Organic tea farm “Pikin Sranan”, Lelydorp, Suriname

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My first visit and interview for my blog brought me to the organic farm (“biofarm” in Dutch) and beautiful gardens of Mr. Dennis Tauwnaar and his organisation “Pikin Sranan” (which means “Little Suriname” in Sranan Tongo, besides Dutch probably the most spoken language in Suriname). Here in this little paradise, about 45 minutes south of Paramaribo, Dennis- with the help of two other women – is growing a large variety of tea trees and is processing their leaves into several kinds of organic tea.

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In order to give interested people the opportunity to visit his farm, Dennis regularly offers a guided tour through his farm, followed by a healthy, local lunch. On this morning I am thus listening to the explanations and stories of Dennis, surrounded by 16 other women (who are part of a women’s group from Paramaribo) that are as curious as I am to know more about Dennis’ work and the positive effects of the plants and trees in his garden.
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In his garden one can find the following tee trees and other fruits or vegetable species such as:
– Moringa Olifeira (a tree species originally from North India)
– Marva green tea
– Montji cherry
– Papaya
– Bittermelon
– Soursop
– among others
out of which he makes delicious, organic tea.
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To do so, he cuts and dries the leaves as well as small stems (see picture): for the drying process nothing more is needed than a few hours of Surinamese sunshine, provided every day for free by the sun over Suriname.
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Drink good, feel good
!

All of the teas in Dennis’ garden have special properties and health benefits, e.g. are full of antioxidants (that today’s health addicts are all craving for), are beneficial against hyper tension or diabetes.
As Dennis explains to this morning’s visitors, Moringa can be counted as one of the ‘super foods’, since it possesses more than 81 different antioxidants, all of the existing eight amino acids and is a real vitamins boost.
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After hearing this I am suddenly enjoying even more the tea offered by Dennis!

Besides tea, he is also selling 100% organic coconut oil and Moringa powder , which can also be used for cooking (I personally sprinkle it over my oatmeal in the morning).

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The fruits and vegetables growing in his garden, Dennis uses for his and his team’s own consumption as well as ingredients for the lunch offered to his visitors.
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All of his products are sold under the brand “Bun Sani”, either directly at his farm, in Paramaribo city or is even exported to Holland via the fair trade network.

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A “food rebel”

Dennis definitely is a “one in a kind”. He is 59 years old and still full of rebellious ideas that challenge the current agricultural production system as well as consumption patterns of people in Suriname today.
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In an interview with Parbode magazine (May 2014 edition), he said that people “eat trash” – due to today’s food culture that promotes a lot of unhealthy food, but that we nevertheless find very tasty or more convenient.

We have become slaves of the supermarkets.

Examples for this are easy to find: fast food and other processed foods with high sugar or salt content. In his opinion we have become “slaves of the supermarkets”: addicted to food that is easy to obtain and to prepare, while we often do not even know what’s inside of what we eat.

Food transparency

Since the sale and use of pesticides is legal in Suriname, but no regulation has been put in place to force producers to declare those pesticides as part of the ingredients list, he is lobbying for full food transparency and he himself is not using any pesticides at all (at least during his part of the production chain).
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The beginning of the Eco-Travel Rally 2014: French Guiana to Suriname (Cayenne – Paramaribo)

Time flies! I’m already well beyond two weeks of my travels and I still haven’t written a single word… my apologies for that!! Honestly, I have been caught up by meeting a looooot of interesting people working in the environmental field in Suriname. Then I spent a really inspiring and peaceful week in the interior of Suriname (will write more about this later!), so I came back to Paramaribo (and internet connection!) only yesterday. So, here we go now with my first real blog entry:

So, what has been happening since I left Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, on July 8, 2014?

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(For those who know little about French Guiana: it is a French overseas department, thus officially being a part of France and thus part of the European Union (“outermost region”). So, yes, we pay in Euros over there and have to follow European norms and regulations as if it was in Paris, although the territory lies in the tropical Amazon! French Guiana has a population of about 250.000 inhabitants for a territory of 83 846 km2 (which is about the size of Austria!). This means it has a population density of only about 3 inhabitants per km2! (although the vast majority of people live along the coastal plain – which leaves the interior almost uninhabited, other than by indigenous people, some maroons villages and, of course, the Brazilian gold-miners).

I left  Cayenne by hitch-hiking. Hitch-hiking is generally working very well in French Guiana: you get easily taken and normally waiting times are not so long. This is important, since depending on the season you might either get grilled in the sun (dry season) or soaked in a hurricane-like heavy rainfall (during the rainy season) or both in a row, since even during rainy season (which, luckily, is now getting to an end) it is not raining constantly, but only temporarily (and then pretty heavily!).

