Happy Monster: Sailing Around the WorldHappy Monster Logo
Happy Monster: Sailing Around the World
May 28, 2006

Living and working in Suriname

Surinam oranges with a lot of juiceNow that we have spent nearly three months in Suriname, we are more and more beginning to form a picture of what life is like here. In this beautiful country with its indescribably rich nature nobody needs to go hungry. Bananas literally grow at the side of the road and everyone has at least a few fruit trees in their yard. If you put a seed or a small plant in the ground, it will soon grow into something beautiful. A ficus, which doesn't grow much taller than 1 metre as a houseplant back in the Netherlands, will be taller than you within a year. And all the different population groups that live here have brought their own plants. This is why you can find a huge assortment of vegetables and fruit here; it's practically impossible to draw up a complete list.

The people

We really knew very little about this country. Yes, plantations and slaves, that's what we learned at school. But being here and reading some books about Suriname's history helps us to understand it a little bit.Originally, this area was inhabited by Indians, until the Europeans threw a spanner in the works. Entire tribes were massacred and it soon became clear that Indians weren't fit to be used as slaves. This is when they started to transport negroes from Africa. A number of these negroes later fled to the interior and are now called Bush Creoles or Maroons. Other negroes went to live in the cities after slavery was abolished and are called City Creoles. In addition, Jews came to live here and they had their own place, the Jodensavanne.The abolishment of slavery resulted in a huge labour shortage. The Netherlands and England agreed to bring in Hindus from India and have them work on the plantations as contract workers. Many of these Hindus died a premature death as a result of malnutrition and the bad living conditions. England protested against the way these Hindus were treated and this is why they started to recruit Javanese workers. And until this day, many Chinese are still brought in as contract workers.As a result, in this country you'll find Indians, Bush Creoles, City Creoles, Jews, Hindus, Javanese, Chinese, white people and all possible combinations. And there are temples, churches, mosques and synagogues, sometimes even right next to each other. You won't find a more colourful country anywhere in the world.

The language

The Central Square in DomburgAll these different population groups speak their own language, at least at home. The Hindus speak Hindi, the Javanese speak Javanese, the Bush Creoles speak Saramaccan and nearly everyone speaks the more commonly used Sranan Tongo, which is also called Surinamese, Suriname Creole English or Taki-Taki. And everyone still learns Dutch at school of course. This Dutch is slightly different from our Dutch, though. For example, if we ask how to prepare a specific kind of Surinamese vegetable, we are invariably told "Je zet een knoflookje, dan zet je een uitje en vervolgens bak je de groente" (You "put" some garlic, then you "put" an onion and then you fry the vegetables"). In other words, the verb "zetten" ("to put") is used a lot here. You "put" a spoon with your coffee or the waitress "puts" another beer. It's also common to say "Geef me koffie" ("Give me coffee"). No need to ask politely.
Another thing that is remarkable is the use of the word "toch". It is used a lot and often differently than we are used to. Someone you meet for the first time might tell you, for example: "Toen was ik in Nederland, toch" ("That's when I was in the Netherlands, wasn't I"), but this doesn't mean that we should have known this.The word "ja" ("yes") isn't always used as a confirmation either; sometimes it means "what did you say" or sometimes "jaja" just means hello. Many Surinamese are afraid of water, and especially of the sea. If you ask them why, the answer could be: "Ik weet niet te zwemmen" ("I don't know how to swim"). And these are just a few of the words and expressions we are learning. The interior of Grand Cafe Merci in ParamariboWe bought a book to learn Sranan Tongo and every morning, on the bus into the city, we see the amused faces of Surinamese who hear us struggle with the pronunciation of their language. In general, people are very enthusiastic when we try to actually use our first words.

Daily life

As we have written before we work three days a week. Hans goes to Cybermango and Dory to the SBH hearing clinic. Hans is busy working on websites and Dory helps raise the level of knowledge on everything that has to do with hearing and hearing aids. This includes fitting the most advanced digital hearing aids. At around four we are usually on the bus home, and most of the time we are the only "bakras", which is what they call white Dutch people around here. The PDP bus (Paramaribo-Domburg-Paramaribo) we take is a so-called "wild bus". This means it doesn't have set departure times, but it departs as soon as it is filled to capacity. And this should be taken literally. Every single tip-up seat between the rows of seats is taken. We always hope we don't end up on one of these tip-up seats, because they were not made to support our weight and length. When we arrive in Domburg after nearly an hour, we are glad we can stretch our legs again. At the end of the day, when the sun has already disappeared behind the horizon, we have a drink on our foredeck. This is usually the most beautiful time of day. It is when we realise how special it is to be here. During the day, everything seems so ordinary, but during this half hour, enjoying the wind on the foredeck, looking across the Suriname river to the jungle on the other side, everything feels really special.


Big ships passing by in DomburgThursday is the start of four days off, which we spend putting things in order on board and doing the laundry and we often do some DIY as well. We regularly visit Surinamese acquaintances and some of them lend us books so we can read more about Suriname. Reading has become a favourite pastime during the weekends.Sometimes we go to the city, so we are back on the wild bus with our knees pulled up. We buy new shoes or clothes, hammocks to sleep in during our planned boat trip to Donderskamp, and paint stripper to remove old paint in the cockpit.Once every fortnight we visit the sauna in hotel Torarica. One hour in the sauna and jacuzzi plus a long shower afterwards costs only 28 Suriname dollars for two people. That's about nine euros. Since our shower facilities on board are limited, we always feel very clean afterwards.

"De Dijk"

At some point we hear that the Dutch band De Dijk is giving a free concert on hotel Torarica's pier. Together with Eep from De Eos, a small sailing boat of just 8.5 metres long, we pull up our knees on the bus, sweat in the sauna, eat "kibbeling" (fried cod pieces) in restaurant "Het Lekkerbekje", survive a mediocre support program and then enjoy a great performance by De Dijk. It's a purely Dutch get-together, with only a few Surinamese among all the bakras. It's great to see how these Surinamese swing to the typically Dutch music.

And so our days go by in anticipation of the next leg of our sailing trip around the world.

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