Guyanese Vital In Suriname
GUYANESE are almost everywhere in Suriname and at times it was difficult not to imagine one was back home among countrymen. They are traders going into the country. They are traders loaded with crates of onions, garlic, cartons of tomato paste, bottles of cooking oil and a variety of consumer durables, coming out of the country.
Meeting the latter on the ferry from Nickerie was a jolt, as many of the items they shouldered and jostled to get on board are scarce and hard to come by in the country. But enquiries revealed that the items could be bought in bulk (with US dollars exchanged at the Nickerie bank for Suriname guilders) at what are called 'Intransit' businesses in Nickerie.
Guyanese are also about 80 per cent of Suriname's fishermen and they are vital to the lone sugar estate and factory at Marienburg, east of Paramaribo, where the bulk of the labour in the fields and factory is made up of Guyanese.
The majority of the between 30,000-40,000 Guyanese working and living in Suriname are in the building and construction industries and some hare fallen on hard times because of the economic decline triggered by falling foreign currency earnings. Some carpenters, masons and other artisans say jobs are hard to come by because of a shortage of building materials and they work at anything to try to earn the 200 guilders a week they say they need to "live."
Sundays at the Dr. Snellen Park in Paramaribo belong to Guyanese. The Park is a cricket ground, complete with pavilion and dressing rooms and the hundreds of Guyanese who flock there on weekends to watch matches (between teams made up of almost 99.9 percent Guyanese of course) use the occasion to meet and transact business and begin or conclude deals.
Families also trek there to meet relatives and friends and the beers and the food flow freely during and after the games. One wit shouted: "All dem Guyana man ah come to Suriname foh meet up!" The scene at the Park at cricket matches is a complete transplant of a Guyana cricket club ground. The cries are the same — 'Bowl the ball fast man!' Run he out! 'Stroke, boy, stroke.'
One cabinet-maker said, "Guyanese are happy over here. Those who say they are suffering, are lazy. They only want the happy side of it." Many are hard-working, they say, but while integration in Suriname society has progressed, some feel some Surinamese are distrustful and envious of the industrious Guyanese. It is tough for some and the memories of harsh treatment of some Guyanese by the military police several months ago are still fresh.
No one I met complained of recent harsh treatment by the military and Commander Desi Bouterse who confirmed a recent case of harsh treatment of a Guyanese by the military police said "corrective measures have been taken."
The Guyanese community in Nickerie wants a branch of the Guyana Embassy set up there or regular visits by an embassy official to handle renewals of passports and the issuing of birth certificates, and other documents, because they are restricted in moving out of Nickerie if they are only temporary residents.
Guyanese are also vital to the rice and oil palm industries in Suriname and in government departments several are in key jobs. Two young Guyanese men, over there for several years, on their way to Guyana for a flying visit with relatives, said they like life in Paramaribo.
"I work hard and I can make more money over here than I can in Guyana and I am not thinking about going back," one said.
A carpenter who is hard put to find regular jobs said he is thinking about returning to Guyana but he does not want to come back empty-handed. "Ah want to have something to show, like a TV set or so, that ah mek it over here," he said.
Those who are even thinking about returning are in the minority and for the majority greater hope seems to lie in the place they seem to have made a home away from home.