“You know, it’s funny,” I remarked to my friend Leonardo.
“I’ve met people from all over the rest of South America, but I’ve never met anyone from Guyana, Suriname or French Guiana.
“Maybe they don’t travel outside their countries.”
Leonardo looked at me and smiled.
“That’s because those countries are not in South America,” he replied confidently.
There was a short pause.
“I’m sorry?” I ventured.
“It’s because they’re not in South America. Those countries are islands,” my friend continued.
Now, this is a smart guy with a very good job, so I thought I would have a little fun. I asked him to draw a map of South America. He complied – guessing something was amiss – and, sure enough, the Guyanas appeared as three little islands off the coast.
I drew my own map. (I’ll admit, I had the advantage. I’m a South America geek, always studying the map to plan my next trip. But still, I wasn’t born and raised here.)
We compared sketches and laughed. He had drawn Bolivia above Peru, complete with a coast (if only). Uruguay was in the wrong place and was suddenly as big as Argentina. Peru, by contrast, was tiny.
These are easy mistakes to make (Personally, I sometimes forget the location of Germany) but I started to become worried when Leonardo refused to believe the Guyanas were part of the mainland. He eventually had to pull out his touch-screen BlackBerry and check an online atlas.
The following day I asked seven more friends – all smart, professional people – to draw me their own maps.
“I’ve forgotten the name of those three little countries. I think one of them is called Suriname,” my friend Anita groaned.
She wasn’t the only one with that problem. Two of the maps missed all three countries completely – stretching the nation of Venezuela until it reached all the way to the east coast.
(Other amusing mistakes included forgetting the existence of Ecuador and/or Bolivia completely, Argentina suddenly becoming smaller than both Paraguay and Uruguay and Chile moving to the wrong side of the continent. But hey, like I said, the location of Germany frequently befuddles me)
Still, again, one friend tried to tell me my three little countries were “not part of the continent”. Another insisted: “You know Vicki, they’re not actually real countries”.
Well, my friends, I would like to welcome you to the first (and probably only) post from my new campaign: French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana ARE South American. It will be called FGSGASA for short. (Yes, I am aware that could also stand for For God’s Sake Get A Sodding Atlas)
I would like to say this:
1) Guyana is definitely a real country. It’s a republic and, okay, so culturally it might belong more to the Caribbean than the rest of mainland South America – but the fact is, it’s here, it’s bigger than Uruguay and it deserves its place on any map we draw.
Interesting fact: Guyana won independence from the United Kingdom in 1966 – the first (and only) year that England’s footballers managed to win the World Cup.
2) Suriname is definitely a real country – even though it’s the smallest one in South America. It has its own airline and its very own UNESCO World Heritage Site in the form of its central nature reserve.
Interesting fact: The people of Suriname are brilliant at languages, so much so they frequently can’t decide on their national language and even considered choosing English or Spanish for trade reasons. You’ll find Dutch, a creole language called Sranan and even Hindi… with a smattering of Javanese and Portuguese thrown in.
3) French Guiana is, okay, an outpost of France. BUT although it uses the Euro and is part of the EU… blah, blah… it does have its own flag… and, yes, you know what I’m going to say… it is actually here so, yes, it definitely does deserve its place on any map we draw.
Interesting fact: Even though only about 250,000 people live in French Guiana, the place has its own space station which has launched several rockets into the outer reaches.
So there you go. Forget them at your peril.
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