I wasn’t sure why none of the half-dozen taxis driving by would do.
It was early Sunday morning and the street near my house was teeming as usual, neighbours calling out to each other, goats and chickens and children dodging cars and trucks and tro-tros that careened along the narrow, pot-holed roadway.
Finally an appropriate taxi came, a big, hulking station wagon. There was the usual haggle over cost, conducted in Ga, a local language, and then the signal to climb in.
The previous evening at a peaceful beachside bar, I asked a friend who works there if he was going out that night. He shrugged and said he had to get up at 6 a.m. to get a goat, which was to be a mainstay of the menu for a party Sunday afternoon.
I invited myself along.
We stopped to pick up another acquaintance before tearing down Labadi Road into central Accra, past the grand 45,000-seat Ohene Djan Stadium, past Independence Arch, with the words “Freedom and Justice” blazing from the top, marking Ghana’s independence – the first in sub-Saharan Africa – from Britain in 1957.
We drive on, passing grandiose national landmarks like the Supreme Court of Ghana and Nkrumah Memorial Park, commemorating Ghana’s first president.
The wide boulevard-esque street gradually narrows and the buildings draw closer as we drive on into Jamestown.
It is the oldest area of the city, built by the British settled in the 17th century. Densely populated and desperately poor, Ga fishermen live in shantytowns amidst the crumbling colonial buildings, under the watchful eye of the Accra Light, a pristine white lighthouse that towers above the huts and lean-tos.
But that’s not why we’re here.
The station wagon pulls off the road. Against a stone wall, men lean linger, chewing and watching. A few cattle with horns longer than my lobster-red arm stand against the wall, chewing and watching. They are looking out over a large sandy expanse of nothing save a few dogs running about and a few dead goats, stinking in the heat.
We enter the goat yard. A man emerges from the dust who will help us acquire a goat.
There are hundreds of them. Some are as large as small ponies, with long horns spiralling out from their woeful faces. Those ones, the big, old rams, are good for stew.
There are fluffy goat kids the size of kittens levitating off the sand and hay and waste, bleating out merry songs while their mothers lie beside the tires to which they are tied, chewing their hay and awaiting their fates. Groups of men sit on the tires, chewing and watching. Some stand, bickering, cajoling over the price, the weight and the quality of particular animals.
It is pre-arranged that I will remain on the periphery of the goat-getting operation, as the presence of an obruni (white person) has a nasty tendency to double the price of everything from a taxi ride to a bag of bananas to a goat.
After about 15 minutes of going tire-to-tire perusing goats, a plump black and white one, about knee-high, is selected. She is led out of the yard to the taxi, where the driver helps tie up her feet. She makes a noise that is halfway between a bah and a scream as she is heaved into the back of the station wagon.
She rides quite quietly as we exit the yard. The street outside is a one-way, so we drive down the sidewalk before screeching across the thoroughfare and traversing a bumpy dirt path to a row of shacks with long, low tables set up outside.
The goat is carried from the taxi by her bound feet. She is decidedly unhappy at this stage, screaming and bawling the whole way down to the black-with-blood sand, where vultures and plump, smiling dogs circle.
Her throat is cut and blood pours out, making a fresh pool of red on the stinking black sand that is abuzz with flies.
Once she stops moving, she is brought to the top of a small rise where the hair is burned off the goats’ bodies and their hooves are removed. Once that’s complete, she is hefted onto someone’s head and brought back up to the line of tables for butchering.
Standing back a little and watching as the black ash is scraped off her skin, trying to avoid getting splashed with bloody water from a table being scrubbed under the dubious eye of a health inspector who has just arrived, I am almost run over by a man who dashes to and from the Gulf of Guinea, bring buckets of water. His shirt says, “I am under the blood.”
It takes perhaps 15 minutes, a time during which you must watch closely lest someone pocket some of your meat.
Then we load a black plastic grocery bag into the back of the station wagon.
She rides very quietly back to Labadi.