Grenada, August 2015
It’s a Wednesday night in Grenada, and I think I’ll be tucking in for an early night after a long afternoon of beach volleyball. Until I get the invitation to go play bingo after dinner at Prickly Bay Marina. My friends assure me that I won’t want to miss Grenadian Bingo, and they’re rarely wrong about where a good time is to be had.
The marina’s restaurant is quickly filling up. We’re seated at long white plastic tables, with a view of the bay and its sailboats. We’ve just ordered a round of the fancy cocktails on special, and head up to the stage to purchase our bingo cards. Women are digging through the pile of cards, discarding cards for some advanced tactical reasons I’ll never understand. I am well out of my league, clearly.
I buy a card, take my seat and prepare to play. People are studying their cards and planning their route to the stage. Pulsating music and flashing lights are bombarding me from the stage. A bald man takes the stage with a microphone, and announces the prizes on the line tonight: free pizza, cellular phone credits, a pig and a goat. Yes, I am now competing to win livestock. Everyone around me assures me it will be just fine if I win one of said livestock. They clearly don’t understand how small my sailboat is, and how adamant my captain is against pets on board. And I’m a vegetarian.
There is a series of games played throughout the night: vertical line, horizontal line, diagonal line, x across the board, and finally the entire board. Winners scream “Bingo” from the back of the room and dash to the stage against a countdown from five to one announced by the bald guy. In the event of a tie, the two winners dance off to bass-pounding soca music.
I should mention who else is playing bingo, and thus participating in the dance off: young medical students fresh off the boat from college town USA, likely wearing an inappropriately short or tight dress and looking to repay some student loans with their bingo winnings; middle aged sailors fresh off the boat from the last island in the Caribbean chain, likely wearing the same grubby clothes they wear to every event off the boat and hoping to refill the cruising kitty with their bingo winnings; and little old island ladies that appear to have walked down the hill from their farms and are willing to shake everything they’ve got left in them to win more livestock to take home. It’s the closest thing to a rumble I’ve seen since West Side Story.
The first time we bingo’d, I won a free pizza and cellular phone credit. I tried my luck again a couple of weeks later, and won six chickens. When I returned the next day to retrieve my six little yellow chicks, five remained, one having perished overnight. I was pretty certain they wouldn’t last much longer under my care (see my previous comment about my captain’s aversion to pets on board). My local friend assured me that he had a chicken coop at home where he could raise my chickens for me. My captain tore the box of chicks out of my hands just as I was starting to name them. They would clearly become my local friend’s breakfast, lunch and dinner someday soon.
Empty nested and determined to win something I could use, I went back the next week. We barely got a seat and had to scrounge for a last available card. When the bald guy announced the prizes on the line we understood why: the grand prize cow was pregnant. Every islander had done the simple calculus of one cow plus one calf is two cattle, and had bought multiple cards to increase their chances. I was out of my league and going for broke.
Luckily I didn’t win the pregnant cow, or anymore livestock. But dance I did!