Return

It is no secret that for the past 9 months I’ve been moping around missing Porto.  I returned this week for the EUSARF conference which was being held in Porto, Portugal.  EUSARF is held every two years and is the largest gathering of European researchers and policy/practice experts on child welfare.  I was part of a seminar on safety in residential care with colleagues from Australia Canada and the USA.

I’m pretty sure that as soon as my plane landed in Porto and my feet touched ground that I did not stop smiling for the first 24 hours.  Part of my happiness was revisiting old “haunts” such as the “cozy apartment” and the church, the laundromat (yes, I have fond memories of it) and the vegetarian buffet.  But the best was renewing friendships that I had made during my time in Porto.  As I was walking, I saw Sr Gato and Cao!  Sr. Gato is the older gentleman who feeds the colonies of cats in Paranhos.  As usual, he was walking with his bags of food with Cao following him. We discussed the new building being built in the former parking/home of the feral community of “torti-girl”, blackie and spokescat.  He said that two of the cats remained in the colony—tortie and spokescat (my names for them).  When I encountered the building I had a terrible sinking feeling that the cats were chased away by the construction, but feral cats in Porto can’t be intimidated by a building project!  Sure enough, they were there, looking for food from Sr. Gato and happy to have some tuna.

Another highlight was seeing Philomenia again.  Phil was the cleaning lady in the building where I was in Porto.  It can be lonely being a visiting scholar.  You do not have the routines of a regular schedule. On many days I would not talk to anyone but Phil. She would  come by to see me and cheer me up by doing a little dance or song.  One time she found my lost flash drive.  She was always smiling and just seeing her made me feel less alone.  At first she did not recognize me but then the realization that I was the “Americana” dawned and there hugs and kisses Portuguese style.

Remarkably many things were the same—Sr. Gato, the cats, the women in the coffee shop, and vegetarian buffet, Alphonse who cut my hair and Phil—to the point that I felt as though I had left the stream of Porto and entered again at the same point.  However, Porto is changing.  The building and renovations are occurring at an amazing pace :  Cranes dot the landscape.   Moreover the tourism  machine continues at an even more frenzied pace.  the volume of tourists almost obstructs the sidewalks in parts of the city.

Tourism has certainly helped the economy in Portugal.  Porto was a city in need of revitalization.  Tourism has given it new life.  But it has also driven up housing prices and made it impossible for students to find affordable housing.  Families are forced to move and have difficulty finding housing that is affordable and in reasonable proximity to their jobs and schools.  The irony is that the very thing that makes Portugal so attractive to tourists—the kindness and sincerity of its citizens, reasonable costs and feeling as though you are getting a glimpse of the real Portugal—is exactly what is at risk. Without some limits on the commodification of Porto, then it will become a shallow imitation of the “second city” of Portugal.

The best part of returning is renewing friendships. I visited with Katia and her family who gave me a ride to Lisbon and fed me and let me stay so that I could meet with my colleagues at the University of Lisbon.  I was driven to the airport by my good friend Patricia. This was because the trains were on strike!  Elsa and Daria let me stay in their gorgeous apartment overlooking the Douro river and held a dinner party for me so that I could catch up with Pedro and Ana.  Catarinia met me for coffee and then forced me to eat the most delicious croissants in the world at a coffee shop in Foz.  Ana prepared my favorite dinners and I danced with Vincente in her living room.  At the conference I was able to renew my friendships with colleagues from all over the world—people who had helped me while on my Fulbright.  I made new acquaintances  in Sr Bruno and Ze in the café where I took my morning coffee. (I am feeling as though food is playing a part in these friendships).  Seeing students that I taught last year or collaborated with was such a pleasure.

In Portugal I am my best self.  I am not sure why this is difficult to maintain this in my USA world, and while I tried that last time to keep my sense of adventure and mojo, it fell flat.  Travel forces me to confront things that make me uncomfortable and pushes me to listen in a different way.  My challenge in returning home is to find some way to keep returning to Porto, even if it is only in my head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, trains, taxis, bikes, vans and “trems”.

 

I’m back “home” in Porto after a week working in Lisbon and in Innsbruck Austria.

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The Christmas Market, Innsbruck
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Marques de Pombal Circle dressed for christmas in Lisboa
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The Christmas Market

 

I was at the school of social work and social policy) at the University of Lisbon and then at MCI Innsbruck. Last week was a succession of trains, metros, plans, taxis, vans and bikes.

