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  • Playing tic-tac-toe in VIAL

Z , a fourteen year old girl, has been living in the VIAL refugee camp for the past ten months. She and her family came here from Afghanistan. For the past few days, we’ve been meeting to play tic-tac-toe.

She cuts a piece of kitchen towel and draws four lines; that would be our board. She picks up six checkers, red and white, we split them and get started. Sometimes, before we begin, I bring three fingers together the way Christians cross themselves, and rub them, portraying the universal symbol of money, saying “Pull-pull” jokingly; you see, pull stands for money in Persian. “Yes, yes, come. One euro, two euros?” After spending almost a year in VIAL and in the public school, her Greek is very good. “Three euros!” comes my offer as I open my fingers. “Okay, okay, you got it!”

The game turns out to be a landslide. I laugh and hold my arms up in surrender. Z too laughs and goes on to rub her fingers. “Aaaah, pull-pull” she says and stretches out her palm. Her smile is so wide and her cheeks rise so much that her eyes have turned into two tiny slots.

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Needless to say, our games are totally unrelated to all sorts of money prizes. That day, though, I pretended to reach for my wallet and upend it to facetiously show her I don’t have those three euros we wagered and that I would now be in her debt. Apparently, Z couldn’t see through the joke I was trying to pull, as she simply noticed me sticking my hand in my pocket. Then, when she saw me take out my wallet, her eyes rolled in amazement and her jaw dropped half an inch. She jumped up and took some tentative steps back with her eyes still glued to the wallet. “No, no, M, no pull, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

I managed to lift my arms in a “hold on” kind of gesture; I opened my wallet and upended it in an attempt to explain myself, rounding out my ill-considered joke. The girl was now giggling, yet she still had inadvertently managed to teach me a much bigger lesson than I would have ever expected from a simple tic-tac-toe game.

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