Suriname (South America)
Living for two years in Paramaribo and the jungle
In Turnhout I met my Surinamese friend Anton and two years later when I received my residence permit I was living on Menkendam in Paramaribo.
Suriname, is an ex-colony of the Netherlands, with its many different population groups including multiple religious and ethnic groups.
The largest ethnic group, the Maroons and the Hindustani, the “Afro-Surinamer”, the Creoles, the Javanese, the Indians, the Europeans, Brazilians and Chinese all living together under one roof.
A diversity that many countries can take as an example.
The aim was to search for gold in the rainforest of Suriname bordering French Guiana and Brazil.
I will describe my experiences in Suriname extensively in my biography so I will keep this as short as possible!
Life in the city of Paramaribo and the jungle
Life in the city was peaceful and I enjoyed discovering the beautiful and interesting Surinamese culture in Paramaribo.
Most festivities took place in the center of the city on the waterfront and the palm garden. There in a bar we often watched football and Formula 1 races that started early in the morning at 9 o’clock.
I watched the F1 races either in the city or in the jungle. Here I saw Max Verstappen in his #33 Red Bull win his first race, the Spanish GP from the most beautiful VIP place in the middle of the jungle.
As I wrote before, I lived in the Menkendam district. Here I was a guest in a stone house which I made more livable during my stay. My friends Leo and Margareta also lived there.
I met many people there, all of them family members who sought shelter on their travels and / or visits to the city to sell their cassava. Cassava is an extremely important food in Afro culture.
A visit was also made by my friend Mimo who was studying the Bible and his goal was to become a pastor in his parish. I eventually got to know Jesus from him and he guided me through the Bible. Here everything is already described with beautiful stories.
I used to be an acolyte and went to church often, but I never understood the faith in general. For that I had to end up in Suriname to find out, better late than never!
I regularly visited different families to talk to and eat together with. I believe this will always be the best way to get to know a culture.
Real Surinamese food is very tasty and rice is never left out, even when I made a delicious spaghetti with real Italian sauce!
Silvie’s family always had fun with the spontaneous Ester, Nene and Marion. With Ester and her cousin Nene at home, i would play a game called ‘don’t get annoyed’ and sometimes I would accompany them to the city.
Michael managed to return the gas cylinder I purchased for the family full in the afternoon, in order to get the money back. Ha a, isn’t he a genius?! Instead, he could have just asked me for the 50 SRD.
In the morning we would start early with a cup of coffee and a game of checkers with my neighbor and friend Bryan. A little later I picked up my guitar and started practicing.
Naturally, I also picked up playing football again and could integrate so easily this way, which led to being asked to become the football coach of Jozef at SC Caravan.
The president of Suriname was Mr. Brunswijk, which, together with his political party ABOB, will enter parliament in 2020 and will help Suriname recover economically.
Back in the city I would make time to play football with the children in the street and buy ice cream from the ice cream man who came by with his cargo bike like I remember as it was in my own younger years. So nice, isn’t it?
I offered 5 kids ice creams and then.went upstairs once more to get money. When I returned there were 15 children! And for the second time I went upstairs to get money! I also helped a number of women with their homework, most of them went to evening school to obtain their MULO diploma later in life.
With a diploma, the chances of finding work were greater.
The jungle, so many emotions!
On two occasions something indescribable happened to me. It wasn’t about the loss of people dear to me not about injustices done, or about anger or shame. No, none of these emotions. It was not sadness itself that hit me, but something profound that struck me deep in my heart and soul and moved me tremendously.
The first occasion was when I was, by boat, slowly but surely approached the quiet lying, ominous and enormous jungle for the first time. The immense jungle either frightens or embraces you. The uncertainty and the that awaits you in all its immensity, feels like you are sailing towards the beginning of the end!
But the jungle embraced me and received me to get to know it better…
Wat bedoel je hier mee?
The second occasion was when I was lying in my hammock and the evening lead into the night and I suddenly experienced an unexpected silence of the inhabitants of the jungle for just a few minutes. Laying under a duvet of millions of stars, which you can feel you can almost touch in an immense universe. It is just you and the jungle’s nightlife.
“After all, there are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on all of the worlds’ beaches combined.”
I don’t know if I have found the right words to describe and share these emotions and do justice to these incredibly wonderful moments!
The journey to the camp
The journey starts from Paramaribo towards Afobaka with provisions and machine parts for the camp. With my boat Massief and 25 HP engine we went towards the camp in the jungle. We traverse the Brokopondo Lake which was occasionally dangerously haunted by bad weather and high waves. As a result, you could no longer see the top of the tree trunks on the surface of the water. Sailing into these was dangerous as the boat could tip over.
