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Friday, August 22, 2014

Back on the Banana Boat or Mykel's Caribbean Blog Chapter 18

by Mykel Board

ENTRY EIGHTEEN
Nov, 2013

[Recap: From the start, it doesn't look good for this trip. Everything goes right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.

Easy subletter in New York... smooth flight to Miami... promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport”... $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news early, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) Miami goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem is a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets are rivers... waves in the pool. I get wet. Very wet.

Then to Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport and take me drinkin'-- and more drinking. It doesn't rain so much in Trinidad.

Then to Guyana.

In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. The two weeks of my stay in Guyana are adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rains. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.

I don't get it Mykel,” says my pal Jamal. “This isn't the rainy season.”

Rainman,” I say.

He still doesn't get it.

The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. Two drummers agreed to tour with us. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. The now former-friend doesn't answer emails. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway-- drummerless. It works out.

In Suriname, I stay with Jose, a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. They cook for me every day. I'm the guest of honor. It rains a lot.

Then it's on to French Guyana, where the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie. His name is Florian.

I take a small boat across the river that separates French Guiana from Suriname. The captain lets me choose my port of entry: “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. At customs, I annoy the white immigration officers by asking for a passport stamp. It's raining.

My first days in French Guyana are distress free... unless you count the bottom paddling I get from my friends' spare bicycle. I have one of the best days of the entire trip: canoeing through the Amazon with Florian as my French guide. Chased by dogs, paddle-blistered hands, bitten by mosquitoes, stuck in the roots of swamp trees... it's wonderful.

The only thing better, I'm told, will be THE CARNIVAL... an all night festival my hosts and their friends have been working on for months.

It's the night of the big carnival... the party... the festival... what everyone's been waiting for. And it rains... pours... torrents of rain... non-stop. A field of dreams turned into mud. Ankle deep.... calf deep... knee deep... gooey... drenching mud. Soul destroying... depressing mud. My fine hosts have their plans dashed... and they've got a grumpy guest on top of it. It's embarrassing how bad I act after being treated so well. And it's coming to an end right now.]

Lucky thing too. I'm not often grumpy, but when I am.... loogout! The weather improves for my early morning trip to the ferry to Suriname. I check the guidebook to make sure I've got everything.

WARNING: All visitors to Suriname from French Guiana must have a ticket OUT of the country. A return ticket from another country is not valid.

SHIT! The only return ticket I have is my plane ticket from Guyana to Trinidad. That won't do at all. Ok, I have a plan: If I take the regularly scheduled ferry, I can buy a round-trip ticket and throw away the other half. It'll cramp my style a bit, because I can't take one of those cool banana boats... and it'll cost me some extra money. But it's a plan!

I arrive at the ferry terminal at 9AM. The ferry leaves at 12:30. Florian and Marie have to go to work... they drop me off early, and I wait. The terminal office isn't open yet. Outside is a wood booth-- sort of like a big police box... hexagonal... the inside about the size of my NYC apartment. Benches line the inside. On one of them lies a middle-aged man with very bad skin. On another, two men, both white... both jowly... sit, engaged in deep conversation... something about the nature of women. Most of their French I can't understand.

I take another bench, my bags on either side of me. I'm tired, worried about my offended hosts, worried about my lack of ticket out of Suriname, my clothes still wet from last night's fiasco at the carnival.

I slowly nod off... there is the sound of chains... a nightmare... cue the rotting corpses... rivers of blood... cue the vagina dentata ... no... It's not a dream. Eyes now open, a short white guy in green pants and a matching t-shirt (the Nigerian flag!) is pulling off the chains locking the ferry terminal. The others in my little wooden booth are gone. Picking up my pack and computer case, I climb down the few steps to the ground and walk into the ferry terminal.

A guard stands at the door between the concrete pier and the concrete immigration building. I flash my passport at him. He waves me past... into the ferry terminal. Through an outer yard into a waiting room. My fellow passenger on the banana boat sits next to me one on of the hard wood benches.