The trip to Innsbruck was like a Wes Anderson movie.  Austrian Airlines cancelled the Frankfurt to Innsbruck leg, leaving a group of stranded strangers who for one reason or another needed to get to Innsbruck Thursday night. There were the two beautiful and friendly young women from Sweden who won a radio contest to meet Ed Sheeran and watch a private concert in a resort in the Alps. An older gentile couple from France needed to be at a conference.  Four middle-aged guys from Denmark had a long ski weekend planned.  Then there was a highly anxious and excitable 40-something man from Spain in a suit, with a small black carry-on and not a word of English in his vocabulary.  In fact, the only word that he could say was “trem”.  I’m not sure if that is train or just “trem”.

The short story is that I finally arrived at Innsbruck @2am  after shouting in desperation to the line of people at Lufthansa  check in line “does anyone speak Spanish” (there was) and he helped me to get my highly anxious and confused Spaniard –who attached himself to me at the gate like a heat seeking missile– into a cab to a hotel. J and M, the two Swedish girls who won the trip joined me on a flight to Munich Germany, closer to the border, and then got me stowed onto their van ride.  Klaus the taciturn Tyrolean drove the three of us and some other sleepy people through the mountains in pouring rain and we all arrived safely.

Today I saw my Spanish friend at the Innsbruck airport at 6am.  He saw me and said “Trem”.

Honestly– I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

 

I had a great experience at both Universities, although the two cities could not be more different.  Lisbon is warm and Mediterranean, with the Tagus river meeting the Atlantic under a brilliant blue sky.  It is said that the light is magical in Lisbon.  From my viewpoint at the University I could see the iconic 25th of April bridge across the Tagus.  I love Lisbon and I will miss this beautiful city of trams, tiles, bridges and the Atlantic.

Innsbruck is in a valley surrounded by the snowy alps and divided by the Inn river. The snow when it falls at night resembles the Swarovski crystals produced in the city.  The old city looks like an illustration that you would see in a children’s book.  Biking around the city I saw dozens of people with fir trees strapped to their cars.  The Christmas markets are an event of unabashed consumerism fueled by alcoholic punch, lots of bread products and singing Italians, Germans and Austrians all surrounded by fir trees, fires and twinkling lights.  I finally got some of the “Christmas spirit” during my short stay.

I’m wrapping my work up here this week and saying goodbye to old and new friends. Then home.

The Cats of Paranhos Porto

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spokes-cat looking for me

I’ve been observing the companion animals and their owners here in Porto.  Dogs are quite popular although there is no leash law (or if there is, no one pays attention to it).  As a result you see dogs in the street, and I’m not sure if they are out for a stroll or are actually homeless.  People don’t pick up after their dogs which is surprising and has made running a bit like an obstacle race.  In rural areas the problem is dogs being chained. There is a petition being circulated to stop this practice but while that will help I think that it is about changing attitudes.  I once went to a farm market in a rural area and was horrified to see a skeletal dog chained not 15 feet away from where everyone was parking for the market.  I don’t know if this was so “normal” that no one noted it, but I still have flashbacks to that and wonder what I could have done to help that poor animal. Yet, here in the city, I see perfectly coiffed small dogs with little jackets, well-fed and obviously loved.  I see dogs on the subway, dogs waiting outside of stores and banks for their owners; however, I do not see service dogs.

Porto is similar to Istanbul in its relationship with street cats.  While they are not as celebrated as in Istanbul, there is a neutral to warm co-existence with them.   As far as I can tell, they are not treated hatefully as they are in the United States:  no one is sending posts with “come get these cats or I’m going to poison them”.  I see feeding stations, including some with two levels and a view—what the Portuguese would call a T2 flat!  But there are a lot of street cats in Porto, and that is the case because trap, neuter and release does not seem to be a common intervention for reducing the population.  I see male cats with their parts intact and only a few cats with “ear tips” which indicate that they have been neutered.  While this co-existence may work for now, as tourism increases and cats lose their spaces to flats and hotels, I can see this changing, and not for the better for cats.

I have a group of feral cats that I share with Senhor Gato.  I don’t know his name, so this is my name for him.  I guess his age to be about 70.  Senhor G has an old dog, which I named “Gato-Cao” or cat dog. He looks like a mix of collie and corgi and has a wonky eye and lists to the right when he walks.   Senhor G and GC walk together with GC about 10 steps behind and unleashed.  Senhor G is always carrying two large plastic bags of food, one in each hand.  One bag is filled with dry cat food and the other with leftover table food.  The two of them make the daily rounds of feral communities:  the community that I feed is clearly one of his favorites.

