I’ll be honest upfront – I had not heard of the South American nation called Suriname before I accepted a job there. I always thought that Suriname was the name of the Project, not the country. As someone who likes to boast about my geographical knowledge, this is somewhat embarrassing. To the people of Suriname, I recommend some serious PR to raise your profile as so far my impressions are of a beautiful country, with generous people, a fascinating history and an enviable global location (aside from the flights in and out which are few and poorly scheduled).
As my first entry to diarise my experiences, I will try keep this brief but hopefully informative for all those that are interested in learning more. This format and website is new to me so let’s see how well I can use it and communicate the message. Here we go…
The journey to Suriname was long, tiring, and testing of my travel skills. Perth to Hong Kong (cause Cathay Pacific was the cheapest 1 way fare to LA) to Los Angeles (overnighted) to Miami to Aruba (overnighted due to work making an incorrect flight booking) to Paramaribo (landed at 1am, overnighted in a nice hotel) to the Merian gold mine construction project site (4 hour car ride south and towards the French Guyana border) arriving at 2pm.
24 hrs in Aruba was enough to check out the high rise hotel district and wander around town. Not sure I would like to return here. Didn’t really excite me, but that could also have been the head cold and general confusion over what time it was. Paramaribo (or Parbo for short) is an attractive capital city with a few hundred thousand people, world heritage listed with lots of Dutch influence from the colonial days. Inevitably I find myself comparing back to Ghana as my only other international working experience, but really there aren’t many comparisons between this part of Sth America and West Africa. Here is a wide mix of races, clean air, fewer people, less confusion, more organisation and higher wealth.
Why am I here, how and what’s the deal? Well, I am glad you asked. I’m still trying to figure that out myself. The last month or so of life has been a whirlwind where I felt almost sucked into a vortex and now spat out typing this in Miami Beach after my first rotation. Bit dramatic, but that imagery makes for good reading. I left Perth Monday 6 October 2014, and prior to that was a series of appointments to get organised for the trip and job. Prior to that was 7 months off working after finishing up my last job in February. That time off was fantastic overall. The last couple of months a bit monotonous looking for work and thinking about what the next career move would be. I guess this relaxing time explains a fair bit of why the busy last month has been such a gear change for me. Like pressing the power button. It’s hard to think about it much when you’re in the middle of the ride, and that’s why I’ve done very little the last couple of days and I think it is beneficial to write this to take stock and think “wow, did all that just happen” and “how fortunate I am to finish one 3 yr assignment, have 7 months off, and be in South America working on another rewarding international assignment”. And South America was the goal for my next career move. Ideally a Spanish speaking one, not Dutch. But if that is the only box not ticked, then who am I to complain? Doing a 23 days on, 19 days off roster in a warm tropical country on the edge of the Caribbean working as the most senior environmental person on site is a career move I’ll take any day. I worked hard for a decade (and years of study before that) to position myself for these opportunities. Calculated and knowing that if I worked hard and with focus, the rewards will be there for me. Taking those 7 months off was the best thing I could’ve done: to re-energise, reconnect with my goals, live life, meet great people. A year or so ago, I really thought I wanted to give it up and get out of mining, get out of environmental, find a new career where I could do the 9 to 5 without care. I still aspire to branch out eventually and do something different, but not for the same negative motivation I had at that time. So that brings me in a round about way to reflecting on Suriname, the new job, the new life chapter, and the new memories. Here is a list of random observations that I noted down over the last few weeks:
- Songs on radio that are from today. So far no Celine Dion like in Ghana!
- Airport far out of main town. 30 mins before hit significant buildings.
- Fast food place in hotel lobby.
- Hotel pool actually looks swimable and breakfast had variety.
- Travel brochures in hotel that have tourist sites I’d actually be interested in seeing
- Road to site brilliant for first 2 hrs, then dirt road that’s bumpy to the point you can’t read or type. Apparently much better than a month ago though.
- The site exploration camp is like a shanty town. The facilities are shared, basic, like a 2 star caravan park.
- Site is half hr drive from exploration camp
- Saw a monkey
- Significant small scale mining everywhere. Called porknockers.
- Drive on left
- Showers are raw water harvested from roofs but looks clean, drinking water is bottled.
- Food is good. First night I had duck but all bones. Beef is imported. Chicken is common.
- Bar has small selection. Nice setting. No mosquito protection. More nationals than expats there when I went on first night. My intent is to avoid the bar.
- Must take laundry to laundry people to wash and then pick up yourself. I spent 3 days trying to pick up my washing only to realise I was looking for the wrong bag cause I forgot that I’d changed rooms and needed to look for the new room number. Searching through all the laundry bags is a highlight. Especially when I inadvertently started trawling through the dirty laundry bags and the woman had to stop me. oops.
- Showered with a frog on second night.
- Little spiders, bugs and lizards everywhere
- The site vehicles are new hilux and have electric windows and Bluetooth stereo. And machete. Hmmm.
- The forest is impressively dense. And trees are ridiculously tall.
- Terrain is very steep in places with deep valleys
- Forgot my black tea leaves. Here they only have Lipton tea bags nooooooo.
- The work mobile phones are from the days when Jesus walked the Earth. Screen is the size of a postage stamp. But I’m since told that smartphones on way coming…. Android. Yay.
- Work email account is powered by Gmail.
- Windows 8 computers and I’ve got a really good laptop. Nice way for me to experiment with this before buying a new personal one. But it keeps crashing. Argh.
- I have 7 staff. 3 senior, 4 junior. Plus 2 vacancies. All great people and I feel the makings of a great team – the rossification has begun. The juniors are all African descendants. Very interested in asking about my time in Ghana and the language.
- The work is interesting, the people good and lots of opportunity for me to contribute value. So far so good.
- No goats, but stray dogs everywhere.
- Internet access is available in wifi and just got a lot better and reliable with upgrade to link going to city. But still slow and drops often. Lots sites blocked. I bought a private SIM to get open net. But it is still slow; will try a different phone company next rotation.
- Power outlets are USA style
- A mosquito borne virus (Chikungunya) is spreading quickly through the country – I really don’t want this and cover up as much as possible.
- Although the new camp has much better facilities, I am in 2 minds about requesting to move there. Because they don’t have internet in room until late November. I value my internet so think I put that above nicer room and nearly private bathroom (share with neighbour). Plus my office is at exploration camp so I’d have half hr commute there and back if at construction camp. I value sleep and my personal time so don’t like this idea.
- Instead of moving to new camp, I luckily was moved to a new room in Exploration Camp that is bigger, better furniture, better air con. But…on first night, my bed collapsed when trying to put suitcase under it!! It made such a loud noise that my neighbour started yelling at me through the wall. I called Matt for help to put the bed back together. Hilarious moment. Actually there have been many funny moments and I haven’t laughed so much at work in a long time. Great to work with humorous people who I connect almost instantly with.
And so there you go. First entry complete. Good to get that out there. And for all those that have patiently waited for an update, thank you for waiting while I got myself sorted. I appreciate your interest, thoughts and well wishes. All is good and I look forward to taking you on the adventure.