Before long, there are a few others: some women with a lot of packages, one turban-not-feather Indian man, who looks as tired as I am. There's also a very big, very black guy with a holstered gun. He is not sitting, but pacing up and down the room, like an expectant father.

Half of one wall of the room is a window into some kind of office. There are two desks with computer screens and lots of wooden in-boxes... most of them a filled with papers.

I check my watch. It's 10:00. Three and a half hours until the boat leaves. I read a Dutch novel about a guy whose son barbecued a homeless lady in a phone booth. Think about writing something. Look at my cellphone. (I don't have a watch.) Read some more. Think about writing some more. Read some. It's noon.

There is some new movement. In the office with the long window, a man enters. He wears what looks like an official uniform... all white with a black-brimmed red cap. I walk over to him.

C'est que vous parle Anglais?” I ask.

Yes,” he answers.

Can I buy ferry tickets from you?” I ask.

You can buy ferry tickets on the ferry,” he says. “You pay on the ferry. There are no tickets.”

No tickets on the ferry? That means no return tickets. That means no entry to Suriname. That means I can't get to Guyana. There are no direct flights from French Guyana to any of the other Guyanas. I'm stranded... fucked!

Ok, when the going gets tough, the wimps look for another way out.


I pick up my bags and head for the dock, leaving the ferry terminal. It's hot outside. Fucking hot. Hot like those days where the sweat collects along your back... forming little tributaries, rivulets that collect in a torrent... down your spine, over the coccyx, sliding through the gluteal crease to bathe in saltwater, that errant hemorrhoid.

International Trans-River Transportation
There! Next to the pier are a few of those banana boats... like the one I took here in the first place. Only one seems to be manned. A black guy in bright green shorts, wearing a yellow t-shirt (the colors of the Jamaican flag!)sits by the engine.


Vous voulez aller au Suriname?” I ask him.

Legal or backtrack?” he asks.

I consider. If I go the legal way, I may be denied entry, as I don't have a ticket out of the country. If I go the illegal way (backtrack), then I may have trouble LEAVING Suriname, because I won't have an entrance stamp. There are no banana boats to Guyana.

I make my decision.

Legal,” I say, figuring if they don't let me in, I can go back out and take the boat to some illegal port of entry.

Fifteen Euros,” he says. “Okay?”

Pourquoi parlez-vous avec moi en anglais?” I ask.

Because your French sucks,” he says.

I put my bags into the boat and climb over the freeboard... into the boat. The captain pulls a cord... like on a lawnmower motor... the engine starts. I can barely make out the Suriname entrance port on the other side of the Maroni River. That, however, is not where the captain heads his vessel.

We're off in the completely wrong direction. Right angles to the other shore... headed South when we should be headed West. This is a kidnapping... a ritual slaughter... a thrill kill. My floating body will wash up in on the Brazilian coast... my testicles will never be recovered.

I fall silent as the boat moves southward.

Moving closer to land... ahead is a bare rocky coast... looking like god piled up a bunch of boulders and let 'em slide... tumble one after the other... into the river. A man comes into view... climbing over the boulders toward the river... in one hand he has a briefcase. He's black... wears a blue suit and a white shirt with a bright red tie. (the colors of the Korean flag!) As the boat approaches, he waves to it with both hands over his head... a passenger in a sinking ship waving to a rescue plane... er... bad analogy.

The boat pulls up to the shore and the man climbs in with considerably more aplomb than I had. We're off again... this time in the right direction.

Before long, we've crossed the river and gotten out on the wide dock near Suriname customs. My new friend and I pay the captain, climb up the concrete pier and enter the customs and immigration area.

It's like a greenhouse surrounded by a small courtyard. There are benches in the courtyard, and an electric glass door that leads to the inner waiting room. We go through the glass door.

The room is freezing. The air conditioning is on with such force, I can see my breath. The sweat on my spine freezes to an icy sheen.

Next to me sits my friend from the boat. In a corner, a young woman presses an icepack to her jaw. Her face is bruised... swollen out of shape... There are welts on her arms. Somewhere, I bet, there's a man to report she “fell down the stairs.”

