Friday, August 24, 2012

Scrabble---Africa Style

Scrabble is one of those games that will always occupy a place of honor in my collection of games. To some, Scrabble is just a board game to play during family game night, at your college dorm, or if you've been married for 25 years and have nothing else to do. Others think of Scrabble as a mere hobby, but with any activity there will always be fanatics, the ones who would rather sell their soul than stop—the one's with a constant yearning for self-improvement---the merciless.

Now fanaticism isn't a bad thing, being obsessed with the betterment of one's knowledge is actually a great characteristic to have despite the bad rap “obsession” gets. Trying to use words you wouldn't normally use in daily talk just to whup someone's butt---boy can this game bring an ugly side to ya! Scrabblers may even feel they've reached buddhist enlightenment if they memorize all the top 5000 sevens and eights. Some even have rituals like picking the tiles out of the bag a certain way. Did you know that there's even a National Scrabble Day in NYC?  I'm gathering every nerd around has a spare word or two they share on that day. No matter, the Scrabble box should have a warning label on it because of all the turmoil it can cause.

This week my counterpart and I decided to teach these kids how to play scrabble, to stretch their spelling and english skills a bit. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when we got into this. It took a good 15 minutes just to explain and demonstrate the scrabble board and how to attach words. Once play began, the kids still couldn't get it, even with me behind them telling them exactly what to do. OY! For the life of them, they couldn't unscramble letters, they couldn't see that if an “e” was already on the table they could use their HLP to make the word HELP---which is what I felt like screaming! But finally, a light went on in the heads of two kids in my group, and they were ever so pleased with themselves when they spelled the word “born” and attached it correctly---”Tshepo, did I get points?” Sure did, all 6 of them. You would've thought the world was their oyster at this moment---the gleem in their eyes, the upright posture all of a sudden---it was scrabble nirvana! They went on and on, attaching small words, some that didn't make sense, some silly, sometimes they went back to old ways, but at the end, one boy looked at me and said “I think I get it, this game is delicious.” I said to him, see, you use a nice word like delicious, why can't you put what's in your head down on the scrabble board---”Uh, I didn't think I could do that.”

I don't think that any of these kids are going to become obsessed or become scrabble fanatics, but for now, learning not to overlap a word is a huge stride for them. At times, I become hysterical in laughter at what happens on a daily basis, but, really, it's a sad thing that kids in rural villages don't have a clue about many things. Yet, when the brilliant dusk settles each night, and I think about my days here, whether I'm laughing about a scrabble game, or feeling dismal about a kid telling me her mom has HIV, broadening their worlds---broadens my own world!

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