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One morning, whilst staying with friends, at Makasutu Culture Forest in The Gambia, photographer Jason Florio was on the dock – getting ready to go for a paddle in one of the pirogue’s (dugout canoes)….

His old friend, Abdou Ndong, a local fisherman he’d known for many, many years, pulled up to the dock in his own dugout canoe. “Nimbara, nimbara [how is the work] Jason”. “Nimbara, Nimabara…salaam alikum” Jason replied. “Alikum salaam” Abdou responded, followed by the five minute ritual of greetings, back and forth about family, health, work and so on – a tradition indicative of many West African cultures.

Abdou with Rescued Crocodile, Makasutu Culture Forest, The Gambia, West Africa. Image@ Jason Florio, 2008 ‘Makasutu – mecca in the forest’

He was returning home to the nearby village of Kembujeh from one of his regular night fishing trips, but this time he’d captured more than his usual butterfish and ladyfish. There in the bottom of his boat lay a trussed-up crocodile and, because it was still alive, its jaws were clamped shut with a length of rope. Abdou explained how the reptile had got accidentally snared in his fishing net. Crocodiles are a valuable commodity on the local market – enough to feed a large family for a week (Abdou, himself, had one wife and seven children).

Jason couldn’t bear the possibility of the crocodile being sold as edible merchandise, so he said to Abdou, “my friend, I will buy the crocodile from you – on one condition… you let me make a portrait of you with the crocodile?”. It was too good a photo opportunity to let slip away! ‘ “Haa” (yes) he said, smiling. Abdou was, by then, used to Jason pointing his camera at him – he had been photographing him for over 12 years. Abdou is featured in Jason’s award-winning ‘Makasutu – mecca in the forest’.

Before Jason ran off to fetch his camera and the black cloth he always used as a backdrop for his portraits of the people who lived and worked around Makasutu, they negotiated the payment for the crocodile – the grand sum of $5. The black cloth was actually an old blackout curtain that his grandmother used during the Second World War.

Once the portrait of Abdou holding the crocodile was taken, Jason got into Abdou’s dugout canoe, with the reptile, and they paddled back along the balong, to the spot where the crocodile had got snared in his net. They gingerly untied it and released it back into the river – freedom, once again (for a while, at least).

L-R: Gambian village chief & Kujabi - Gambian farmer. Image © Jason Florio ‘Makasutu – mecca in the forest’

Abdou was invited to join the River Gambia Expedition 2012 team, not only because he is a long-term friend, someone we both trust and know well, but for his skills as a River Gambia boatman. Abdou also speaks a number of the local West African languages, such as Wolof, Mandinka and Serer (his tribe) – a few of the languages the team will encounter along the route of the river. Also invited onto the expedition is Abdou’s right hand man, Ebou Jarju, another seasoned River Gambia boatman, who also speaks a number of West African languages.

Abdou and Florio, Kembujeh, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Helen Jones-Florio, 2008

Meet the River Gambia Expedition 2012 team:

Jason Florio – Photographer & Co-Expedition Leader
Helen Jones-Florio – Photography Producer and Co-Expedition Leader
Abdou Ndong – Expedition Team Member, Translator & Skilled River Gambia Boatman
Ebou Jarju – Expedition Team Member & Skilled River Gambia Boatman
Robert Young Pelton – Expedition Advisor. Award-winning author, (‘The Worlds Most Dangerous Places’, ‘Come Back Alive’, Licensed to Kill – Hired Guns and the War on Terror’) film-maker, journalist, adventurer and geopolitical pundit.

Find out more about The River Gambia Expedition 2012 – 1000km source – sea African odyssey

Shenton Safaris

British born, New York based husband and wife team – award-winning photographer, Jason Florio, and photography producer, Helen Jones-Florio – have worked together on assignments in Mexico, DR Congo, Kenya, West Africa, and the USA. They met in the Gambian bush over 15 years ago and in 2009 they made the first recorded circumnavigation of The Gambia by foot. 'A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey’. Jason produced what became an award-winning series of portraits of village chiefs Now they embark on their second expedition in this part of the world: ‘River Gambia Expedition 2012 – 1000km source-sea African odyssey’