Slowly, she rocks back and forth, groaning. I try to concentrate on my book. It's hard to concentrate on burning homeless people with the blasting air conditioning and the bruised moaning woman.

I go outside. A man lies on a large metal container, sitting next to him... one arm over his body, a woman looks down at him. There is love in their eyes. When they hear me, they both turn and look at me. The love has left their eyes.

Too cold for you?” I ask.

The man nods and the couple return to their man-to-woman-to-man gazing.

Okay, it's getting too hot outside. I return to the refrigerated waiting room.

There is nobody new inside, except for a man in uniform speaking to the walloped woman.

Now, let me understand,” he says. “You entered French Guiana backtrack.”

She nods.

Then you were attacked in French Guiana, raped and beaten, your passport and money were stolen, and someone was nice enough to bring you back home by boat.”

She nods again.

Come with me,” he says.

The woman struggles trying to stand up. The uniformed man helps her to her feet. She stands and the two of them leave the refrigeration unit.

The man with the briefcase and I glance at each other. Both of us with raised eyebrows and a shrug.

Another uniformed man comes out and looks at our passports. He sends us to a window where a clerk stamps them ADMITTED TO SURINAME and the date. Yes! Back in the land of square coins!

Then, it's out the other side to figure out how to get from the terminal back to my friends in Paramaribo. It's not that difficult.

The rain starts.

-end-

[You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the RSS link at the bottom or by joining the Yahoo group for readers of Mykel Board's rants

You might also want to check the blog of Mykel Board's Columns .

WARNING: The Column Blog is neither PC nor PG. It might make you mad, or disgusted. The thin-skinned, politically correct, and easily sickened should stay away. You have been warned.

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! In an ultimately useless effort to rid myself of apartment junk, I'm giving away CDs, cassettes, VHS videos and more. Just pay separate shipping and handling. (sorry US addresses only). The details are here. ]

Sunday, July 06, 2014

NOAH IN (French) GUIANA or Mykel's Caribbean Blog Chapter 17

by Mykel Board


ENTRY SEVENTEEN
Nov, 2013

Noah in Guiana

[Recap: From the start, it doesn't look good for this trip. Everything goes right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.

Easy subletter in New York... smooth flight to Miami... promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport”... $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news before, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) Miami goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem is a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets are rivers... waves in the pool. I get wet. Very wet.

Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport and take me drinkin'-- and more drinking. Then, to South Trinidad... some fun adventures... meet a Goddess... er... Empress... of a girl. It doesn't rain so much in Trinidad.

Then off to Guyana.

In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's. This is the only time I have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150. Not bad. No, it doesn't go perfectly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country-- including Jamal. My trip to Kaiteur Falls in the jungle is-- at 741 feet-- a high point.

The two weeks of my stay in Guyana are adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rains. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.

I don't get it Mykel,” Jamal tells me. “This isn't the rainy season.”

Rainman,” I say.

He doesn't get it.

The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. Two drummers agreed to tour with us. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. The now former-friend doesn't answer emails. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway-- drummerless. It works out.

In Suriname, I stay with Jose, a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. They cook for me every day. I mention a local synagogue; they arrange a tour. I mention a trip to “the interior,” bang, we're there... surveying monkey meat. When dad can't do it, they get Jose, to chauffeur me; as if he doesn't have enough with schoolwork and his own band, ADHD He hopes for rain... It's an excuse to stay home. Often, there's rain.

Then it's on to French Guyana, where the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie. His name is Florian.

I take a small boat across the river that separates French Guiana from Suriname. The captain lets me choose my port of entry: “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. At customs, I annoy the white immigration officers by asking for a passport stamp. They give it to me and hustle me away. I'm hungry as shit and don't know where I am. It's raining.

What happens? Marie meets me on the road, helps me negotiate a ride with a French Guianan truck driver, and gets me to her place. Smooth as a baby's ass. The first morning is a crepe breakfast. Then a dip in the pool. Then, I donno. Everything is spot on... except for the rain.

