Porridge for Chess – Phiona Mutesi

My sister, Elodie, is getting married next weekend.

When I was young, I loved chess. As a 7 year old boy though, I didn’t have many people to play it with, though. Elodie, was 4 years old at the time. I taught her how to play chess and she picked it up quickly, but she lost interest in it just as rapidly as she lost interest in most of her boyfriends in later years. (until Justin came along). 

So I made up a story. This being the early ’80s and South Africans still being taught to hate & fear the Russians, I told her that if she couldn’t play a good chess game, men from Russia will visit and chop off her head. She believed me and within a few short weeks  Elodie was South Africa’s best 4 year old chess player… 

I was reminded of this today as I read about Phiona Mutesi. Phiona grew up in the Katwe slum of Kampala, Uganda. Her family was starving. 

She heard about a sports centre that was giving free chess lessons. And free porridge. She went there with her brother, but was chased away because she was too dirty. 

“My brother was very annoyed and took me back to my mom. My mum told me to never go back to chess, but I went back because I wanted that cup of porridge” 

She walked six kilometres ever day to play the game. Two years later, she won the Uganda women’s junior championship. 



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