To Esters’ and my great sorrow and disbelief, Nene drowned in the Brokopondo Lake in 2020 when their boat capsized. So bad, so sad.
So make sure to always wear a life vest when in a boat, bring umbrellas for the downpours and always keep your hands on deck!
The government decided to flood part of the jungle in the 60s to create the Brokopondo lake and to build a hydroelectric power station. The reservoir has become a tourist attraction and Afaboka an important loading and unloading point for goods. During the trip we would sometimes visit one of the islands, and admire the lifestyle and different crafts of the residents.
During the journeys of almost 4 hours by boat, I found time to practice the harmonica. After that we had another 2 hour journey by quad bike before finally arriving at our camp.
The group of diggers consisted of 9 men, 3 of which were Surinamese and 6 Brazilians and there was 1 cook, also Brazillian. Everyone had their regular duties and there was a clear hierarchy to do this arduous and complex work. It was difficult to keep the company going as we faced a lot of problems with the machinery, but the motivation kept us going: e… FINDING GOLD!
In the camp I had my own cabin where I slept alone, certainly one of my best and simplest houses ever built! The four posts, cross beams, a piece of tarpaulin and a channel dug around my “house”. Always make sure to turn your boots upside down on a stick for drying and to prevent scorpions or other vermin from getting into them.
Always check before putting on the boots!
When coming back from the city, the watchdogs, including my dog Blues, were the first ones to hear the quad approaching from a distance. Wherever I went, the two dogs always followed me, one in front and Blues in the back. No one ever taught them this, it was just like that! The “toilet” was lower than the well where we pumped the drinking water into a basin.
The kitchen had a dining and relaxation area for playing cards and watching TV. Here we would watch the formula 1 races and Brazilian football, including women’s football with Marta. Every night we would send the chickens into their cages, completely finished with gauze, otherwise they would not survive the night. The dogs would stay close to the hammocks to prevent bats from biting their ears. Some employees would sleep without a mosquito net to be more alert, so did I because I didn’t want those bats between my sheets.
Later in the evening, lying in the hammock, you can almost touch the millions of stars, one of the most beautiful moments of the day.
During the stay in the jungle I studied Portuguese, but also guitar. In addition, my regular task was to bring food to the workplace three times a day. Furthermore, I took care of the health of the staff and the people of the other camps as best I could when they needed assistance in case of illness or injury.
My interest in “grandma’s recipes” and natural and homeopathic remedies has always been there and I tried to apply this. But even more interesting if you are told about the healing power of plants and roots during a walk with a native resident. For example, the fruit soursop is used against some variants to fight cancer.
This was used in experiments and recognized in the United States in 1972!
The camp had to stay clean to keep cobras at bay, otherwise the cobras could reach your hammock. On one occasion an employee was bitten. In a photo I took you can see the three teeth of the snake bite! Unfortunately the outboard engine was broken and he had to wait “motionless” for a boat taxi. Later I was able to buy an antidote from Brazilians, just in case!
And then there was the the time a black fly bit my neck and left an egg which turn ed into a small maggot. It itches a bit, but comes out with a bit of rum muffled in tobacco. Afterwards you need to disinfect the wound with an antibiotic ointment.
That’s how it would have been if I would’ve been treated in Suriname. However, back in Italy it was quite a hassle with visiting several hospitals. I experienced first hand that the knowledge of the jungle inhabitants can be simpler and more efficient and effective than modern medicine!
“You listen to the advice of the Surinamese and Brazilians to avoid dangers, if you act stubborn you will have problems with nature.”
Several people who work and live there have not received training as we know it in Europe. In the west we have prejudices and condemning people as stupid. But here you wonder what is stupid? They survive in the jungle without any problems and we “educated” really can’t make it, not just for a few days!
Before sunset, the fishing net of 90 meters in length and 1 meter in depth was put out and we picked it up the next day at 6 am. We tie the empty plastic bottles to the net so that it floats on the surface. The next morning the rooster crows at half past four. After coffee and bread we collect the nets with two people at 6 o’clock.
The fishes are mainly piranhas with their incredibly sharp teeth and strong jaws. See the photo of the slipper where a Piranha just put his teeth in! The piranhas are cleaned, cut and salted before they are fried in the pan. One of the best fish I have ever eaten!
