So, for those of you who are not familiar, field-based training is a week of Peace Corps Training where they pull us out of our comfy training communities for a week of intense (and intensely cold) technical training. In place of four hours of Spanish class we have a week of eight hours a day of learning all sorts of surprizingly fun stuff like making park signs and trails. Don´t worry we had plenty of just plain ol´fun mixed in there too. I´m going to skip over the details of the lectures and highlight the fun stuff. There´s plenty to write about without giving you a crash course in eco-tourism.

FEBRUARY 14: Happy Valentine´s Day! I think I have pictures of the almost 80 valentines that I made for our training group, my whole family, and the staff at Peace Corps Guatemala. We were picked up by the Peace Corps vans again this morning to drive way the heck out into the highlands. I don´t normally get car sick, but this was one heck of a trip through the mountains. It was well worth it because once we got there we helped build the first wall of a building made of plastic bottles. All of the framing is done pretty tradicionally with either wood or metal and then the walls are lined with chicken wire and filled with plastic bottles packed tightly with chip bags and other plastic trash. Later the whole thing will be covered with a thin layer of cement mix so it will look just like a normal wall. It cleans up the community, it´s cheaper than block, and the bottles are more forgiving than block durring an earthquake. Granted, I don´t think it would fly in the states (though it might work for a chicken coup) but it´s pretty darn nifty here. When I got home from my day trip there were several Valentine´s day presents from my family waiting for me. My host mom, Kelly´s host mom, and my host sister got me hand towels (they are a very popular gift for all occations here ). One of my host cousins brough me a beautiful iris. One of my host aunts bought me a bag of cookies that were a lot like Grandma´s jam bars, and one of my host uncles drew me a beautiful card. Also, I got to have a really tasty dinner with Kelly and her host mom, complete with cake and hot chocolate. And to top it all off I learned to cut leña (firewood) with a machete! It was a wonderful day that captured the spirit perfectly! P.S. Start saving up those bottles and chip bags so I can build a house for my chickens when I get back to the states. ;)

FEBRUARY 15: We left for FBT. Lots of crazy driving again. We were just plain exhauted by the time we got to Totonicopan and went to sleep after a quick lecture and a not-so-quick campfire.

FEBRUARY 16: Today we learned how to make paths and trails and park signs. That meant I got to use lots of tools (including power tools, YAY)! We even learned how to make tools to measure the slope of the trails out of sticks and string and rocks. Again, maybe not a life-skill, but something that comes in handy here.

FEBRUARY 17: Today we spent the afternoon taking turns for our first bath of FBT. The women working in the kitchen boiled copious amounts of water so we would have warm bucket baths since it feels like Minnesota in September right now. While one person took a bucket bath, another guarded the door that didn´t stay shut and the rest of us learned how to make arts and crafts from garbage. This included mats made from woven newspaper, candle holders from pop cans, piggy banks made from 2 liter bottles, and flowers made from the tops of 20 ounce bottles. It was just like being in elementary school all over again, which is perfect because the kids here don´t really get exposed to arts and crafts. This is a great way to let them play and clean up the community at the same time. Not to mention what great mother´s day gifts they make. Moms love anything. Thanks moms!

FEBRUARY 18: Today we got to go to a school near the park we are staying at and teach the kids some of the crafts that we made yesterday. Erin and I were in a first grade classroom making bottle flowers. There were 32 kids in the classroom and they were amazingly well behaved and VERY affectionate. As we were working I was going around the room checking on everyone and after each step each of the kids would run up to me, proud as punch, saying ¨teacher look.¨ I need to expand my vocabulary for well done. After finishing our project with the kids, singing a song, and washing a metric ton of glue off of our hands we went outside for recess and snack with the kids. Some of them, usually little girls, would come up to us and give us pieces of bread. Being a rural area I am fairly sure that that was all some of them had brought to suplement the hot milk and corn flakes that the school provided.

FEBRUARY 19 : Today was worth sleeping in the freezing cold for the first part of this week. We got to go on the biggest zipline in Guatemala! This being Central America, and slightly lax on liability laws, we were able to go Superman style attached to the zipline by the back of our harness. One of the other volunteers took videos of each of us, and I´ll be posting mine soon. Words could not do this experience justice. The flight had a great view of lake Atitlan, and I felt just like a bird. When we got back from that we had an ecocamp with a class from one of the local private high schools. We all had a blast, and I think that the kids learned a lot.

