A dog yelped, drawing my attention. It stood on a wall, its leg wrapped up in the chain leash around its neck. Something struck me as odd about the scene. After a moment’s consideration, I realized it was the first dog I’d seen chained up in Ghana. There was another at the end of a rope laying at the bottom of the wall. I looked further and saw a whole group of men standing in a rough circle with about thirty dogs on leashes. “Hey, Jeff,” I said, “there’s the dog market.”
It was market day, which falls on every third day. The dog market in Bolgatonga had once been in a conspicuous place along the edge of the market, Jeff told me. But it had attracted some attention from the local media, and so they had hidden it in a less frequented area of the marketplace. Until now, Jeff hadn’t found its new location. Every dog I’d seen in Ghana was small, scruffy, and roamed seemly free. But now men led yelping dogs in and out of the market on short lengths of rope or chain. Dog meat is about the only alternative to eating goat, or fowl. Life is different in Ghana, West Africa.
We had no interest in purchasing a dog to cook for supper. But Jeff likes to be informed anyway, regardless of whether or not the information is valuable. We walked out of the little, unassuming square and crossed the street. I have learned that when walking across Bolgatonga, Jeff runs into a lot of people he knows. Sure enough, we heard somebody call his name almost as soon as we got to the other side. A young man ran out of a store selling cheap, plastic goods from China and literally jumped into Jeff’s arms. I’ve never seen anyone so happy to see somebody else. Jeff told me he’d been just a boy the last time they saw each other. The boy took Jeff inside to show him the store, which I understood to belong to the boy’s father. I waited outside and watched the people walking past. That was when I first noticed her.
The first thing I thought of was that there wasn’t a single fly on me, or anyone else that I could see. I hadn’t even noticed them on the goats that were being sold in their own market several alleys back the way we’d came. But the woman laying on the side of the road must have had several hundred flys swarming around her. It could easily have been as many as a thousand. They were like a cloud. Her hand moved halfheartedly across her face for a few moments, and then she was still. Jeff and I had walked past her without seeing her. But right there, not fifteen feet from where I stood, a woman had laid down to die in the street.
I couldn’t see what she looked like, and it was impossible to determine her age. Her dress seemed like something elderly Ghanian women wore, and her arm certainly looked old and frail. But I know that diseases like AIDS can easily turn a flourishing young woman into a wasted husk in no time. I wondered if there was anything that I could do for her. But the swarming flies told the tale clearly. The woman was all but dead. Getting her to a hospital was impossible, and hopeless anyway. She would be gone before whatever was the Ghanian equivalent of an ambulance arrived.
I watched her. I watched the flies. I watched people look down at her as they walked around her. At least they noticed. I had walked by her without even looking down. A goat and her young came out from the corner behind me and wandered around in front of the store. “Count your blessings,” I told the goat. The fact that it was running free, instead of tied to a stake in the goat market, meant that it had at least three more days to live. I looked back at the woman and told myself the same words. Count your blessings. Name them one by one.
I pointed the woman out to Jeff when he rejoined me. He was also shocked that we didn’t see her before. He also wondered if there was anything we could do. But neither of us could think of anything helpful. Without anything else to do, we turned the corner and kept walking. Jeff started to talk about how in America death is kept so remote from us. Here in Ghana, one of the more safer and healthier countries in Africa, it is right there in the street. As a human life ebbed away behind me, I thought, “Yeah. Things are different here.”
I thought also of my grandfather, who was dying back home in a modern, sterile facility equipped with high-tech medical equipment and knowledgeable staff. I went to see him before I left for Ghana. Expecting him to cross the River Jordan before I got back to America, I said goodbye. I have been out of touch since my arrival. He may be dead already. Whether here, or there, all humanity has at least that one thing in common. And I am sick, sick, sick of seeing it. That’s why we have come to Ghana in the first place. We have in Jesus the cure for death. It is high time to spread it around.