The Ecphorizer

Letter from Suriname
Katherine Mitchell

Issue #17 (January 1983)

Coping in the Third World

Editor's Note [1983]: Katharine is a Mensan from the Bay Area who became a Foreign Service Officer. After her first serendipitous 2-year stint in Switzerland, she was rotated to Paramaribo, Suriname. This account is edited from letters she has sent back.

...American technicians are here to install alarm systems, cameras, etc.

style="font-weight: bold;"> [quoteright]20 October 1982. I'll try to get some first impressions down. The flight from Miami last Saturday left about three hours late and we had an hour's stop in Caracas to pick up passengers from Curacao, since the Curacao-Paramaribo flights are not operating at the moment. That meant we arrived Sunday at about 1:00 a.m. I was met by the Embassy's communications officer, Carl. This is his second post, too. His first was Antananarivo, and Paramaribo looks very good after that. He and his wife, Sue, are enjoying it very much.

They took me to the Torarica Hotel, probably the nicest in town, resort style with lots of grounds and a pool area. It is not convenient to the Embassy, but I will probably be moving into a house quite quickly.

Carl and Sue came for me about 2:00 in the afternoon, and we went to take a look at the Chancery. There are still a lot of projects going on, so I will have plenty to do. We then went to see some houses. The one I'll take is the one my predecessor thought was best for me. There is a grocery store, a butcher favored by the European community, a pharmacy, a newsstand, a bank, and a couple of restaurants very near. I'll try to replace the house when I go, as there are some features that other people find disturbing. The street is busy and noisy, the yard is essentially unimproved (bare expanse of sandy ground), and there is no hot water in the bathrooms except in one shower. All that doesn't bother me. The house itself is huge, with a big kitchen, outside storage and laundry buildings, an enormous dining and living area, a den/library, and, on the second floor, three fairly small bedrooms and two baths. There is no tub, but the shower stalls are third-world style: a largish part of the room set off by shoulder height tile walls. The place has lovely hardwood floors and some very nice carved panels under the hand rail on the stairs. With my sofa bed and a couple of borrowed beds in the den, I will be able to put up all eight of the people who seem to want to visit in February 1984.

21 October 1982. Well, one week is gone. I am at the Embassy on a Saturday (surely not for the last time) partly to catch up a bit more, and partly because American technicians are here to install alarm systems, cameras, etc. That involves a lot of drilling and pounding which they are trying to accomplish as much as possible during off-duty hours before the Ambassador returns. He's coming in Monday evening.

30 October 1982. I didn't expect a whole week to go by before I could continue with this. Mainly I've just been busy, but there've also been some political goings-on that have had an impact on us. There have been strike actions disrupting service at the airport, closing banks, gas stations, stores, etc. Most fun so far was Thursday when the power was shut down in a large part of the city, including the Chancery and the Ambassador's residence, for about six hours. It came on again shortly after dark. When you lose power, you also just about lose water. The city's water pressure is very low, and electric pumps boost it for use. Stoves and water heaters are fueled with bottled gas.

The reason I'm at work today, instead of getting settled, is that the Ambassador was called in to the Foreign Ministry this morning. Daal, the labor leader, whose supporters have called the various strike actions, is out of favor with the leader of the government, Colonel Bouterse. He was in, out of, and back in captivity over the last few days. Now, it seems someone would like to accuse us of meddling with their business. I don't know how serious it is, but we have to try to be prepared. Maurice Bishop, of Grenada, has been visiting Suriname since last Thursday, and should leave Monday. Possibly a lot of this brouhaha is related to that.

Wednesday night ten of us, including a visiting Brit from Georgetown and the two American technicians, went out for rijstafel, That's the Dutch colonial/Indonesian spread, like an elaborate Chinese meal. We had a garlicky beef soup, into which you could put a very hot sauce. None of the other dishes were especially fiery. There were two rice dishes: one like fried rice with bits of meat, egg, scallion, etc, and one topped with toasted coconut. There was shrimp fried in batter and served with a sweet sauce. Egg rolls, and some hard poached eggs in a patty shape covered with a tomatoey sauce, very good. Two kinds of chicken dishes: one of normal pieces in a dark sauce, one of little deep fried balls, almost sweet/sour. Two kinds of sate, meat on little skewers: one of ground meat, one very tender pieces of beef with a good sauce. The most interesting was a vegetable dish, involving green beans and some sort of sprouts among other things, served on a bed of peanut sauce and covered with banana chips. I really liked that! Dessert was fried bananas. We were out of doors, the table lit with candles, so I really couldn't see. I'll have to try such a meal in daylight, so I can do more accurate research. We all enjoyed it. The bugs weren't bad, but I learned that normal practice is to spray your legs before you go out. Next time.

15 November 12. The gal I hired to help around the house has discovered that she is pregnant. She was all worried that I wouldn't want her to stay on. As far as I'm concerned, working for me is a good, light job for a pregnant lady to have. I told her to plan to keep it up as long as she feels like it, and we'll go from there. That's likely to be a good four or five months. She's a Surinamer, in her late 20s, but she spent eleven years in Guyana, so her English is excellent. I've been impressed with her calm, responsible attitude, and she seems to care about cleanliness more than I do. That is really a plus here. If it were left to me, the place would probably be a haven for all manner of pests. The only thing I can fault is her passion for symmetry. She finds a real joy in "arranging" things. Certainly nothing I can get upset about.

PS: Oh joy, oh rapture. Our language program is getting funded, even to permitting one officer to take lessons in Sranang Tongo. The Suriname government is starting to use it a lot in speeches. 

In 1977 she spent three months trekking across the Middle East from Cairo to Delhi.  She liked it so much she joined the Foreign Service. About Rijstafel Rijstafel is a Dutch word {rice + table} describing an Indonesian dinner.  Wikipedia has a bit of info but you have to overlook the misspelling (rijsttafel). About "Sranang Tongo" It's an English Creole language spoken in Suriname.  Wikipedia can provide further information.

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