Saturday, November 26, 2011

People always told me that the second year was going to fly by, and I just couldn't really picture that happening. Despite it being an amazing experience, time was not exactly moving by quickly. So, it's super strange to realize that I only have about 7 or 8 months left. This second year is truly flying by. Things have been really good since I got back from America. I've been trying to figure out why exactly things have been going so well. I've narrowed it down to a few things. First of all, I'm simply more comfortable in my surroundings. I'm comfortable in my village and have friends there. My language is at a decent spot. There are amazing volunteers here who I trust and adore. Secondly, I actually know what I'm doing here. For the most part, I know what projects I will be working on through the remainder of my time here. (I'll talk about projects later). Not knowing exactly what projects I will be doing is difficult. Thirdly, my head is more present in Suriname since I've come back from the U.S. I'm not constantly thinking about seeing my family and eating amazing food and taking hot showers. I've got my head in the game. I guess I'm trying to say that things are going pretty well. I should just be happy with that and not try to dissect it, but that's difficult to do when I have all the time in the world at site to do nothing but think. Everything gets triple analyzed.

I should probably explain these photos a bit. The first one is from a broko de in my village. It was a funeral party thing for the 8th day after a death. This one was really small because they also celebrated in the city. Usually, people come from all over the place and the village triples in size. This one was just amongst my villagers, which was pretty cool. Also, "broko de" means break the day, which translates into really loud music all night. Everyone stays up all night dancing until the sun rises. Since I'm a grumpy old lady, I can't stay up past 11 in the village. Because this one was a small broko de, they didn't rent out a sound system. The drum band in my village played instead, which I much prefer. I think they're really good. They have 2 really beautiful drums that they made themselves out of wood and dear skin. So, this photo is some kids in my village dancing to the drummers.

The second photo is a woman making kwaka, which is kind of like village style Grapenuts. It's made of cassava. Here is the last step in about a 2 week process.

Let's talk projects. The big project I'm working on is a life skills program for the kids in my village. I've been compiling activities from a variety of life skills materials (thanks Christine for the amazing life skills program you put together for 6th graders) into a year-long syllabus for the women in my village to utilize. With this, they will have activities to do with the kids for a full year. The subjects include communication, relationships, decision-making, HIV/AIDS, and workforce preparedness. With this project I'm writing a grant to get money so that we can get all the materials needed for this project. So, that's the big one I've been working on. All along, I've been doing after-school tutoring for the kids in my village, but I'm just expanding it with this project to cover more than just math and reading and other basics covered in school.

I'm getting pretty excited to see my family soon. I'll be spending Christmas in Tobago with my Dad, stepmom and two brothers. From there, Dad, Maia and I will be heading back to Suriname and they will spend close to two weeks here. I'm so excited to show them my home here and have them see my village, meet my villagers and meet the other volunteers. It's so amazing to be able to share this place with my family. It was so wonderful and important to me when my mom came to visit me last February.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back from America

Wow, it's been a super long time since I've written. I just got back yesterday from visiting the U.S. It was such an amazing trip. I got to see my family and friends and so many people I love. Some highlights: a day at the park with my family playing batche (sp?) ball and eating great food, going up to my uncle's cottage for a week, bike rides with my Mom, going to an amazing aquarium in Dallas, and going to magical land in Wisconsin (ok, that's what we called it, it's beautiful place to go cliff diving and swimming). I could really go on and on about eating awesome food, hot showers, the people I love, etc. but I'll stop.

I'm just starting something called World Wise Schools. It's a correspondence set up with a classroom in the U.S., where I write to them about my experiences in Suriname and the students write to me and ask questions and tell me about their lives. I'm really excited about it. I will be working with a class of 7th and 8th graders in Iowa. I just finished my first letter to introduce myself. I think it's the most complete introduction to Suriname I've written, so I'll paste it in here:

Hey there! My name is Megan and I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in Suriname. I’ll use this first letter to tell you guys a bit about myself, Suriname, and Peace Corps. I’m 28 years old and I’m from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After that, I worked for about 5 years and then joined the Peace Corps!

Suriname is a small country on the northern coast of South America. It is bordered on the East by French Guiana, on the West by Guyana, on the South by Brazil, and on the North by the Atlantic Ocean. Suriname is roughly the size of Georgia, but with a population of less than 500,000 people! A full half of the population lives in the capital city, Paramaribo. There are small towns and villages scattered along the coast of the country and 90% of the population lives on the coast, which makes up only 10% of the area of the country. The rest of the 90% of the country is made up of dense rain forest. This is where I live. There are small villages, made up of between about 50 people each to sometimes 1000 people, scattered along the rivers of the interior of the country.

