A Tale of Two African Markets

Days 81 and 82, Grand World Voyage

Saturday and Sunday, March 25-26, 2023

Takoradi, Ghana, and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Between them, the west African countries of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) account for about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa production. Yet less than 6 percent of the global chocolate industry revenues go to the farmers in these neighboring countries.

That is probably one of many reasons we saw evidence of severe poverty during our short visits in Takoradi, Ghana, (the day before U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the country) and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. And, unfortunately for me, I didn’t encounter any opportunity to sample the local chocolate.

By the time these ports had drawn my attention, most of the ship’s tours were sold out. Initially I booked a short tour in Abidjan that featured a local museum tour. But because we visited on a Sunday, Ian (cruise and port director) told us the museum would be closed. So we opted to cancel the $170 tour. Later I heard that the museum had opened for the tour. Sigh.

In both countries we moored in large commercial ports with shuttle buses for the 20-minute journeys into market areas of town – each very different.

The almost century-old Takoradi Market Circle, seemingly the size of Rome’s Coliseum, is called the commercial and economic hub of western Ghana. These days it is surrounded by a corrugated steel wall as it is under reconstruction. In the meantime, the street encircling it is full of hawkers, selling everything from produce and fish to shoes; fabric to watches and electronics.

Women sell eggs, tomatoes, corn and just about anything else from the baskets and buckets they carry on their heads.

We walked in the sweltering heat around the loop, looking and taking pictures. We weren’t shopping, but simply absorbing the culture and environment. And watching every step for frequent huge holes.

If we wanted tourist items, the place to shop was right on the pier. Under a dozen canopies we could buy wooden and beaded jewelry, cotton dresses, paintings and carved wooden items. Elaine even snapped a picture of the crew using a luggage rack to wheel a large wooden elephant aboard. We hope the purchaser is from Florida and won’t need to fly it home. Even the local postal service had a booth selling postcards with stamps.

Today in Abidjan was just as hot and humid. We shuttled to a smaller market built in the shade of mango trees.

Eloise at the Abidjan Market

It featured crafts and handiwork, and several passengers purchased wall art made from fabric, carved animals and other souvenirs. The quality seemed quite nice to me. Again, I wasn’t shopping, but just taking the opportunity to see something of Côte d’Ivoire.

I occasionally asked locals if I could take their pictures. Most shyly said yes.

I’ve never been fully comfortable “intruding” with my camera – since my early newspaper days when covering disasters. And then someone like my friend Cheri tells me about her experience sketching in the Takoradi market. When some girls asked her why she was drawing their street, she described to them the beauty she saw in it – the line of the roofs, the bright colors of the umbrellas. They turned around and saw the familiar through new eyes.

That’s the kind of connection I want to make while traveling. Not to focus on the pictures of extreme poverty, although that is part of the experience. Yet it’s important to see the whole picture and the people. As I leave these two countries, I am reminded of how fortunate I am and how unfair life can be, particularly when a country’s riches don’t trickle down to anyone.