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The Market: Adventures in West Africa

Amelia Tockston & Susan Adie

The Market: Adventures in West Africa

Amelia Tockston & Susan Adie

One of the most underexplored coastlines in the world, West Africa offers a fascinating blend of culture and natural history—from UNESCO World Heritage Sites and remote archipelagos to bustling local markets and rare exotic wildlife.

Expedition Leader, Susan Adie, traveled to West Africa to research and assist with the development of these remarkable itineraries. “We wanted to create a solid combination of activity and leisure, with ample time to spot rare birds and endemic wildlife, mingle with the locals, and learn about the region from our experienced staff. Joining us will be National Geographic Photographer, Wolfgang Kaehler, a natural history painter who has exhibited in the Smithsonian, an excellent and highly experienced Expedition team (naturalists, historians, anthropologists, and ornithologists), and even an onboard sommelier to host South African wine tastings. The guide to passenger will be an outstanding 10 to 1, and there will be a wonderful assortment of daily shore excursions and workshops. I’m really thrilled for these inaugural trips!  I can’t wait to return and rediscover with travelers all that makes West Africa such a unique and compelling destination to visit.”

One of Susan’s favorite memories from her West Africa travels was a morning spent in a Senegalese market. With an open and curious mind, she made friends, was humbled, and learned that sometimes things appear different than they truly are—a valuable travel lesson, indeed! 

“Leaving our cozy little ship in early morning, we boarded busses in the port and set off to explore the city. Nearby the ferry terminal was a bustle of morning energy—vehicles lined up to board and people carried all sorts of bundles—or a leash with a goat on the other end. On the far side of the port, mules and horses hauled large tiered wooden wagons and woman walked with huge containers atop heads. Our destination this morning was the community market, one of my favorite places to visit in any country in the world.

Barefooted women in colorful skirts tended their piles. Some women were shy and quiet, while others were laughing and boisterous. A few smoked hand rolled cigarettes or something resembling a corn cob pipe. Others had children clinging to their legs. Men clustered in small groups here and there in and outside the market.

One part of the market was dedicated to dry goods, another was dedicated to fish or meats. On some tables clear bags of dried beans, grains and herbs had price signs perched on top of pyramidal piles. Fruits and vegetables of unimaginable varieties in every color of the rainbow clustered in heaps on rickety tables. As we wandered thru the stalls, we stopped to examine or ask questions. But, of course, not everyone speaks English, so sometimes the questions ended up in laughter or frustration from both sides!

In one corner I found the best stop of the day. Two women of widely different ages were shucking peas. Or at least they looked like peas I had shucked in my home garden, but they were twice the size! After asking with hand signals, I took a few pictures of the women at work. Their hands working fast and curious were as rough and calloused as any farm hands would be. They smiled and laughed perhaps a wee bit embarrassed or shy.. I asked, again with hand signals, if I could try my hand at shucking. After all, I use to shuck rather well. So I sat down on the floor and began shucking. This brought hoots of laughter from neighboring stalls. I was certainly not as good as I remembered and these peas seemed to handle a little differently than the ones from our garden. The women were patient and tried over and over to show me their method, but I continued to fall short! So I decided I wanted to taste them instead! Again, I asked in hand signals if I could. This brought more laughter as they shook their heads indicating no, I should not do that. But being a little reluctant to be told no, I popped a few in my mouth! This drew squeals of laughter from the women around us as I realized these were not the sweet peas of my upstate New York youth! While brilliant green, they were dry, hard and tasteless! It was a funny moment, but I swallowed them anyway. The shucking ladies then showed me a bag of dried beans that were the same size with interesting color band markings. And while they laughed, pointing from the green peas to the dried beans, it slowly dawned on me that these green peas would be dried into these other beans and cooked for hours with various seasonings. A nutritious flavorful meal of Congo Beans!

How how funny was this? I roared with laughter which made the shuckers laugh even harder! Here I was on the west coast of Africa, shucking Congo beans (known also as pigeon peas) which is the most common plant grown in anyone’s front yard because it produces beans year round!  I thanked them profusely, shook their hands, and wandered on my way. I bet they are still laughing about the silly American woman tourist, but it made my day!”

Susan Adie, Assistant Expedition Leader
Susan was instrumental in the development of the West Africa voyages aboard the Expedition. Holding a degree in Environmental Science & Education from Cornell, Susan worked with both the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Department of Parks & Recreation of her native New York before the MS Expedition. A dedication to environmental education led her to found a not-for-profit project that introduces school groups to the remote areas of the world through electronic media. Since becoming an Expedition Leader in 1989, Susan has led over 200 trips among the most exotic locations on Earth. One of G Adventures’ most decorated leaders, she has been recognized by the National Geographic Society, the National Audubon Society and other esteemed organizations.