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Sunday, December 08, 2013

BAD GUEST or Mykel Board's Caribbean Blog, Chapter 10

by Mykel Board

[Bad Guest]

by Mykel Board

Nov 3, 2013- Nov. 10, 2013

[Recap: From the start, it didn't look good for this trip. Everything went right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster more than everything going right.

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

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) The Miami trip goes so smoothly you could cry.

Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport, take me around drinkin'. Then, I move South to San Fernando T'dad, have some fun adventures, meet a Goddess... er... Empress of a girl. Go back to the airport and fly 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 have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150US. Not bad. No it doesn't go smoothly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country. My trip to Kaiteur Falls is amazing.

The two weeks of my stay in Guyana are adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Then the band develops a drummer problem. Two drummers agreed to go with them. 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 does not answer emails. I cannot play drums. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway. It works out.

Then it's on to French Guyana. There, Florian, the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon lives with his girlfriend Marie. In two blog entries ago, I'd just arrived in French Guiana.

BUT, there was a lot I left out of the Suriname trip, so I'll do a little back-tracking.]

Fish and friends go bad after three days.--Benjamin Franklin

What exactly is a bad guest? What makes a visitor bad company? What makes a couch surfer a couch horror?

One of my life's many shocks was on a recent ego-surfing google. I read a post by my hosts in Australia... almost ten years ago. The city was Brisbane. The note on the internet said:

Mykel Board stayed at our place almost a week. He was absolutely the worst house guest we've ever had... and we still get a Christmas card from him every year.

What exactly does that mean... the worst house guest? My guess is there are 20 million yearly visitors to New York City. Probably eight to ten of them have not stayed on my couch. Of all those guests, I've had maybe three bad house guests, and two dozen fair house guests. The rest have been great. What makes one good or bad?

Among the 59 countries I've visited now, I've probably been a guest in 150 or 200 houses or apartments. I've lived on couches, on the floor, on a hammock, in a private room, in a bathroom. What makes ME a good or bad guest? How many others are complaining – or have stories to tell-- about how bad I was?

So, for the benefit of my readers... and to get it straight in my own head, here are my criteria for bad guests:

1. They're always there: You have no privacy because your guest is there whenever you are. You come home, want to take a nap, to do something... er...private, and there's your guest: Sitting on the couch with a shit-eating grin on... or worse... on the computer living off the internet, like they've never left. They're up late tap tap tapping on the keyboard when YOU have to get up for work the next day. What the fuck? You're visiting my city! Go out and enjoy it. You can facebook when you get back to Beruit!

2. They complain: It's too cold. It's too hot. The girls in this town are too unfriendly. It's a dirty city. It's expensive. Your shower doesn't have enough hot water. Your TV doesn't get HBO. What? You don't have wifi? On and on. Yo buckaroo! If your home is so perfect... go back there!

3. They can't do anything for themselves: How does the shower work? I can't get the door to lock. Can you call me a cab for the airport? Are the subways dangerous? Should I buy pepper spray? What street comes before 28th Street? Can I drink the water directly from the sink? How do I get to the Empire State Building? Related to this is:

4. They're over-demanding. They want YOU to meet them at a bar, take them to the punk rock show, stay up all night. They're on vacation... and they forget that YOU'RE NOT!

5. They're dirty. They smell-- or worse: they smell up the whole place... like a walking armpit... Not aware of their own pollution.

Or, they're messy. Their stuff spreads like a beer puke. First it's confined to one bag, then two. Then every outlet in the house has a piece of their electronics, charging. Then the clothes, shoes by the door, underwear on the couch. Inch by inch, they take over. The place is messy anyway, right? So what's a little more mess?
Yo buckaroo. It's MY MESS! I know where things are, despite how it looks. My mess is familiar to me. It's organized. Your mess isn't familiar. It's just... a mess.

6. They eat all your food and drink all your beer. And never take you out or buy you a drink.

7. They make you go places you don't want to go and do things you don't want to do. Hey Mykel, come to this house music party with me. I need a friend. It won't be so bad. There'll be all this techno electiconic dance music. You'll have a ball. Er... anal sex with John Holmes would be more fun than a techno disco.

There are probably more qualities that make a bad guest. (My worst guest's worse quality was hitting on every girl I introduced him to... then complaining when they rejecting him.) But that's good enough to start. With that, let's return to my stay in Paramaribo Suriname where I'm staying with Jose's family and

  1. Am always there (I blame the rain, and lack of transportation.)
  2. I'm always complaining about the weather and lack of transportation. (I could easily call a cab, but I don't.)
  3. I ask my hosts how to get downtown, call a cab, get to French Guiana, visit the synagogue, each Indonesian food, and get a drink late at night.
  4. Take over the guest room. Demand a phone, put my stuff on on the night table, spread my bags over the floor, and lock the room when I'm taking a shower or... er... doing something special in “my” room.
  5. Ask Jose to take me into town, to Unckie's House of Blues, to the skate punk bank, and more... you'll read about it.
  6. Taking the offer of “our food is your food” way too seriously. Mom's been cooking for me... 3 meals a day.

Bad guest, Mykel. Bad guest!!

The family seems to take it all in stride, though Jose is so busy with school and work that he kind of leaves me alone. I stay in and write... less than I should. Otherwise I ditz around with my computer, play on facebook, take care of... er... a few things on xvideos, and pretend like I'm getting some writing done.

