Friday, June 29, 2012

Our Last Month at Site: Part 2

This year the men in our village surprised the women by cooking for them and buying them each a koosu for Mother's Day. The women quickly decided that they wanted to celebrate Father's Day in a similar fashion. In the same day, my local nurse and another woman in the village each came over to my house to tell me an idea they had. They wanted to raise money to bring a traditional song and dance group to our village to perform for the men. The group was supposed to come to an HIV/AIDS Celebration Day that the women in my 5 week HIV/AIDS training put on, but they were unable to attend due to an unexpected death of a co-wife. I was thrilled that they came up with this idea on their own and thought it was smart planning. The male attendance at the previous Celebration Day was low.

A few leaders proceeded to collect money from other women in the village to buy food, undershirts and underwear :) for all of the men. Additionally, they wrote a donation request letter that was typed up by a colleague in the city and distributed to numerous organizations to solicit money to bring the performance group to our village. The women mobilized themselves. In fact, I did not help organize anything.To be honest, theirs was a lofty goal. The performance group lives 3 hours upriver and renting a boat and paying for gasoline is very expensive. I thought that the chances were slim but I was already pleased that they had the idea. Anyways, Father's Day was three days before Ryan and I were leaving the village so I was busy getting ready to move.

In a Father's Day meeting, the women divided themselves into groups by neighborhoods and assigned who would cook what. Even though I live on the opposite side of the village as one of my best friends Helga, she informed me that I would be helping her make munga, the traditional Saramaccan cake. It was so fun! I have seen women make munga before but there were so many women helping (they do not make it often because it is a very involved process) that I didn't really get to do anything except take pictures. This time I was able to help with each step...including chopping wood for the fire. When Helga told me to come chop I informed her that I had no idea how. She informed me that I would learn. Four days out from leaving my village and there I was, learning new stuff.
At first I was I was really not good at it. Here are people watching me not knowing what I was doing (story of my life in Saramaka):
After some practice, though, I got the hang of it!

So, the process is more involved, but to summarize, munga is made from peanut and rice flour and grated coconut, pre-cooked in a pot over a wood burning fire, stuffed into sturdy jungle leaves wrapped into cones and tied off by natural jungle twine, then finished baking in a pot of boiling water. Check it out:

Stirring the batter when we first dropped it into the pot

Helga stuffing the leaf cones with cake batter

The leaf cones baking in the boiling water
Plus, more pics here.

Cut to later that day and one of my friends came over to tell me that they had raised all of the money to bring the performance group to our village. Medical mission and the local government both donated gasoline and the women negotiated with the boatman to accept gasoline instead of cash, etc. I was so proud!

On Father's Day, after church and in addition to cooking, five of the women who attended my HIV/AIDS training, presented the basics of HIV/AIDS education to over 100 men, women and young adults.

They all did a fabulous job, remembering all of the information that they gleaned nine months ago. International development mission of sustainability accomplished! Woot! When they were done, the visiting HIV/AIDS performance group performed:
After they were done performing, the women passed out all sorts of traditional Saramaccan food--apiti (fish and cassava soup), bami, cake, soda, beer, etc. After everyone had eaten, they called Ryan and me up to the front and my friend Helga talked about the different projects that we had done in the village and how well we lived with them. Then our captain said a few words on our behalf. He called two elders, one male and one female to come up and present us with traditional dress that they had made for us- a koosu for me and a bigi pangi for Ryan. They had them sewn with our village names on them. They are absolutely beautiful! Everyone came up and hugged us or thanked us for our work and took pictures with us with their cell phones. It was very sweet. Oh, and everyone told us that we needed to have children- lots of children-and bring them back to Suriname to show them. Not a shy culture. See more pictures here.

As if our goodbye at the school and on Father's Day was not enough, one of the village basias called everyone to one of our meeting houses the night before we left so that everyone could spend some last time with us, dance and say goodbye. We wore our new koosus, of course! Picture here.

This little guy was gettin' his groove on!
Ryan dancing with Mma
We left there around 10pm and by 6:30am the next day, our Saramaccan family was back at our house to be with us until our ride came at 10:30am. When the van pulled up in front of our house, the waterworks started for everyone, including us. We hugged everyone for the 5th time and got in the van. In true Saramaccan fashion, our villagers sang to us through their tears. The car pulled away and circled around to pass the back of the house. I looked out for one last time and saw some of my women running around the house towards us, waving goodbye. Ryan and I were overwhelmed and grateful for the wonderful week-long farewell that everyone gave us.

