Meet the Fellow: Gena Steffens

Gena Steffens is a photojournalist who shares a lot with her hero Jane Goodall – not least of all her looks. Gena and a young Jane are almost impossible to tell apart and the similarities don’t stop there. Gena also shares Jane’s love of solitude and living in the remote reaches of nature which explains why Gena currently lives in a little jungle town in Colombia. And now thanks to the IWMF fellowship, Gena has also answered the famous proust questionnaire which Jane Goodall ruminated on in 2004. You can compare Gena’s responses with Jane Goodall’s here.

What is your most marked characteristic? Probably that I’m different.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? I recently got selected as a NatGeo Explorer which includes a grant to look at the environmental consequences of peace in Colombia since the end of the war in 2016. So one of the issues I will be looking at is deforestation because lots of forests were previously protected by the FARC rebels and now there’s a power void which has opened vast regions to land speculation and new drug trafficking routes and even multinational companies are coming in because the risk of kidnapping has largely dissipated. There are also positive impacts like the fact that scientific research and study into these previously isolated ecosystems can happen and also potentially positive developments but there is a big question mark on what will happen next.

What is your greatest fear? That something terrible happens to me because of my work and putting my family through that.

What historical figure do you most identify with? The first name that pops into my head is Sojourner Truth. I admire that she went against the grain, she challenged authority and she did things that could have come at a personal cost to herself because she knew that they benefitted others.

What is your greatest extravagance? Being introverted. Having my own space, being in silence and not engaging at every opportunity because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Where would you like to live? I love where I live right now which is a little jungle town in Colombia. I mean I love visiting cities but I haven’t found one I’d like to live in. That might change in the future but for now I’m content where I am.

What is your favourite journey? I recently went to these geographically isolated table-top mountains in Southern Colombia. They had these cave rock paintings there which the experts think might be over 20,000 years old and they’ve been hidden and shut off from the world until very recently because of the armed conflict.

What is your current state of mind? I have lots on my mid but I’m holding it all back and putting it all off until I’m in the right state of mind. To be really productive and do good work I need to be in a quiet place.

What is your most treasured possession? A ring from my grandma….That’s what I feel I should say because it’s a family heirloom but that’s not a super passionate answer! It’s just in case she’s reading this [Laughs]

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Good food, being warm and being in contact with family and being around people I like.

What is your motto? I think it’s a motto by an old friend which is just ‘live life’.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I cry. Sometime at inopportune times. I guess I’m emotional…

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Meanness.

What is your favourite occupation? Entering other people’s realities and worlds – being in their shoes for a day. That’s what I love about my work.

Arwa Aburawa, Fall 2018 Guatemala Reporting Fellow