Fulbright Scholar 2015-2016

Tuesday, 30 June 2015
It took at least a year to get through the application process and paperwork but I am officially a Fulbright scholar for 2015-2016! The grant is for an appointment of two months in Pakistan to continue my research regarding freelance journalists who cover conflict.

I’ll be heading to Islamabad in September and October of 2015 (if the Visa comes through without a problem) and will stay in the “Fulbright House” where I’ll have a driver, cook, cleaner, and “handler.” I will not be allowed to go off of the grounds on my own even to take a walk and I cannot conduct research without someone accompanying me. This is all for security and safety reasons and I completely respect the need for certain restrictions. I learned much of this information by attending orientation last week in Washington D.C. with other Fulbright scholars. The meetings were informative and I feel incredibly honored to be going through this experience.

I am planning on a design change for my blog in the coming weeks because I’d like to spend a considerable amount of time using this site to update my friends and family about my appointment. We were specifically encouraged by the Fulbright institute to use social media to promote what we are doing, who we are meeting, and the ways in which we are representing the United States abroad. As far as my time in Pakistan goes, I would so appreciate your support through reading and commenting on my posts because I’m afraid that I’m going to be fairly lonely. Replying to social media posts would also be fantastic because I will likely be facing a pretty large cultural difference and may need support. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for any interaction you might have time for.

I am specifically looking forward to a few almost outlandish aspects of the grant. The United States embassy in Pakistan may invite me to speak at events, have dinner with important folks, lecture at conferences in Islamabad, and generally represent the U.S. I will also be able to make a short trip to another South Central Asian country for professional activities such as teaching, lectures, and/or presentation of research. That means I might be able to spend time in places such as Sri Lanka or the Maldives. (Um, wow!)

As far as social and culture behavior in Pakistan goes, I learned quite a bit at orientation. Here’s a look at some of my questions and the answers I received:

1.     Do I need to dye my hair to a darker shade? No, there are U.S. citizens and ex-pats that live in Islamabad and blonde hair isn’t as uncommon as you might think.

2.     What should I wear? Loose clothing. Most women wear a sort of leggings/tunic combo. I was also asked to bring some “dressy” clothing because apparently Pakistani people love to dress up and I will need outfits for embassy events!

3.     Do I need to cover my head? No. Westerners do not normally cover their heads in Islamabad. 50% of Pakistani women apparently do not regularly cover their heads in public.

4.     Should I shake hands with people I meet? No. You can wait for them to extend their hand to you as an invitation to shake. Otherwise, you can place your right hand near your heart as you meet someone.

5.     Should I change my research focus to only women freelance journalists in order to get better access socially? No. You can safely meet with men in the Fulbright offices for interviews. It is not recommended that you meet with them in other situations.

6.     May I have a glass of wine at a restaurant? No. Drinking in public is not socially or culturally acceptable in Pakistan. There may be wine at an event at the U.S. Embassy and people are welcome to partake there.

7.     What faux pas or stereotypes should I be aware of? Do not think of the concept of “time” as the same way you might in the United States. Be patient and calm in all situations and know that not many people communicate quickly via email. Face to face or a phone call might garner better communication results.

While I am very excited about being a Fulbright scholar this is a daunting appointment. The orientation leaders warned us about random stressors. They asked everyone to think about coping strategies for moments of anxiety and even led everyone through a mindful breathing exercise. Women might be objectified, belittled, ignored and disrespected. Locals may apparently ask newcomers, “Are you Muslim?” Our “culture coaches” asked us to think about how we will answer that question politely and sensitively. Westerners are also viewed as being fairly selfish read: “independent” and it is necessary to be aware of that type of stereotype.

Two things that I could use your advice on: What area of life in the United States should I give lectures about in Pakistan? One of the most highly attended lectures was by a scholar who talked about the meaning of comic books in the U.S. How can I top that? Also, what sort of small gifts should I bring that represent the U.S. and/or Tennessee or Ohio?

One last note – please share about your life when you have time. I’m interested to hear about what’s new with you!

Truffle Hunting in Tuscany

Sunday, 28 June 2015
While on a Silversea cruise earlier this summer, I had the amazing opportunity to go hunting for truffles in the countryside of Tuscany. The experience was listed in the activities option on the cruise itinerary and while James, his family, and his family’s friends were touring another part of of the area, I went via bus with around 10 other cruise guests to an amazing village in the county.

We spent a few minutes listening to a well-versed truffle hunter (and part owner of the Savini family business) talk about the truffle hunting process. 

He introduced us to his dog (which is not an actual “full-bred” truffle hunting dog) that sniffs out the truffles. The dog is medium-sized with short, wiry, curly fur and obviously, a nose for truffles. Our guide explained that people also use pigs for truffle hunting but dogs are preferable because pigs will eat the truffles! Can you blame them?

As we all gathered back onto the bus, the truffle hunter and his dog jumped into a little red truck and sped off to the woods in front of us. Once there, the dog relieved himself (this is apparently part of the animal’s regular routine), sniffed around on a gravel trail for a few minutes and darted off. The truffle hunting adventure had begun!

Because I was one of the more nimble participants on this outing (Silverseas is a great cruise line for luxury travel and many of the guests are in their 60+), I kept close to the dog and hunter for the first search. We were literally running through the woods and jumping over fallen trees in order to keep up with the dog. He eventually stopped near a few tree roots and started digging. 

The guide explained that the hunter must stay close to the animal because it can start digging for a truffle and scratch it with his claws. A damaged truffle is not worth as much as one that comes out of the ground unscathed and has to be used for cooking rather than sent to market. 

In just 45 minutes, the hero – the dog – located four truffles the size of limes. The dog can only catch the scent of a truffle if it is becoming ripe. Of the four found on our excursion, two of them smelled more ripe than the others. The scent is a deep, heady smell that reminds me of damp, mossy woods. This is what the truffle looks like:

While it was fascinating and exhilarating to participate in the actual truffle hunt, the second part of the afternoon was just as amazing. We were treated to a three-course meal made with all things truffle and Italian red wine. It was hands down one of the best culinary experiences that I’ve ever had. I will post details on this place at the end of the article. If you are a serious foodie, put it on your bucket list! 

We started with a plate of appetizers. This included prosciutto infused with truffle oil and made with flakes of truffle, cheese made with truffle, freshly baked bread drizzled with truffle oil and even olives infused with truffle oil.

The next course (my favorite) was pasta made with bits of truffle, topped with a truffle cream sauce (including a bit of truffle butter) and fresh, shaved truffle on top.

They also served amazing little dishes of baked egg with fresh truffle shavings and truffle oil topped with a dash of truffle salt.

The Savini family truffle hunt and lunch is certainly one of the best culinary experiences out there. The only thing that compares (for me) was the cooking lesson I took in Uruguay. This was an authentic "farm" to table process that we were about to participate in and admire.