My wife (@sreypov) and our two daughters (@kidsisters) are the first Cambodians to ever enter Suriname, at least that is what the Suriname Immigration Department told us as they were processing our residency visas. Now Sakada and Sakana are studying in the Suriname public school system, and a lot of memories are being made.
❤️💛💚 🎬 𝐎𝐔𝐓𝐓𝐀𝐊𝐄𝐒 🎬 💚💛❤️
We've been away from Cambodia more than 6 months, and our girls have been out of school for even longer. In Ecuador it was impossible to place them in a public school before we had residency visas, and we ultimately were never able to obtain residency visas.
Sakada and Sakana have been bored to death and eager to make some friends for far too long, so we are overjoyed to see them fitting in here in Suriname quickly despite the language barrier. During the first days we were worried that they might be bullied, ignored or have trouble making friends.
These worries passed within the first few minutes of seeing how the local Surinamese kids interacted with our daughters. They were so respectful and welcoming, and no less than 4 or 5 of their classmates helped them settle in, and communicated a bit in English with them to explain the morning routine. Sakada would've been ready for 5th grade in Cambodia, but the Suriname Ministry of Education placed her in 4th grade as she speaks very little Dutch.
Sakana, being only 6 years old wasn't as much of a concern, and the Ministry of Education placed her in 1st grade, her corresponding Khmer grade level. In 1st grade she doesn't have as big of an educational gap to close as her sister Sakada does. One of the funniest things Sakana's teacher taught her on the first day was the fist-bump. Cambodian children greet their teacher with a sampeah, a namaste-like greeting with hands pressed together in front of the chest in a prayer-like posture, so the fist-bump is quite amusing.
You have to imagine the cultural shock of going from conservative traditional Cambodia to the outgoing and energetic personalities of the Caribbean. Sakana told me she has never seen a stronger teacher than her Suriname 1st grade teacher. She's quickly become a beloved exotic classmate, as not many foreigners move to Suriname, and her cheeks are pinched here with the same voracity as in Cambodia.
I am really surprised at the amount of educational materials provided within the public school system here. It's about the same quality of education as a mid-tier Cambodian private school, so we are thankful for that. Here in Suriname private school is very expensive and beyond our means, and the cost of living can't be compared to Cambodia.
The school day is a bit short by international standards, starting at 8:00am and ending at 12:30pm. We can't complain though, because in Cambodia there are two sessions each day. This means two daily commutes back and forth to school, which made running our employee-less mini cafe quite difficult during the weekdays.
As you can see, there are many more pictures of Sakana. Sakada is now 10 years old, and she's already got that teenage attitude, wanting to just say bye to me outside the school gate and walk to class solo. I can tell when I take pics of her that I'm embarrassing her in front of her friends. Not only this, but 4th grade isn't as casual as her little sister's class, and I feel I don't want to interrupt class or upset the teacher.
There is a 30-minute gap each day between 12:30pm, when Sakana finishes 1st grade, and 1:00pm, when Sakada finishes 4th grade. Sakana and I usually spend this time devouring what food she didn't finish in her tiffin, talking about the day's lesson and sharing any hot gossip picked up on the schoolyard.
Sakada doesn't fully understand how Rastafari are viewed in the Caribbean yet, so she can't see why some of her black classmates come to me to pay respect everyday. She'll eventually figure out why the Surinamese are so interested in a Cambodian/Ginger Rasta Family.
Until Sakada figures out I'm actually a hip Dad in Suriname, I've resricted myself to distant photos and brief interactions with her classmates. Even little Sakana wants to ditch me at the gate some mornings. I guess @Sreypov and I should be proud they feel so independent and confident after only a few weeks in school.
Now our girls need to work on learning their friends' names, using basic Dutch phrases with their teachers and learning the Suriname national anthem in Sranan Tongo and Dutch. Things will come in due time, and we rest well knowing this cross-cultural school experience is giving them so much life knowledge.