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Cat-dog

We “converse” although his accent is totally incomprehensible to me.  The conversation sounds like “Os Gatos…(a stream of vowels and sounds)  a few words that I recognize like “menina” or “comida” or “peixe” then he smiles from ear to ear.  It is a nice moment between two people who communicate via a shared love of street cats.  He fills their bowls with dry food and gives them some table food and then he he is off, GC listing behind him as they walk off to the next feeding station.

There is a regular gang of 4 with an occasional 5th.  The first is “spokescat”.

This is a black neutered cat with a white patch on the chest.  I call him/her spokescat because this cat kept nagging me as I walked past each day on my way to the University. “HELLOOOO…. Do you have any food in those bags by chance?”  He (I assume it is a he) was the front-man for the community, and he is the reason that I started feeding them.  From eating my food and Senhor Gato’s food he is getting a bit portly but that doesn’t stop him from nagging me anytime he sees me walking by his lair.

Then there is Blackie, who is, as you guessed, Black.  Blackie is the most reserved and dignified of the group, not asking for food and not fond of human contact.  He/she is the food snob of the group.  If it is not tuna or fresh fish, then Blackie is not interested.  Here he is waiting for better food.

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Tortie-girl is a cheeky petite female (tortoise shell cats are always female).  She waits for me and then runs to greet me.  She likes to sniff my lunch box and will tolerate some petting.  She will eat anything.   She is probably the “cat most likely to be snuck into my luggage”.

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tortie-girl

Tiger is a striped orange and brown and black Tabby.  I think Tiger was a house cat at one point because he/she is very friendly in a way that ferals are typically not.  Tiger is also a food snob like Blackie, preferring fresh fish to cat food, but will eat the cat food if nothing better is forthcoming.  Here is a photo of Tiger compromising by eating cat food.

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Tiger

Finally, a fifth cat joins the gang periodically.  This is a very shy and feral brown tabby.  I don’t know much about this cat since he/she generally hides and only eats if I put the food under the car.  I have no photo of brown tabby.

I honestly will miss these guys when I return home, and also  the duo of Senhor Gato and his dog.    I know that that Senhor Gato will take care of them but over time I’ve come to learn their different personalities and I have a lot of fondness for them and their food quirks.  But my two foodie cats await me at home, so I will leave them here, where they belong and where they will be taken care of by my friends.

 

 

House Cat en route

As I have mentioned, I have two cats—Maggie and Chip and they are very different.  Maggie can’t be bothered to run away. If she gets outside, she just plops down on the sidewalk in the sun or grazes in the grass.  She likes being outside–she just doesn’t go far. Mr. Chips is a different kind of cat.  He looks for every opportunity to run outside.  He’s jumped out windows, escaped from the garage, and I swear one time I saw him tying bedsheets into a rope.  He is fast and more than once I’ve chased him through the neighborhood in my  robe and slippers, screaming “I’m going to turn you into ear-muffs if I catch you” (I would not, but it feels good to yell that).

 

I’m like Maggie.  But today I am in the airport en-route to Kassel Germany via Frankfort. I’d be happy to stay in my “cozy apartment”  (that is how it is advertised) find my sun spot and watch TV and follow my little routine, but I told myself when I accepted this Fulbright that this was the time in my life to say “yes” to opportunities.  My colleague Sigrid James, formerly from the USA but now living back in her home country, extended an invitation for me to teach and to view some residential programs in Germany.  Sigrid is one of the experts in out-of-home care  and a friend, and I’ve very happy to spend time with her and her colleagues at University of Kassel. I teach two classes and a seminar and visit three programs to make contacts and collect data, one of which is a center for unaccompanied refugees.  The University of Pittsburgh University Center for International Studies funded my travel and support of this research.

My time here has helped me to think about the potential my research has for extending an understanding of “home” beyond the rather limited academic path that I’ve taken with it.

Although Portugal does not have a lot of refugees, it has a group of involved researchers at my university, who have been studying how the refugee experience impacts education.  I also personally have thought a lot about home and what makes something restrictive or not, just from my own experiences of living in several kinds of places in Porto.  So, this house cat is on her way.

 

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Maria/Mary Beth

 

In the past two months I’ve created another life, and to some degree, another persona here in Porto.  It is my way of dealing with the separation from my family and home and friends.  I try to not think much about home and I do it by existing in a state of semi-denial.  My watch is on Portuguese time and in the 24 hour format.  I try not to skype or face time because it is too difficult for me—email, whatapp, messaging works best at keeping the wall up. Seeing faces makes me very homesick.  I try to not think about what they could be doing or what time it is in Pittsburgh.  I live here in this place and in this place people only know me as I present now.  Since I can’t speak fluently, people don’t really know me as Mary.  Here they know me as the Portuguese version of Mary, which is Maria.

