When they told me I was going to work in Suriname for a couple of weeks I had to go and look it up in an atlas. I’d never heard of it. Pardon my ignorance.
Once I found out though I was keen to discover the smallest sovereign state in South America, stretching from the northern Amazon to the Caribbean.
As soon as my colleague and I arrived at the airport we realized this was no ordinary place. Turned out the only place you can get Surinamese currency is inside the country. And the only way you are allowed access (at least at the time I was there) into the country is to pay a tourist tax… in Surinamese currency.
After some puzzled exchanges we seemed to reach an impasse with the border official (there were no other foreigners on the flight so we were alone in this apparently hitherto unknown predicament. In the end we persuaded the official that I would stay as a hostage while my colleague went to change money. Luckily for me he came back and we duly paid up and were allowed in.
Over the next two weeks we witnessed many examples of Surinamese logic. The most interesting for me as a researcher was the the importance of asking the right questions. We only ever got the answer to the exact question we asked. So it had to be right.
The plant where we were working extended to the Suriname River and had a jetty for loading and unloading products. The local staff explained to us that every afternoon a 10 foot long snake would slither onto the jetty to bask in the sun. I wanted to know more.
“Can we see it?” The answer came “Yes”
“Is it poisonous?” “No”
“Does it bite?” “No”
“Can we go and see it today?” “Yes”
Luckily I thought of one last question. “Is it safe?” “No”
After further investigation it turned out it was a boa constrictor that could well decide to kill us if we went to take a few happy snaps of it lying on the jetty. Everything they said in answer to my questions was of course true. I like to use this example when I’m helping clients understand the importance of getting the right questions in their questionnaire. And preferably to keep them as open as possible. Unless you already know the answer, be careful what you ask.