Today we had an excursion in Suriname that was announced at the last minute, but that’s not a problem for our fearless group of Americans who wanted to go shopping and see some historical sites. Even if I am not a particular shopoholic, this was an attractive proposition for me, and so after church I changed quickly and a group of us went off in search of the capital and adventure. It should be noted, though, that not everyone one would expect made the trip. Out of the family staying next to us in the hotel, only the father of the family came because the other two were sick, probably from a cold that I gave them, and in a couple of families only one of the females of the family made the trip to window shop.
It should be noted that we did a fair amount of shopping. In fact, out of the stops we made, fully three of them were for shopping. First, we stopped at a grocery store, and there I got six bottles of water and a knee brace, and I was the first of our group to return to the bus, because I didn’t see anything else I wanted to buy and wasn’t inclined to waste time. If only that was true of my time sitting here and writing this blog, I must admit, or I might be asleep already instead of blogging after midnight in a hot and humid room like I am right now. At any rate, the second place we stopped was a quirky place with various items aimed at a tourist market, and there I managed to pick up a walking stick as well as a cookbook on Suriname cuisine, and some pens, while my mother picked up a trilingual word book I’d like to read and review before the Feast is out along with some other items, including a doll. The third shopping trip was to a department store whose fashions were aimed at an American audience and did not have much local flavor, but I did not even stop at that particular location but stayed in the bus.
As far as the historical sites went, we did not shortchange that experience, although the stops ended up being somewhat dark. At Fort Zeelandia, for example, we discussed deaths from the overthrow of Suriname’s first independent government and the destruction of a U-boat that was trying to intercept bauxite shipments to the United States during World War II. When we were looking at the presidential palace the discussion went to ghost stories and the feeling among many of Suriname’s leaders that the place was haunted. A look at a mosque and synagogue next to each other came with some bragging about interfaith relations in Suriname but also the feeling that the fuse to violence between Muslims and others in the country had been lit but that there was hope it would not explode, hopes that are usually in vain. A stop at a large wooden basilica led to a conversation about the problems with greeting seekers of religious consolation in the place. And when we took a walk through the Palm Garden, there was a statute to a boy who died by being stuck in a fridge, a story about a dead European tourist who had pushed a friend in a wheelchair only to have the top of a tree fall on top of him, and more ghost stories about the headless Dutch colonial governor who had set up the whole garden in the first place, along with some grousing on the part of our entertaining and well-informed guide that the people who led Suriname into independence did not do a very good job.
Obviously, this sort of trip is the kind that gives one a lot of material to think about. Is Suriname better as an independent country than as a colony? By no means. The standard of living is much lower, half of the country’s would-be citizens are living abroad in the Netherlands, and the country is being overrun by Brazilian illegal immigrants in search of land and jobs and trying to escape from being murdered for the the crime of being homeless and poor in their native land. Natural resources that could be used to better the well-being of the people’s citizens as a whole is being siphoned off through corruption into the hands of selfish and grasping elites who do not provide the infrastructure benefits of colonial rulers. And yet Suriname is an example of a complex and multiethnic society that has managed to survive without continual warfare, even if their history is tragic and their present state certainly less than ideal. If Suriname would fall short by the standard of westerners, there was clearly much to appreciate here as well, and I could see that those locals we were around were impressed by those who had done their homework in researching the country and in those who wanted to know more about this small and isolated country. And with my walking stick at my side, there is clearly more that I will be able to explore.