I am not a very sentimental person. And to be honest I have felt a little perplexed when I have seen people mourn the loss of a pet. I have had many pets throughout my 33 years of existence. I have given many of them away, some have run away, and a few have died. Just since we have been here in Cameroon we have lost 3 adult cats, 3 kittens, a Western Tree Hyrax, and most recently a tortoise named Jack. I was sad to see them go, especially the ones that died. Sad because I knew that this was the effect of sin in our world. Sad because I knew that my wife would miss them. But at the end of the day, it did not affect my life very much.
But then Friday a Bakoum man came to my door. I did not know him and I was not expecting visitors. He only spoke Bakoum to me, which was hard because I had no idea what topic he has approaching and my Bakoum is still on the “developing” end of things. I understood that he was talking about a dog, and describing where he lived. I already have a dog, I explained. But after a few minutes I understood what he was meaning to say, a dog was hit by a car in front of his house, and he thought it was mine. My first reaction was to deny that it could have been my dog. There are tons of dogs around here and they are often in the road. But he said this one had a brown collar. No dogs have collars here, except mine.
We drove over to his house in my car and there lying under a tarp was my dog, Rachat. Rachat whom I purchased from an abusive owner. Rachat whom I had nursed back to health. Rachat who followed me when I went everywhere. Rachat whom I defended from my neighbors who threatened him with machetes. He was a good dog. He lay there intact, thankfully, but very dead. I figured I would mourn him later and grabbed two paws, asking the man that found me to grab the other two to put him in my car. That was when the yelling began. “What are you going to do with him?” “You are not going to bury him are you?” “You know we eat dogs here, right?” “We came and got you, you should leave him with us.” “At least give us a thigh.” “Don’t you understand Bakoum?” Why are you not responding?”
I did understand and I was ignoring them, though the Finder would not let me go until I assured him he would get his share of the meat if I decided not to bury him. As a disclaimer, not everyone in Cameroon eats dogs. It seems to me that it is mainly a village thing, and it could just be in my region. I do not expect that this represents all of Cameroon, let alone all of Africa. The idea is probably shocking to many of us, but it is normal here. My neighbors think of dogs like farmers think of chickens. They keep them around, care for them, feed them, until it is time to eat them. Did you know they eat horses in France? And they think it is funny that we consider horses to be different from cows. I consider eating dogs to be one of those “not good, not bad, just different” things about Cameroon.
I returned to my neighborhood with Rachat and told the news to my family (sad) and neighbors (much more sympathetic). We weighed our options and decided to give his body to one of our neighbors in exchange for a puppy. Yep, Rachat went from being my beloved friend to dinner in the matter of a few hours. “How could you do that?” some of you are no doubt asking. Not without tears. But there are many factors here. One is that my neighbors do not get enough protein and as a result most of the kids here are suffering from malnutrition. And they do eat dogs, and need the meat. For me to bury Rachat would be a statement that I do not care about them and that I am so rich I can bury valuable necessities. Also, I have heard on more than one occasion that when Westerners have buried their dogs they were dug up at night. Somehow that seemed worse.
But I did not consider this a light matter. And I have been reflecting as to why this has hit me so hard (I literally am taking this six times harder than my kids). I think one reason is that Rachat’s history was very personal. You can read about it HERE. His death is significant to us because the very reason we bought him was to save his life. But I think that the main reason his death hit me is because we are living in Africa. And living here means that we are daily faced with hard realities and hard people. To be honest, I never really feel at ease here. I am always surrounded by a different culture that I do not really understand completely. I am always having to communicate in not-my-heart-language (i.e. French or Bakoum). And it has been so nice to have Rachat at my side. He has been someone who is always happy to see me, that I can speak to in English (he ignores my commands regardless of the language I am speaking), and is just fun. In the midst of an overall difficult life, he has been a little refuge of joy. And, I just miss him.
I write this as a tribute to the life of a good dog. And as a way of saying thank you to a God who blesses us in ways we do not understand until they are gone.