FEBRUARY 20: All we really had today was a lecture, but it was pretty amazing. It was given by a man who has his PhD in Environmental Interpretation, which means that he figures out ways to make signs, paintings, demos, or what have you to interpret both environmental and cultural tourism sights! How awesome is that? I even wrote a pretty stellar little piece of poetry as part of a quick assignment he gave us... masters program anyone? I will certainly have to keep it in mind!

That about covers Field Based Training. As usual, I am behind in my writing and I have lots more to share, but that´s all for now folks.
There is a joke here that if someone is half an hour late they're on time. Apparently I have adopted this ideology where my blog is concerned. I realized this morning that I haven't really shared anything that has happened since late January when we had the tremor! I will try to highlight all of the wonderful things that have happened since then without turning this into a novel!

JANUARY 31: In the morning we had a community interchange with one of the Health Schools groups. We made a little treasure hunt for facts around our Municipality. I have to say it was much more interesting for me to see the other town than it was for me to lead people around ours, partially due to the fact that the town that we went to was Pastores. Pastores is on the other side of Antigua and it is known for boots. There are stores upon stores lining the streets where you can see people cutting and dying leather to make any kind of boot you could possibly imagine, although the majority are cowboy boots. They aren't terribly expensive either. Certainly something to keep in mind if you are planning to head down for a visit. In the afternoon Kelly and I went to a festival in San Luis with her host mom. I am still a little confused about the occasion, but we ended up leaving 15 minutes or so after we got there. I guess I was expecting lots of people milling about, things to do, and neat things to see. It ended up being a pickup with large speakers on the back followed my a crowd of dancing men in drag. I wish I could answer your questions, but I am really baffled on this one.

FEBRUARY 1: Today Kelly and I were invited to my "uncle's" birthday party. It was fairly small, but lots of fun. Everyone ate like crazy and, of course, there was cake. As horribly as we eat in the states, there is a chunk of sugar and salt in everything here. This evening there was another birthday at home so we were graced with even more wonderful food... and cake. When it rains it pours, huh?

FEBRUARY 5: This afternoon each of the four people in our group gave charlas at the park at which we are working. This has been a stress factor for all of us for several weeks, and I think that we are all quite glad to be done with it. While our Spanish is getting good enough to communicate our thoughts and feelings on a daily basis, giving a semi-formal half-hour presentation to nine park guides and several managers from the muni is another animal all together. My charla was on how to write an effective mission statement. We started with a puzzle that I made from a piece of construction paper (that was darn difficult, if I may say so). I handed out a piece to each person and then asked if they could put it together alone or in small groups. "Of course not, we wouldn't have all the pieces." Then I asked them to work together to try and put it together. They got pretty far, but couldn't quite get it all to fit. Then I gave them another piece of construction paper with the solved puzzle outlined on it (representing a mission statement) and asked them to try again. Pan comida (piece of cake). We talked for a while about the similarities between a company and the puzzle, and then we looked at the mission statement for Polaroid (which is something along the lines of helping people capture their memories), and how it really gets to the heart of what the company is doing and allows them to evolve with technology. No, I didn't use that phrasing. I used pictures that I cut out of the newspaper. Also, no one needs to tell these guys that Polaroid isn't doing so hot, it was the thought that counted.

FEBRUARY 7: Today was one of the most exciting days for me since we have been here. All 32 of us were picked up in our communities this morning and we drove out to a Mayan site to be a part of a Mayan ceremony. It was a private house where they had unearthed an old Mayan altar. Originally the owner of the property had built his house over the altar, but upon moving in he suddenly began drinking heavily. He tried unsuccessfully to quit several times, and the problem got so bad that they called a Mayan priest to the house. The priest explained that the reason he was having issues was because of where he had built his house. The house was moved and the site excavated, and according to the owner of the house, he hasn't had the urge to drink since. The ceremony itself was very intense, even though we didn't use the altar. The fire was made in the common area outside the owners house. We were all allowed to participate by placing candles in the fire at several times during the ceremony. I ended up very sunburned but it was vale la pena (worth the price). 

FEBRUARY 8: Kelly and I had a sleepover at her house last night. She and her host mom were at a baptism yesterday afternoon, and they came and got me after dinner. We went back to the baptism (which was more like a wedding reception and kept going long after we left at 8), and I had my first dance in Guatemala. Before any eyebrows go up I would like to explain that my dance partner was a short, stout, and fierce Guatemalan woman who rocked from side to side so vigorously that I thought she was going to tip me over.