At least I don't complain... at least not out loud. Mom and Dad are the perfect hosts: friendly, chatty, always offering to help (Dad going out of his way so much (See the last entry to find out what happened when I just mentioned I'd like to see the synagogue.)

The only thing to complain about is their continually barking (and howling) dog. Like all dogs in the Caribbean, it's always outside... rain or shine. It's usually not happy.

Actually, there are eves where the dog can get out of the rain. And Jose tells me that the dog gets a home-cooked meal every day... more than many people get. So why should it complain? Bad guest, I'd say.

A few times, I actually call a cab... well, I ask Jose's mom or dad to call a cab and go to the center of town to explore.

Paramirabo is not like Georgetown. In some ways, it's more developed. The streets have sidewalks, all of them are paved. Where in Georgetown you'd find a bar, in Paramirabo you find a casino.

Finding a bar or restaurant is easy in Georgetown. It takes work in Paramirabo. Chinese grocery stores follow Chinese department stores. There are a few banks, but nothing like the easy-going easy-to-find bars and restaurants of Georgetown.

I go to the Paramaribo market, but 2PM is too late. Most of the most interesting tables are just packing up. In a country as hot as this, 2PM is the end of the day. Too bad too. Jose told me I could get Gamelon CDs at the market. I promised to look for one for my pal and former bass player Otto Kentrol. I guess I'll have to disappoint him.

But right now I'm hungry. I want to eat at a local restaurant... sample the cuisine... talk with the restaurant-goers... Nothing... wait... on the other side of the street... A small sign that says FOOD COURT. It's over a Chinese department store.

I go into a door that leads directly to a staircase. I climb the staircase and enter THE FOOD COURT. The first place I see is what looks like a little deli stand. There's a small counter with a Chinese (I guess) man and his wife behind it. There is a glass case filled with soda and juice. There are another couple of empty cases that look like they held sandwiches or some other food.

At the tables in the court sit a few guys watching the TV there, or concentrating on a beer or plate of something vaguely Chinese-looking. At one table sits a young woman with an eyebrow-to-nose scar. She has the half-closed eyes and sunken teeth look of a junkie. She gazes into space like someone lost in thought... or a drug haze.

So you're out of food?” I ask the Chinese man.

No,” he says, pointing to empty small, medium and large styrofoam containers. “We can fill one of these for you. What size do you want?”

He does not talk about content... just size. I point to the small one. He nods.

I'll eat it here,” I say. “You don't have to pack it up.

He nods again.

I walk to an empty table, take off my day pack, pull out a book, (The Dinner, by Herman Koch) and sit down. I read the book while the food is being prepared.

Before too long, a more than adequate amount of... er... Chinese food appears. I put away the book and turn my attention to eating.

The girl with the facial scar walks over to me.

What were you reading?” she asks.

It's a Dutch book,” I tell her, “but I'm reading it in English. My Dutch isn't so good.”

She doesn't laugh.

Can I see it?” she asks.

I hand it to her.

She takes it in both hands and looks at the front cover. Then she looks at the back cover. Then she pretends to read it. She takes it to the table where she was sitting. She sits again at the table. I give her a few minutes, while I finish eating.

Then, I walk over to her. 

Can I have my book back?” I ask.

She pretends to be reading it. Then holds up one finger in a “just wait” gesture.

I'm sorry,” I tell her. “I have to leave now.”

I reach for the book. She pulls it away from me.

HELP!” I yell. “Somebody help me!”

The man behind the counter comes out.

She won't give me my book,” I tell him.

He reaches over and grabs it out of her hands. Then he hands it to me.

Be careful,” says the Chinese man, “she works with her husband. He may be waiting for you downstairs. You don't have to be afraid. Just be careful. Be very very careful.”

That must be the quote of the month. You don't have to be afraid. Just be careful. Be very very careful.

Yeah right. I'm scared shitless.

I pick up my day pack, and head downstairs to the door.

I stick my head out... look right and left... gingerly step into the street... look behind me... walk purposefully ahead, like I'm going straight. Then POW! quickly turn the corner... ahead again... then POW! in a new direction. I walk fast... turn another corner back into a doorway and see who passes. No one suspicious... Of course I have no idea what suspicious is in Suriname, but...

There is a big guy with a dufflebag the size of a baby's body. Shit! He's seen me. I walk out into the most crowded part of the street. He doesn't follow.

What was she doing with the book?” I wonder. “I don't get the scam... the set up.”

Another corner, BLAM! I turn it under cover of a crowd of schoolboys wearing their school uniforms. Hah! Sometimes being 5' 3” tall has its advantages. Like when you're trying to hide from a plan murder/theft. Me scared? Naw, I'm just being careful. VERY VERY CAREFUL.

Then it hits me. She was stalling for time... waiting until her husband got there. Then they'd do a number on me. I got out in time. Before he showed up. I'm safe, I think.... maybe not. I'd better get back “home.” I call a cab.

Back at the Mossel house, as usual, food is on the stove.

Oh Mykel,” says mom, “I have some nice fish for you tonight. Help yourself. It's in that pot over there.” She points with her chin.

We finished all the rice, though,” she continues, “sorry.”

By now I feel like a regular exploitative guest, one who takes mi casa es tu casa to the mi casa es mas que tu casa level. I take a plate from the cupboard. Walk to the first pot and ladle myself some fish stew.

Even though it looks like a bunch of roasted armadillos, it's tastier than a bowl of mazto balls... floaters!
Out of habit, I walk to the rice cooker, open it up... empty. Shit! I forgot. No rice.

But then I notice the other pot on the stove. I open the lid and it's filled with rice, little chunks of meat, and a few vegetables.

Oy boy, they must've forgotten there was some of this left. I scoop it over the fish, and take some more sauce from the first pan to cover the rice.

Make sure you peel the fish,” mom tells me, “you can't eat the outside.”

Excuse me?” I ask.

It's armor fish,” says mom, “the outside is like a shell. You have to peel it first.”

I do. It's delicious. I pull some meat off the bone, cut a bit of yellow pepper, mash it into the rice, gobble it all up. Great! Not much left after a meal like that!

During my dinner, mom and dad are watching a TV program sponsored by the Parbo beer company. (Did I mention that all over the Caribbean, families do not eat together? Mom cooks a meal, leaves it in the pot, and the rest of the family helps themselves whenever they feel like it. It makes me uncomfortable to sit by myself in someone else's house, eating their food alone, but that's what I do.) The TV show is a live concert, with people dressed like in the 70s. Amazing blacks in white jumpsuits... Elvis meets Sly meets Saturday Night Fever. Wow!

That's great,” I say. “I'd love to see that live sometime.

You can,” says Dad. “That's the Parbo festival. It's going to be right near here... tomorrow, in fact. You just have to ask Jose to take you.”

Great,” I say. “I'll do that.”

Then I take a whole lot more bites, and finish my meal.

That was delicious!” I tell mom. “And you forgot about the great rice dish in the other pot.”

I can see her eyebrows knit as if she doesn't understand what I'm talking about.

That pot over there,” I point. “There's some rice and meat in it... it goes perfect with the fish.”

A voice comes from behind. It's Jose. I didn't notice him enter the kitchen.

Mykel,” he says, “that's the dog food.”

FLASH TO TOMORROW, EVE OF PARBO NIGHTS: Jose clearly doesn't want to go to this thing. It's about 8 o'clock. He's up in his room, way behind on school work. AND he's got this BAD GUEST who he knows wants to see some awful kitch at an event he doesn't have time or inclination to participate in.

Dad shouts up the stairs: “Hey Jose! Mykel wants to go to Parbo Nights. You should take him before it gets too late.”


Jose,” shouts Dad, louder. “Mykel is waiting.”

The door to Jose's room creaks open. He slowly comes down the stairs.

So, Mykel,” he says, “what's up?”

It's PARBO NIGHTS!” I tell him.

He looks skyward.

[You can read previous travel blog entries by clicking on the links on the right side of this page.

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 PG not PC. It might make you mad, or disgusted. The thin-skinned, politically correct, and easily sickened should probably stay away. You have been warned.

If somehow you're interested in ALL my writings, you can join the READ MYKEL BOARD group on Yahoo. Then you'll be notified whenever some new writing appears on the internet.]

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A SEMITIC DIVERSION Mykel Board's Caribbean Blog, Chapter 9

by Mykel Board

[A Semitic diversion.]

[For this entry I want to deviate from the trip chronology to focus on one particular adventure: in Suriname.]

I'd like to see the synagogue,” I tell Jose. “There aren't too many in the Caribbean.”

I've got to do a lot of work today,” he says, “but you can ask any cab driver to take you to the synagogue. They'll know.”

The next morning, I call a cab. The driver nods when I tell him I want to go to THE SYNAGOGUE. It's a $2 trip, and he drops me off in front of... a mosque.

Now, I may be a twice-a-year Jew, but I know the difference between a synagogue and a mosque. Synagogues have the Star of David SOMEPLACE. They do not have minarets.

Next to the mosque is a small empty lot... then a white shack... then another building, impressive, almost colonial looking. At the top of that building is... you guessed it... the Star of David.

Yes! Yes! Yes! I'm in love with this country. Is there anywhere else in the world where a mosque and a synagogue could be peaceful neighbors?

I walk up to the gate and turn the handle. It's locked. Padlocked. I walk around the outside of the gate to check out the property. On the non-mosque side of the synagogue is the Jewish cemetery.
Not a whole lot of graves, but the style and markers are really interesting. No tombstones,just one long slab directly on the ground.

There is a nice article about the synagogue on the internet. There's a picture too... carefully cropped to avoid the mosque.

At first, it looks like that's it. My Synagogue adventure: a locked gate and a few pictures. Not much more to tell.

I'm off to get something to eat. Right here comes THE SCARY LUNCH STORY, but I'll tell you about that in the next blog entry.

When I return to Jose's place that evening, Dad asks me how my day went. I tell THE SCARY LUNCH STORY first.

And the synagogue?” he asks. “Did you get to see it?”

I saw it,” I said, “but it was closed... locked up tight.”

He frowns.

Wait,” he says, “I'll make a phonecall.”

I smile, shrug and go off to bed with the intention of writing, NOT of fucking around on Facebook. Yeah, right.

The next day is THURSDAY, I plan to take the family out for a meal. They've been feeding me, taking care of me, conversing with me, keeping me entertained this whole time.

Jose has been really busy... he made an effort... but it was clear he was one frazzled guy... with bad luck! (His car kept breaking down. He never finished his homework. He was bogged down with... me!) So it fell on mom and dad to take care of the ever-present guest.

I'll take you and your family anywhere,” I tell Jose, “as long as they take the Visa card.”

We eat in a fine Indonesian restaurant. They don't take credit cards... but they do take US dollars. Whew!

Thank you for that, Mykel,” says Jose's Dad. “And now I have some good news for you.”

I feel my eyebrows raise.

I have a friend whose wife was Jewish,” he says. “He's still like Jewish. And he says there is a Mass at the synagogue tomorrow night.”

I doubt if it'll be a Friday night Mass at the synagogue, but I don't say anything.

He'll take you so you can see for yourself what it's like.”

That's... er... great,” I say.

Shit,” I think, “do I have to get dressed up? I've got nothing to wear to a Friday night service. A clean pair of Levis... well a CLEANER pair... The closest shirt I have to presentable is a frayed black Country-Western shirt I got in Tennessee.

When the time comes, I wear that shirt. I pull my pants over my boot-tops and try to fix my face into a respectable pose. (Asking me to look RESPECTABLE is like asking Lady Gaga to look VIRTUOUS.)

Jose's father drops me off at a fairly nice house on the outskirts of town. The gate in front of the door is padlocked. I reach through the bars to knock on the wood. There is some shuffling inside.
A man who looks like Milton Berle answers the door. [Note: The picture is of Milton Berle... not the man in the story.] Because I forgot (or never knew) this guy's name. I'll call him Milton.

He slowly totters to the door, fumbles with the key, opens the padlock and the gate, then he motions to the doorpost. There is a mezuzah on it. (For the goyim: Here's a picture.) I touch it and then kiss my hand.

Milton smiles, nods and lets me in.

Come in,” he says.

I start to take off my boots.

No,” he says, “that's okay. Just come in and sit down.”

I sit down on the couch. The livingroom is decorated with a lot of pictures, some plaques, some wood furniture. The man walks into another room and returns with what looks like a sedar plate.

This is a sedar plate,” he says, handing it to me. Made in Israel

I'm not Jewish,” he continues. “But my wife was Jewish. She's dead now. We were married for 20 years. I'm a Christian, but I always went to synagogue with her. I felt closer to the Jews than to the Christians. I don't know. Better food maybe. My wife was the only Jew in her family. I used to go to the synagogue all the time.... with my wife.”

I can feel myself beginning to fidget.

Ok,” he says. “we'll go now. I only need to find my car keys.”

Milton gets up and walks to the kitchen. I follow him. There is a key rack there. The car keys are not on the key rack.

I know I had them,” he says.

Then he walks back into the livingroom and looks at the large table there. On the table are the car keys... nothing else.

Here they are,” he says.

We walk through the gate. He closes it and reaches into his pocket.

I need the padlock key,” he says. “I'll be right back. I just have to get the padlock key.”

He goes back into the house. I hear something fall with a heavy thump. Before long, he's back. He locks up. We go to his car and head for the synagogue.

I forgot to mention that Surinamese drivers are maniacs... daredevils... passing each other at high speed on one lane roads... plowing through unlit intersections with, at most, a beep of the horn. I have never practiced anal clenching as much as since I've been in Surinamese vehicles. Milton, however, does not drive like this. He drives like an old Jew.

Slowly, we creep along the road headed toward the synagogue. He stops at every crossing... sometimes in the middle of the street... then slowly proceeds, leaning over the steering wheel... staring at the road directly in front of the hood... as honking cars speed past... nearly avoiding head-on collisions.

Suddenly we stop. There's traffic. And cops. On the street ahead, there are lights. A streetful of candle-lights. It's a parade.

There's a Hindu holiday,” Milton tells me. “It's today. It's a festival of lights... another festival of lights. Every year, they have this parade. I forgot about it. We'll have to go a different way. I hope I remember how to go.”

There is a break in the parade. The police let us pass.

Besides the fear of endlessly circling, I'm suddenly struck by another fear. What if I get an aliyah? If I'm called to the Torah and have to say the blessings? After all, I'm an honored guest? A New Yorker, after all... from the diaspora capital of the world. How could they NOT give me an aliyah?

I haven't said those blessings since my bar mitzvah. I know they start with Baruch atah... EVERYTHING starts with Baruch atah... But I don't think I can get further than that.

Eventually we leave the road and go into a parking lot. (Hmmm, a synagogue with a parking lot, I guess it's not orthodox.) We get out. Milton seems to be at a loss, looking for a passage to someplace. We get back in the car and follow someone who's leaving the lot.

Milton rolls down his window and hails the other driver. They speak in Dutch.

The other driver points vaguely to the street. Milton thanks her. (Dank U, is easy enough to recognize in Dutch.)

I made a mistake,” says Milton. “This is NOT the synagogue parking lot.”

He gets out of the car, walks down the street, studying a few alleyways. Then he comes back, pulls the car onto the street, through an alley and onto a grassy piece of land. That IS the synagogue parking lot.

We get out of the car. In a nearby SUV, an old woman talks with someone who could be her nurse. The second woman is a lot younger and a lot blacker than the oldster. I am wrong. They're both just congregants.

How long will it take me to I soon learn that Suriname is not a country where you can judge these things. It's a place where ANYBODY CAN BE ANYTHING!

Milton says hi to the older woman. She holds up a finger in a hold-on-a-moment gesture, goes back to the car, does something, returns and hugs Milton. He introduces me.

This is my Jewish friend from New York City,” he says.

