Student - February 11, 2016

Climate research in guerrilla territory

Text:
Amy Jansen

Who? Zita Hegger, student of Climate Studies
What? Master’s thesis on tropical montane cloud forests
Where? Chaméza, Colombia

‘My research area was very unusual; I was one of the first foreigners to have been to Chaméza. This will probably change fast now that oil companies are moving into the area, but it still feels very special.

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The farming village of Chaméza is in Colombia. I did research there on how the water system works in a tropical montane cloud forest. That is an ecological system that is a feature of mountain rain forests. Not much is known about it at present, whereas knowledge about it is very useful and could be important for the future of the water supply for the farmers in the district. The lack of knowledge is partly a result of the difficulty of doing research because of the guerrilla violence. I couldn’t go into my research area for a while myself because a guerrilla had shown up. Things were very tense. Luckily I could carry on with my work later.

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My stay in the village was very interesting. It was obvious that the people there didn’t know as much about the world as we do. To my astonishment, for instance, there was someone in the village who genuinely did not know that the world was round. This made me very aware of how much we take knowledge for granted. There was a lot of superstition too: a tattoo was seen as something demonic. And yet some people in Chaméza were amazingly smart and inventive. In Chaméza I learned how to milk a cow, I helped build a house and learned to ride a motorbike. And that proved particularly useful because it meant I could get to the research site. I also did some tours through the mountains on the motorbike at sunset. That was a really beautiful sight.’