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.