Ajana one, Ajana two

Holidays mean waakye and walking around the house gloriously doing nothing. Unfortunately, not this time. I had to meet a friend at Rawlings Park, right in the heart of the chaotic Central Business District. I’ve never enjoyed the busyness of the marketplace, nor the bargaining that goes with trading. This meat to some is definitely my poison.

Within minutes, we got what we were looking for. I suspect I paid way too much for it, but this was no time for regret. I couldn’t wait to retreat from the engulfing crowd. It wasn’t too soon for me. We were headed to Tema Station, weaving our way through the traders, porters and shoppers of Accra. And the underground con artists too.

Soon after we passed the hockey stadium, we saw a group of six men gathered round a rickety table. Curiosity had me firm within her unyielding grips. What were these men selling? Money was quickly changing hands. A smile lit up my face. I was hooked. This gambling game was one I’d only heard about, but had never seen being played in the streets.

Sometime in the nineties, when I was a naïve student at Ridge Church School, my friends one Monday brought a piece of string tied in a circle to class and jumbled it up, asking whoever dared to stick a pen into any of the gaps created. If the pen was trapped by the string, you win. If not, you lose. Simple. Apparently, in the previous night’s edition of Akan Drama, this game, “Ajana One, Ajana Two” or something, was played. So here we were, innocently playing it the next day at school till it got boring and we went back to talking about video games and other people’s sneakers.

These memories came flooding back. I dragged my reluctant friend along. A man in a denim shirt, whose face was contorted in concentration and determination, held the pen. He had just placed a confident bet of GH¢5. The dealer pulled, the string slipped freely around the pen. The man had lost. He hit his head in frustration. Perhaps, he smelled victory was near, because he placed another bet. He might as well have tossed the cash into the gutter.

But how could anybody lose? It looked so easy! One passer-by was given the opportunity to have a go. The man in the denim shirt placed a bet of GH¢10 for him. The dealer pulled. The string was trapped around the pen. He’d won! He was offered another try. Would he get greedy? The string pulled freely into the dealer’s hands, and just like that, he’d lost his winnings.

Everything around that table screamed “Scam!”Was this just bait for petty pickpockets? Perhaps, the whole point was to gather unsuspecting patrons and rob them blind; both of their money by playing, and of their possessions as they played.

Without warning, the dealer turned to my friend and offered him the pen. “It’s free,” he assured us. Free. I learned the power of the word early in my copywriting career. He shook his head. Certainly, at that moment, his integrity was higher than mine. I looked closely at the dealer. “Free?” I quizzed. “Free,” the man in the denim shirt repeated. I suspected that the two of them, if not the whole gang around that table of sin, were travelling tricksters. But what had I to lose?

Securing my phone deep in my pocket with one hand, I took the pen. The dealer skillfully jumbled the string in a quick motion. I took a steady look at the coiled string. In there, only one of the gaps would hook the pen. The rest were all sure losses. I confidently made my pick. The dealer looked me dead in the eye and said, “I’ll give you four times any amount you bet right now if you’ll play again.” I knew I’d won and could easily win again, but I declined. I’m no gambler. He pulled slowly. The pen hooked it. I had just made four times what I’d bet: nothing. They looked at me with sheer admiration. “Try again!” they urged. Not a chance. I pulled my friend away, leaving them to find their next potential victim.

Later, a friend confirmed it was a scam. He too had seen a group of men around the same table once, throwing money about, enticing greedy young men into their vice. Some hours later, the roles had changed, and the one who was losing earlier on was now the dealer, reeling in the hard-earned wages of their unsuspecting prey with a string and a pen.

In your travels, have you witnessed any other scams around the stations of Accra or wherever? I’d love to know how they worked.



About Kwaku Dankwa

By day, I'm an advertising copywriter. That's what I've done all my working life (National Service doesn't count). Husband of Esther, father of Jesse and twin boys Mark and Andrew, and servant of Christ. I previously wrote a blog on the dramatic side of public transport in Accra, "The Daily Commute: From Bridge to Ridge." Enjoy.
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10 Responses to Ajana one, Ajana two

  1. Abby says:

    ….daylight robbery…!!!

  2. florence says:

    refreshing read after a hectic day. There are these pple called nsem wo ho. They make ‘prophesies’ abt you and end up leaving with your phone or wallet

  3. Moshi says:

    One major rule of a con artist:
    You can never con an honest man. But the greedy man is always a victim. I would rather say, it would be a privilege for me to witness such artistry since I have only heard of it and probable watched it in movies. 

  4. kwamepocho says:

    I remember a friend of mine falling victim to such skilled “artistry”. We had gone to “Kantamanto” “Bend down” boutique to make “sele” for school when we came across this horde of brooding tricksters. As is mostly the case, we were arrested by the excitement the crowd displayed; indeed it looked like folks were hitting the jackpot with this one! This time the game involved shuffling an “alasa” seed with three ideal milk tins and asking people to guess which tin ended up with the seed. We chanced upon a win; the act was enough to convince naive us that this would be a cool way to get more money for “sele”. Game on: shuffle, shuffle… we all saw the alasa seed in the third tin! Infact the crowd even said it! So BAM! third tin!…The con artist opens it, and “Settteyyyy” the seed was not there!! My friend then went into hyper-argument mode, insisting they review the other tins because he was certain the con artist was hiding the seed. It was then that the scope of the scam was revealed to us; somewhere within the crowd “macho” folks showed up, told my friend to play again or shut the “F” up, they even played a round or two and won just to show us it was free,fair and genuine. The (fake) crowd then concluded that my friend was being a sissy.”MUGUFIED” in broad daylight and there was nothing he could do about it!

    Lesson learnt

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Hahahaha! Pocho, you’re way too funny! I’ve heard of that game as well, but I’ve never seen it being played. I guess that was the start and end of your gambling days, eh? Hehehehe…

      I wonder how come these guys are able to operate. Surely, everyone around there knows they’re crooks, no?

    • florence says:

      ei! I wonder the cost of running such an operation. You have to hire a crowd, hire macho men….. Hmmmm. There must be more greedy men around than i thought.

  5. David opoku says:

    Funny one, bt gambling should be done nt to win but for the fun of it. Ask the Las Vegas fans.

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Charle, if you don’t have, and they’re using you like some dummy, you’re not having fun, and you’re being ripped off by an obviously rigged game, then that be some way oo …

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