Saturday, August 1, 2009

Swearing In

The speech I gave at the swearing in ceremony:

My name is Ashlee. I lived in Asigron for the last 8 weeks. In Asigron they call me Bendemai.

I'm happy that I am starting my Peace Corps service, but I'm sad to leave Asigron. The people there didn't just give me a name, but they taught me how the Saamakan people live and they gave me something that I will carry with me always. My family there and the people of Asigron took great care of me. They wanted me to learn many things, but if I learned slow they had a lot of patience. Everyday we laughed together. Sometimes we laughed because I didn't understand, but other times we laughed because I did understand. Everytime we were happy because we understood eachother. The made me feel like we were family. I will miss them very much.

I was one of 10 people who lived with Saamakan families during training. When we arrive in our sites we will thank the people of Asigron, Drepada, Victoria, and Hermansdorp. We will live better because we will know the Saamakan way of life. Thank you.

Now in Saamakan:)

Mi nen da Ashlee. Mi bi libi na Asigron dee 8 wiki de pasa. Na Asigron de kai mi Bendemai.

Mi wai mio bigi mi Peace Corps wooko, ma mi tjali taa mi go disa Asigron. Dee sembe ala an da mi wan nen wanwan, ma de bi lai mi unfa dee Saamaka sembe ta libi ku de bi da mi wan sondi mio tja ku mi-seei u te mi dede. Mi famii ala ku dee sembe a Asigron bi solugu mi bunu. De bi kai mi lai hia, ma ee mi bi lai teigi de bi abi hia pasensi. Hini wan daka u bi lafu makandi. So leisi u bi ta lafu bika ma bi fustan, ma oto leisi u bi ta lafu bika mi bi fustan. Hii ten u be wai bika u bi ko fustan u seei. De bi ta mbei mi fii taa mi ku de de famii. Mio hungi de poi.

Mi bi de wan u dee 10 sembe bi ta libi ku dee Saamaka famii a training. Te u doo a Saamaka, wo da tangi a dee sembe a Asigron, Drepada, Victoria, and Hermansdorp. Wo libi moo bunu bika wo sabi di Saamaka fasi u libi. Ganntangi funu.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

End of Training

Training is officially (almost!) over! We left our CBT sites on Friday and are now in the city shopping for home furnishings for our new houses in our new sites and getting ready to swear in as official volunteers. Leaving home stay was even sadder than I had anticipated it to be. I knew that it was going to be difficult to say goodbye to the people and families I had gotten close to and formed relationships with, but when it actually happened it just about broke my heart. The people there took such great care of me, and treated me like family. I could feel their support for me, and their investment in helping me learn. There was a mutual understanding and respect that I hadn’t anticipated, one, happening so fast, and two, affecting me so deeply. I am going to miss the village and the people immensely, but I have every intention of going back to visit over the next two years.

On a different note, a few other happenings the last few weeks of home stay are worth mentioning (mainly because they’re funny and help illustrate what living conditions are like). First, one night while sleeping soundly in my hammock (on my side) I was woken up by (what I thought was) the sensation of something crawling up my back. As I began to reach a more complete state of wakefulness I realized that it was real, and was moving towards my head! A mouse (or rat, I like to assume mouse) had managed to get through my mosquito net and was literally climbing up my neck. I, of course, started thrashing around and screaming. It ran away, and I spent the next 30 minutes sitting in my house trying to figure out what had just happened. Another night a frog hopped into my house and I couldn’t get it out for about 2o minutes. A teenage girl halfheartedly tried to put a beetle the size of palm on my leg. In addition to the many, many, mosquito and mypia bites on the lower half of my legs, I got an ant bite that blistered and turned into the worst infection I’ve had in my life (thank goodness we have an awesome Peace Corps Medical Officer). Also, two separate children pooped on my porch! Some of this I laughed at while it was happening, but I laugh at all of it now. :)

Now as I get ready to leave for my new community I need to gear myself back up to start all over, but this time with a few different challenges. For starters the language becomes relatively different the further upriver you go. Closer to the city the language is mixed with Dutch and their pronunciation is quite different. I’ve reached a point with my language where I can communicate in most situations, but I know that moving upriver I’ll be taking a step back and will need to re-learn a few things. Also, my CBT site was very accustomed to Peace Corps and Americans. Now, I’ll be the first volunteer in my community. Many of the children are genuinely afraid of me. Many of the adults don’t really understand why I’m there or why I’m staying for two years. I won’t have electricity or running water, but I am close to the river. I know that this next transitioning phase is going to be tough, but I’m excited to get it underway. I know that this is an opportunity that I won’t likely get again, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