I don't know what sect of Jews they have here, so I don't know if I'm supposed to offer my hand or what? I check to see if she's wearing a wig. She isn't. Anyway, she extends her hand. I shake it. We walk around to a side entrance and into the sanctuary.

The temple itself is weird inside. There are pews on either side. (Note: I'm not sure that synagogues call pews PEWS. My sister checked it out, though, and she says that's the name.) MOST of the women sit on one side and MOST of the men sit on the other.

There is a balcony, but it's empty. Oddest is the sand on the floor. It's like thousands of people just came back from the beach and tracked it in.

There's an official explanation for the sand. I reprint it here, though I HATE the expression very unique. Unique means ONLY ONE, for G-d's sake. How can something be VERY only one?

A very unique characteristic of the Neve Shalom Synagogue is its sandy floor. According to tradition, the sand is:
  • a reminder of the Hebrews’ 40 years in the desert after the exodus from Egypt, and
  • the days of the Inquisition when practicing Judaism was punishable by death. During those days, marranos met in cellars to practice their Judaism. They covered the floor with sand to muffle the sounds of their prayers.
The Rabbi seems very young, late 20s at most. Olive skin, he could be a Sephardic Jew anywhere. He's reading from a prayer book-- not from a Torah. That means NO ALIYA! Silently, I count the number of men in the congregation. There aren't many.

Milton is a mind-reader.

A minion here is 7 men and three women,” he says.

Wow, the sexes are separate, unless they don't want to be. A minion isn't ONLY men... but it's mostly men. The synagogue is next to a mosque. Very unique indeed.

And the congregation? It's a Klansman's nightmare. Black guys in yarmulkes. Not only black, but the whole possible spectrum... like nothing I could imagine in New York:
The service is entirely in Hebrew. Several people in the congregation know the song-breaks and join in at key moments. A few songs are familiar, but with different music than I remember.

Throughout the service, mothers and fathers chase their errant kids around the pews, trying to bring them back into the fold... or at least SHUSH them. Finally, something that's NOT different here.

On the bima-- in the middle of the floor, like in Bay City... not in front-- like in reform/conservative synagogues-- is the Rabbi and an older man who I assume is there just to make sure there are no mistakes.

Milton doesn't pay much attention to what is going on Bima-wise. Instead, he takes me from person to person, saying hello, then introducing me as my Jewish friend from New York.

People are nice enough. Shake my hand. But I miss the interest. A New York Jew! Here in Suriname! Why? No one seems curious.

After the service, we head to the little shack next to the synagogue. It's a mini-chapel... a study space... Tonight, it's for the kiddush.

There are little plastic cups of wine for everyone. On the tables are some tonic water, and some locally made soda. I forget the name but it's something like GREEN GOODNESS. In any case, it's green.

First, we have to wash our hands. The blessing over the hand washing is written in Hebrew, with a transliteration... using Dutch pronunciation. I can get the baruch atah part, but not that part that changes with every blessing? I try it, but... let's say there was a bit of chuckling.

Then some homemade challah, some wine, both preceded by more blessings. Those I know.

See that bottle of GREEN GOODNESS?” Milton asks, pointing to the soda. “That's from Suriname. The factory owner... he's dead now... but when he was alive... was a Jew. He was rich. Had the most popular drink in Suriname...”

What about Parbo?” I ask, mentioning the local fermented favorite.

Okay,” he corrects himself, “the most popular non-alcohol drink.”

Sitting around the kiddish table, I again notice that people are polite, but not friendly... not curious. I'm disappointed. There are questions I want to ask. Friends I want to make. I guess they get a lot of visitors... maybe anthropologists. In fact, there are two white girls in the crowd. They look to be in their early twenties. One of them takes a lot of pictures.

Those two,” says Milton, “they are from some university. They're on their study term here.”

Are they Jewish?” I don't ask.

The guy who was reading the prayers passes me. Well, if the mountain won't come to Mohammed...

Excuse me, Rabbi,” I say to him.

I'm not a Rabbi,” he says. “I'm just one who happens to know the prayers. We don't have a Rabbi now. We used to have a Rabbi, but...”

The sentence is never finished, but it leaves me feeling that there's some deep secret buried along with those graves on the side of the synagogue.

He quickly takes his leave and goes to talk with his friends.

Before long, we also take our leave.

I hope I can find the way back to Jules' (Jose's father) house,” says Milton.

So do I,” says I.

He cannot.

This is obvious from his hesitation at every corner. His pulling into a street, stopping suddenly, making a U-turn, heading to the next street and the next U-turn.

It was about 9 when we left the synagogue. It's now creeping toward 9:45. We're on our fifth U-turn.

Wait,” says Milton. “I have an idea. I know where I live.”

That's a relief,” I don't say.

It's in the other direction,” he continues, “but I know how to get to Jules' from my house.”

Another U-turn. Then a slow but steady roll to Milton's house.

There it is,” he says, pointing out the window. “You recognize it? That's my house.”

Sure,” I lie.

From here I know,” he tells me.

And street-by-street we inch closer to what Milton thinks is the way to Jules' house. I've taken the ride many times. This doesn't look like the right way at all.

I'm wrong.

At the house, Jose's father invites Milton in for a drink. They talk like old friends.

After their warm-up conversation, Dad turns to me. “Mykel,” he says, “was it what you expected.”

Not exactly,” I say, “for one thing they didn't have a Rabbi.”

Jose's dad frowns.