There are always times when you run out of provisions and then there is no choice but to go hunting, anything that crawls, flies or walks can be edible. Always on the hunt with high rubber boots and long socks pulled over jeans. A long-sleeved T-shirt, a cap on, the machete in your hand, the gun over your shoulder and the dogs around.
Of course you also hunt at night and you need a good flashlight.
Digging for gold
Before digging could take place, we first had to know where the gold vein was and did that with a metal detector. Then we dug the holes to a depth of 3 meters with the excavator and then sieved the good clay layer with a gold pan. (There is a song about this argument of Norma Sante – Moni bate)
Digging requires excavators, two Deutz 911 diesel pumps, the sieve and the Quad with a cart for transporting the oil drums. For every screw you miss or lose, you have to go into the city if the other camps around don’t have a spare to lend. The relationship between the camps was good as we just needed each other’s help. Everyone had their own area to dig for gold. Fixing something was not always easy, but you just had to fix everything if you wanted to find that precious gold.
After finding a place, we studied how to dig the holes. Water is needed for the fire hoses to separate the clay from the gold dust. This requires a channel to be constructed that ensures that the water is clean again, not cloudy, when it is sucked in. The water is sucked up with the material and passed over the sieve.
Gold is heavier than water, so it stays behind in the sieve. When the material of clay and gold dust is used up, we start “harvesting” the gold that is in the mats.
The “gold rush” came as the “material” of clay containing the gold dust ran out!
When “harvesting” we have several people around us for safety. After harvesting, the raw gold is distributed to the staff and the rest goes to the city. From this, goods, fuel, parts and grease are bought for the next hole.
And you start digging again and hoping to find even more gold this time. This is the start of the so-called “gold rush”.
Living in the jungle remains an indescribable emotional experience!
Back in Italy 2016
Of course it’s nice to come back home again after a long time.
The most common question: «and John… did you find gold over there?»
My classic answer: «No… not enough!»
The beginning of my musical era
When returning to Italy I was working for my brother at his pot plant company in Tuscany. Later at a supermarket I meet Sharon who later comes to work at our nursery. She is handy with editing videos and photos and became my trusted support and anchor with the musical project.
In Tuscany I made my first social contacts through football, at the football club Santomato. Here I visited many concerts organized by SantomatoLive.
I also support the youth coach ‘mister Lorenzo Meoni’ with exclusive technical training courses from ‘the bible of Dutch football’ the book of Wiel Coerver!
The music has no age!
Everyone grows up with their own favorite childhood music. In the 1970s on our black and white TV we got our music from the program Toppop. At that time we recorded the music from the radio with a cassette recorder and I had a record player before the CD player came on the market. I grew up with 70’s and 80’s music. The choice of visiting a music venue at the weekend was based on three aspects:
- What kind of beer do they serve?!
- What music was played?!
- Is it accessible by bike?! The bike usually knew how to get there, but the way back… not so well!
At that time, if I remember correctly, a few bands passed by such as:
The Osborn family, ABBA, Blondie, Queen (with the strong song: Find me somebody to love), Ram Jam, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Meatloaf, James Brown, Prince, Bob Marley, Eurythmics, Talking head, Simple minds, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Lenny Kravitz, Nirvana, Paolo Conte and so on.
When I turned 18 I immediately went to well-known pop festivals or concerts with U2, The Ramones, Paul Young and the Golden Earing, Judas Priest. In small pubs in Nijmegen Sinead O Connor, Matt Bianco and Herman Brood (of which my Italian son is now a fan!)
Later in Milan I visited a few concerts of classical music by Mozart, Renato Zero and attended a Pistoia blues festival in Italy where I was allowed to listen to BB King from 30 meters away! Oh Yeahhh.
Blues is my favorite music style. Blues will never die!
To name just a few: The Nighthawks with Nightlife, Aneth Franklin, in a way also Amy Winehouse, Zucchero, North Mississippi Allstars, Joe Bonamassa with burning hell and so on.
In Tuscany, however, I started to develop my music inspirations. I took several music lessons such as; singing lessons with Massimo Guidi, piano lessons with Sandra Cecchi and drum lessons with Alessandro Loconte.
I am also part of Sandra Cecchi’s choir where we sing during performances, often accompanied with piano, accordion diatonico, violin and stories are told, accompanied by special musical instruments such as a didjeridoo.
… and sometimes I am lucky to be in a beautiful place like Pietrabuona organised by the ‘Associazione culturale Pescia’ and listen to four Italian TOP musicians who perform all over the world with their classical music.
