When you’re living the good life abroad, let’s say in Ghana, West Africa, your expat friends there often have fascinating stories to tell. Here’s a pearl of a tale my friend Natalie entertained me with one steamy tropical evening. Both Americans, she and her hunky husband Max had recently been married in a traditional Ghanaian wedding ceremony. This was much fun for all, but read what happened after the wedding was over.
Sheep’s Balls and Other Fun
The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline
of wonder. — Ralph W. Sockman
Natalie and Max come by for drinks on Friday, returning some items they’d borrowed for the wedding festivities. My eye catches the white bandage wrapped around Natalie’s left knee.
“What did you do to your knee?” I ask.
“I fell off my bike. It’s a long story.” She settles herself on the sofa. “I went out to buy a sheep yesterday.”
“You bought a sheep?”
“For Bobo, who emceed the wedding, remember? It’s customary here to give a present of a live sheep to the person who presides over your wedding ceremony.” She rubs her bandaged knee. “So, since we had a traditional ceremony, we thought we should keep to the custom.”
My mate pours us drinks and we get ready to hear the tale. Natalie and Max always have such good stories.
It was interesting to shop for a live animal, Natalie tells us, she, a lawyer’s daughter from the American suburbs. “It was definitely a new experience for me,” she says in that calm voice of hers. Now that the wedding is over, she has lost the spaced-out look. She’s her normal insouciant self again, for which I am grateful.
Photo by Luke Bosman/cc
“How do you shop for a sheep?” I ask, thinking of all these filthy, malodorous, creatures scavenging by the side of the road everywhere. “What do you look for?”
“It’s all in the testicles,” she says, sounding like someone who knows.
It’s not the answer I had expected. Apparently the ram’s testicles are an indication of the animal’s quality, and are therefore displayed and palpated for the potential buyer. Here she was, a lapsed Lutheran female in a smelly animal market being shown a variety of sheep’s scrotums by long-robed male Muslim traders.
“I felt a little odd,” says Natalie.
“But I learned a lot.”
“Like what?” I fortify myself with a swallow of wine.
“Both testicles have to be there,” she states. “And they’ve got to be heavy, dense and solid. Especially heavy is important.”
I didn’t know this. “And this makes the meat taste better?” I ask.
My mate gives me a look (you can probably imagine what kind). “That’s for breeding purposes,” he enlightens me.
Natalie goes on with her story, how she looked over all these filthy rams, listened to all these friendly Muslim traders, the stench all around, the sweltering heat. She thought she might pass out, but the location seemed less than ideal.
Finally, having made her choice, she hailed a taxi to go home.
Photo by raysto/cc
“You took that sheep home in a taxi?”
“They tied him up and stuffed him in the trunk.”
“That’s terrible!” I say. (Let it not be said Miss Footloose approves of cramming live animals into car trunks.)
“Oh, he had his revenge,” says Natalie. “He left a generous deposit. Fragrant, too. You should have heard the taxi driver, shouting there was an extra charge for sheep shitting in his taxi. It cost me dearly.”
I feel sorry for the animal, but am in awe of Natalie who will voluntarily go out and buy livestock, and then cart the creature home in the back of a decrepit taxi. I am so impressed.
“Oh, this isn’t even the story,” says Natalie laconically, and I’m feeling a growing sense of doom. Oh, no, what now? What about that bleeding knee?
Once at the house, the animal is released in the back yard where it seems happy to find grass to eat. Nana the hyperactive dog is fascinated, racing around in circles, barking frantically. Natalie is at the open gate, talking to an itinerant vegetable vendor about cucumbers. Somehow, unexpectedly, the ram sees an opportunity and tears into the street, chased by Nana who thinks this is great stuff, man.
In a moment they are out of sight and Natalie despairs as she thinks of the waste of all that money, the waste of a sweltering afternoon fondling sheep scrotums. She will have to find the beast.
Chasing on foot does not look like a practical solution so Natalie hops on her bike and goes in search of the animals and finds them racing across the open terrain bordered by the main road. Busy traffic – big, overloaded tro-tros, taxis, speeding cars. Le panique!
Photo by Stig Nygaard/cc
The animals are heading straight for the road and visions of blood, gore and worse come easily to mind. Natalie is trying to cut them off, careening on the rough, unpaved surface and manages to get ahead of them. Before she can come to a proper, dignified stop, she falls off the bike and with her left knee bleeding she goes for the sheep, grabs it, but it slips away. It’s tearing along the side of the road now, with Natalie, on foot, in hot pursuit.
Cars stop. Lorries stop. This is better than the movies – an obruni woman chasing a sheep!
“You should have seen the audience I had,” says Natalie. “People got out of their cars and stood there watching me and laughing their heads off.”
Finally a true gentleman comes to the rescue. “Do not worry, Madame,” he says, “I will catch the sheep for you.” And so he does. After which he slings the animal across his manly shoulders and hauls it back to the house. I visualize Jesus with a pretty white woolly lamb, like we see in children’s Bible story pictures. Only this savior is black and the sheep is a filthy beast with a ragged, stringy coat that does not inspire thoughts of soft sweaters. Still, his testicles are in great shape.
With the animal back in the yard and the gate closed, Natalie staggers up to her bedroom with her bleeding knee. In the bedroom is Max, just waking up from an after-work nap. He takes in the sorry sight of his exhausted bride with blood running down her leg.
He yawns. “What’ve you been doing?” asks he.
* * *
Do you have an animal tale to share? Go on, entertain me!