Two weeks ago, we had the celebratory revealing of site locations after a suspenseful 8 weeks of training and subsequently traveled for a week of Field Based Training (FBT) and site visit. So where am I off too? JUNIN!
Reasons Junin is AMAZING:
1. The 4 Environmental Volunteers of Peru 14 (including me) and a 3rd year Environmental Volunteer are the first PCVs to be sent to work in the departmento de Junin. [FYI: Junin is the departmento (equivalent to a “state” in the US) east of the Lima in the center of Peru.] This means, I am not only the first volunteer at my site, but we are the first volunteers in all of the departamento and first to work with SERNANP officials in the Reserva Nacional de Junin which works to protect the uniquely diverse natural ecosystem around Lake Junin, home to many interesting bird species including the famous Zambullidor de Junin and a nearly extinct Rana Gigante (Giant Frog).
2. At over 4000 meters, we are very likely located at the highest location of all the PCVs sent around the world. Our region around Lake Junin is perfect since it is a plateau…making it also conducive to host the highest railroad and the highest altitude marathon (how cool would it be to say I completed the highest marathon in the world!), and biking is a very realistic method of transportation…that is after you adjust to the lack of oxygen!
3. Junin is beautiful! Pictures to come, but trust me it is incredible and everyone should consider adding it to their long list of must see places in Peru.
4. The people are warm hearted and friendly. A stereotype of Andean communities in Peru is that the people are less affectionate and much more reserved than Peruvians who live on the coast…Junin is definitely evidence of the exception. It is to be expected that you greet friends and new acquaintances with the “European” cheek kiss, striking up a conversation and asking for help is incredibly easy and they are overall generous and eager to share.
5. Quechua is not the predominant language. Many Andean communities, for example many communities in Ancash departamento, speak the traditional language Quechua and while all of the younger generations learn Castellano (“Latin American Spanish”) in school, Quechua is very wide spread making it difficult for PCVs to rely only on Spanish for communication. Surprisingly, the people is Junin speak very little Quechua and while I currently struggle with their slightly different pronunciation and accentation in sentences, I only need to learn Castellano to communicate. Clearly this is not all good, since it means that traditional culture is being lost. But, this culture is plenty present in cooking, dress, celebrations and traditions.
6. And more to come I am sure!
Likely Site Challenges:
1. We are the first volunteers, meaning we lack established connections and know very little about the area and community. It was definitely hard not having any current PCVs to talk with about their experiences…especially when I saw and heard all the excitement with everyone else. Still the excitement of the unknown and potential to be a trail blazer is also very rewarding.
2. New site PCV (aka not a replacement volunteer) has the difficult task of setting up sustainable development program and I have been warned not to set too high hopes of accomplishing impossible tasks in 2 years. Two years is short in regard to any development project, but it is even shorter when nothing is in place to prep your volunteer work.
3. Cold, cold, FREEZING. No one was lying when they said Junin is cold and clearly altitude can prevail over proximity to the Equator. Unfortunately we leave for our sites during the rainy season and without sun, Junin can be unbearably cold. Coming from a girl raised in Rochester (one of the coldest, snowiest, overcast places in the US), I would point out the huge difference it makes when you have no warm haven to hibernate in. Unlike in the US, the buildings are not heated or even insulated and sitting inside hardly feels warmer than sitting outside. During my week long visit in Junin I will shamefully admit that I only showered one day (even though I had 3 nights of warm shower opportunity in a hostal during FBT) and the thought of even removing clothes to change into pajamas was so unappealing that I couldn’t do it some nights. But as much as I am complaining, I will get used to it and during the daytime sun it is quite pleasant. And thinking about positives: no insect bites and I don’t sweat enough to really need a shower right? (don’t judge me!)
4. 4115 meters = inability to engage in physical activity…until I acclimate. Even worse, I found out I don’t do well with altitude sickness, so I will look forward to that every time I move from nearly sea level Lima to over 4000 m Junin. However, once I acclimate, I will be an athletic champ!
That is all I have for now.