It was tough but the heartache tells me that we did well. The wonderful people of our village truly accepted us and let us into their hearts and unique culture. If you were to tell me, ten years ago, that I would become a beloved part of an African village in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, I would have laughed at the absurdity. It happened. I think by this time next week, it will seem like a dream...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Our Last Month at Site: Part 1

Well, everyone...WE DID IT! After many challenges and triumphs, Ryan and I will get on a plane in two days to fly away from Suriname, our home for the last two years. We moved out of our site in the jungle one week ago and have been in the city going through the Peace Corps process of closing out our service. We appreciate everyone's support and prayers as we transition out of this adventurous chapter of our lives and re-integrate back into the plentiful U.S. of A.

This last month at site has been a whirlwind. I'm going to try to catch you guys up quickly...
Our captain finished building his own house. He has been working on it since before we moved to our village. He is a man of many trades and did just a beautiful job. After church one Sunday, the pastor and all the villagers went to his place to bless the home and his family. The pastor prayed, said a few words and then we all sang quite a few hymns. 
As you can see, the family had matching outfits made for the occasion. Hanging on the walls are cross stitched pieces used for decoration. After the dedication, they passed out soda, cake, popcorn and even chicken and rice. We were happy to see one of our hardworking captain's dreams come true before we left. For more pics, click here.

Less than two weeks ago the display case was completed for the HIV/AIDS Awareness Quilt that women from my village and two nearby villages made during our 5 week training of trainers. A local carpentar created the protective case so that we could hang the quilt outside of the medical clinic in my village in the rainforest weather. It is important for it to be outside because that is where patients wait to see the nurses. If it were inside the small clinic, it would only be seen by the nurses themselves and not be valuable as a conversation starter and proponent to stop stigma against people living with HIV in Suriname. I'm thankful that I was able to see the finished product before I left. Click here for more pictures.

Me and Lenda, a local nurse and one of my counterparts for this HIV/AIDS project

On the Friday before we left site, one of the teachers asked that we come to the school. I was confused and thought that she wanted to change the day of our last English lesson with her class but I quickly realized that they were planning something with at least part of the school kids to say goodbye to us.

Well, they were planning something with ALL of the school kids: pre-schoolers-6th graders. They had a little table set up all decorated with a chair on either side of it:

They then arranged all the kids in a semi-circle surrounding the table and chairs and then called Ryan and I to the front. One of the teachers who happens to be the village pastor and one of the basias (village leaders) came to the front and talked about all of the projects that we did with the school and how well we lived with the teachers and all the kids. They explained that their thanks were not sufficient but that they would pray to God to bless us (our school is affiliated with the Monravian church). It was really kind. Then every single class each sang a song to us, like they do at the end of the school year program. It was adorable! After they (and the teachers!) sang, the teachers presented us with four beautiful calabashes and a handmade comforter-type sheet and matching pillow cases.
The best part was the handmade gift bag. Each heart on the sides was signed by every child in each class! We were totally blown away. After THAT, every single child in the school (by class) came up and either hugged us, shook our hands or both. Some of the kids were really sad. I know the 5th and 6th graders the best, due to our English lessons, and it was really hard to know we might never see them again. All of my 6th grade girls (whom I took to Camp GLOW) were crying.

It was very moving. My work with the school really meant a lot to me and it was wonderful to see that it meant a lot for the teachers and the kids as well. I will forever carry that day around in my heart and am very thankful to those teachers who were so thoughtful. It was good closure for us and the kids. More pictures here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lefurny’s 6th Birthday

Sometime last year I finally went to our local school to look up Lefurny’s birthdate in the school records since no one in her family knew exactly when it was. Ryan and I discovered that when we moved to our village, she had just turned four (we were told she was three) and so this year would turn six. Ryan and I decided a long time ago that we would celebrate her birthday this year, right before we left. We’re almost positive she has never celebrated her birthday before and who knows when she would again? I had asked one of the teachers at school what the little kids normally do to celebrate their birthdays around here. She said sometimes their moms send in little bags of popcorn for the whole class. Done.

