We should be somewhere between Toronto and Regina right now. But we're not! We are in Trinidad. We missed our connecting flight from Trinidad to Toronto because of things beyond our control. The agent booked our flights too close together. To top it off, because Suriname Airways said it was an 'illegal booking' we were on our own for hotel and food in Trinidad until Air Canada can get us on a stand-by flight (at least they are going to do that).
Missed flight. Lots of sad faces.
Pizza. There was a pizza place in the Trinidad telephone book. It was the only thing on our minds after several months of deprivation.
I'm sitting in our guest house in Arima, Trinidad pondering the events of the last five months of our lives. Even now, only 24 hours after our Suriname adventure came to an official close as we flew out of the Adolf Johan Pengel airport in Zanderij, Suriname, I have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
Suriname…I smile and shake my head at the same time at the sound of the name. Our experience in the South American Caribbean nation was defined by many great moments littered with many more frustrations. Isn't it true though, that moments of true epiphany come at our lowest? Already we are looking back on those moments of sheer irritation and annoyance and throwing our heads back to laugh.
I'll laugh at how walking down the street was a virtual nightmare for any white, blonde, female. A very vocal percentage of Surinamese men find their social outlet hanging out in public places in the country, and these men of all shapes and sizes would make loud, dramatic kissing noises in my direction (or any Western woman walking by!) – all in an attempt to make the white girl look their way. Even when Steve was by my side, the machismo of those specific Surinamese men reared it's ugly head!
I think we'll also laugh at the often frustrating experiences we had living with a host family for four months. We'll leave this one vague and let our stories once we're home fill in the gaps. But let's just say we learned a lot about intercultural communication, the importance of hospitality, and how critical it is that married couples have a place of their own. We are looking forward to our independance once again!
The most striking experience in Suriname was the working atmosphere. You'd expect a crawling pace in any non-western culture, but somehow Suriname was the epitome. There, everything is about relationships – and relationships (and everything else in life) come before work, plain and simple. This lead me to my understanding of international development and our placement at local AIDS NGO. International development is a buzz word I've thrown around for awhile…I know I waltzed into Suriname hoping to somehow impact and change the country in some way. I've come out of the country knowing that international development is long, and tedious work. And…when it comes right down to it, the most effective international developpers are the people within the country themselves, who hold within them the power to change their nation and their future. Too much Western 'help' only hinders the process.
Suriname has a hefty history of oppression that it is coming to terms with over time – slavery, indentured labour, economic colonization, and now, the continued exploitation of their natural resources at their expense – continue to impact the country. It seems the entire international community has a piece of the Suriname pie. America and South Africa control its bauxite, Canada its gold, Holland its politics, etc., etc., etc. Foreign multinationals have a huge impact on the country – they are all-powerful and are a negative force in Suriname truly becoming independant. And so I wonder what international development is really about – helping the developing country, or lining the pockets of the developed world.
In the past five months, our understanding of the world has expanded and our understanding of the relationship between the developing and developed world has been opened. Aside from these thoughts of intensity, we have some fabulous memories from our experience as well!
Work presented some moments of sheer joy when the people we were training began to find the confidence they need to do things on their own and put into practice some of the skills we taugh them.
And of course, we met some fabulous friends whom we really connected with and hope to keep in contact with well into the future. It was with these people that we made pizza with gouda, biked to the coast, explored Brownsberg, watched videos, played Kohandle, discussed life and faith and everything in between, and really came to rely on during our stay. We thank them all for their encouragement and laughter, and great friendship.