That's a Jewish priest,” explains Milton.

I do not (visibly) cringe.

They used to have a Rabbi,” he further explains. “But you know what they say about Jews: If there are two Jews, there are two completely different opinions.”

Three completely different opinions,” I correct him.

He smiles.

Anyway, I don't know the whole story,” he says, “but something happened with the last Rabbi. He just left.”

AGAIN: something THE SAME about US and Surinamese Jewishness.

The topic changes.

What did you think about the aquarium in Milton's place?” asks Jose's dad.

I didn't see it,” I say.

What?” says Milton, “You were in my living room, right?”

I nod.

You saw the pictures... my wife... the sedar plate.”

I nod again.

And you didn't see the aquarium?”

I shake my head.

It's as big as this bookcase,” he says, standing up and moving toward a large bookcase in the living room. “It takes up half the room, and you didn't see it?”

Sorry,” I say.

And what about the birds?” asks Jules. “Did you see the birds?”

I smile sheepishly.

You didn't see the birds?” says Milton, “I have two birds. Beautiful birds. How could you miss them?”

I smile again... and shrug.

Milton shakes his head.

And the women?” he says. “The three beautiful women... the ones I live with now that my Jewish wife passed away. You didn't see the women?”

I laugh, hoping he's kidding...

Next blog we'll have some more Suriname adventures. Then, hopefully get back to French Guiana, plenty of adventures wait there too: a visit to the Hmong, a canoe trip through the jungle, a feast of rodents, and a lot of mud.


I just found this from a Paramaribo tourist company. I didn't take the tour, but it fits!

[You can read previous travel blog entries below.
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Monday, November 11, 2013


by Mykel Board

October 26, 2013- Nov. 3, 2013

[Recap: From the start, it didn't look good for this trip. Everything went right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster more than everything going right.

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

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) The Miami trip goes so smoothly you could cry.

Then on to Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport, take me around drinkin'.Then I moved South, some fun adventures, a Goddess... er... Empress of a girl. Back to the airport and the flight to Guyana.

One thing after another... clicking into place. It's sort of like a Bingo game in reverse. Only when you do NOT get the blocks in a row can you call BINGO. If things come together in a straight line, one after the other, vertically, horizontally, diagonally, that's normal. That's losing. When things DON'T click... when they DON'T work out. That's BINGO.

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

I spend much of my time in Guyana with Gavin and Ryan. They meet me at the airport, take me to rock'n'roll karaoke, get me drunk. The plan is to stay here until October 26, then head with the band to Suriname. They'll be the only punkband in a metal festival. I'll roadie or do merch. It'll get me over to the next country with company and it'll be PUNKROCK.

The two weeks of my stay in Guyana are adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Then the band develops a drummer problem. Two drummers agreed to go with them. One a close friend, the other more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrock drummer. He bails at the last minute. The now former-friend does not answer emails. I cannot play drums. This cannot work out. We go anyway. It works out.

After the big show, Jose, our host, takes us on a tour of the city. He points out some exploding neon stars/snowflakes and explains that's where the brothels are. I explain my preference for stripclubs over brothels. He laughs.]

I stay with Gavin and Ryan at the rockstar motel the night after the big show. Gavin is so heated up by the success that he half finishes the bottle of Jack... right from the bottle.

I need the coolest place in the room,” he says, stumbling.
Somehow, Ryan gets him out and they sleep.

The morning after the BIG SHOW, though, Gavin starts the day with a cough. The cure? A slug of Jack Daniels, right from the bottle, of course.Gavin's not 23 yet, and he's already on his way to full-fledged alkiedom! When I was his age I couldn't drink a six pack without waking up in my own vomit.

Yeah! That boy has a future!

For their last day in town, Gavin and Ryan have lined up a radio interview and another acoustic set. The former is at the studios of a local station. The latter is at Unkies House of Blues, right next to the venue of the big show last time. The band invites me to both.

I haven't been in a radio station since I did an interview in Australia at the turn of the century. Back then, DJs used CD players... and even vinyl turntables. For this interview, Gavin emailed the DJ a playlist. The DJ downloaded the songs, and BANG! ready for airtime, right?


We need to be at the studio by seven,” says Gavin.

What time is it now?” I ask.

Just past 8,” he says.

Are we late? Are you kidding? This is Keep Your Day Job Exclamation Point. For them, time, money, commitments, planning. None of it matters. Everything just works out.

We take a cab to the station. The driver finds it easily.

DJ: So what does Keep Your Day Job mean?

Gavin: It's Keep Your Day Job Exclamation Point.

DJ: Sorry.

Gavin: Actually, the meaning has changed. Originally is was what people said to us when we were just starting out. You know, Forget about playing this music stuff. You suck! Then, after a while the meaning changed. It began to be a message from US to the AUDIENCE. YOU keep your day jobs. We'll be punk rockers and live the life you WISH you could live.

DJ: So neither of you have day jobs?

Gavin: That's right.

DJ: And you, Ryan. (to the microphone) He's the quiet one. Do you have a day job?

Ryan shakes his head.

DJ: They can't hear you shake your head.

Me: I have a day job.

Gavin: That's our friend Mykel, talking.

The DJ ignores me.

DJ: So, what is punk rock anyway?

Gavin: Punk rock is about doing what you want. Not following rules. Living for yourself, not some boss who only makes money from you.

DJ: Ryan what do you think?... By the way, I used to be shy too. I couldn't talk to anyone at parties or in groups. I was like that. Just like you.

