Talk about two different ideas of winning!

The day that I finish writing a piece about how difficult it is when people have different ideas and intentions about winning, this awkwardness happens:

Here in Guatemala, the whole family is gathered in the living room after enjoying some amazing homemade tacos. All 23 of us are crowded there, laughing and gossiping. The twins are finishing up a game with the chess board that we gave them and I taught them how to play. Somehow the talk gets around that my brother-in-law–a 40-something manager of a large coffee finca–knows how to play chess. He confirms it, and I’m excited! Usually, the rural Guatemalans I’ve met are wicked skilled at checkers, but don’t know chess.

The family starts rallying us to face off each against each other. They set the board up in the middle of the room. Some of the boys start taking bets. Who’s gonna win? “It’s a battle of the minds,” one of my sisters-in-law says.

The tension is high, the whole family is staring. I make my first move, a pawn two spaces forward. He concentrates. Moves his pawn…diagonally?

I pause. The twins–who have been enforcing the correct movement rules on each other for days in order to get them memorized–look at me with their heads cocked. What’s going on? I ask him how his understanding of chess’ rules allows him to move like that. He giggles and takes the move back. Honest mistake.

Except it continues. Knights moving diagonally. Pieces double-jumping other pieces. Even pieces capturing my pieces from halfway across the board.

He’s playing checkers with the chess pieces…at least some variant of checkers.

I don’t know what to do. There is a growing history here of Glendi and I having to step in and help their family make ends meet–helping cover debts, pay for hospital visits, bringing gifts that he can’t afford to give his kids. There’s embarrassment there about needing so much help, as a man responsible for his family.

He claimed proudly that he knew chess. I really don’t want to embarrass him right now, with all his kids watching, betting, cheering–to pause and explain how each piece is supposed to move, or to tell him he’s playing a totally different game. Instead, we awkwardly play this hybrid monstrosity, chesskers. And before it get’s too painful to figure out what winning actually means, I choose to make a series of silly moves and then resign with the shake of his hand. The family won’t let me live it down. “You got beaten!” “Our dad crushed you!” Later, the twins whisper, “That wasn’t actually chess, was it?”

What was I supposed to do? Usually I prefer being blunt in the face of cultural misunderstandings like this, but when it’s so built up, so tied up in being about our intelligence and level of education, and when there is already a touchy power-dynamic developing given our roles in the world, I didn’t know what else to do. Letting him win and letting them chide seemed like the best of all the awkward options.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi