Monday, July 20, 2009

Road Trip to Nickerie

Nickerie is the second largest city in Suriname. After our class, two professors and some students took a short road trip here. It was of interest to us because Nickerie has the highest suicide rate in the country, which is high in general. I found the city to be much more calm and peaceful than Paramaribo and I enjoyed learning more about Hindustani culture. At times I felt like we could have really been in India, not South America.

The library has a section in Hindi as Nickerie has a large Hindustani population.

A house with jhandi flags.

My friend Sachida's parents owned a vegetarian restaurant. Delicious!

A Hindu temple along the Corantijn River, the border between Guayana and Suriname.

Possibly an anaconda, we found this snake in the middle of the road on our way out.

Rice fields.

Brokopondo Field Trip

I should do a post just about the lake. This is a man-made resevoir, flooded in the 1960's by Brokopondo dam. When the area flooded, it was dense rainforest. There are many dead trees still standing in the water. They give an eerie yet beautiful atmosphere.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Suriname Summer Course

So I've just finished up my summer course. We were very, very busy, which is why I haven't posted in a long time. It was a good class: the first week was devoted to Environmental Health. We talked about mercury pollution as a result of gold mining. I was happy I had already gone on my trip to Benzdorp because it made a topic I wouldn't ordinarily be very interested in much more real. I don't understand the chemistry of mercury levels in fish- but I do understand that it is difficult to get the garimpeiros to switch to mining methods less likely to spew mercury all over the rainforest. We took a trip to Lake Brokopondo (which really has a much longer, difficult Dutch name that no one uses anymore). This is a man-made lake as a result of a hydro-electric dam built in the 1960's. I'll write more about that trip in the next post.

The second week of class was all about qualitative research, which is much more my area of interest. We studied suicide in the district of Nickerie in the Hindustani population. At first, I wasn't very excited about it, but as we talked more about the possible role of culture in the phenomenon, and also heard from the Surinamese students, three of whom were Hindustani, the topic became much more interesting to me.

The class broke into two groups and set out trying to recruit Hindustani students to participate in our focus groups. It was a nightmare. All students were in the middle of exams and didn't want to give an hour of their time. If it weren't for the Surinamese students in our class, I don't think we could have done it. We only had a day to find people and a day to perform the focus groups- and all the people who confirmed the previous day backed out. This meant in one day we had to find 5-6 people who could all do it at the same time and were willing. An added problem was that, as we had no time, the focus groups would have to be in English. We didn't have time or money to get a translator. But, even though most of the students spoke English, it didn't mean they wanted to, or that it felt very natural to speak English to their friends. The girls' groups had a very difficult time staying in English- many times they broke into Dutch. The information would have been richer, the conversation more detailed if it had been in Dutch. But then having us American students moderate the discussion would have been impossible. It was an amazing learning experience!

Paramaribo: Masonstraat 4

My house and neighborhood for most of my time in Paramaribo. I visited the little monkey in my neighbor's yard almost everyday. And check out the house below with its enormous aviary. Surinamese are crazy about their birds!

The funniest thing about our address was that no matter how we pronounced Masonstraat, no one could understand us. MASonstraat, maSONstraat, masonstraat!!, it didn't matter. We had to say it to taxi drivers over and over until finally they'd say "Oh, Masonstraat" in a way that we thought we'd already said 5 times! Our Dutch was so awful. And let's not even talk about the time we tried to order pizza and it took 2 hours because it had gone to a street across the city called Magdenstraat.

A Box of Puppies

One aspect of Suriname that I'm having a hard time understanding is why there are so many stray dogs everywhere. I don't think I've ever been anywhere with so many dogs in the street. I learned in Mozambique that you simply can't think of animals in the same way when in the developing world; if you do, you would walk around heartbroken.

In many places animals are not pets- they have jobs to perform. They may get rewarded with food for guarding the house or keeping rats away, but they are not considered part of the family. When a dog approaches me on the street here, my first reaction is not to bend down and pet it like I might in Audubon Park. My first reaction is fear; the dog could easily have rabies or mange. It could bite me or jump on me and I simply don't feel the love for these dogs. I don't have the energy to think about how sad it is they don't have homes or people to love them.

It hadn't affected me at all until a few weeks ago. My roommate Katie and I were walking back to our house at Masonstraat 4 when we heard a small sound coming from a cardboard box on the corner. We looked inside and found 5 extremely small puppies packed inside. Clearly, someone had put the puppies in the box and left it on the side of the road. I don't know if the person wished for someone to find them, or simply didn't think about what would happen if the puppies were left in the sun for very long. All the hardened feelings I had been having about Surinamese dogs disappeared. Katie and I both knew that to leave them there would be wrong and we couldn't do it. We went and told our other roommates. We asked our neighbors what we should do. They had this vague idea that there was a dog shelter at the zoo.

Another problem was that this was the last day at Masonstraat 4. We were packing and also getting ready to go to the Dengue Conference where our roommate Emily was presenting. It was stressful to say the least. We found a cleaner box for the puppies, called a taxi and piled in. The taxi driver didn't seem happy about having crying puppies in his car, but he was nice enough not to say anything against it.

The shelter was outside the zoo, but it was closed on Sundays. So we drove to the zoo where they told us they couldn't take them. Luckily we persisted a little and got someone to call the shelter for us. There was someone there who would take them. Relief, but only a little relief. The woman who took them implied to us they would probably be destroyed. There were very young and probably wouldn't live anyway; one had already died on the way. But at least they wouldn't die in the sun, suffering.

You can't ignore the dark sides of life all the time. If people had the knowledge or the resources to spay their dogs, there wouldn't be so many dogs eating trash and catching diseases and having puppies in the street. But what kind of program would teach people not to be cruel enough to leave a box of puppies on the street in the middle of a hot day?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July First: Abolishment of Slavery in Suriname

So I thought a good post for July 4th would be about my July 1st here in Paramaribo. July 1st is a national holiday, celebrating the abolishment of slavery in Suriname. Wikipedia says that happened in 1863, yet the slaves were not officially released until 1873. A little context: In Suriname slaves were imported from Africa, just like in the United States, to work mostly on sugar plantations. As in the U.S., slaves escaped their masters. Unlike in the U.S., these slaves successfully established communities in the interior of Suriname and lived out their lives, developing their own cultures and languages. The descendants of these escaped slaves are called Maroons. Even today they live in the interior according to their own traditions and have a completely different culture than the descendants of slaves who did not run away, now called Creoles. This happened in Brazil too- the villages were called Quilombos. But all the Quilombos of Brazil were destroyed, there are none left today. During the era of slavery, Maroons often raided the plantations and made life difficult for the Dutch. Why didn't this happen in the U.S.? I don't fully understand it myself, and the answer would be more complicated than I could address in a blog post.

Back to the party. Wednesday was a giant party. We went to the Palmentuin, the Palm Garden in downtown Paramaribo. There was a stage with music and some dancing (not enough dancing in my opinion). But the real fun was in people-watching. Almost everyone was wearing a pangi, the Surinamese equivalent of a capulana, or kanga or pagne. This fascinates me! There are people of African descent all over the Caribbean, but I would like to know where else the style of dress is so solidly African. The pangi differs from the African wraps in that it has usually been hand-embroidered around the edges. (I promise some beautiful pictures of pangis are on the way!) Men wear the pangi tied around their neck and around one shoulder, like a cape. But who wants to watch men? The women wore pangis as skirts with matching head scarves, often puffed up to a great height. Whole families would wear matching pangi sets. (I have a whole post on pangis here.)

My roomate Katie decided to buy a pretty blue pangi at the park and I decided to buy one too so we could match. And then Surinamese people wanted to take pictures of us together. I was nervous they would roll their eyes at us for looking so absurd, but I was wrong. One lady retied Katie's pangi, another told us she liked seeing us dressed up. We got interviewed by a tv crew (but I don't think it ever got aired). We received lots of smiles and positive attention. It was too much fun.

The Abolishment of Slavery didn't just affect the African population of Suriname. After the slaves left the plantations, the Dutch began to import indentured servants from first India and then Indonesia. These two groups now make up large portions of the Surinamese population and also contribute to its culture today. At the party in the park, I will say most people were of African descent, but I did see a few women in shalwar-kameezes and also in Amerindian dress. There was a lot of Javanese food being sold on the street that day too.

This amazing festival made me wonder about my own country. Why don't Americans celebrate the abolishment of slavery as a national holiday? I have this vague idea that some people celebrate Juneteenth, June 19. But I don't know anyone personally who celebrates this day, publically at least. It seems like we tried, but that Juneteenth simply isn't the holiday it should be. Why in Suriname and not in the U.S.? Why do Surinamese Maroons still wear African-style clothes? Why was there no equivalent to a Maroon village in the U.S.- or was there, and we simply don't learn about it in school? Any ideas?

It's wrong I know, but I got such a kick out of the look of horror on this kid's face! He obviously wanted off the see-saw, and no one was listening.

This was a hand-pushed carousel.