Gavin: Play that song then.

He does. It's obvious that this DJ, though a nice guy, doesn't have a clue about the band-- or punkrock in general. Suriname has it's own kind of music... dance music, of course... this is the Caribbean, after all... but this guy should at least do his homework. Read the Wikipedia page,or SOMETHING. He seems at a loss to ask any music related questions, You like The Ramones? and just needs SOMETHING to talk about.

The song is over.

DJ: So, we're here in the studio with Gavin and Ryan from Keep Your Day Job...

Gavin raises his eyebrows.

DJ: That's Keep Your Day Job Exclamation Point.

Gavin smiles.

DJ: So guys, do you have girlfriends? Wives?

Gavin: My girlfriend is my music?

DJ: And you Ryan?

Ryan: Me too.

DJ: No girlfriends?

And he goes on about the unfortunate condition of not having a girlfriend, just skirting the issue of what that really means to not have a girlfriend.

Er... what year is this?

From the radio station, it's off to the Accoustic Set® at Unkies.

One of the things I've learned in the tropics is that night and day are reversed from the more temperate zones. In New York bars stay open 'til 4AM. For most of America, that's very late. Most cities have earlier closing times, 2AM or even Midnight. People have to get up in the morning. Go to their day jobs. We wouldn't want them performing inefficiently, would we?

In the tropics, people STOP working in the afternoon. It's just too hot (or too rainy) to do anything. It's naptime, siesta. Sleep trumps work. The way it should be. And night-- real night: 10 PM to Sunrise-- That's when you LIVE!

It's about 10, when we get to the bar. Jose is there already, as is my new friend, Jeffry (a Dutch guy of Surinamese origin)... and Spit. I buy Parbo for the crew.

KYDJ! have no guitars with them. Accapella as well as acoustic? The bartender digs up a single guitar and hands it to Gavin.

Gavin starts playing. Ahh we know that tune. Jeffry starts on the vocals, nodding his head in time to the music:

They're forming in a straight line

They're going through a tight wind

Pretty soon Jose and I pick it up:

The kids are losing their minds

Blitzkrieg Bop

It's not long before everyone sitting outside joins in:

Hey ho, let's go

Shoot 'em in the back now

What they want, I don't know

All revved up and ready to go

Gavin hands the guitar to Jose.

As the only white guy there, I feel like I can ask for it.

Play Kill All De White Man,” I say.

He starts strumming.

The white man call himself civilized,” he sings with a strong Carib accent, “Cause he know how to take over. De white man come to pillage my village. Now he tell me I have to bend over.”

I join in on the chorus:

Oh yeah, kill all the white man,
Oh yeah, kill all the white man,

Soon the whole bar is singing:

Oh yeah, kill all the white man,
Oh yeah, kill all the white man,

It's a punk rock hootenany.

In case you're not familiar with the tune. Here it is, performed by the originals. I only wish I had a video of US doing it.

I do have a video of US doing BEER IS BETTER THAN GIRLS ARE... Maybe it'll be a hit.

The rest of the night continues the sing-a-long with the guitar passed around like a spliff. The beer flows, the night wears on.

Most of the songs were too recent for me... from this millennium. But I gamely tried to keep up. Only Jeffry seems to know them all.

After the hootenany, we all (me, Gavin, Ryan, Jeffry, and, of course, Jose) pack into Jose's car.

Guess where we're going?” says Jose... and he takes off. Stopping in front of one of those buildings with an neon exploding star.

We go in and sit at the bar. There are a lot of attractive girls standing around. There's a dancefloor with a pole and some moving lights flashing over it. No one is on it.

We each order a beer.

Next to the dancefloor, a thin half-bald, man dances by himself. He wears a black and white blazer. On the blazer are some kind of Asian figures. He holds a cane, with a shiny metal ball on top.

A very tall, very black, very sexy woman catches my eye. She's wearing a very tight dress, as black as she is. I smile. She walks over to me.

Ik sprichk geen Nederlands (I don't speak Dutch),” I say to her.

Sorry,” she says, “I don't speak Dutch.”

Where are you from?” I ask.

I'm from Antigua,” she answers.

I nod as if I know where Antigua is.

I'm feeling my Parbo and doubt I could function even if the guys were willing to wait for me. A minor tragedy. I raise my glass and toast the girl, giving her a sorry, not tonight smile. She walks away.

The only one dancing in the crowded club is the guy with the cane. Not what I came to see. I want girls shaking their body parts. Poles to hold on to and slide up and down.

There is one blond girl among the working women. I'm guessing she's Eastern European... or blonde Brazilian. Jeffry's interested in her. She can see it and she walks over to him.

I don't remember much more about the night. We went to another place where there were fewer girls... and not as good-looking. Then we went to Jeffry's

Sorry, I don't remember going back that night. I remember awakening sometime the next day, at Jose's place. I'm alone in bed, and not spleeping in my own vomit.

The next day, I return, hungover, to wish Gavin and Ryan a safe trip back to Georgetown.

Gavin wants a farewell picture with the headlining metal band: DISQUIET.
We say good-bye and I'm on my own... or really on Jose's own.

That night is Jeffry's farewell party. He's going back to Holland. The night starts by the OLD FORT... a landmark in Suriname.
Jose and I meet Jeffry and a bunch of mostly Dutch friends he's met since he got here.