My first days in French Guyana are distress free... unless you count the bottom paddling I get from my friends' spare bicycle. I have one of the best days of the entire trip: canoeing through the Amazon with Florian as my French guide. Chased by dogs, paddle-blistered hands, bitten by mosquitoes, stuck in the roots of swamp trees... it's wonderful.

The only thing better, I'm told, will be THE CARNIVAL... an all night festival my hosts and their friends have been working on for months.

Before that, I take an afternoon trip to a former French work camp, a type of holding prison for workers sent to French Guiana when it was a penal colony. Papillon scratched his name into the floor of a cell there.

After that, it's meet the friends and experience a day in Nenge Tongo... the people and language of escaped slaves. I only have one night left here.]

============
It's the BIG NIGHT®... the night of the circus, carnival, benefit. The night my hosts have been working all year on. The night of clowns, food, athletics, aliens on stilts. The most important night of the French Guianese year.

Before we textomaticly transport ourselves to these final festivities, let's go on a last trip... to a Hmong village near St. Lauren du Maroni.

According to Wikipedia: During the first and second Indochina Wars, France and the United States governments recruited thousands of Hmong people in Laos to fight against invading military forces from North Vietnam and communist Pathet Lao insurgents, known as the Secret War, during the Vietnam War and the Laotian Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees fled to Thailand seeking political asylum. Thousands of these refugees have resettled in Western countries since the late 1970s, mostly in the United States, but also in Australia, France, French Guiana, Canada, and South America. Others have returned to Laos under United Nations-sponsored repatriation programs.

Though there are plenty in the US, before this trip, my only contact with the Hmong was my French-Hmong pal Luc, who used to come to Drink Club when he was in New York. Here he is with the dogs at his farewell party in NYC.

Luc, at his farewell party in NYC
The Hmong Village in French Guiana has both a craft market and a food market. The craft market has everything from used axes to Hmong-made clothes. The fabrics are very different-- more muted and patchworky-- than the Nenge Tongo ones I saw earlier. But they're equally interesting.

Hmong Fabrics



The fruits and vegitables are similar to others in the Guyanas... and that means weird.

Take an ugly tubor with the unfortunate name of MANIAC... Please! 


Manioc!





It's a nice day. Only a few scattered clouds... like cotton balls... in the bright blue sky. We eat at a Hmong outdoor cafe... have fish with... er... fish sauce, waja think?



After lunch, we stop for a Hmong ice cream before heading back into town for the party to end all parties... the event of the century... the massive culmination of weeks of work... rehearsals... planning... jugglers... magicians... acrobats... everything. The sky is a bit darker now, cloudier with a few marshmallow-looking Stratocumuli.

We're off in the Hebdig jalopy. To the fairgrounds... somewhere out of town... a large open field with nothing but a long dirt road going to it... cars parked on either side. We park... get out of the car... head to the grounds... walking along the dirt road. A few drops of rain bounce off my fedora.

In a few minutes, we come to the entrance gate: a large lean-to with a table manned by a few attractive natives. Florian pays the entrance fee for all of us. A native hands us each a beer token.

When we enter, we pass a strange pile of wood. Just lumber, thin with several large cross sticks... not sticks, but beams... something to support a heavy structure. It's as if someone had planned to build something... gathered the material... then had a change of heart.

We pass what looks like a circus sideshow car. On the side, written in overly designed font is BLANK BE A PUNK. Huh? What does that mean? It'll take me this whole blog entry to figure it out.

Right now, I don't know, but it's fun to see some punkrock here.

First stop: the trapeze... a fancy high thing... watched over by several experts. While waiting for audience volunteers, they hang by their legs and throw each other through the air.

Mykel,” says Florian, “why don't you swing on it. You're fit.”

It's not my style,” I tell him. “I was a swinger in the 80s, but that was a long time ago.”

He doesn't get it.

Why don't YOU go?” I suggest.

Um...” he says.

You're such poules mouillĂ©es,” says Marie... and she climbs on to platform to prepare for the trapeze.