Life Music Camp (Summer & Winter)
At Life Music Camp I got to know what it is like to sing in a band.
A very interesting musical association for both young and old, from beginners to qualified musicians, everyone with a love for music is welcome.
The staff consists of Niccolò Menichini, Andrea Di Chiara, Edoardo Dei and Alessandro Lo Conte.
Summer and winter camps are all very interesting! Please give it a go!
Over the years we had special guests including; Luca Colombo (Guitar) & Claudio Cicolin (Guitar) & Bernardo Grillo (Drum)
My performances as a live singer from 2017
LMC summer 2018 -l
- Queen – Crazy little thing called love
- The Beatles – Hey Jude
- U2 -With or without you
- Lucio Battisti – Il tempo di morire
- Bob Dylan – knock on heavens through
LMC winter 2018 -l
- Little Richard, Lucille
- The Doors – Road house blues
- Rolling Stones – Honky tonky woman (jam session)
LMC summer 2019 –
- Rolling Stones – Satisfaction
- Roy Orbison – Pretty Woman
- Radio head -Creep (jam session)
LMC winter 2019 –
- Van Halen – You really get me now
- Jimmy Hendrix – Hey Joe
During the singing lessons of Massimo Guidi I prepared several karaoke songs such as;
- Radio head -Creep
- The calling – Where ever you will go
- U2 -With or without you
- U2 – ONE
- Robbie Williams – Feel
- Johnny Cash – Folsom prison blues
- The Police-Sting – Every breath you take
- Hoobastank – The reason
- Straycats – rock this town
- Jet – Gonna be my girl
- Ozzy Osbourne – Mamma I’m coming home
Also the auditions of the “Over 50” with Lucio Battisti – Il tempo di morire and I nomadi – io voglio vivere and the audition of my written song “Courage” for participation in EMF and Odeon TV.
A live concert at Sestola in Emilia Romagna, Italy
The boys Vince, Tommy and Alessandro were without a singer for a while and asked me to sing one week before the concert! Three wonderful days with three guys from Padova that I got to know on LifeMusicCamp (LMC). LMC is not just about making music, but also about getting to know people of all ages.
We played 12 songs together and those guys were fantastic.
Deep purple – Strange kind of woman, Smoke on the water, Black night
- Lenny Kravitz – Always on the run
- Lynyrd skynyrd – Free bird, Sweet home Alabama
- Rolling Stones – Satisfaction
- The Doors – Road house blues
- Free – All right now
- Led Zeppelin – Rock n roll, Heartbreaker, Good times Bad times
School in rock by Alessandro Lo Conte
My drum teacher Alessandro Lo Conte, always super professionally active, also organizes concerts with the school children where he teaches. After a lot of practice with different musicians until March 2020, this concert was unfortunately canceled due to the corona virus measures.
- AC DC – highway to hell
- Led Zeppelin – Rock and roll
- Red Hot Chillie Peppers – Scar tisue
- Elvis Presley – Blue Sued shoes
- Smash mouth – I am a believer
- Nirvana – Come as you are
- Queen – Crazy little thing called love
- GreenDay – Boulevard of Broken Dreams
We did perform at Christmas 2019 with, among others, Wham – Last Christmas and Glee – Jingle bell rock.
Making my own music
In 2018 I met the sound engineer Daniele Bao (and his lovely family) who arranged the first of my written and composed songs. From May 2020 we have been busy preparing my first music album consisting of 7 out of the 40 songs I have written and composed.
To start my independent music career as good as possible. I bought books and followed several courses that were offered on social network.
Through these courses of Kristine Mirelle, Michele Maraglino and Lorenzo Sebastiani I have been introduced into the world of managing and promoting me and my music.
Concerning the production of the musical video clips, Sharon and I make use of the green screen and add downloaded free photos and videos to complete a song.
Last but not least…
It is important getting to know the authenticity of people and listening to their life experiences with the accompanying culture and customs. The different cultures with their customs and traditions must always be respected and maintained, no one has the right to take that away.
Diversity is important in our life, that’s what makes life interesting. Sport has allowed me to integrate better and easier, anywhere I went, and it is and remains “my true social medium!”
In several songs I have described what I like and what I don’t. Because of the rush in our daily life and due to our busy schedules, we no longer have time for a listening ear. But we have a phone that knows everything!!!!!! Do I regret anything in my life? No, actually I do not. Everything you do is part of your life, and that includes the good and bad moments.
In a song contest I try to describe my experiences, ideas and the lost values in life! Tastes differ but I hope that my music can mean something in a positive way for some people.