Tag Archives: fishing

I’m an (unlucky) fisherwoman–and a poet!

Today, I took a break from lesson plans and meandered down to the pier. The 4 pm sun was strong as I stopped by the vegetable store to inquire about avocados (I’m gaining something of a reputation as an avocado eater). Lucky for me, they not only had ripe avocados but also fresh spinach! I think I confuse the vegetable men with my enthusiasm for green things, but they cheerfully bagged my purchases and said, “see you later, my queen!”

I took the quickest route–in front of the catedral–then cut to the back street to avoid the tourist hunters in the main plaza. Today, I just wasn’t in the mood to explain that a) I live here and b) I’m too poor for your chicken dinner this month. On the back street, I heard the waves as I passed behind the restaurant row. Between the plastic tables, I caught a glimpse of the old muelle. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the muelle used to be the longest, busiest pier in South America; today, it’s four stubborn slabs of broken concrete and steel, a shadow of the glorious railroad days and tourists’ pocketbooks that used to come from all over to witness the bustle. Now a days, the old men call it “the four piers of Puerto Colombia,” a sad joke before they take another pull on their frosty Aguila Lights.

I made a beeline for Amelia’s jewelry stand of woven bracelets and shell necklaces that tinkle in the gusty breeze. She’s always here, clenching a needle in her teeth as she threads shells onto fishing wire. I met Amelia a few weeks ago when I decided I was going to introduce myself to all the artisans on the pier so that they’d stop trying to sell me stuff. This afternoon, she lit up when she saw me, laying out a piece of heavy cloth for me to sit on. We tried to exchange New Year’s stories, but the vallenato music at the adjacent restaurant was too loud and she had customers. I left my avocado with her and headed for the muelle.

December is the month of breezes and “cooler” temperatures (around 80-85 degrees), and the strong winds almost blew me over as I walked out over the waves. On the right side, the open sea was choppy and high as it crashed into the cement; on the left side, the leftover wave fragments are still for a moment before recollecting themselves and rushing towards the rocky beach. In this still spot, Ramiro was fishing.

Apparently, Ramiro and I are neighbors, but I didn’t recognize him when I started chatting with him about the wind conditions. He recognized me, though. He started to tell me stories about when the muelle was whole and an island guarded the puerto. He used to work the international ships that came to Puerto Colombia and to the mouth of the Magdalena River–English, Spanish and American liners. Nowadays, he’s pensioned and fishes for fun, although I can’t imagine any exercise in patience to be enjoyable. He laughed when I said I had bad luck for fishing–then handed me the line. “Just for a minute, while I rig the other one!” he promised.

I got into proper fishing position: back to the wind, eyes squinting at the setting sun. Every passerby stopped to look at me, look at the fishing line, and look at the dying fish next to me.

La gringa pescadera! The white girl fisherman!” they murmured.

“His name is ‘Lunch’,” I shrugged back, deciding not to tell anyone that it wasn’t my catch to claim.

I watched the light turn pink on the foaming waves and  Ramiro sang in a sweet baritone voice, a ballad he wrote to the muelle for its 100th birthday. He sang about the view from the island; the tourists who used to come; the storms that broke it and its abandonment by the rest of Colombia.

For some reason, Ramiro decided that I’m a “beautiful artist”, and he talked about the music and the art and the beauty of the death of the muelle. He marveled at my travels and I realized that right here, on this hard piece of history, even those who stay in one place can understand the heart of a gypsy.

Epilogue:

And then I went home and wrote a little poem, but it’s kind of in two languages, or Spanglish, or something:

El mar es mi hogar

pero falto las aletas o alas

para escapar de las olas

y me quedo en el muelle

contra el viento con ellas

The waves argue amongst themselves

against the wind

I lack feathers or fins to

fly over or under them

so I stay at the surface,

fighting the wind together with the waves.

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Bienvenidos to Puerto Colombia

I haven’t made time to write much lately, but I promise there are a few posts in the draft queue. In the meantime, I thought I would give you a quick introduction to my new home, Puerto Colombia. This is my permanent site on the Colombian coast, where I’ll be living for the next two years!

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Welcome to the main street into Puerto Colombia!

According to the official statistics, Pto as a municipality has about 45,000 habitants, but our “pueblo” claims about 5,000. There are several little townships squished together, and you can walk between Puerto Colombia, Pradomar and others in just a couple of minutes.

Puerto was the main, bustling port of the coast about a hundred years ago, when the pier linked Caribbean shipping lines with the Colombian railroad. Over the years, as Barranquilla built up its port, Puerto Colombia has quietly downsized to a sleepy fishing village/bedroom community to B/quilla.

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The famous “muelle”. It still has remnants of the train tracks that used to run train cars straight out to the waiting ships. Now, it’s the fishermen, bored teenagers and tourists who walk the concrete catwalk out to deep water.
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Today’s pier broke into pieces about 7 years ago, and now the only way to visit the end of the once-long and majestic pier is by lancha, or small fishing rowboat. Or by swimming, if you’re brave/stupid.
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A view looking towards the beginning of Puerto Colombia’s coastline. I actually visited Pto before they announced that I would be living there for two years. Love at prior sight/site!
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My school, which is K-11th grade in two branches. This building houses the middle school/high school ages, from 6th grade to 11th grade.

In Colombia, high school is 6th-11th grade (I know, can you imagine being put through the high school experience 5 years?), and at 11th grade they graduate, usually at the age of 16 or 17. From there, kids either go straight to work, attend public or private university, or attend a technical college.

My school is K-11th grade, and I’ll be working mostly with 9th to 11th grade (at least in theory.) Since a large part of my job is facilitating the professors’ work, I’m hoping to work in depth with them, improving their pronunciation and English conversation skills, as well as contributing ideas to curriculum and materials design.  I have five counterparts to work with, some of whom teach mostly grammar and others that teach English laboratory.

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My counterparts and principal!

I’m assigned 18 hours with my school, which will be partly working with the English faculty, partly working with the primary school teachers, and partly co-teaching classes to our 10th graders who are prepping for the ICFES (now called the Pruebas Saber). This test is their qualifying exam for university, and it measures the usual math, science, literature, etc. as well as a huge portion of English grammar and conversation. Because of the importance of this exam, I’ll be spending a lot of time with both the students and the faculty in making sense of the speaking/listening/conversation part of the English language.

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These are my 10th graders, demonstrating the use of technology in the classroom for a film crew from Bogota.

Fun story about the above photo: My first “teaching” moment happened in front of a film crew. I showed up on a weekend to help out with a segment at my school, and ended up teaching a brief English lesson for the camera and my future 11th graders! Apparently, a cable channel in Bogota is doing a show on technology in the public school classrooms of Colombia, and our school was chosen to demonstrate said technology. One of our students placed in the top category on a recent national test, as well, so Cisneros has been featured several times lately. This class of 10th graders was the most-behaved and quietest that I’ve ever seen (or will see.) Once the cameras turn off, they’re back to their usual vibrant and costeño selves–loud, excited, curious and not at all excited about studying!

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Now that school is out for the holidays, I’m spending time integrating into the community. I’m meeting my neighbors, learning my way around town, and trying to get a feel for the porteña life! I’ve already been warmly welcomed and people are receptive to the idea of English clubs, community work and teaching me to dance salsa! I’ll be here for the holidays, so I’m looking foward to getting the full experience, Caribbean style.

Happy holidays from Puerto Colombia!

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