From Carnival of Rain
When she's done, the light raindrops have become real rain. No, it's not rain. It is apres moi... le deluge! A downpour so down... so pour... that each drop digs its own mini-grave in the dirt below. A rain of such ferocity that the carnival field becomes instant mud. My fedora drapes itself over my head like a wet washcloth.

You know those spring showers? Those heavy rains that stop as quickly as they begin? Those cool-off everything cloudbursts that are welcomed in retrospect? This is NOT one of those. There is no end. No stopping. No retrospect. This is a rain that keeps on raining. It is a rain of the entire ocean dumping itself on this poor bit of land.


Mud, rain, more mud, more rain.

Mud... rain... Mud... 
That wood pile I saw when I came into this place? Now I get it! It's for the ark! Two acrobats, two jugglers, two magicians, two trapeze artists... the only ones to make it out alive. 40 days and forty nights... waiting for the dove with an olive branch...

The show goes on, but I'm miserable. Soaked, frustrated from so much spoiled by rain. I'm the bad guest, I grab a chair from a nearby soaked field... bring it under a food tent... next to the barbecue... smoke in my eyes... MOSTLY out of the rain. There I sit and sulk. Florian and Marie go off. They've got obligations. The show must go on... One leg of my chair sinks into the ground. I spill into the mud.

Mud lake... this is only the start
Mykel,” calls Florian. “Come and see this. We worked so hard to put it together. You'll like it.”

Trying to suppress my inner misery and outer assholitude, I wade out onto the field in front of the stage.

There, on stilts, is an alien. 

Alien
There are more... green hair... white jumpsuits... mostly girls... some “girls”... This is gonna be fun. They're wearing white. They're on stilts. The ground is pure mud! Oh yeah.

Yes! It happens. Again and again.... once right in front of me. PLOW! Covered in brown... like the bottom of a toilet at a bad Mexican restaurant. The splash covers me too... neck to knees... brownness... thick mud clumps... serves me right for the schadenfreude.... but I don't think so at the time. I go back... sulk under the food tent.

Every 10 mintutes or so, Florian... or Marie... comes over to try to cheer me up. I won't be cheered. This is their BIG NIGHT, and I'm only adding to the rain on their parade.

Somehow, late and very wet, it's over. We slog back to the car. The road is a calf-high river of mud. To walk we have to life a knee high... higher...pulling our feet from the mud. THWUMP...THWUMP...THWUMP.

Finally the car! Inside, water spills from our clothes onto the seat... the floor. Florian turns the key.The engine spins in protest. Again... again... Finally, it starts. The wheels kick up a mudstorm before there's traction enough to leave our parking place.

It's a sad way to end what was a great trip. I leave the next day to retrace my steps and eventually end up in New York.

The next morning, as I'm figure out how to pack my still-soaked clothes. It's then that it hits me. That wasn't a BLANK BE A PUNK sign. It was DON'T BE A PUNK sign. I hope they forgive me.

-end-

[You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the RSS link at the bottom or by joining the Yahoo group for readers of Mykel Board's rants

You might also want to check the blog of Mykel Board's Columns .

WARNING: The Column Blog is neither PC nor PG. It might make you mad, or disgusted. The thin-skinned, politically correct, and easily sickened should stay away. You have been warned.

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! In an ultimately useless effort to rid myself of apartment junk, I'm giving away CDs, cassettes, VHS videos and more. Just pay separate shipping and handling. (sorry US addresses only). The details are here. ]









Saturday, June 14, 2014

THERE ARE NO ELEPHANTS IN SOUTH AMERICA or Mykel's Caribbean Blog Chapter 16

by Mykel Board


ENTRY SIXTEEN
Nov, 2013

There Are No Elephants in French Guiana

[Recap: From the start, it doesn't look good for this trip. Everything goes right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.

Easy subletter in New York... smooth flight to Miami... promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport”... $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news before, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) Miami goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem is a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets are rivers... waves in the pool. I get wet. Very wet.

Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport and take me drinkin'-- and more drinking. Then, to South Trinidad... some fun adventures... meet a Goddess... er... Empress... of a girl. It doesn't rain so much in Trinidad.

Then to the airport and off to Guyana.

In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's. This is the only time I have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150. Not bad. No, it doesn't go perfectly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country-- including Jamal. My trip to Kaiteur Falls in the jungle is-- at 741 feet-- a high point.

The two weeks of my stay in Guyana are adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rains. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.

I don't get it Mykel,” Jamal tells me. “This isn't the rainy season.”

Rainman,” I say.

He doesn't get it.

The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. Two drummers agreed to tour with us. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. The now former-friend doesn't answer emails. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway-- drummerless. It works out.

In Suriname, I stay with a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. They cook for me every day. I mention a local synagogue; they arrange a tour. I mention a trip to “the interior,” bang, we're there... surveying monkey meat. When dad can't do it, they get the poor son, Jose, to chauffeur me; as if he doesn't have enough with schoolwork and his own band, ADHD He hopes for rain... It's an excuse to stay home. Often, there's rain.

Then it's on to French Guyana, where the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie. His name is Florian.

I take a small boat across the river that separates French Guiana from Suriname. The captain lets me choose my port of entry: “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. At immigration, I annoy the white immigration officers by asking for a passport stamp. They give it to me and hustle me away. I'm hungry as shit and don't know where I am. It's raining.

What happens? Marie meets me on the road, helps me negotiate a ride with a French Guianan truck driver, and gets me to her place. Smooth as a baby's ass. The first morning is a crepe breakfast. Then a dip in the pool. Then, I donno. Everything is spot on... except for the rain. Well, there's the car. Florian's car breaks down just before I arrived. Bad news?

No problem! His friend lends him a jalopy...windows don't close... wipers don't work... car door doesn't open from the inside.

My first days in French Guyana are distress free... unless you count the bottom paddling I get from my friends' spare bicycle. I have one of the best days of the entire trip: canoeing through the Amazon with Florian, as my French guide. Chased by dogs, paddle-blistered hands, bitten by mosquitoes, stuck in the roots of swamp trees... it's wonderful.

Then an afternoon trip to a former French work camp, a type of holding prison for workers sent to French Guiana when it was a penal colony. I see Papillon's name scratched into the floor of a cell there.

After that, it's meet the friends and the adventure continues.]

============


Last month I wrote about buying a ticket for the Work Camp tour. That was at a small tourist office by the intersection of the Marowijne River (that separates Suriname from French Guiana)and the Caribbean Ocean. The office serves as a kind of meeting point, and information center for French expats and other non-natives. Tacked to the outside door is this:

Mama Bobi? Sounds Yiddish. Taki taki. Nenge tongo? What?

It just so happens I know... sort of... what they're talking about. The Guyanas (Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana) were colonies that used African slave labor to work for their colonial overseers. Slaves were given food and some sort of primitive housing and they had to work... mostly long hard hours in the sugar canefields. It's like capitalism-- with free food and housing.

A lot of the slaves didn't like it though. In Guyana, there was a rebellion. The rebels lost. In Suriname, the locals used the native Indians to keep the slaves in line. In French Guyana, the French used penal colony workers to supplement the slaves who ran into the jungle to make their own communities.

In the beginning of the colonial period the Guyanas weren't clearly divided. One ran into the other. What is now Suriname used to be part of British Guyana. Later, the British and the Dutch traded. The Dutch got Suriname. The British got New York. I often think the Dutch got the better deal.

Escaped slaves had little regard for borders. They settled anywhere they could, trying to maintain their distance from their white slave masters, and the Native Indian bounty hunters.

To communicate with each others, the runaway slaves developed a language using what they knew. Mainly a mixture of English and Dutch, the new language, Tongue of the Negroes, (Nenge Tongo, get it?) developed its own vocabulary and grammar.

Is it just a jumble of Dutch and English? It doesn't look like that.Asaw is the word for elephant in Nenge Tongo. It clearly isn't from either of those Germanic languages. How did that word get into the language? There are no elephants in South America. Looks African to the experts... and so there's more to the language than meets the ear.

