Nguéniène would be a fairly unremarkable Senegalese village were it not for the huge scale of its weekly market, which draws people from many miles around. As we drove towards the village with our local guide Cheikh, we could see many others on the roads, mostly in traditional horse carts, all converging on this one spot. The women were colourfully dressed as always here, as were many of the men; and the carts were piled high with produce to sell.
To market, to market …
We parked on the outskirts of the village and walked along a few lanes between the houses to reach the main market, which was already a hubbub of activity.
People come to buy or to sell of course, but also, it seemed to me, to meet and gossip. A visit here is a popular outing for tourists; but still they are hugely outnumbered by the locals and it is a totally authentic experience.
The general market
In fact there are two markets here – one for animals and one for everything else – and I mean everything! We started our explorations in this general market and among many other things, we found for sale the following:
- fruit and vegetables
- cooking pots and tripods on which to stand them
- tools – large knives, penknives, wire-cutters, screw drivers
- tobacco, and tiny metal pipes in which to smoke it
- cola nuts, which Cheikh assured Chris were as good as Viagra!
- colourful traditional fabrics sold by the metre
- heaps of second-hand clothes imported from Europe
- (poor) replica football strips – mainly Barcelona and the big names of the English Premier League
- trainers, flip-flops and gym shoes
- live chickens
- dried fish
- baobab fruit, hibiscus flowers and other juice flavourings
- herbs and spices
- mobile phones and accessories
- children’s toys
- huge sacks of grain and rice
- little fried millet balls, a bit like churros, which Cheik bought for us to sample
- colourful woven baskets
- pottery bowls and other objects
- animal feed
What to buy?
We saw only a few tourist-oriented stalls, one selling sand paintings and wood carvings, a couple with simple jewellery; I bought a bead necklace for 1,000 CFA (about £1). I also bought two metres of one of the fabrics, planning to make it up into a sarong or skirt; however it is still sitting in a drawer at home, untouched, five years later!. This cost 2,000 CFA, after some hard bargaining by Cheikh.
As well as helping us to get good prices for our shopping, Cheikh insisted on buying various snacks for us to try, not all of which looked appetising! The little fried balls of millet dough were a bit like Senegalese churros, I guess, but rather dry inside and tasteless. I turned down the proffered cup of tea, not being a tea drinker; but I enjoyed tasting a fruit, Saba Senegalensis, which Cheikh called madd, its Wolof name. This consists of a large seed which we sucked to eat the pleasantly sharp (to my taste) fruit around it.
I found that I had to be a little discreet to get my photos here. Most people didn’t mind me photographing the goods on sale, and some of the men were happy to be in my photos; but on the whole the women preferred not to be photographed. If they asked me not to, I put the camera down; but I have to admit to shooting a few of my pictures ‘from the hip’!
The animal market
After spending some time in the main market, we moved on to the animal market on the other side of the village, travelling between the two on a traditional horse cart. Here there is a much narrower range of goods on offer: goats, sheep, cows, donkeys and horses. Until very recently, Cheikh told us, all business was done here by exchange; two goats for one sheep, five sheep for one cow and so on. Nowadays people are more likely to use cash, but some exchange trading still goes on.
Cheikh was keen to point out the best animals, especially in the area devoted to cows, and a little disappointed I think that our untrained eyes were not very good at judging them (it’s not a skill much called-for in urban London!) He was firm in his belief that you should never buy a fully-grown well-fattened cow, but instead look for one that was basically sound and healthy, but which would benefit from feeding up. That way you could sell it on for a profit – a bit like buying a ‘doer-upper’ property!
While the men we saw were obviously here to sell, it also seemed to me to be a great excuse for them to catch up with friends as there was a lot of standing around chatting going on. I found that they were more relaxed and generally seemed less bothered by my camera than in the busy main market.
Our morning at Nguéniène market was one of the highlights of our stay in Senegal; for its authenticity, for the colour, and for the photo opportunities it provided.
I visited Senegal in 2016