By Anthony Deyal
My Jamaican friend was complaining about his first visit to Trinidad where he was advised that if he wanted to stay in the country, he had to become an expert on ‘All Fours’. He confessed that he thought they were referring to a sexual position and before getting down to it, he asked if it was taken from the Kama Sutra so he could get some early lessons.
They then explained that it was a card game and even though it had no link to strip poker, he admitted to me he was floored. “I hope you landed on your feet and not on your stomach,” I joked. He replied, “I asked them if they have any other game we could play and they said ‘Monopoly’. I tried it but when I won ten dollars in a beauty contest, they told me I was very lucky to do so well. They implied that it to be more than chance. That was it for me. I then asked if they knew Dominoes and one of them replied, ‘Yes, I am a huge fan. They have the best pizza in Port of Spain.’ That was it for me. I came back home.”
Make no bones about it, Dominoes is an obsession in all but one of the islands and countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea and comprising what Derek Walcott called the “Antilles”. In fact, when it comes to Dominoes, there is no lesser or greater and, even better, no CARICOM involvement. From Belize to Venezuela, across to Suriname and Guyana, Aruba across to Barbados, Martinique, Antigua, Cuba and The Bahamas, the most passionate of players are the Jamaicans. For them, Dominoes is a way of life and sometimes of death. According to a regional newspaper headline, “Jamaicans’ love for dominoes: so strong it sometimes turns deadly.” Media reports over the past few years include, “Two men shot dead while playing dominoes in Clarendon”; “Man killed, friend wounded playing dominoes in Westmoreland”; and “Jamaican man stabs cousin to death over game in dominoes.”
The question is whether the downside is a purely Jamaican phenomenon based on the national psyche superheated by a very competitive team game that is played like war to the death among competing armies, or is it the game itself and what is known as The Domino Effect? When one of my Trini friends said that the Domino Effect is when pizza chains go bankrupt because of the COVID-19 lock-downs, I almost choked to death on a double-six. The term, Domino effect, describes a situation in which one event triggers another similar event and then another, until there is a cascade of events that occur, all because of the first, precipitating event. The image is that of a line of dominos, standing on end. Knocking over the first domino causes it to knock over the second domino, and so on.
In Jamaica, however, and in my home and elsewhere, the Domino Effect is a positive – more people locked in because of the pandemic are playing the game with gusto and a great slamming of boards and loud shouts of victory throughout the region. My wife is Guyanese, my children are Bajan who grew up in Belize and Antigua, and we came straight out of the Monopoly jail to wrest instead of rest our bones in some cut-throat Dominoes. Communication specialist, Granville Newel, described this noisy, robust and almost obsessive approach to the game, especially in Jamaica, as contagious.
He cited a visit to Jamaica, a few years ago, by the head of the International Domino Federation, Venezuelan Lucas Guittard who was immediately impressed by the fervency and passion of the local players to the point where he wanted to ‘import’ a few Jamaican nuances to his country.” Unfortunately, the Venezuelan president does not only slam the table but also the jail-doors on his rivals. Instead of just shooting off his mouth, like most of the ardent Dominators and even Domi-novices do, he has a firing-squad.
When we try to rise above the shouting and the tumult, we have to wonder if the breakup of the West Indies Federation and the unheralded death of the West Indies Football team are all part of the Domino Effect? If so, we have to wonder how a game that is more played and popular among all the Caribbean people and countries than cricket or football, can be linked, if only in terms of the English Language, to the inability of those countries to hang together rather than hanging separately. We can’t blame the dominoes for, as author S.B. Redd says, “And the game of dominoes is much like life: You gotta play the bones you’ve pulled. It doesn’t matter if you got seven doubles in your hand.”
The difference between the Trini “All Fours” lovers and Dominoes’ players is that Trinis will see having seven doubles in their hands as a God-send. It is not just the channa (chickpeas) and hot pepper, or the fried doughy bread or barrah that sandwiches it, but the street vendors of the Trini staple were recently forced into lockdown with the option of lock-up by the government if they were caught selling in the streets. It is another knock for the Trinis and might be the result of the Domino Effect described in political rhetoric and mathematical inaccuracy by the first Trinidad prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, as “One from ten leaves nought”. In this case, even one doubles from seven is also grudgingly given. It is why, if politicians’ minds were like dominoes, almost all of them would be double-blanks.
Fortunately, the Domino Effect does not have to be a negative where “all fall down”. It is not only something bad that happens to you, your country or the world (like Trump) but it is something good you can create by sparking a chain reaction of positive habits or behaviours. Neil Farber writing in Psychology Today, explained that we determine our goals and then begin to lay out our dominoes. Every domino is a goal. We alone determine the pathway and the journey to reach that final goal. He quotes his daughter as saying, “My dominoes have been rearranged so many times they look like abstract art.”
Mine are even worse, especially when I’m playing. I have big hands and put the entire seven in my left hand. They do not always remain there and I get the inevitable hard looks and even harder talk about using both hands. I protest that I am left-brained and cannot think, plot and plan if I hold them in my right hand. “Well de way you like to talk and make noise, you have to be right-brain then,” one of my Jamaican friends quipped to the applause of our UWI colleagues in Canada Hall. “Better than not having none,” I replied, and because of the Domino Effect I had to duck a left hand thrown right at my face.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that because he is unprepared to lose every friend he has in the game, he is accused of not taking his Dominoes seriously enough. This makes him a pushover.