It just so happened that Todd and Moka scheduled their visit during Lefurny’s birthday, so Ryan and I made sure that we would be in our village and enlisted Todd and Moka as part of the party preparation crew. So, on May 9th, first thing in the morning, the four of us got to work popping popcorn (in a pot, not in a microwave, in case there is still any confusion) and filling bags with it plus some candy.  It was quite a productive assembly line. 
Right around 11am, we headed to the school. Lefurny’s teacher had made her a little birthday crown that said “6” on it. When we got there, they brought Lefurny to the front of the class and all the kids sang a few songs for her. 
Then she was instructed to pick three friends to be her helpers and the four of them walked around the class handing out bags of popcorn. Each child was told to shake Lefurny’s hand and tell her “felicitatie” (congratulations). 
It was pretty adorable. We brought enough for both Kindergarten (her class) and Pre-K and there were left overs for the the rest of the teachers. At first she seemed overwhelmed (kind of had the same expression on her face that she had when we took her to Paramaribo) but then she got into it. Her great grandma and grandpa (our neighbors) actually came to the school, too, which I thought was really nice. I think it was the first time they have ever been there.
 After school, I let her and a friend make her birthday cake (she loves to help bake) and go crazy with some bubbles while it baked. Once it was done baking in our Dutch oven, we called her great grandparents over and held a little party. She picked out which of her dresses she wanted to wear while Todd, Moka and Ryan decorated our little porch with some party decorations Grandma Barb sent. I had even planned ahead to buy candles for her cake. 
 We sang, ate cake and then she got to open presents. Grandma Barb sent way too many things (in two separate care packages) for her, plus Todd and Moka brought a few things, including a Tiana Barbie doll that she loves.
 It was a pretty darn exciting day in her life, if you ask me. I’m really glad that we were able to do that for her. At least for one birthday she felt special and hopefully it will be a happy memory for her for years to come.
Lefurny trying on a new birthday outfit from Grandma Barb
Thanks Mom for sending the party decorations and presents. Thanks Todd and Moka for thinking to bring something for Lefurny and for helping with her little celebration. And thanks to my amazing husband for wanting to do this as much as I did.

There are lots more adorable pictures here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Count Down is ON!!

Our Peace Corps service is quickly coming to a close.

In just 3 weeks from today we leave our village.

In 4 weeks from today we leave Suriname.

It's both heart breaking and super exciting. What a situation to be in!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Little Saramaccan Ryan

 If you follow Ryan on Twitter, you already know that he now has a Saramaccan namesake. That's right, folks. After we leave, Suriname will still have two Lindsays and a Ryan to carry on our legacy.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Twaylingay! (Twins!)

"Twaylingay" was probably the first Saramaccan word that Todd and Moka truly memorized. That's not a surprise since as soon as any of our villagers saw Todd and Ryan together that is all that they could say. That's right! Our second and last pair of visitors were none other than the San Francisco branch of the Dapremont fam and we had a great time!

First, we showed Todd and Moka around Paramaribo for a day or so. The most exciting part of this for Ryan and I was crashing at their fancy hotel and taking hot showers! Although, we did take them to the Butterfly Park which is pretty cool.
Morpho Butterflies (see the bright blue on their wings)!
Next, we set off for what they really came for- the jungle! In our village, they met a lot of our friends,
they saw the beautiful river (it's really high right now),
they celebrated Lefurny's 6th birthday (more on this to come),
they helped wash dishes in our creek,
and we put them to work in our English lessons.
After a few days in our village, we headed upriver in a dugout canoe to see more of Saramaka.
Ryan and I have been wanting to visit the Saramaccan Museum (another item on my bell list) that is in the second largest village on our river- Pikin Slee. Since Todd has done his own research on Saramaccan culture, we thought he and Moka would enjoy it as well. It was small but very nice.
We slept in a nearby village at another Peace Corps volunteer's house and walked the 20 minutes or so through the jungle to Pikin Slee for the day. It was a lot of fun!
Thanks to our fellow volunteer Evan for being an excellent guide.  From Pikin Slee we went straight back to Paramaribo by boat and then van to send Todd and Moka off. I think they were a little tired from our jungle adventure...
Todd & Moka trying to sleep in the van on the way back to the city
Thanks so much Todd and Moka for taking the time and effort to come all the way to Suriname. We know it is not an easy trip and genuinely appreciate you two sharing in this crazy adventure with us. For the rest of our lives, we'll always have Suriname!
To check out the rest of our awesome pictures from their trip, click here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Lefurny Goes to the City

Ryan and I decided awhile ago that we wanted to take our neighbor girl, Lefurny, to Paramaribo before we end our service. As many of you know, she holds a very special place in our hearts. Anyways, she is almost six years old and has been outside of our village of 300 people maybe three times. Most likely, even when she went to Paramaribo before, she did not experience any of the western/tourist activities. In other words, we wanted to give her a sort of Disneyland experience that she could remember us by.

