Settling Down… in Suriname

For some of my readers, this will come as no surprise. But for those of you who’ve been wondering just where in South America we’ve moved, here’s the reveal:

We now call Paramaribo, Suriname home.

If you’re like most folks, this “answer” just prompts more questions. Perhaps something along the lines of: Huh? OWhere again? Or even Suriname? Isn’t that in Africa? 

If so, you’re in good company. When I first heard this country referenced, I assumed its locale was somewhere in South-East Asia. You’ve got your Vietnam, then you’ve got your Suriname….

But as it turns out, that’s the wrong hemisphere altogether. Roughly the size and shape of the American state of Georgia, this petite nation is located on the northeastern coast of South America, just above Brazil and between French Guiana and Guyana.

suriname-1
Where in the world is Suriname?

My husband and I have been in Paramaribo (Suriname’s capital) just shy of a week now, and thus far (though my time here’s been admittedly brief) it’s turning out to be about as expected: a small town fringed with rainforest and brilliant blue skies, home to an incredibly diverse, largely-English-speaking population. As our two-year assignment here progresses, I hope to come to know the country a little more intimately. But in the meantime, here are some fast facts about our current location:

  1. Oddly, Suriname’s official language is neither Spanish nor Portuguese but Dutch–a holdover from its time as a Dutch colony. It is the only South American country to claim this honor, with its nearest Dutch-speaking neighbor being a little Caribbean isle called Aruba. Suriname didn’t become officially, entirely independent until 1975 (a rather recent date in my humble opinion). Prior to this emancipation, roughly 1/3 of the country’s population immigrated to the Netherlands, apparently dubious about this new nation’s ability to self-sustain.

    sunset
    Sunset view from our new house.
  2. Suriname is as ethnically diverse as China is homogenous (if you don’t factor in China’s many ethnic minorities). Major groups include Amer-Indians, Javanese, Chinese, Hindustani (from both Pakistan and India), and Maroon (descendants of escaped and liberated African slaves). Selecting a poster child to represent the face of the typical “Surinamer” would be an impossible proposition.
  3. Religiously, Suriname is equally diverse. Roughly 50% of the country adheres to Christianity of some denomination or other. Hinduism and Islam form the second largest groups after that. But in addition to the more predictable “world religions” listed above, Suriname also hosts practitioners of Winti (an Afro-Christian-Indigenous amalgamation) and Javanism (an animistic-Buddhist-Hindu-Islamic mix), as well as various Indigenous folk traditions. Additionally, Paramaribo is one of the only places on earth to boast the co-location of a mosque and a synagogue–these neighboring religious houses even share a parking lot! Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral–the largest wooden structure in the Western hemisphere–also calls Suriname home.
  4. Among Suriname’s major exports are bananas, rice, gold, and bauxite (what?!). This is news to me, but bauxite is a form of aluminum ore, and apparently the world’s chief source of aluminum. So for all you fans of aluminum foil, please give Suriname a round of applause.

    trees
    A seriously size-able tree, viewed from a car window.
  5. Suriname’s total population is just under 550,000 (so it’s just a smidge ton smaller than our former post of China). Paramaribo has a population of 240,000 (compared to Chengdu’s roughly 14 million.) The majority of Surinamers live along the cleared and cultivated coastline (which is bordered in by mangrove swamps). This comparatively tamed landscape represents approximately 20% of Suriname’s territory. The remaining 80% is unadulterated rainforest and sparsely-populated savannah. Perhaps relatedly, there are literally no roads connecting Suriname to its neighboring countries; all boundary-crossing occurs via ferry or plane. Rivers and rainforests both appear to present obstacles to the construction of bridges and paved thoroughfares.

    lizard
    Little lizard, chillaxing outside my office window.
  6. All this rainforest–coupled with Suriname’s consistent fresh water supply (this place has not one but two rainy seasons)–means the country is home to astonishing biodiversity. As recently as 2013, scientific expeditions uncovered 60 potentially previously unknown species. 1,378 species were recorded in total. Just a glimpse at the website Biodiversity Database Suriname showed me 5 species of armadillo, 2 sloths (super jazzed about getting a glimpse of those guys!), 6 big cats (including a jaguarundi), 715 birds, and 36 frogs.
  7. This is opinion rather than fact, but Suriname is also the only other place I’ve lived that could almost compete with Ireland for overall greenness of scenery. I still think the “Emerald Isle” wins out, but the race is a close one.
shark
It can be hard to feel at home right away in a new place. But with a few of my comfort measures, I’m set: a good book, wine, and my trusty surfing shark pal.

Truthfully, it’s hard to imagine a spot more diametrically opposed to China than where we’re living now. But as much adjusting as we’ll have to do before this new place feels like home, I think we’re ready for the literal change in scenery. And I have full confidence that our current habitat will offer some excellent new blog material. So stay tuned!

(Featured image property of Fabian Vas Experience.)
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