Thursday, October 28, 2010


Africa has already forced me to grow up. I simply have no choice but to be self-reliant, because if I don't take care of myself, nobody will do it for me (except Julia sometimes). So I spent six weeks being very responsible and adjusting to my new position as an independent adult.

Then the real Katherine, the one who is a highly impulsive, typical eighteen-year-old, broke free.

In other words, I bought a puppy. With about the same amount of forethought I take to decide which color to paint my nails. And I'm down to one bottle of nail polish, sooo....

I talked about our trip to Keta. What I didn't mention was that when we were sitting outside Tony Blair's house after visiting Deborah's island, I saw some half-grown puppies chasing their mother in the distance. Being the animal lover I am, and missing my chihuahua at home, I said, "Awww, I want a puppy!"

Tony Blair disappears into the house for a moment and drops a little bundle of fur into my arms.

That was it. I was done for. Katherine on toast.

"Nene?" How much?

"Seven Gha'a"


In retrospect, I should've bargained- and they undoubtedly expected me to because I found out later that a dog here is 3 or 4 cedis, 5 at most. However, I didn't know that at the time and I would've paid much, much more. Roughly $5 for a puppy is nothing!

As far as I can tell, she is about 8 weeks old now.

In the week and a half that I've had Keta (named after the town where I bought her), I'm already amazed by how much she's grown! I swear she's gained almost a pound already.

At first she could only crawl a few feet awkwardly. After a few days she could walk with the clumsy, drunken swagger of someone who still hasn't gotten their sealegs. This morning I had to hurry after her as she took off across the courtyard with her humorous, bouncing run.

Her teeth were just barely poking through and she wasn't even fully weaned when I got her. I fed her powdered milk with a spoon and worried obsessively that she wasn't eating enough. But now she has almost a full mouth of teeth and it actually hurts when she tries to use my ankle as a chewtoy. She attacks her bowl of bread and milk, comically bracing herself with her front legs while she devours the whole thing. So now I'm worried that she's getting fat...

Now I have a confession:

Buying a puppy with about 3.6 seconds of consideration was probably bad enough. But don't worry, it gets worse.

I didn't exactly...precisely...ask my host family.

In my own defense, I TRIED - twice even - but Worfa and Victoria were in Accra and didn't pick up the phone.

So I was counting on two things: Ghanaian culture and Worfa's personality.

In Ghana, animals aren't viewed the same way as they are in the western world. Animals here serve a purpose - food, protection, etc. A "pet" in the same sense we would use that word is very rare here. So my guess was that bringing home a puppy unannounced would not be the huge deal it would be back home.

And Worfa is an extremely easy-going man. I didn't think he'd mind.

I spent an hour sitting outside our house with Keta in my lap, waiting for them to get home and reassuring myself that I wasn't insane and they weren't going to freak out and really, it was all just fine. And for 30 seconds I'd believe myself and then I'd start thinking about what would happen if I brought a puppy to my parent's house without asking and I'd have to start my pep talk all over again.

Worfa and Victoria come home. Worfa looks at Keta. "What is this? A puppy! Oh, you like it? Very fine!" and continues walking inside to change his clothes.

MWAHAHAHA. It really was that first.

You see, the problem with my stupid decisions is that they always seem to work out ok. (One day I'm going to wake up with a tattoo of Brad Pitt on my forehead and realize this isn't always the case.)

Worfa loves her. He didn't hesitate for a second in letting me keep her. He's already blocked off a corner of our courtyard to use as a pen and helps take care of her. There's something very endearing about watching him sit on the ground and play with her, or just laugh tolerantly when she starts gnawing on his ankles.

In contrast, Victoria hates her. She is completely convinced that Keta is going to make her sick. I actually got scolded because I poured some porridge out of a plastic bag into Keta's bowl, and then stuck the bag in a mug so it wouldn't tip over and spill the leftover porridge. Now Victoria says she can never use that mug again. She keeps walking around the house muttering, "The sickness, the sickness" in her humorous if not somewhat frustrating Victoria way.

Ironically, I did get sick for the first time the Monday after I brought Keta home, which unfortunately has only confirmed Victoria's suspicions that we are all going to die of the dog plague. It was very mild- I ate something that didn't agree with me, threw up twice and felt fine. But, predictably, when I came home and said I didn't want dinner and was just going to bed because I didn't feel good, Victoria shot Keta a death-glare and muttered, "It's 'cause you touch dem thing." I swear Victoria mutters everything.

Things came to a head last Friday, when I'd had Keta for almost a week. Victoria approached me when it was just the two of us at home and spoke to me at length, telling me how she loved me like a sister and didn't think of me as someone who was simply living at her house. But she hated the dog, didn't want the dog, if she'd wanted a dog she would've bought one, etc etc. And she asked me to get rid of her.

What else could I do?

This is her house and even though the way she'd handled the situation really frustrated me, I value my relationship with Victoria more than Keta.

So I spoke to a couple friends and found a guy across the street who agreed to take her.

That same afternoon, Keta left for her new home.

I tried not to be angry with Victoria. I can actually understand why she doesn't like dogs and I respect her opinion. I tried to focus on how well Victoria takes care of me every day, and all the sacrifices she has made for me. But I was just so frustrated! You could say I got what I deserved because I brought a puppy into the house without asking. The problem is, even if I'd asked ahead of time, the same thing still would've happened: Worfa still would've said yes, I would've brought Keta home and Victoria still would've been unhappy with the situation.

Then Worfa came home and found out what had happened. In the deliberate, thoughtful way that is so characteristic of Worfa, he waited until I had eaten and was sitting at the table reading until he approached me. We ended up talking for about 45 minutes. I've never been so nervous at the beginning of a conversation, but by the end of it I respected Worfa even more than I did before- who knew that was possible.

He said we all need to be upfront with each other. He said he knows I have parents back home, but he still tries to be a good father to me in Ghana and sees me as his daughter. However that does not mean I am not obligated to do what they say if I disagree with something. He told me I have equal rights in this household, so If I'm unhappy about something they want me to do, I can just say so. He said that if I want a dog, I can have a dog. He didn't like that this had all happened without his knowledge. I told him I was worried about straining my relationship with Victoria or making her unhappy, but he assured me that she would get used to Keta and that once she was grown, it wouldn't be as much of an issue anyway.

So almost as quickly as she had left, Keta came back home.

And thankfully, everything seems to be alright with Victoria. She still shakes her head disbelievingly when she sees how much fun I have playing with Keta or how gently I carry her around. And sometimes she still mutters. But she doesn't seem to be mad.

For the first week I was able to take her to school with me. My students loved her and I was able to take care of her without neglecting my teaching. She's a little too active now though! She isn't content to stay in her basket anymore! I asked Worfa to get me a leash so I can start taking her everywhere with me again, because I feel bad leaving her in her pen for 10 or so hours everyday.

Plus, taking Keta around Aflao with me is good protection!

Instead of men asking me "White lady, what's your name? Will you marry me?" now they ask me, "Yevu, what's your puppy's name? Can I have it?"

She doesn't even have all her teeth and she's already a good guard dog!

1 comment:

  1. So will you bring her home? Will Gracie have a new friend?

    Keta is absolutely adorable.