Warm bath, cold beer

Searching for a souvenir that reflects our time in Suriname best – a Parbo beercap, I hear a familiar voice on my left. I look up and see, from a 4wd that is hopelessly stuck in the busy traffic of Paramaribo, a cheerful smiling and waving Alberto. In addition to being a self-made biologist, anthropologist, political scientist and linguist, Alberto is also the manager of Isadou, a holiday paradise on the Upper Suriname River. How nice to see him again!

A week earlier we’re sitting on the steps of Isadou Island, together with Steve and Helena. While Steve and Laurens make childish, but oh so funny, jokes (I must be in love), a parrot flies over. It lands on the tree right next to us. Moments later, a toucan lands, and then another, and another! Helena and I spontaneously become enthusiastic birdwatchers. We leave the joking of our men for what they are and watch, breathless – and occasionally producing a small excited sound – at the colorful birds.

At Isadou our self-made man Alberto teaches us to see and listen sharply. He teaches us how the communication tree can save lives, which palm tree provides the best material for the traditionally built houses, which plants can be used for tea, which are toxic and which have a potential to increase potency. His sharp eye shows us tiny frogs and chameleons. He points out spiders as small as a pinhead – and some as large as your hand. He shows us caymans, ibises, parrots and squirrel monkeys. He takes us to the Maroon village of Jaw Jaw, talks about the political situation in Suriname and lets us enjoy the Surinamese food culture. He teaches us that the word “bè” within his Maroon tribe has six different meanings, depending on intonation. Good example of complexity. With my murmuring dialect, that would definitely go wrong. His village would be in a permanent state of alarm due to imminent danger, while I was only asking for a loaf of bread. So I stick to the three unambiguous (and also self-made) words that we learn from him and that we will use for weeks, months, maybe years: Hammocking, Sulating and Parborating. That deserves explanation.

Hammocking can be guessed. Laying in your hammock after a day of work, or just, because it’s possible. Hammocking, that’s what they do well here. Just about every house has a beautiful hammock, often filled with a relaxed-looking Surinamese. “No spang” people. Nice. We participate in this tradition – very relaxed.

Sulating is just as relaxed. The sula is a rapid in the river. And for the Maroons who live along the river it is an important place. It supplies them with clean water, clean laundry and fresh fish. Moreover, it is a place to play, hang out and bathe. So to sulate. We think it is an excellent way to spend time, sulating in one of the whirlpools of the sula, and Hammocking at our temporary house on Isadou afterwards.

Consuming a cold Parbo in good company, Parborating, is, I must shamefully confess, our number one activity in Suriname. Doesn’t sound very culturally relevant, but is nice. Although, in terms of cultural accountability; wherever you look, the Parbo logo is never far away. Parbo is pretty much the national symbol. They could just as well replace the Surinamese flag with a Parbo beer mat, says Laurens. Parborating is very big in Suriname and because we don’t want to be spoilers, we join the game. The River Breeze in Domburg is – nine times out of ten – the scene of the crime. The restaurant serves as a living room for sailors and as a pub for the Dutch who have lived here for years. The regulars welcome us to their table where djogos (liter bottles Parbo) are shared as among brethren. While Parborating, people talk, work, gossip, laugh, cry, sing and dance.

Suriname is like taking a warm bath, with a cold Parbobeer on the side.