A Day in the Life of Keba Fitzgerald
- South America, Suriname
I am one of those curious Peace Corps Volunteers who lives a dual life. I live and work both in the capital city, Paramaribo, and in a village in the interior rain forest of Suriname. So my typical days vary greatly.
When I am in the city, I wake up early and either carpool, ride my bike, or take a bus to work. Certainly, transportation can be quite eventful. The buses are loud and chaotic—we call them Boom Buses because of the loud, thumping stereos that pump reggae, salsa, or samba music into the streets. Initially, bike riding was a scary ordeal, given that there are no bike lanes (or painted car lanes for that matter!). But after a while, I learned how things work here and now it doesn't seem so unusual.
Working at the office is very much like working in a village—there are certain greetings you must know how to give, everyone knows each other, and gossip is rampant. Most people speak Dutch and English, although casual conversations occur in Sranan Tongo. The workday is very relaxed, and it can be hard to adjust to the slower pace. I have to let go of the American work-ethic anxiety that pops into my head telling me, "If I am not working on something every second, then I am not being productive." I reflect on that aspect of my personality a lot!
In a developing nation, there can be a lot of unpredictable happenings: torrential downpours in the rainy season that translate into "You are going to be late for that appointment across town because no one dares to go out in this weather"; endless parades of buses already so full that you may stand at the bus stop for an hour hoping for one to stop; recurrent power outages that bring the entire office to a screeching halt; the flippant nature of the water supply (my housemate and I have learned not to depend on it in the afternoon hours. The taps are dry, so we have two big buckets of water we store in our house for those occasions); and meetings that never start at the designated time because "Suriname time" is very different from "American time."
When I am living in my village in the interior rain forest, I share it with a group of 25 national park employees—98 percent of whom are male. Most of the workers are Saramaccan Maroon villagers from a nearby village. Most conversations are in Saramaccan Tongo or Sranan Tongo, and a limited number are in Dutch and English. The villagers bring to the park community a distinct flavor of village life. Here there are more stringent guidelines for how and when to greet people, and if you don't do it right, they will let you know! In the park, we only have electricity at night from a generator. If we run out of gas, everyone just goes to bed early. Water, too, can be unpredictable—we have to pump it from the storage tanks to the tower. In the dry season, we run dangerously low on potable water since the creeks and storage tanks are nearly dry.
Whether I am working in the capital city or in the rain forest, each day is an adventure full of new surprises. I am enjoying my work in Suriname and look forward to sharing my experiences with you!