The Davidson in Ghana program is lucky enough to take place during the country’s rainy season. We are only lucky because, for one, we pay witness to some of the most sporadic and ruthless rains many of us have ever seen and secondly because it fosters intense game nights in our lounge at the guesthouse. It is safe to say that no more than two of us at a time know a single game, but after getting past the initial awkwardness of struggling to explain the game the group inevitably becomes temporarily obsessed.
The game of choice for this trip has definitely been cards and of the card games there has been a clear favoritism of one we have come to call “society”. Society is a game in which the entire deck of cards is dealt to at least four players, where one person starts with a card or series of cards and the goal is to play higher combinations in order to “get out” first. The name “society” comes from the established social order once everyone has gotten out of the game; the first person out being the most powerful in the “society” and the last person out being the least powerful in the social order. In honor of our lecturer who came on the day that this game of society was introduced, we came to call the person at the top of the social hierarchy the “Queen Mother”. As we learned that day from one of Ghana’s own Queen Mothers, the responsibility of this woman is to provide wisdom and advocate for both the towns people as well as the chief. With this being said the second person in the social ladder is the Chief, followed by the Citizen, Mule and the most dreaded position of the society’s Ass. After the first round and establishment of the social order, the order pretty much remained the same for the remainder of the game. If it didn’t remain exactly the same, the Queen Mother most certainly was the same person for the entire time. This is reinforced by the ability of the first two players out to be able to take valuable cards from the last two players out.
In the middle of the game during the first night we played ‘society” four of us decided it was worth going on a run for Snickers during the middle of a rain storm. While half joking in the taxi on the way back I ranted on the way “the system” in the game perpetuated the wealth of the upper class while simultaneously perpetuating the poverty of the lower class. Once anyone became the Queen Mother they became concerned with remaining the Queen Mother because winning felt better than losing and even better than sharing their “wealth”. And even if the thought of being fair crossed the minds of those at the top, the fear of being at the bottom and not treated fairly perpetuated their unfair stealing of valuable cards from the bottom tier. Amidst this joke I couldn’t help thinking about the ways that feelings we had during “society” were both reflective of the ways that society works both in America as well as in Ghana. The system that keeps the impoverished impoverished and keeps the wealthy at the top of the social hierarchy. This even keeps the American intervention in many African countries primarily concerned with cultivating the places resources rather than their people.
Coming to Ghana has been one of the most valuable experiences yet in my life. The most central reason for this is my realization that my world is not as different from this world as the media makes it out to be. I am lucky to be able to see a small section of the complex and vibrant place that is Africa and move forward from viewing this place from the lens of the biased Western media.