We have our swearing in ceremony on Wednesday, and the PC staff asked me to give a little talk in the Saamakan language. Yikes! My host family will be there along with all the current volunteers, so I’m feeling the pressure. Wish me luck, and I’ll hopefully have some pictures from the ceremony soon afterwards.
Love Always,

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Happy 4th of July everyone!
Here in Suriname the Peace Corps volunteers are headed to the Ambassador's house for a bbq party. We got into the city last night, and will go back out to our community based training sites tomorrow. Even though it is a short trip, I'm trying to get as much "city-type" things done: internet, random supplies, real shower, ice cream, and speaking more English than Saramakan with other PCV's. :)

So, the last few weeks have been chalked full of learning the language and new experiences. In case it wasn't entirely clear in the last post, right now I'm living in a community 2 hours from the city for my language and cultural training, but my actual future site is almost 10 hours away. My community based training site (CBT) has been amazingly wonderful. It’s a relatively small village (~100 people) on the lower Suriname River. When we arrived (I’m there with two other PCV's) they gave each of us our new names, and I was given "Bendemai", which means tall thin sister. The woman that lives next door to me has an 18 month old daughter, Sino. Whenever Sino she sees me coming she calls, "Mamamai! Mamamai!" since she can't quite say the B. It's pretty precious.

Each morning at 6:15 I go for a little run down to the dirt road that runs out of "town" and borders some of village families' plots of land where they grow their fruits and vegetables. The sun is usually on it's way up and each morning I'm still taken by surprise at how beautiful and different the tree line can look depending on the sky and the clouds. Then we have language class all morning until noon. In the afternoons my activities usually consist of playing with some of the kids, helping women cook, going to the women's grounds with them, and/or playing Slagbal. Slagbal! What a wonderful game it is. :) Only women are allowed to play, and it's a little like baseball, but played with a tennis ball, a paddle, and 6 bases. There about 1,001 rules that I'm still trying to learn, but it is a LOT of fun. Games can break through language barriers and give you a little glimpse at someone's personality that you might not get otherwise. I feel like I've gotten to know some of the women here better because of it.

Washing of any sort is done in the river. This includes bathing, dishes, and laundry. Although my environmentally minded self cringes at the non-biodegradable soap (among many other things that I won't mention) floating away into the river, I find myself enjoying it. It is absolutely a community activity complete with gossip, advice on how to wash, and of course the ladies laughing at me for doing it wrong. Plus, the scenery is gorgeous.

I'll be living in my CBT site for another three weeks, and then I'll head out to my permanent site on the Upper Suriname. This past week I got to go out there and spend 5 days getting to know the people and the community. It really helped me to have a better vision of what my time here in Suriname will really be like.

Hope all is well! Till next time. Pictures, hopefully, coming soon.


Monday, May 25, 2009


We made it through our first week of training! For the past week we've been holed up at a training facility about 45 minutes outside of the capital. The running joke has been that we're at summer camp. There are showers, three meals a day, and plenty of activities that keep us all busy (and tired). Not so bad if you ask me. ;-) The language training has been relatively successful...I can sort of greet people, and maybe introduce myself. ;-)

Tomorrow we're leaving for our first trip into the interior. Each of the new volunteers will be staying with a current volunteer at a site close to his/her future site. I'm very anxious to start getting out to see the country a little more. After we get back we'll begin our community based training and will be staying with a host family. For this next step, I'm extremely curious and excited!! This might be the most intimidating part for me; to go into a home, without speaking the language, and begin to live with them. I hope to do as much with them as they'll let me, which I've been told, will involve a fair amount of gardening! I've wanted to learn more about gardening for awhile now so I'll hopefully be an eager learner.

All the best, stay in touch! Waka bun! (Travel well)



Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Hey Everyone!

Today is my last day in Bellingham with my family before heading down to Miami for staging. Tomorrow morning I'll fly to Miami to meet the rest of the group leaving for Suriname, fill out final paper work, and get some final vaccinations. On Saturday the whole group will fly to Suriname together! The last year has flown by and it's hard for me to believe that it's finally here. So excited (and nervous)! :)

I'm hoping that I'll be able to stay connected with everyone by posting updates here. I'm not entirely sure what my internet connections will be like, so if you don't hear from me for awhile check here first. I want to share this experience with everyone, but I'm also hoping to get updates from all of you as well. Keep me posted on how everything is going, and I look forward to staying touch!