From outside to within

I’m Ilaria Carbellotti, an Italian master student in Organic Agriculture at Wageningen University. I’m currently doing fieldwork for my thesis in La Mata and Sempegua, two little fishermen villages of the Ciénaga de Zapatosa, the biggest wetland of Colombia.

Arriving as an outsider

When I arrived in the fieldwork area of La Mata it was quite a powerful experience.
The first day we went to visit the place where some women, “las componedoras,” clean the fish just brought to the shore by the many fishermen in the village.
Sitting on the ground, with very confident gestures they held the live fish in their hands, cut off their fins and finally removed the entrails. I still remember the smell, the sight… all too strong for me, especially as first thing in the morning. After five minutes of staring at them and feeling like a complete outsider, I started doing the typical thing any tourist would do: taking pictures and filming that scene so far from my reality.

A local foreigner

After a week or two of living with the community and getting used to my new reality, I went fishing with Omaida and Marisol, two extraordinary fisherwomen. It was incredible. I did everything that one normally does here for a living, such as rowing, setting the trammel net at sunset and pulling it back at dawn, and taking the caught fish out of the net. Also, once back in La Mata, I found myself sitting on the same ground as the first day, learning how to gut fish and joking with those women whose hands were 100 times faster than mine. It felt normal to be all dirty, covered in fish guts and a little sunburned. And the funny thing was that this time it was me who was recorded by some locals. I think it was the first time for them to see a foreigner doing what I was doing.

La vida es sabrosa

The most precious thing about this place, about these villages, is that the inhabitants live in nature and can create a deep connection with the Ciénaga and with the people themselves. In fact, all the people I talked to, even those who sometimes don’t have food, told me that ‘la vida es sabrosa’ i.e., life is tasty. This makes me think that in these fishing villages, despite the many contrasts and difficulties, there is a lot of potential in terms of quality of life. In La Mata and Sempegua I found two very united villages, where people help each other in times of need, exchange products (such as fish and plantains), and are happy to open their doors to a foreign girl who speaks very ‘funny’ Spanish and comes from such a different reality. I am happy to say that I have many new families there, and the next time I visit Colombia I will know who to come back to.

PS I have become so accustomed to their customs that I sometimes miss their typical breakfast: fried fish (usually bocachico) with arepas or yucca, and a big glass of fresh juice.

Muchas gracias Colombia. Te tengo en mi corazón