[NOTE: I never met anyone who collected friends so fast as Jeffry. Mr. Niceguy. Mr. Smartguy. Mr. Punkrock Encyclopedia. It's amazing. This guy, of indeterminate race and nationality, could go anywhere in the world. BANG! A friend collection... he should teach a course on it.]

After dinner, theirs... not ours. (Jose's mom cooked for us earlier), we go to a bar for drinks. You guessed it UNCKIES HOUSE OF BLUES.
After a bit of hootenanny, most of the crowd goes home. Those of us left, go to Jefrey's hotel room for a farewell drink or three.
Sometime later, Jose and I are back at Jose's house.

He's a busy guy. He's a student. He works in concert arrangements. His car is falling apart. He's got insomnia. And now he's got me.

[NOTE: I'll have more details about Suriname in my next blog entry... in a Flashback. So now let's skip ahead to where I'm just leaving the country.]

Jose's mom has been making calls for me. She's checking on the best way to get to Albina, the port city for the ferry to French Guiana.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” says Jose's mom.

The good news,” I say.

The bus to Albina (port for the ferry to Frenach Guiana) will only cost 10SRD,” she says. “And then you can take a small boat across the river for another ten.”

And the bad news?” I ask.

You'll have to get up at 4AM to get the bus,” she tells me.

You can take a taxi,” says Jose's dad. “It'll cost more, but at least you'll know who you're sitting with. There won't be a bush woman with ten kids and chickens... and it'll pick you up here.”

What time does that one leave?” I ask.

I'll call for you,” offers mom. “What time do you want to leave?”

Well, I hate to get up early,” I tell her. “But I don't want to arrive in Guiana too late. My friends will be back at work at 2PM, so how about 10AM?”

She nods and makes the call. After some Dutch conversation, she hangs up.

The taxi will pick you up here...” she says, “at 8 o'clock... Still it's better than 4 o'clock.”

I decide to take it.

One more check of the guidebook: On entering French Guiana, it says, you must have a ticket out of the country. A ticket out of another Caribbean country is not enough.


I arrive at Surinamese customs at 11:30. The ferry leaves at three. I can't take the small boats because the ferry is the only way I can get a return ticket. The small boats you pay in cash... no return, no tickets at all.

I hang out in the customs shed until 1PM. Then I ask the customs officer where I buy the ticket to the ferry.

On the ferry,” he says. “You pay on the ferry.”

On the ferry?” I don't ask. “On the fuckin' ferry? That means no tickets. No return. Nothing. I might as well take my chances in one of those banana boats.”
I pick up my bags and head for the dock. Sure enough, there's a banana boat.
The “captain” sees me with my bags and points to the other side of the river. I nod. Maybe I can get a discount if I travel with bananas.

Nope. He gestures a phone call, then pulls out his cellphone.

In the meantime, another boat pulls up. This one is even smaller than the banana boat, though there is some kind of covering.

Other passengers have joined me on the concrete jetty. They take the first boat. I wait as someone in the distance comes to pick me up. There is already someone else on the boat. As I stumble onto the small boat, I hit my backpack on the roof... I go low and duckwalk into the low covered part.

The “captain” of this boat looks younger than my 16-year old nephew... and just as reckless. I hope he knows where the rocks are.

Another passenger joins us... and we're off. Just us.

The boat sways from side to side, like a (very rough)cradle. One side sinks, the edge dips to the water, then the other side. One of my few virtues is never getting seasick. (Did I jinx it by writing that?)

In less than a quarter hour, we reach French Guiana. I climb over the side of the boat. The “captain” is already out... talking with a friend by another boat... near some palm trees. I open my wallet. There's only a 5 and a 50. I fish some change from my pocket, just scraping together 10 Suriname dollars. I walk over to the young man and hand him the money. He counts it.

Ten dollars?” he says. “It's fifteen dollars.”

Now comes the BIG MOMENT OF DECISION. I figure I'm being cheated... but is it cheated? I've got more money than these guys... even if I don't have a lot. Yeah, it's racist for there to be white prices and native prices. But racism fits the situation. At least here and now. Okay, he wins. I hand him the 50-- he has change.

I climb the hill to the immigration booth. No return ticket. No visa. Not many Euros. No one else is entering the country at the moment.

A bunch of white guys are hanging out by the immigration windows. They're speaking French. They wear uniforms with the kind of reflective vests that worn by roadcrews to avoid traffic accidents. Instead of CONSTRUCTION, the vests say IMMIGRATION.

I hand my passport to one of the guys. He hands it back to me.

First you go to that window,” he points to a small bank-teller looking window about two feet away, “then you come here.”

I go to the window, but there is no one behind it. One of the “officers” calls to someone inside. A burly man who needs a shave... or at least a cigar... to complete the look... comes to the window. I slide my passport under the place that looks like I should be sliding dollars.

The man grunts. Opens the passport. Grunts again. Stamps the passport. Slides it back under the bullet proof glass. I return to the other officers. One of them makes a get out of here gesture with the back of his hand.

Où puis-je obtenir quelque chose à manger?” I ask.

La bas,” says the gesture man. “deux cent metres a droit o a gauche.”

Merci,” I say, and walk off onto the streets of the city, with only the vaguest idea of where I'm going.


[You can read previous travel blog entries below.
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 not PG. It might make you mad, or disgusted. The thin-skinned, politically correct, and easily sickened should probably stay away. You have been warned.]