It is Friday afternoon and it has been a long week of writing and researching.
“I’m going to lie down for a bit and listen to some music,” I tell Coen over lunch.
“After you do the dishes, I’m sure,” he responds, but with a smile. He has done the cooking so the dishes are mine. I’ve never had the discipline to do the dishes right after a meal, why would I do so now? The reason is simple: if I wait another twenty minutes or so, about a zillion ants will have beaten me to it, which is not exactly my idea of a proper dishwasher.
The spray can is working overtime; the ants and I are in serious combat to gain the upper hand. Hygiene is taken to another level. Leaving my spoon on the table, with which I just stirred sugar in my coffee, is punished immediately – the tabletop will soon be black. Ants were the cause of our first laptop to give up (they like the heat inside, and had eaten away the cool pad). Are they the reason for this laptop to have hiccups as well?
Done the dishes, been to the toilet. I lie down in the hammock strung on the one-meter wide veranda of our guest lodgings, which is part of Sukh Dhaam’s children’s home in Alkmaar (Sukh Dhaam means House of Happiness).
Sukh Dhaam: A Children’s home in Suriname
My main view is of the soccer field that belongs to the children’s home. A large part of the day it is occupied by playing kids and at night by men from the village. They never seem to tire of the game. Beyond the soccer field is the primary school. Like the children’s home, it belongs to the EBG (Evangelische Broedergemeente = Community of Moravian Brethren), a Christian community that is widely present in Suriname and has founded many schools and children’s homes during the past three centuries.
The teachers are selected by the EBG but paid by the government. The school is open to other children from the village and surrounding areas as well. Once the children go to high school they have to take the bus to Tamanredjo or Paramaribo.
Behind me are the church, sleeping quarters, kitchen and dining areas. There are about 65 children living here. While the word children’s home implies they are orphans, this is hardly ever the case in Suriname. Most children’s homes (of which there are many in this country) accommodate children from socially deprived families.
In most cases this means there is no father present or, if there is one, he is often drunk and/or violent. By sending children to these boarding schools, the parents know their kids will grow up in more disciplined surroundings and have a better chance of finishing their education.
Sukh Dhaam was founded 95 years ago by Danish EBG members. Mr. and Mrs. Salamat have been the caretakers of this children’s home for more than 30 years. Both were raised here, and are the first Surinamese to run it. While many children’s homes often make the newspapers due to scandals (among others, of sexual nature) and fraudulent activities, Sukh Dhaam has a spotless reputation.
Daily Routine at Sukh Dhaam
The place is clean, the children are properly dressed and very polite. They have a disciplined schedule. One day, when doing the laundry, 10-year old Stephanie helped me out. It is one of those laundry machines that you have to manually fill up with water, then you wait for 15 minutes for the washing to be done, take out the clothes to spin-dry while refilling the machine with water for a rinsing cycle, and then spin-dry again.
I asked Stephanie about her daily schedule. Enthusiastically and at an amazing speed she rattled off her daily order of activities. I may have missed one or two aspects, but it came down to:
- I wake up.
- I do my chores.
- I get dressed.
- We sit together and talk about God, and sing and pray.
- We have breakfast.
- We pray.
- We sit together under the lean-to. Two of us stand on the side of the road to wait for our teacher who will arrive by bus.
- With the teacher we walk to school and have class.
- We sing and pray.
- We have lunch.
- We pray.
- We lie down for a while.
- We work: chores and homework. Every day I will fill up both washing machines with water so they can be immediately used early in the morning by the woman who does the laundry. (I have noticed that boys have to maintain the grounds and vegetable gardens).
- We sit together to sing and pray.
- We have dinner.
- We pray.
- We go to our rooms.
- Small children go to bed, the older children do their homework.
I’ve noticed the black clouds, but still, the deafening sound coming down all around me comes as a surprise. Heaven opens up all its sluices. I’m surrounded by a gray wall, somewhat on a slant. The overhanging roof isn’t enough to prevent my getting sprayed or even from rain coming in through the open windows. The noise is deafening. The soccer field is suddenly empty. Voices of shouting and fighting boys have fallen silent.
No more lizards scurrying across the veranda or little white-black birds hopping through the grass. The world is dominated by a tremendous downpour. Listening to music has become impossible, as is talking in a normal voice. The rain drowns out any other sound.
The car park in front of the veranda is turning into a swimming pool with yellow water. The soil consists of the kind of clay that sticks to your flip-flops when you try to walk on it – even hours after the rain shower. Arie, our neighbor, told us that at times he needs 4WD to get out of the parking lot. I look at our Land Cruiser with a pang of nostalgia. Due to inadequate work done in Bolivia only last year, rust is working its way all over the place.
Rainstorms are powerful but short-lived, as is typical in the tropics. As I wrap up this story I can open the windows again. I hear the first voices of the boys from the children’s home again. Soon they’ll be back on the soccer field. On the fence of the field sits a yellow-brown feathered bem-ti-vi, as the bird is called in Brazil. I like the name: “good to see you”. A few more drops and the rain has stopped. It’s time for that nap.