The language also uses a process called reduplication common to some languages like Japanese (guro guro, a growling stomach or tokidoki occasionally). Moshi moshi... which is what the Japanese use when they answer the phone-- means MOUSE in Nenge Tongo. Dutch and English rarely use this kind of word structure. 

Some Nenge Tongo 
Carlos, one of Florian's fellow teachers is tri-lingual: English, French, Nenge Tongo. He teaches Nenge Tongo in his spare time and this afternoon I sit in on a lesson.

At Carlos' house, he brings out the local booze. It's my kind of language lesson that begins with a drink! The bottle's label says Rhum Supreme. On it is a drawing of a somewhat frightened slave, and some squiggles that look like a combination of a swastika and a penis.

Mighty tasty stuff-- the rum, that is.

I think I'll have another, a third please! Even though it's Caribbean, I can feel AFRICA course through my veins with every sip. Ever since the canoe trip, there's been JUNGLE in my blood. Now it's AFRICAN JUNGLE, transplanted, but still African....

Another rum tangitangi!” Somehow I don't remember much more of the lesson.

After the lesson, we're off to an outdoor restaurant by the beach. I buy Parbo for the crew... it's the least I can do for my free lesson.

Suddenly there comes the sound of drums. Not South American... not Calypso... not socca, not something from Parbo nights.

What's that?” I ask.

Drums,” says Florian.

Wiseguy.

It's African,” I tell him, “I can feel the rhythms. I can tell the players... Slave blood runs through their veins. The agony of chains, the ecstasy of chains removed. The original weltshmertz, expressed the only way possible, through beating... harsh... beautiful. The sound of AFRICA!”

Huh?” he says.

I've got to find it,” I tell him, “I need to experience this... this... this... essence. Real African blood, translated into the sound of hands and sticks against animal skin.”

I stand up and follow the sound... into the building next to our outdoor table... around the corner. It's getting louder... calling to me in it's most primitive agony. Ahead... an open door...

FUCK! I can't believe it. A bunch of white people. One colored guy, at the end, barely in the group... a token... that's it. The leader is a white woman in her late thirties who wouldn't look out of place at a feminist anti-porn rally. That's it! My uncle Bernie in Forest Hills has more African soul than these guys.


From French Guyana


Crestfallen, I slink back to the table where my friends are enjoying the beer.

Did you feel the essence?” Florian asks.

I change the subject.

Carlos,” I say. “Could you do me a favor?”

Sure Mykel, as long as it won't humiliate (he pronounces it like a Frenchman: oomeeleeAht) me.”
Wiseguy.

Would you say something in Nenge Tongo to all the reader who is reading about this adventure?”

Are you sure your grammar is right, Mykel?”

I know my audience,” I tell him.

And here it is: Carlos speaks to my reader. Sorry about the heavy background noise. Kids are annoying all over the world.


From French Guyana

During my trip, we go to visit Carlos' sister in a Nenge Tongo village. The escaped slave descendents have not only made their own language, they've designed their own buildings... a kind of suburban house, on low stilts to keep it off the often wet, sometimes completely liquid, land.


Here is an eerie picture of one of the houses. Check out how it's raised off the ground.

A Nenge Tongo House-- in the rain
They've also developed their own fabric designs. Earthy colors and intricate patterns.

Marie checks out the Nenge Tongo goods
The next day is my penultimate one in French Guyana. We're gonna start with a trip to a Hmong village, then end with the super carnival. A festival planned for months... like a carnival... The teachers have worked on this... trained... found talent... worked with it... make tents... booths... got sponsors. It's the super big deal of the year.

Mykel,” Florian tells me, “it's got everything you want: a trapeze, clowns, bands, sexy girls on stilts, movies. It will be the best thing you've ever seen in South America... maybe in your life.”

Is it better than sex?” I ask.

He turns to me, stares hard at my crotch, then snickers.

It depends,” he says.

-end-

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