Houses of God
Suriname is often credited as being a true multicultural society. This is only partially correct. Although many different cultures do live intertwined, it's just that, they're living close together, but not necessarily integrated.
It is amazing to see so many churches, mosques and temples in such a small country. In downtown Paramaribo a large synagogue stands right next to an even larger mosque, both a stone's throw away from South America's biggest wooden cathedral.
It's possible to get a tour of the St. Peter and Paul cathedral but the building itself is decaying fast since it's no longer in use. Just a bit further away, there's a small replica of the same cathedral which is still in good shape.â€¨There is a second large synagogue in Paramaribo, but it's rented out as an internet cafe.
Although the synagogue is normally closed to the public, it's possible to get a tour of the facilities when reserved in advance. When we arrived, one was just about to start and we joined the three older women that were there. One of them was an old acquaintance of Betsy and another, who lived in the Netherlands, was searching for the roots of her grandparents. Through old pictures, neighbours and children of old friends of the family, piece by piece she was closing in on the picture that was her grandparents. She had come to the synagogue since her grandfather was baptised a Jew, although that was in a synagogue that now no longer exists.
We met the women again later on, when we were enjoying a beer at 't Vat, a tourist bar in the tourist district. They came up to us and talked about their experiences. In doing so, one of them stepped, accidentally, on a large cockroach, already on his back fighting to survive. Sadly, when the lady walked away, so did the cockroach.
Our guide of the synagogue, Jules, was an old neighbour of Betsy's. He himself now runs the only McDonalds in Suriname, his father, who was also there, owns the Fernandes factories, where they produce soft drinks, breads and more. When Jules walked in, he looked at my girlfriend, "And that's Betsy!". Small world.
The floor of the synagogue is covered with sand, a custom that was copied after the first (also wooden) synagogue, in Jodensavanna was abandoned. Since Jews aren't allowed to work on the Sabbat, a falling candle might cause quite a bit of havoc and destruction since, on the Sabbat, as a Jew, you're not allowed to extinguish it. There's one other synagogue in the world where the floor is covered with sand. It's in Curacao and it was set up by Jews coming from Suriname.
After the tour, we talked with one of the workmen at the synagogue. He turned out to be an uncle of Daphne, an old friend of Betsy. That Friday, her little brother was going to celebrate his birthday big time in one of the buildings on the grounds of the synagogue. We had no choice but to go. The old man also pointed us to a nearby shop, run by an older brother of Daphne. My girlfriend had only stuck her head through the doorway when he said "Betsy!?".