Bottle cap blues

Zaboh! (Popular youth greeting here in Lilongwe)

I just had a few extra minutes to be on the Internet here since some meetings were implicitly cancelled, so I wanted to share an amusing experience…

The other week I had a chance to meet Ester, who is the sister to my host father, Leonard.


Ester is studying agribusiness (agriculture, economics/markets) at a college just outside of Lilongwe, but lives in Blantyre, and so only visits the family occasionally. To paint more of the ensuing scene, Lilongwe is on a somewhat scheduled, but still quite arbitrary, rotating blackout scheme as the power distribution system is being upgraded for the first time in over a decade. So when the lights go, I usually find my way to the charcoal cooking stove for warmth since it commonly drops to single digits on the Celsius temperature scale. The night when Ester was around, she decided to introduce me to a board game Malawians like to play. I quickly appreciated that when you want to play a board game, you not only get to play, but you get to build the board as well 🙂 So Rod finds a piece of cardboard and using a knife cuts out a 30cm x 30cm square (approximately). The board evolves with Rod and Ester drawing diagonal, horizontal, and vertical lines. Cathy runs off and returns with handfuls of used bottle caps. Until at last the pieces come together to form a familiar game of Checkers!!


I was super excited, and my teeth shined through a big arrogant smile.

Going back a step…Another popular game is Bao, which some of you might already be familiar with. It’s a counting type game, but Malawians play it so fast I could hardly keep up when I joined a game, let alone trying to learn the strategies by observation. So when I saw a familiar game of Checkers, I was just like, ‘Alright! This is my time to taste some sweet revenge and win for a change!’

So I assure Rod and Ester I know what I’m doing, still struggling to hide my arrogant smile, and make my first move.

But things just go downhill from there…

First, I realize the game is actually called Draft…which I made the mistake of disregarding presuming Malawians simply call it by a different name – pretty common for other familiar items (is Draft in Canada? I was so blinded by my chance at revenge I didn’t clue in). Second, I was totally dumbfounded when my bottle cap was eaten by Ester moving a non-king bottle cap backwards! I just blankly stared at the board, unsure if Ester was trying to trick me, or if it was a legitimate move…I eventually accepted it although that happened a couple times before I learned my lesson to rebuke in kind. But finally, I lost all hope when Ester moved her king diagonally across the entire board to eat one of my bottle caps. By that time, my side was terribly weak and I opted for a hurried defeat. I picked up the pieces and/or my shattered pride and tried another round, but still no luck.

You think you know the rules of the game until you lose another bottle cap. As they say in Malawi, “That’s life!”

Explore posts in the same categories: Malawi

4 Comments on “Bottle cap blues”

  1. mum, Says:

    Hi Wayne:

    The game called Draft, was commonly played back home, you played it here as well, as a kid. Checkers is a little more intense and I guess, once you started checkers, you forgot about Drafts.

    Just goes to show, you can’t have a feather in your cap!

    Continue the learning.


  2. Deryk Says:

    As soon as I read the words “arrogant smile” I knew what was up. Great update, Wayne.

  3. kondie Says:

    Hello Wayne, I really like your post. I was a master of drafts until I met some Kenyans in Bermuda, who played totaly different rules. So I gave up. By the way I’m Malawian.

    I hope u enjoyed your stay in Malawi. I visited your country last week and really people were really nice. Of course it snowed! I’m a tropical boy who doesnt enjoy snowy weather.

    Anyways just wanted to say hello, keep well.

  4. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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