To give a bit of history of the country, during the 16 century the Dutch, English and Spanish settled the area of Suriname. A treaty arose between the Dutch and English, giving the Dutch Suriname. The English were given New Amsterdam, which later became New York City. In the 17th century the Dutch started plantations to grow cocoa, cotton, sugar cane and coffee. These plantations used African slaves to run them. It is known that the Dutch in Suriname treated these slaves especially cruelly. Because of this, many of the slaves managed to escape and flee to the interior of the country, into the jungle. They established small villages along the rivers of the country that were deep in the jungle, to avoid being found by the plantation owners. A few centuries later, I live in one of these villages, called Ovia Ollo. The descendents of the escaped slaves are now known as Maroons. There are many different groups of them who speak different languages and have different cultural norms. Two of the biggest groups are the Ndyuka (pronounced Na-dju-ka) and the Saramakaans. The Peace Corps volunteers within the country live mostly with these two groups of people. I live with the Ndyuka, who are also referred to as Aukans.

Suriname is an extremely culturally diverse country. After slavery was abolished in 1863, the Dutch brought in contract labourers from what is now India and Indonesia. Today, the population is made up of 37% Hindustani people (descendents of the Indian contract labourers), 15% Javanese (descendents of the Indonesian contract labourers), 31% Creoles (mixed descendents of African slaves and the Dutch), 4% Amerindians, 10% Maroons, and a small percentage of Chinese, Dutch and Brazilians.

In 1975, Suriname gained its independence from the Netherlands. There was a military coup in 1980, which led to a dictatorship by Desi Bouterse (who was elected president last year), and a bloody civil war.

So, that’s enough history. I thought you should all know a bit about the country before I tell you more about my life and the Peace Corps here. We have about 45 Peace Corps Volunteers in Suriname currently. Most of the volunteers live in the interior, in the jungle. A few live in small towns on the coast and a few also live in the city, working for NGOs. There’s a wide variety of volunteers living in country. We have three married couples, people from all over the U.S., and people from ages 22 to 65 years old.

Now I’ll tell you a bit about my life in my village. Like I said, my village is named Ovia Ollo. About 100 to 150 people live in my village. It takes me about 4 to 6 hours to arrive in my village from the city. I have to take a “taxi” from the city to a town called Moengo. To get a taxi I basically find a car going to Moengo (usually a mini van), and I usually pile myself and my luggage into it along with usually 7 other adults and 1 to 5 children. It’s pretty crammed and uncomfortable. The road to Moengo is not pleasant either. There are huge holes in the road because of all the rain. Luckily, they are building a new road, so every time I travel to my village a little more of the road is finished and it’s a little bit more pleasant! From Moengo I hop on a bus going to my village. It costs me about $0.90 USD and takes about 45 minutes. I usually have to hold all of my luggage in my lap and it’s rather uncomfortable also.

Ovia Ollo is on a small river called the Patamaka. I’m the only volunteer living on this river. Life in the village revolves around the river. Everyone bathes, washes clothes and dishes, and catches fish in the river. They also use small canoes that they have carved out of large trees to get to their gardens and to go hunting. Since my river is so small, people don’t have motors on these canoes, they just paddle them with small wooden paddles. Almost every day the women go to their gardens. This is the main source of their food. They grow lots of cassava, pumpkin, bitter melon (which I DON’T like), and different leafy vegetables. The men frequently go out hunting in the jungle. They wear big black rubber boots, long pants and bring a shotgun and a machete. They come back with so many different kinds of animals. Unfortunately, many of the exotic animals I’ve seen have been hunted and killed. That makes me pretty sad, but that’s just the way of life here. They hunt a lot of wild boar, monkey, agouti (which is kind of a mix between a large rodent and a rabbit), sloth, and a variety of birds. I have seen a lot of different monkeys, snakes, and birds in the wild. The birds are beautiful here. There are tons of toucans, parrots, macaws, and all sorts of other beautiful birds.

Suriname is only about 4 degrees north of the equator, so it gets really really hot. There are 4 seasons in Suriname. The large rainy season, the large dry season (which is starting now), the small rainy season, and the small dry season. So, basically, the only thing that changes is the amount of rain. During the dry season it gets extremely hot, but there is a bit more of a breeze. Someone once told me that you can tell it’s the dry season if you lie on the cement floor and do absolutely nothing and sweat still streams down your face. It’s true. Yuck.

I live in a small wooden house with a zinc roof. The zinc roof makes it extremely hot in there. I try not to spend too much time in my house. I have some electricity. I have one electrical plug to charge things, and two lightbulbs in my house. Unfortunately, we only have electricity occasionally. We have a generator for the village and it is turned on from 6:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. However, many times there is no oil for the generator or the generator gets broken, so we go completely without power. That can be fun, for a little while. From January to May of this year I didn’t have any power. The stars are absolutely amazing when there is no electricity! I am lucky enough to actually have a flush toilet and a shower, which is in our small clinic right near my house. Most volunteers have a latrine and a small wash house where they have to use a bucket to bathe themselves or go down to the river. For drinking and cooking water, I have two 450 gallon tanks that collect rainwater from my roof. I then bring this water into my house and use a filter to make it cleaner.

