Friday, October 15, 2010

Field Trip

After settling in and somewhat readjusting to citified living, I’m heading back to the interior. On Monday I’ll be leaving the capital with UNICEF to work in the field for roughly 4 weeks. We will be traveling between several different regions evaluating individual communities’ water and sanitation situations – 21 villages in total. Oy, I get a little overwhelmed just thinking about it. It will inevitably be a whirlwind of information and people, but, man, what an opportunity. We will be visiting areas that I didn’t think I would get the chance to see while here. One of the villages is an Amerindian community, natives of South America, in the far south of Suriname, near the Brazilian border. This village is only accessible by plane or boat, but the boat trip would take at least 2 weeks, so really, only by plane. I am very excited to experience a little more of the different cultures present in the interior. Ok, and I’m also excited about the information we hope to gather. :-) Data currently available about interior communities is severely lacking, and hard to come by.

As I’ve written in previous posts, the village I was living in is a maroon community inhabited by people that are descendants of runaway slaves. While maroons do make up the majority of the interior, there are also scattered Amerindian villages (many of which are in the southern regions). Due to this, not only are there strong geographic differences between many of the villages in the interior, there are also very significant cultural differences as well. Synchronizing information about the various villages in Suriname, and the issues they face, is a challenge that Ministries and NGO’s continually tackle. So, for myself, I am simply looking forward to being able to observe these differences, over a relatively short time frame, first hand.

I will, yet again, be out of internet service for the next few weeks. I plan to have a lot of pictures when I get back in November, and will post updates and photos as soon as possible!

Much Love.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The City and The Village

I have officially moved! I moved out of the village in the middle of June and am slowly adjusting to my new lifestyle in the city working with UNICEF. I am struck daily by the little (and some not so little) differences in my Peace Corps experience first in the village, and now in the city. I thought it would be fun to do a little side by side comparison. ;-)

So, let’s look at the differences:

First, instead of wearing garish plaid sarongs (koosus) everyday to fit in, I’m wearing business casual and incorporating bright orange shirts when appropriate (GO HOLLAND!).

Instead of going to the river with my fishing pole and a handful of rice to catch my dinner, I can walk down the street and order a pizza. Instead of fried fish heads, I can eat cheese and pepperoni! Unfortunately, my budget won’t allow this all that often, but a nice treat none the less.

Instead of running down a narrow jungle path each morning (jumping over roots, and ducking under vines), I run on a paved (very flat) road while busses and DAF trucks blow exhaust in my face.

Instead of waking up to the sound of children softly calling my name, “Seeimai? Seeimai?”, and my neighbors splitting firewood, I am greeted each morning by the sound of birds outside my window and the silence that reminds that I no longer have a tight-knit group of family and friends right outside my door (literally…RIGHT outside my door ;-) ).

Instead of speaking solely Saramakan for weeks on end, I speak English with people daily (I’m talking face to face, not on the phone!) and I get called by my real name by almost everyone around me (except for Kimmy, who still insists on calling me “Seeimai”).

Instead of tucking in for bed at 8:30 every night with a book and my headlamp, I stay up past 10:00(!) and do things like write letters and watch movies. Of course I still read, but with the help of electricity I manage to get more distracted.

The obvious… I now wash my dishes in a SINK, not the river! I wash my clothes in a washing machine, I shower in a shower (though I really miss my wash house and bucket baths), and I have a flush toilet! If nothing else, I know my lower back will be happy about not bending over to wash my clothes on the rocks at the river.

My workday now consists of wearing high heels and v-necks while sitting in a swivel chair at a computer typing away about different types of toilets and water treatment. My workday USED to require me to tromp out into a field wearing a koosu and a sports bra, with another koosu tied around my head to keep the sun off my back, armed with nothing but a pocket knife to cut bundles of rice…for hours…and hours.

Finally, instead of a barrage of people stopping by daily to talk to me and check on me, I have yet to find that support network here in the city. I will need to put a lot more work into cultivating friendships, but I am determined: this will happen. :)

There are certainly more, in fact I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. :) I miss the laughter of the children running around my house, and I miss running to jump in the river after a hard day’s work in the fields, but I am really happy with my decision. There are perks and draw backs to both experiences. Being in the city working with UNICEF will allow me to further develop my thesis, and (hopefully) be a resource to other PCV’s and other communities (including mine!). I am trying to keep close contact with friends in the village and have already had one visitor from the village, and am hoping for more!

Sending nothing but love and good thoughts!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Year Later

The time certainly does fly by! It is hard to believe I have been here for a year...out of the States for a year, haven't seen my mom for a year, and haven’t had REAL cheddar cheese for a's all very difficult ;-) No, really though, it is a little surreal; it feels like I just left. But the year has been so full of new experiences, challenges, and lessons they feel like they have been stretched out over much more than a year.