She and Ryan arrived in the city (I was already there) at about 1pm. Ryan opened the door to our hostel room and she timidly peeked inside before walking swiftly into my hug. She immediately started inspecting the room- pulling back the curtains to look outside, crawling under the beds, etc.
 First things first- I got to work putting beads in her freshly braided hair. Then I informed her that we were going to a swimming pool. This kid loves to swim. She used to beg her grandma to go to the river so she could "wash". However, we live on the opposite side of the village from the river and her grandma either washes with rain water or goes to the creek, which is much closer. Anyways, she LOVED the pool. For never seeing a pool before (I'd say that's a safe bet), she was not the least bit hesitant or afraid. We had a lot of fun. Special thanks to our Administrative Director, Summer, for donating a swimsuit that perfectly fit her!
After the pool, we walked back to our hostel to shower, get dressed and then head to Pizza Hut. It is too far to walk, so we took a cab. She was pretty excited to ride in a car. I showed her how to put on a seat belt. She could not stop staring out the window at everything. She was pretty confused that we were all going to the restaurant because the only restaurants she has been to are basically stands where the food is already cooked and you take it to go. She was so solemn, just taking everything in. In answer to Ryan's prompting, she said she wanted chicken (of course!) on her pizza, so that's what we got. She liked it a lot.
While at Pizza Hut, she also learned how to flush a toilet, use a soap dispenser and a hand dryer. When I hit the button on the hand dryer, those big eyes and mouth popped open and her eyes darted back and forth from me to the dryer. For dessert, we all split a slice of raspberry cheesecake (Lefurny's pick). She liked that, too. The playground at Pizza Hut was closed for construction, so we had our taxi drop us off at McDonald's so she could play at theirs. Unfortunately, there were not any other kids there when we arrived and she wasn't sure what she should do. was up to me to show her.
Pretty soon she was having a great time, racing around. At one point she tore out of the play area. I was on her heels and discovered that she had spotted a large TV playing cartoons.
After playing at McDonald's, we walked back to our hostel, showered and then we settled her in with a brand new copy of Beauty and the Beast in Dutch before she fell asleep.

The next day we headed straight for the Paramaribo Zoo. It was so cute! She was pretty confused at the whole concept. She has seen a lot of the animals there but either dead in a pot or as a pet (not in a cage). After a little while she got into it, although it was a hot day and she's not used to walking around in the sun.

There was also a huge playground with a ton of kids of all different ethnicities. This was also new for her (both playground equipment and different ethnicities). She was so somber, just looking at everything and everyone. The first thing she went on was the swings and she did not want to get off!

After the zoo, we went to Burger King (don't judge us on buying her unhealthy food; we just wanted her to be able to play on the playgrounds). From there we went to the Peace Corps office and brought her around to meet the staff and other volunteers that were in the city. She did so well practicing her English with everyone!! She just knows the basics ("Hi, how are you? What is your name?") but we want her to get practice carrying herself well and speaking clearly and confidently, etc.
From the Peace Corps office we headed to Paramaribo's only (and pretty new) mall and movie theater. Lefurny's first movie (and 3D movie at that!) was The Lorax. She was super excited about the popcorn. Unfortunately, she had a cold that has been going around here and about three quarters through the movie told me that she was really tired and wanted to sleep (it was about 6pm). I gently told her that we wouldn't be coming back to the theater so if she went to sleep that she would miss out on the movie. She rallied and watched the rest.
Then we walked around the mall, which has all sorts of little things for kids... like face painting!

And cotton candy!

Grandma Barb wanted to make sure that Lefurny got the royal treatment so she got to pick out a toy and a book from the bookstore (in Dutch). Unfortunately, options are limited as far as people who can read it to her in Dutch, but I'm going to have her take it to her teacher. I wanted her to get the message that books are worth spending money on. Hopefully, it will be a tiny stepping stone in helping her Dutch. This toy microphone was the perfect choice as this girl LOVES to sing!
There are lots more pictures of Lefurny's trip here. And yes, I have had most of them printed to put in a little album for Lefurny so she can think back on this trip long after we are gone (*tear*). We had a lot of fun with this cutie. She really is great kid. Seriously has the most energy I've ever seen in a child (and I've looked after a lot of kids) but truly adorable. Ryan and I were both exhausted but happy we made this happen.

Special shout out to my wonderful husband who I know will make an amazing and patient father one day (that day has not come yet, Doc, don't get too excited). I already knew that he was great with Lefurny but he surpassed my expectations which brought my heart lots of joy.