I’d been playing pool for a few years before moving here. Unfortunately, despite this lengthy opportunity, I did not build my skills to a sufficient level to avoid having my self-esteem smeared across the green felt from time to time. Thus, it was good news when I discovered the wealth of pool tables in Namibia. My relocation did not mean the end of my pool-sharking dreams. But the road to reach them is not a smooth one.
It began one day in Windhoek. Running errands in the nation’s capital meant the usual traffic, crowds, and exhaustion. We needed a lunch break and Jay had a faint memory of a little pizza place with a few tables. Out of this memory he pulled the route to a wee side road and cold beer, pizza, and pool. It was here that I was introduced to the African pool table.
Although Africa is 6 million square kilometers bigger than North America, they did not have enough room for American tables and had to shrink them. They smushed in all four sides along with the holes and deflated the balls by about a third. Then they made one-size-fits-all-children cue sticks that I feel I might break with one hard shot. Not optimal for us tall people but out of our control.
- American cue left, African cue right. Don’t sneeze, you may splinter it.
The fun continued on a trip to Rundu, a town on Namibia’s northern border. In an attempt to mingle with the locals, Jay and I went off in search for a bar with a pool table. We found the curiously named:
But instead settled on the more traditional Free Town:
This place had all a bar really needs: walls (sheet metal), floor (dirt), bar (wood) with a few stools and beer (cold), and, of course, a table (pool). The few patrons plunked upon the few stools were not shy to stare at the two whiteys that just walked in. We may have been the only ones to ever have done so. No one spoke English or any of the other languages from our area of the country but we did manage to order two bottles of beer and communicate that we wanted to use the table. The patrons whirled around on their stools to watch what would surely be a spectacle.
I was now used to the miniature tables but I had not yet played on one which had more duct tape than felt. That wasn’t so much an obstacle as the cue ball that disappeared in the table depths every time we scratched.
The patrons were very helpful though. The men would lift the table and shake the ball out when it stuck and the women shared, in Kavango, their version of the rules. The two words I did understand were “two times”. This was in reference to the two shots a player got if their opponent scratched. When we scratched, everyone would yell “TWO TIMES!”, we’d fish out the ball, and play on.
I had many supporters since I was the woman. The men gathered around me each shot and, after discussing it amongst themselves, point to the ball they recommended. Free Town erupted in cheers when I won and I received many handshakes.
Then the bartender wanted to play.
She was about half my height but glared at me like a bull sizing up a naked matador; no challenge.
She snatched the cue from Jay and roughly ground the tip with the chalk hanging from the ceiling above the table. I broke. A blink of an eye later, she catapulted the cue ball off the table and out the door. This happened more than once; she shot impulsively and missed often. I didn’t win so much as she lost.
Skills, 0, interesting African experience, 92.
After playing many lopsided, coin-eating tables throughout Namibia, into Botswana and even Zimbabwe we finally decided to settle down and have a uniquely quirky table of our own. Ours has different sized holes and will eat any ball at any time. For extra skill-building, Africa occasionally sends in her jillion-strong army of bugs to change at will the course of our balls.
- “11 ball, corner pocket, off the dung beetle.”
Alas, it is through this cruel world I must plod fate-ward. As Muhammed Ali once said: “Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.”
I’m sure I’ll only need another 50 years or so.