Tucked between French Guiana and its bigger neighbour Brazil, Suriname is perhaps a misplaced Latin American country—the population mostly speak Dutch (national language), Creole and Sranan— and culturally more Caribbean.
It has always been a popular destination among the Dutch, obviously because of historical reasons. Its tourism lives on Dutch travellers, but of late the country is trying to attract the Caribbean and Latin American neighbours. On Dutch television, Suriname is often presented with nostalgia—how the early Surinamese nurses came to the Netherlands; how the Dutch view the country during the colonial period and after the independence in 1975; or how the Dutch-Surinamese think of the country with so much love and sometimes heartache.
If I didn’t migrate to the Netherlands, I wouldn’t have known that Suriname even existed. It was slowly introduced to me via that green souvenir grocery bag that bears the emblems of the flag. My initiation was followed by numerous take-outs of roti and chicken and egg curry (which are so delicious) and a few features about Suriname on Dutch television. By my 7th year in the Netherlands, I decided not to let go of the chance to visit this country which has got my curiosity very early on.
Being in Suriname is like having both worlds. You can find all the Dutch products in the supermarket that you get the feeling you never left the Netherlands, yet the weather is tropical, very much the same with the country where I grew up. But what made my heart leap is the variety of vegetables and fruits you can find. Drinking fresh coconut, tamarind or guyabano (soursop) juice was a daily treat. I almost hear myself saying: I’m home!
Paramaribo, the capital and home to about 80 percent of around half million population, is like your typical well-loved kampong—laid-back, welcoming and unassuming and where a Muslim mosque sits next to a Jewish Synagogue. Although Westernisation has not spared the country, culture and heritage are very much alive. In the small city of you find monument after monument dedicated to people who became an important part of history. Food is another—as eclectic and diverse as its residents. You can have pancake or poppertjes for breakfast, roti and curry for lunch, nasi goreng for dinner and Parbo or Heineken beer for later.
Is it worth flying 9 hours there? It’s more than worth it. Being able to experience the heartbeat of Suriname, the rest of the tours—pink dolphin watching, plantation tours, kayaking, gliding, wildlife watching—are perhaps just icing on the cake.
(First appeared in HarlemExpats.nl)