So, I was lucky that I got picked up just before the heavy rainfalls. I did a one night stay over in Kourou at my friend’s Erlande (who’s working there at the European Space Center). Arriving at Kourou I got to watch only the second half of the semi-final of the football world cup: Germany vs. Brasil. Already after 45 minutes a score of 5:0 for my national team!!! Germany finally one 7:1, what a match!

The next day I continued on the road to the West of French Guiana: still about 200km until Saint Laurent du Maroni. I got taken by a friendly trucker called Julien (originally from Martinique, but living in French Guiana for more than 30 years now). Besides the usual marriage proposals, we also talked about music, how he thinks that all Surinamese are robbers and each time he threw out his empty plastic bottles on the road, I tried to raise  the question why he doesn’t throw them in the bin later on, I just got the answer that with his tax money people are paid to clean up the road sides and that we need to create those jobs and when I asked him what would happen to that waste if it doesn’t get cleaned up, he just gave me the look “it’s always you white people that keep nagging about this environmental stuff”. :~

Two and a half hours later we got to Saint Laurent du Maroni, border town with Suriname. Saint Laurent has become famous as penal town and its prison where famous prisoners such as Papillon got deported to and arrested in between 1858 and 1946 after having been accused of crimes in mainland France. Entering the city always gives you a first taste of Suriname: there are many maroon people living and working there, so  trousers are usually worn very low and dreads are a common hairstyle!

After going through the French border control (where I was, once again, being congratulated on the German victory over Brazil the night before), I took a boat (“pirogue”, for  4 Euros if you take the semi-official boats that are equipped with life vests) to Albina, the Surinamese boarder town on the other  side of the Maroni River that separates French Guiana and Suriname.

on the Maroni River heading in a small boat to Albina

At the Suriname border control I met my future husband! Well, at least that’s what the border police officer in charge at the passport control proposed me in exchange for stamping my papers. For explanation: I was missing some information on my tourist card” that I already had bought a few months earlier at the Suriname embassy in Cayenne. Apparently the embassy changed some procedures and now it is necessary to have your name and passport number written on your tourist card. Without that I could not let me enter Suriname, according to the police officer, and I should go back to Saint Laurent, go to the Consulate there, and let them add those information on my tourist card. I was evidently not very amused by that proposal (requiring me to go back and forth, each time paying the boatman) and I asked him whether there would not be a possibility to solve things differently?! That’s when I got my marriage proposal: “So when I lose my job because of you (in case his boss would find out that he’d let me through customs without the proper procedure), at least you will be my wife!” So, this has then officially been the first time I have been bribing an official: with my phone number that I gave to the police officer in exchange for the official stamp and visa in my passport!!! Of course (or should I say “luckily”?!) no one checked my papers on the road to Albina, and so my marriage will still have to wait for some time (and that police guy will have to find someone else to marry, too)!

The 160km from Albina to Paramaribo are easy to be travelled on. I took a shared taxi (20euros per person, you might also find for 15e if you’re a good negotiator. Otherwise there’s also a public bus at about 8 SRD (approx. 2Euros!), but you need to fight your way through the hustlers and be lucky, that I’ll will fill up quickly, so that you don’t need to wait too long), since hitch-hiking does not seem to be a feasible option on that road where only taxis and buses drive and few individual transport takes place. This road used to be dirt road, but has been completely asphalted since early 2014. Nevertheless, we passed a road strip of about 100m length that had completely collapsed – apparently, this is part of the construction works carried out by Chinese contractors – quality is not their cup of tea…

While green has been the dominant color on this 1,5hours road trip through Eastern Suriname’s rain forests, blue and grey dominated the color scheme when arriving to Paramaribo: it was raining heavily and due to the poor drainage system, the city was flooded in many areas. Our taxi thus got a car wash for free!

floodings in Paramaribo

In Paramaribo I am staying at a friend’s who I met during my consultancy missions when I still used to work in Cayenne. “Parbo” how I prefer to call Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, is a multi-ethnic and very dynamic city. I personally really like Parbo for its very friendly and welcoming people, for its very good vegetarian food (thanks to the huge Indian and Indonesian (“Javanese”) community to whom tofu, tempeh and delicious vegetable dishes are something very common and not “from out of space” as it seems to many French people and cooks!), for its beautifully restored (but not always well maintained) UNESCO world heritage classified downtown with its wooden houses and amazing cathedral and much more.

paramaribo downtown

The following days I spent on identifying people I could interview for my blog (which will soon be posted) as well as to prioritize what kind of sightseeing I still want to do in and outside Parbo (I will provide some info on that too later on).

Bu next I will provide you with an introduction to Suriname and a quick overview on the main environmental issues the country is facing, so that you have some clearer idea on what kind of country I am actually traveling in.