organization, who spent the entire training week stressing the importance of our reports to head office, then made them impossible to submit. Talk about a kick in the teeth. Partly acknowledging the heat for my short temper, I go and have a lie down, in true British fashion.

Sitting in bed, with the glass shutters opened wide, I am still not ‘cool’ in either sense of the word. The document format glitch is like a catalyst, and I sit in a mental pool of all the other crap that’s happened: people living in private hospitals instead of host homes; a couple of pairs who have horrible bosses that don’t deserve interns working for them; a food budget that means that the people working in more expensive areas can’t afford lunch, and a long, long list of general communication errors. I vent all this on Whatsapp to a few close friends back home. It releases some of the bad vibes but I’m past the point of no return. The fire is fully fuelled, and I’m simply waiting for something to aim it at.

As it sizzles and crackles, Gerald lures me out with the pack of cards we bought earlier. I ask which card games he knows, to which he responds: Cards.

“Yeah, cards, I know. But what games do you know? Bullshit? 21?”

“Bullshit? What? I just know cards!”

“Cards…what do you mean ‘Cards’?”

So apparently, there’s only one card game in Ghana, and it’s called ‘Cards’. I guess the name makes sense, seen as there aren’t any other games to confuse it with.

He takes out all the cards under six, and explains the rules to me. You get five cards, and play five rounds: it’s essentially Top Trumps, so your battling to be the one to start each round, but whoevers choosing suit at the end of round five wins the entire match. If you can’t match the leader’s suit, you play any card, but it reveals your weakness in that suit. Then you have to hope you can trump whatever else they play before the fifth round ends. We play a number of practice rounds, and I already hate it. Gerald teaches me well but I can’t help but feel patronized. It has nothing to do with his manner, I just always feel patronized when I’m helpless and being helped. Gerald tells me that they used to play this a lot at boarding school, and my motivation for the game flatlines completely. If he was playing this game in boarding school, that’s at least four years of experience, and by the way he trounces me in the warm up rounds, I’m not looking forward to the rest of our game.

I understand it, but I can’t grasp what makes it tick. Gerald tells me that you have to be able to read the other person’s hand from how they play each round, but this is way beyond me. Then I spot a winning pattern. Whatever suit is your majority, you keep till the end, playing your best card at the last. Unless you know you’ve got your opponent beat because they can’t match your suit, in which case you should claim victory playing a six or seven; this gains you three or two points, respectively. The first time I do this, I’m only slightly aware, but after winning two rounds with a six, one with a seven, and one with a jack of spades, it’s nine nil to me and Gerald capitulates, astounded. I have to admit, I’m pretty astounded too. We revert back to Monopoly, and Gerald jokes that I haven’t taught him how to play Monopoly as well as he taught me to play cards. I am afraid he is probably right. I explain to him that Monopoly, especially when played just between two, is essentially won in the first twenty moves. Once you’re on the backfoot, it’s extremely hard to win. The real nerd in me comes out and explains the origins of the game, which is that a Lady of Victorian London wanted to simulate the economics of the real world, so created a board game where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It’s damn realistic, but not very cheery, and it doesn’t really help Gerald’s situation as I lay down the strategy I fostered at the age of seven: to monopolize an entire street (and in this case the infamous dark blues) then watch the cash roll in. Even the dreaded “Building works on your houses and hotels” doesn’t bring me down, and after the fourth round of mortgaging off his properties, I kindly allow Gerald to concede. Who said an English student couldn’t be a shrewd businessman?

After our impromptu games night, things feel a lot better. Not only am I calmer and a lot happier, but it kickstarts communication between me and Gerald again. It often gets stilted, unsurprisingly. When you’re living and working with someone non stop, it’s difficult to think of things to talk about. You’d ask your flatmate how work was, or your colleague how home is. But here you have neither. The hard work and the heat doesn’t help either; we’re both in a perpetual state of slight irritation, and I can be a broody solitary bastard at the best of times. As I gander on my laptop before bed, Gerald comes in and starts talking about Ghanaian politics, referencing the white tee he’s wearing which has his party’s slogan on. It’s the first time in a week we’ve started talking about anything other than the immediate and actionable future. I confess that I’m quite tired, but that I’d love to hear about it some other time. We both agree that the conversation will happen in full depth at some point. Hopefully it’s a good sign for days to come.

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