Where have all the chickens gone?

Suzanne had been telling me now for weeks, but it was only Monday that I noticed the silence myself. No roosters crowing. Zero. It wasn’t like when we first came to Ghana when there were chickens everywhere, mother hens leading their chickies all over the neighborhood, roosters crowing from 3am (apparently Ghanaian roosters don’t know the difference between day and night, making it worse on those of us that do).

[Mother Hens like this used to be quite common]

These past few weeks, I’ve been sleeping great, no 3am roosters, and now it is so quiet that it is getting eerie. So we’ve been asking, “Where have all the chickens gone?”

I have asked our guards, and our neighbor’s guards, and mostly what I hear is that they ended up in the Christmas pot, or perhaps it was the Easter one, but I suspect it might have to do with (like everything else) the light outs.

The light out every other day schedule is hitting everyone hard, and it is no surprise that the next round of inflation has come. I think of Linda the dressmaker, who has been Suzanne’s favorite so far, but she can’t keep ahead of the orders when every other day she can’t work for 12 hours. Abena, the tailor up the street, takes a different approach: she has two sewing machines, an electric one, and a hand crank one. Though its much faster with the electric sewing machine, the hand crank machine still gets the work done when the light is out. So I wonder, as people are having to make do on less, if the free range urban chickens have started to make up the difference. Its either that or bird flu, and nobody wants that.

[Watch that Fowl Line]

Last year about this time, there was an out break of bird flu in Nigeria that we thought might scuttle our chances of getting to Ghana on the Fulbright. Nigeria convinced the world that they took care of it, and so here we are. When we went to Egypt at Christmastime it was also eerily quiet. Egypt had just defeated its own outbreak of Bird Flu by rounding up all their chickens and disposing of them. Whatever the reasons are, it leaves us wondering, where have all the chickens gone?

Tonight, we’re at an US Embassy party (our first), and we hear what our kids had heard in school earlier that day, that Bird Flu has been found in Ghana, and worse than that, in Ada (pronounced Ah – Da). Ada is a coastal city that was, in the 1700s, a prominent and powerful nation state. Located at the mouth of the Volta river, it is where the Volta joins the Atlantic (the Volta river flows out of the Volta lake and Akosombo Dam, where our power comes from). If you remember the Stanley Steamer, (Mr. Stanley also being the man who “discovered” Dr. Livingston in East Africa), he once brought one of his steamers up the Volta River, starting at Ada.

But for us, Ada was a day trip just yesterday, on May 1st, or “Worker’s Day,” here in Ghana, when schools and factories are closed (like Labor Day in the US). Since it was a Tuesday, there would be no swimming in the ocean, and fishing. We went with Sarah (our Fulbright daughter) and her good friend Jake, who is visiting from New York City, along with her room mates and friends. We spent a wonderful day at the pool there in an upscale hotel and had so much fun that we didn’t even get around to taking the Volta River boat tour nearby. While everyone was swimming, I got bored and walked to the beach, and from there through the town of Ada. I saw a few chickens, but nothing out of the ordinary.

[I met these boys who wanted me to take their picture, and they started goofing around]

[Here is a typical sea fishing Ghanaian boat with the flag on it]

So tonight at this Embassy party, I meet the Africa coordinator for AI (as they call it, Avian Influenza) and he confirmed what I had heard from our children. Bird Flu has been discovered in Ghana. On Sunday, samples had been collected from sick birds, near Ada. On Monday the samples were transported to Egypt for testing. On Tuesday, the tests confirmed it. On Wednesday (today) it was announced, even at our kid’s school (or, from their parents to their kids to our kids). So what we heard from Fox and Grace was official.

We often eat chicken here in Ghana, fried mostly, but sometimes in stews, or kabobs. Today I was thinking about what I’ve eaten, Sunday: Groundnut Stew with chicken; Tuesday: roasted chicken for lunch (in Ada, of all places!); Today: fried chicken (both lunch and dinner), from the Ashesi Canteen. Our menu is about to take a huge turn around.

I think about how much Ghana is already suffering, and I wonder how much more it can take. Constant power outages, water shortages, increased crime, inflation, fuel shortages and now Bird Flu, and the probable destruction of whatever chickens that are left, the ones that haven’t already ended up in the stew pot, in desperate times like these.

[I saw this TroTro and wondered…]

So I ask for your prayers tonight, as Ghana faces this new challenge. Pray for her people who already suffering, pray for truth and wisdom in facing this challenge head on. Pray for her leaders. Pray for all of us. Pray.

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