Episode 2: Where Is Suriname?

Ronja’s Learning Adventures tell the story of a little girl who is fed up with school. At one point she runs away from home and joins her father who lives on a sailboat. While sailing the world with him she will now experience all that she only read in text books before. With the time she understands that going to school is not so senseless after all.

Her adventures are based on real events but have some fictional content, too.

Ronja’s Learning Adventures – Episode 2

As soon as mom and dad have finished their call I call daddy.

„Dad, is this true? Am I really going to Suriname?“

„Yes, I don’t think your mom is convinced but she agreed. That was not easy.“

„Oh daddy, I cannot believe it. I am so excited!! But now tell me, where is Suriname?“

He laughs: „I will confess something now. Before I sailed here, I didn’t know where Suriname was either. Take your school atlas and I will show it to you.“

Oops, where is my atlas?  „Dad, I call you back, ok?!“ After 20 minutes of search I find it underneath a pile of old exercise books underneath my desk. It still looks brand new. When I call him back, daddy laughs:

„You don‘t seem to use it very often.“

„Yeah, yeah, I found it.“

„Now open the page for South America!“

„Ok, yes, got it.“

This is me: Ronja

„Now you see one big country in the East of South America. It is the biggest country on this continent. That is Brasil.“

„Where is East, Daddy?“

„On a map East is always on the right. North is on the top, South is on the bottom and West is left. Ok?“

„Ah, ok. So Brasil is on the right side of South America?“

„Yes, correct. Now you go North along the Atlantic coast. This means you go up on the right side of the continent. You will see a big river. A huge river in fact. This is the Amazon river. Have you heard of it?“

„I think so, yes. I think our teacher said, it is the biggest river of the world. And there is jungle there.“

„Exactly. The Amazon river is the biggest river of the world. It is so big, it is really hard to imagine. You cannot see the other side. It carries more water than the ten next biggest rivers together. And when I sailed past it, it took more than two days. Can you imagine? And now go a little further North. You will see a country called „French Guyana“. Do you see it?“

„Yes, I can see it. In my atlas there is a rocket symbol there. What does this mean?“

„French Guyana is not an own country. It is a part of France and there is a big space center there. They launch big space rockets.“

In French Guyana is a big space center

„Cool!! But France is in Europe. How can it be this is part of France?“

„Yes, France is in Europe. But France has little pieces of land all over the world. Long time ago, France conquered them because they had valuable things they wanted to have, like gold or diamonds for example. Then they became colonies. Colonies are foreign countries under control of another country. Today some of them are part of France. Now, the next country is Suriname.“

„I cannot see Suriname. The next country I see is Dutch Guyana. Is it up or down from there?“

„Oh, you have a very old atlas, Ronja. Many years ago Suriname was called Dutch Guyana. Like France the Netherlands had colonies, too. But 45 years ago it  became independent and changed its name to Suriname. But obviously it takes some time until this information makes it into the school books. They still speak Dutch there, though.“

„So the atlas is wrong!! I will tell my teacher on Monday.“

On Monday, we get the results of our geography tests. I have a 5. In Germany this means: not passed. I expected this but still I am a bit sad. Then we go through the tasks of the test and Mr. Prinz, our geography teacher, writes down the names of those countries on the board that have jungle: Brasil, French Guyana, Dutch Guyana,… 

I can‘t help it, I jump up, my chair falls over and interrupt him, all breathless: „No, that‘s wrong!! French Guyana is not a country, it is part of France! And Dutch Guyana is called Suriname!! You are the one who should get a 5!! Maybe everything else you tell us is also wrong!!“ I feel that tears are running down my face. „I am flying to Suriname next week and then I will tell you how the jungle really is like!“ I am so mad at him. We have to learn all these boring stuff and then it turns out it is not even right.

When I come home, I video-call dad, like almost every day. He explains to me that on Thursday mom will bring me to Frankfurt by train. My grandma lives in a village near Frankfurt. I have visited her many times. I know this is a four hour train ride. Then I will stay one day with her. And on the next day my grandma and Walter, her boyfriend, will bring me to Amsterdam by car. This will take six hours. There a flight attendant will pick me up and take me to the airplane. 

Then he tells me something that I do not understand. He says: „Your flight will depart at 10:00, it will take 11 hours and you will arrive at 16:00 in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname.“

„Isn‘t 10 + 11 = 21? Shouldn‘t I arrive at 21:00?“ 

„Yes, it will be 21:00 in Germany but here it will be 16:00 because we have five hours time difference, do you remember? You have to deduct five hours from your result.“

„So it is 10 + 11 – 5 = 16. Ahhhhh. Yes, I remember, we talked about it. This looks like a task in my math class.“

„Hahaha, yes, there is a reason they teach you this. It comes handy at times.“ 

The coming days I cannot sleep. I am so excited. The long journey. I have never been on a plane for so long. I have never traveled alone. I have never been in the jungle. Are there really wild animals? Can I really get ill? 

On the last school day before fall holidays, mom and I go to a travel doctor. He knows everything about illnesses in other countries and how you can protect yourself. He says I need a vaccination against Yellow Fever. Yellow Fever is another illness you can get in the jungle. Why didn‘t they tell us about all the jungle illnesses in school?

I can’t wait to see the jungle!

The doctor explains to me that in the jungle in South America there are three very dangerous illnesses: Malaria, Dengue and Yellow Fever. He tells me that the most dangerous animals are not alligators or jaguars or eagles but mosquitoes. I cannot believe it. These tiny insects should be more dangerous than an alligator with its big teeth? But he is very serious when he tells me that much more people die from mosquito bites than from alligator bites. I should make sure I will not get bitten by mosquitoes because I can get very sick from them.

While I watch the photos I don’t even feel the needle.

Then he is telling me about his own jungle expeditions. He obviously loves it there and while he is showing me photos of his last trip I don‘t even feel the needle he sticks into my arm. 

And then he says: „So, brave little girl, I wish you a great trip! And when you come back, you have to show me some photos, promise!?“

„I promise!“