FEBRUARY 13: Today we (Anthony and I) went into Antigua with the Marketing Director of Senderos De Alux. I had been under the impression we were going to shadow him while he presented the park to various Spanish Schools in the city. However, when we got there we were each handed a stack of pamphlets, assigned several blocks, and told to meet back at the car in two hours. Not only was it hotter than sin, but there weren't enough Spanish schools to occupy two hours, and the car disappeared until it was time to meet up again. I still love my job, but I didn't think that "Tourism Evangelist" was on the description. Still, it gives us lots of good suggestions that we can include in our POA (Annual Operating Plan) for the park. I do have to say it was a good thing that I was able to find a good cup of coffee today, because I was up half the night last night making 70 valentines for my training group and some of the staff at the Peace Corps office. However, the lack of sleep has been well worth seeing the smiles on peoples' faces (even if I have had to explain the occasion to some of the staff here).

Well, that about sums it up for now. I am going to be at Field-Based Training for the next week, which means that I will be out in the boondocks. If I don't get back to you, know that I am still alive, I'm just spending all my time in classes and zip-lining down mountains. You can bet that I will have lots of pictures and plenty to write about when I get back!

Vaya bien,
So, plenty of people have been asking about my family, living situation, daily rutine, etc. This is my attempt to address just a few of those.

I am currently living with 6 other people in a single-level house. My host mom is the head of the house, and I live with her, her husband, their daughter and her husband, and their one-year-old son and one-month-old daughter. It isn´t particularly crowded, but I don´t think we could fit many more. I do have a room to myself with a bed, a nightstand, a desk and stool, and some wire racks where I store clothes. I also have a window right next to my desk which is great for airing out the room, but the view consists of the bars over the window and the VW bus that has been parked outside since I arrived. We do have power constatly (thus far) and I am able to plug in my iPod and speakers now and then to listen to a little bit of music. The only real shortage I´ve run into relates to the bathroom. With five adults in the house it is in high demand, but no crisis thus far. :)

Though reserved, everyone in my family is very friendly. The only tension was with the one year old boy, but I can hardly blame him. I am living in what used to be his room, and I arrived barely one week after his baby sister. Talk about some major changes for the little guy! However, we are getting along much better and this week he started to put his arms up for I hug when I came home. I´m looking forward to doing more playing in the recent future!

My daily schedule is a little bit more difficult because it changes a bit depending on the day. Mondays I am at the Peace Corps office for medical, technical, safety, and cultural training. On those days we are in Santa Lucia all day so our lunch is packed for us (it´s a little bit like being in kindergarten again). There are also random days for technical training, meetings, and activities, but an average day with Spanish class looks something like this;

6:00am - Wake up, shower (hopefully not too cold), get dressed, clean room
6:45am - Go outside and around the house to the kitchen door, and go into the kitchen where breakfast is usually waiting for me. Average breakfast: eggs, hot milk, and bread.
7:30am - Go back around to my room to pack my bag for school
7:45am - Leave the house and go to get Kelly (the other female volunteer) so we can walk to the house where class is being held that day.
8:00am - Spanish class
10:00am - The Doña of the house brings us a yummy snack
12:30pm - Go back home for lunch. Average lunch: soup, vegitables, atol (any thick hot drink), and bread.
2:00pm - Leave the house and go to Kelly´s to work on whatever project we are currently supposed to be working on and Spanish homework. A snack is usually involved.
6:30pm - Go back home and visit with my family
7:00 - Eat dinner. Average dinner: beans, atol, meat, more bread.
8:00 - Bedtime. I usually read a bit and review more Spanish words while listing to the really loud music from the evangelical church with which I share a wall.

As you can see food, and bread, are in good supply here. Needless to say, the Peace Corps diet is more likely than not a myth. I have heard rumors that the average weight change of a Peace Corps volunteer is an addition of 13 pounds. Drat. Still, some of you have asked my about care packages. I know that mailing things internationally is expensive, so I certainly don´t expect anything (except maybe a letter now and again), but here is a list if you feel so inclined:

- Sugar-free speramint gum
- Sunflower butter
- Cinnamon Teddygrahms
- Cheddar Goldfish crackers
- Dark Chocolate (I promise, it doesn´t exist here!)
- Nonni´s biscotti
- Hot chocolate mix
- Your hugs

Vaya bien,