The jungle isn’t a quiet place. Although all of our 2015 Advice Project Summit fellows were safely tucked into our beds last night, our open-air rooms were filled with busy wildlife. Chirping bats swooped between the high rafters as they chased insects to eat, and opossums and other small mammals scurried along the walls. Outside, competing choirs of tree frogs sang their hearts out; each species had its own, unique voice. The red and black poison dart frogs, for example, among the most toxic animals on the planet, emitted a rising crescendo of delightful popping sounds.
We also found out the hard way that some of the teens in our party are noisy night creatures. Last night, one girl angrily called out in her sleep – while it didn’t wake her up, it woke the rest of our group and made some of the adult leaders escape from our muslin-covered beds to rush over to make sure all was well. We learned this morning that this teen often talks in her sleep, most often to admonish her younger sister for some perceived offense!
Last night, another of our teens called out… in terror. She confessed that Jaime’s story about the spirit living in the ceiba tree had frightened her, and that for a moment, she thought something was standing next to her bed. Over breakfast this morning, the adults took care to explain some of the forest sounds from the previous night, which removed some of the mystery and (somewhat) calmed frazzled nerves.
After breakfast, we met for our first summit workshop. Each of our fellows had been given a workbook with daily readings and exercises for the week – we started by discussing talking an article in the New York Times by Liza Mundy called The Media Has a Woman Problem. Mundy wrote that “a new report by the Women’s Media Center found that male reporters still accounted for 63 percent of bylines,” and that “all but one of the individual winners of Pulitzer Prizes in journalism this year  were male.” We talked about what it means when people with privilege are allowed to control the media, and how important it is to allow people without certain privileges to tell their own stories. We talked about how over the next two weeks, we would write about our ideas and report what we’d see in the jungle, taking care to not speak for others. Because men are “quoted three times more often than women,” (Mundy) and because when women write the stories, “the number of women quoted” goes up, we would focus exclusively on the stories of women and teen girls to increase the diversity of voices shared in media.
Most of us were immediately were engaged with the topics and writing assignments we discussed, but others disengaged, with one adult member of our writing summit even telling us that she had decided to not write or participate in group writing assignments. While this might seem strange for a writing summit, it speaks to how difficult it can be to talk and write about complicated gender issues, and demonstrates that our fellows have varied backgrounds that epitomize these issues.
Some of us are staunch, progressive feminists, while others among us don’t identify as feminists at all. A couple of us identify as gender-queer, while others live in countries where conversations about LGTBQ+ issues are taboo. Some of our adult leaders are married and have roles that are viewed as traditionally female (stay-at-home moms, homemakers, etc.), while others among our adult demographic are either single mothers or have decided to never have children.
The diversity of what is important to a group of teen girls and women from around the world is beautiful. We are difference races, come from different countries, have different religions (or no religion), and have been exposed to different cultural ideas and views about how the world is constructed. Some amongst us have had open discussions about sex and sexuality in our homes, while others have had less candid conversations. Some of us don’t see the gender inequalities in our own communities and countries, while others see them quite clearly. For some of us, misogyny and privilege are uncomfortable topics to discuss, while for others, they are crucial conversation-starters. It would appear that for some people in our group, misogynist society even “works,” and that some of the topics we’re discussing make apparent some of the inherent problems in their communities or homes that they might not necessarily want to face.
In the days to come, we’ll deconstruct these ideas, focus on uncomfortable, difficult topics, and hopefully, jump outside each of our comfort zones in an effort to effectively engage with each other.
It’s powerful, to have our group contain such different voices, and it keeps each of all on our toes as we try to stay humble, respectful, and connected as we focus on a multitude of ways to work together as a group outside of our writing workshops. In the days to come, we’ll write about some of these other activities, namely our volunteer work with Inotawa Expeditions Ecolodge and local communities, art and yoga classes, and communal hikes.
Tomorrow we head to the Association of Residents of La Torre for Ecotourism and Sustainable Use of Tambopata (AMTUSET) to learn more about how the socioeconomic development of the region can focus on activities that aren’t a threat to regional biodiversity. Stay tuned!