Jenny Gooch, a woman of consummate veracity, told me this story.
When Oxfam sent her husband Toby to Bobo- Dioulasso in Burkina Faso as its director for West Africa, Jenny was lucky to find a good house for the family, one that suited the Gooches perfectly. A Dutch couple had just vacated it. Jenny was delighted. However, she did wonder why the Dutch, who were staying on in Bobo, had left it.
On the Gooches’ first night in the house they discovered the reason: the neighbors’ dog barked.
It barked all night long.
If there was light in the sky, it growled at shadows. It yipped at stars and howled at the moon. If the night was as black as the earth itself, the dog whimpered like a creature afraid of the dark. If someone passed on the road, it raised a ruckus; it rarr-rarr-rarred at being disturbed. Along about morning when the night was silent and empty, the dog whined with loneliness.
Every night the dog woke Jenny. She would sit up in bed. Awake as well, Toby would moan, “I’m afraid to turn over. The damn dog will hear me and wail even louder.” Jenny would say nothing, shush him and listen for the light snoring of her daughters. But she heard only the ruckus next door.
Dogs barking at night: the Gooches had faced this problem in Nairobi and Addis Ababa. But there the barking had been sporadic; they had shrugged it off. This Burkinabe dog was the worst case they’d encountered. And there were children to consider. The girls needed restful sleep. But the dog barked all night.
Jenny sought out the previous residents of the house, aid technicians from the Netherlands. “That dog is a real problem,” commiserated the Dutch woman. On several occasions, she told Jenny, she had appealed to her African neighbor, a school teacher. “I said to her, ‘Please, stop the dog barking! My children cannot sleep.’ But the woman did nothing. We moved away because of that dog.”
Now Jenny and Toby and their children had to put up with the barking, with the howling, yowling, yapping, yipping, and yelping. All night long.
Jenny pondered the Dutch woman’s approach. She assumed there must be a reason why it failed. She appealed to the elderly servant who helped her run the house. “Achille,” she said, “you are wise. I have no idea what to do about the barking dog. Your wisdom must guide me.”
After due consideration Achille advised, “Take a present to your neighbor. She’s intelligent. She will wonder why you’ve come.”
“What kind of present?” Jenny asked.
“Perhaps something you have here,” Achille suggested. “You keep hens.”
“Should I take her some eggs?” Jenny asked.
“Why not?” Achille asked. Then he counseled, “And please, Madame, speak exactly the words I tell you to say.”
Jenny selected the best eggs from the hens she and Toby kept. She placed them in a basket and called on her neighbor. The Burkinabe teacher received her pleasantly and Jenny offered the eggs. “I am concerned about you,” she told the neighbor, using exactly the words Achille told her to speak. “Is there trouble at your house? We hear the dog all night. May I help?”
The neighbor smiled and took the eggs. She thanked Jenny for her visit and said there was no trouble at her house.
“The visit went well, did it, Madame?” Achille asked when Jenny returned.
She said she thought it had gone well.
“Good,” he said.
Jenny wondered what would come of her visit. So far as she could tell the woman did nothing. The Gooches’s relations remained cordial with the Burkinabe family next door. They saw the dog outside. It wagged its tail and sometimes barked a bit during the day. But never again did it bark at night.