Well, this is getting extremely long, so I’ll end it here for now. I’d like to learn a little about you guys too. Tell me about yourselves! And please, ask me any questions that you have!

Oh, and I'm posting a picture from Camp Glow (which was back in late April). It was a camp for teenage girls in my area that we held. It went super well. We had sessions about HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, we had a career day, and lots of fun sports and arts and crafts. It was pretty great.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The anti-blogger blogs about being a bad blogger

It's been awhile since I've written a blog entry. You know, the year before I came to Suriname, during the application process (ugh!), I read a ton of Peace Corps blogs, and I remember thinking that I'm going to be a huge blogger and keep my blog really up-to-date and interesting. Wow, that's been anything but the truth. So, sorry. I've been bad at this. I would say I'm going to get better, but Peace Corps is all about getting to know yourself (unofficially at least), and so I know that's just not true. I'm not going to get better at it. I'm going to continue to very occasionally put up very little information, and more importantly information that most likely no one cares about. Wooo! Go blogs! I think my personality just is the anti-blogger. I've never been one to put my personal life online. If you actually know me in real life, I'm an open book. But online, nope. Anyway, great beginning to a blog. Ramble ramble.

So, let's get to it. I'm really liking being at site. I'm kind of wanting to just spend a ton of time there, and not have to come into the city, and I'm frustrated because I need to come into the city a fair amount for the next few months. But, it is easy to say I want to be at site when I'm in the city surrounded by friends and chaos. When I'm completely insanely bored and hot at site, I'll probably be singing a different tune. Site has been fun lately though. I'm getting to know my villagers a lot better, and getting a lot more comfortable. I've also been learning to play the guitar, which has been super fun. It's the perfect Peace Corps thing, because I have this ridiculous amount of free time to just play around. I'm really bad at it, but it's fun.

This last month I started my math club!!! Right now I've been tutoring 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders math on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. Eventually, I'd like to tutor the 4th through 6th graders also, but right now they have art lessons on the days I could do it. I think it's better to take it a little at a time, anyway. I also started computer lessons with my counterpart. There's a few other projects I have floating around in my head, but we'll see about those.

My mom's visit was super fun. It was good (and bad) to be able to take a step back and see this experience a bit through fresh eyes. My week in Tobago was so great. It was nice just to have a really relaxed, solid amount of time with my Mom.

The next big thing coming up is the SUR17s arrival. I, as well as many other volunteers, are very excited about their arrival. It's in about a month. It will be interesting to see how far we've come this last year, and to just get some new volunteers! Their arrival, however, also means that the SUR15s will be leaving soon. I am extremely sad about this. I have met some really incredible people in the SUR15s and it's going to be very weird and lonely without them here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My Mom is coming!

I've been at site for a few months now and it's going super well. I'm very impressed with my community. Some women in my village give after-school lessons to the elementary school kids. The women worked with a non-profit from the Netherlands to have the building for the lessons built and text books and desks and chairs donated. We just got a big shipment of new books, and the lessons have really taken off. The women have mostly been working with the kids' reading and writing skills. Since it's all in Dutch, I'm not much of a help, which is frustrating. So, I'm going to start a little Math Club and tutor them in math 4 days a week. I'm super pumped about this (I'm such a nerd). A lot of kids in the interior end up failing several grades, and if we can work with the kids in my village to prevent that, it'd be great.

One of the kids' favorite things I own is my 8 lb weight. I've been teaching them different exercises and it's pretty cute. A bunch of 10 year-old boys will show up at my house, looking longingly at the weight, and finally I'll ask them if they want to play with it and they get super excited. The photo is my favorite little 3 year-old neighbor, Oviente. He pretty much has full access to my house, since he's too adorable to get annoyed with. He gets a lot of treats out of me too. Every time he comes into my house, he goes straight for the weight, picks it up over his head, and invariably says "a hebi!" which means 'it's heavy!' It's like clock-work. I really like this photo because he looks like a little tiny weight-lifter in his little muscle tee.

My Mom is coming to visit in a few days and I'm super excited. I'm really excited to see her, since it's been 9 months (I can't believe that!). I'm also really excited to show her Suriname. Everything is normalizing here for me. A lot of things that were originally scary or just strange to me seem really normal. I'm curious to see things through another person's perspective, a fresh perspective of Suriname. She'll be here for just about 2 weeks. We're going to visit another volunteer, Christine, at her site for a few days to start with. Then we're going to go out to my site for about 4 or 5 days, then spend a few days in the city. Then, we're going to Tobago for a week! Woooo! A week of sitting on the beach and swimming and relaxing. I'm so excited!