Things are going pretty well down here on the equator. I'm not sure where to start...Village life has been very interesting. The way I have started to think about it is that I live in a giant rambling house in the jungle: the house is the village. Let me explain. The way the Saramakans traditionally organize their villages, their houses are built side by side, front to back, back to front, with very little space between them. This has to do with originally being on-the-run and in hiding. Clearly, it's safer to be tightly packed if something were to happen. The houses are mostly just wood plank walls with zinc or thatch roofs. My point is that there is very little privacy. When I'm in my house at night, if someone calls my phone, all my neighbors will hear it and in the morning ask "Who called you last night? Was that your mom? Was that your man? Was that Amber?". During the day most people spend their time outdoors cooking, sewing, and working. All areas are pretty communal...the river is the giant shared bathroom/kitchen, the areas between homes are the shared living areas, and the homes are simply the bedrooms where you sleep at night. I like to think that I live in a giant 100 bedroom house, with lots of natural light and great cross breezes. ;-)

I have been able to form some very good friendships with people and have gotten really close to many of the children. My biggest struggle living out there has been dealing with isolation and not feeling very productive. Both things you would expect with the Peace Corps, right? Well, over the last several months an opportunity to work with UNICEF on a water/sanitation research project has presented itself. After thinking about it for quite awhile, I decided to take it. Which means that I will be leaving the village and moving into the capital and will be working in the UNICEF office Monday-Friday! I still have mixed feeling about this, but as a whole I am very excited and know that it will be a good decision in the long run. :)

Colin (my boyfriend) came to visit! We were able to spend 10 days in Tobago, and 10 days here in Suriname. It was an incredible trip. Being apart for this long has definitely been extremely hard. There are so many pieces of this experience that can not be conveyed by short phone conversations or emails. Being able to relax on a beach with nothing to do but share our stories with each other felt like coming up for air after being underwater for too long. Then, being able to actually show him my life here...well, it doesn’t get much better. I am going to visit him in Uganda for the month of December and will then be able to see his life there. Very much looking forward to that! But I am trying not to get too excited too far in advance...

I am hoping to run a half marathon in November, but I have along way to daily 20 minute jog on a soft jungle path has done very little to prepare me. Maybe by posting my aspirations here it will hold me more accountable? We’ll see ;-)

That’s most of my updates. Things are going well here, and there are a lot of exciting things on the horizon this next year. Now that I will be in the city I hope to be more diligent about sharing them! Sending good thoughts and love!


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Adventures in Running

You know that your life has changed and that worlds are colliding when during your daily morning jog you are stopped on the trail by the sight of a man, in nothing but loose fitting shorts and flimsy sandals, with a shotgun aimed intently into the jungle at some unseen animal. Not only you do you stop with minimal concern, but also out of habit reach down to pause the timer on your watch. This is exactly what happened to me earlier this week. It wasn’t until after the shot had been fired (and missed), I had exchanged a few pleasantries with the hunter and some of his friends, and continued on my way down the path (and restarted my watch timer) that I recognized what a bizarre encounter it really was. I’m not sure if this story is a good indication of what my life is like here in Suriname, but it makes a good story regardless: getting accustomed to things, trying to “fit in”, and also holding on to pieces of myself from home.

I haven’t posted updates here recently. The reasons for not writing being many, but mainly just simply that there is often too much to write and not enough time with electricity or internet. The last several months have been intense, emotional, overwhelming, and wonderful. Getting settled into my new community was both harder and easier than I thought it would be, and there were (and will be) a lot of ups and downs. Trying to find my place in the village is teaching me invaluable lessons about myself, and life in general.

On the day to day basis most of my time is spent is spent doing little daily chores. Cooking, eating, and washing manage to take up a fair amount of each day. As I mentioned, I do manage to go for a run most mornings, but this was only after the first couple of months. The people in the village were already trying to get used to me and understand why I was there, so I figured recreational exercise might push the limits too much initially. The day I finally decided to suck it up, and deal with the stares and questions, and laced up my running shoes also makes for a good story.

The first time I went running I tried to get up early enough that not too many people would be witness to the spectacle, but most people get up with the sun so it is hard to avoid. I made my way through the huts towards the back of the village stopping to explain where I was going along the way. There was some confusion, but mainly just amusement and a little disbelief. Most of the women just chuckled and shook their heads, “What is the Bakaa doing now?” (Bakaa is a word they use to describe “outsiders”, but generally means white person). I reached the path the goes for several miles into the jungle to family farming plots, and set off! The trip on the path was uneventful. I had left early enough that I didn’t encounter any groups of people heading out to grounds for the day. As I was heading back into the village I was cruising along and feeling that it had been a successful first run. As I came a little closer I saw a woman with a giant bowl, filled with tools, balanced on her head. She was walking along the path towards me. As soon as she saw me running towards her, she froze. She took a couple of half steps backwards, and before I could flag her down or call out to her she threw the bowl off her head, onto the ground, and started running full speed the other direction! Fortunately, I was able to call out to her and get her to realize that everything was actually ok. She turned around and came walking skeptically back. “What are you doing!?” she asked. I tried to explain that I was just running, just to run, but I’m not sure she really understood. However, the next couple mornings as we passed each other on the trail she would nod to me and say good morning and ask, “You’re running?”. I would say good morning back and “Yes, I’m running”. We would both smile at each other and continue on our ways. Whether or not she understands why I am running, she (and the rest of community) have gotten used to this part of my daily routine, and some of the women even joke about coming with me.

This post has turned out to be mostly about running! Shoot. Well it’s a start in the right direction. I will promise to be better about posting updates. I miss family and friends immensely. I know that I have been a terrible correspondent, but please know that I think of you all often.

Sending my love from Suriname!