Maria is browner than Mary and her hair is shorter and she weighs a little less.  She knows how to de-bone a fish and knows the ingredients that go into a dish called “old clothes”.  She eats cabbage and Brussels sprouts and drinks wine when she cooks her dinner.  She cooks.  She knows what a cooked pig’s ear looks like but draws the line at tripe. She waits in line for food.  She can harvest olives.  Her TV obsession is “Australian Master Chef”.   As you can tell, Maria is interested in food.

Maria is always being asked directions or for the time.  She walks everywhere and takes the steps rather than the escalator.  She likes to walk the city and look at doors and the faces of people and at families.  She says good morning/afternoon and night and hello to everyone even though her accent is strange. She goes to the Church of Paranhos daily to sit and think.  She knits.  Maria can go 48 hours without talking to anyone other than her posse of feral cats.

Maria/Mary Beth worlds came together when my long -suffering and patient Portuguese teacher realized that his aunt was working with me at the University.  He asked her– “do you know Mary Beth”? and she replied, “who is that??”  They finally figured out that Mary Beth was Maria but it made me think about this duality.  Here they only know what they see and who is presented to them and the information that Mary Beth can share in her limited way.

It’s an interesting duality.  We will see how Maria develops and what remains when Mary Beth returns.

Casa Ronald McDonald Porto: listening to play

When I think about the work that I have done professionally and as a volunteer, I realize that “home” and “family” play a large role in the narrative of my life and research.  While I’d like to think of myself as an “explorer”, I’ve realized in my time here in Portugal that “house cat” would be a better adjective.  I’ve come to terms with this and embraced it.  I’ve created a space here in Porto until I can return home.

Which got me thinking about how difficult it must be for families to be away from all that is familiar when their children are here in Porto at the Centro Hospitalar de São João (CHSJ) e no Instituto Português de Oncologia (I.P.O.) do Porto. If I found it difficult to be away from home and all that is familiar and routine, how much harder is it for families undergoing a medical crisis of a seriously ill child?  Because it is the largest medical center in the north, families come from small rural areas and towns across the center and north of Portugal so that their children receive treatment.  As in the United States, the Ronald McDonald house offers a home away from home for these children and their families, and the Porto Ronald McDonald house is on the hospital campus.   I volunteer there on Mondays and it is usually the highlight of my week.

 

So, what do I do?  Sometimes I help with clerical tasks or with cleaning rooms or public spaces.  Each of the families has a room and a bathroom and they share kitchen and laundry facilities. They have their own pantries where they can store food and they cook their meals and eat as a family.  There is a large library which I usually end up rearranging and trying to suggest reading material, but my signs of “try this book “ were not a hit here.  Maybe that is an American thing–they called it the “american experiment”.

But the best volunteer days are those when I get to play with the kids.

Play is the work of children, whether they are healthy or undergoing treatment for cancer or another serious illness.  My job is to follow their lead and play.   I think that this is particularly important exterior rmdduring a health crisis. Playing with them is made easier by the fact that I speak like a 2 year old and that I can’t “direct” their play.  I lack the language to do it. As a result, I listen and observe and follow their lead. Sometimes I am a T-Rex, chasing them  around the play room. Sometimes I’m in the play cozinho with them as they direct me to make  a meal.   Sometimes I push them as they ride bikes and trucks. They tolerate my horrible Portuguese as I read board books to them (I do great with the books that have English/Portuguese words).  Sometimes they just want to sit on my lap and read or watch a video.

I feel that I’m really learning how to listen when I’m at the Ronald McDonald House.

If you would like to read more about the program in the United States and in Porto:

http://www.fundacaoronaldmcdonald.com/Default.aspxhttps:

http://www.rmhc.org/ronald-mcdonald-house

Estar com os azeites

While tumbling out of the tree that I had climbed to pick olives, I thought “this had better be the best damn olive oil ever”.

I have never given much thought to the bottles in the grocery store, nor the olives in my salad.  Truthfully, I had never given much thought to my food period:  I shopped in large markets, occasionally using a farmer’s market in the summer, but I had a very superficial understanding of food and food sources.  I didn’t spend much time  in the kitchen or “at the table” and I would never wait in line for a meal.  I really did not care what I ate and I never questioned my food sources. Food was a source of energy.

My Fulbright time in Portugal has certainly changed this attitude and behavior!  Partly due to the delicious food but also the importance of food to family life:  I have come to appreciate how food plays an important role in both nourishing the body and the heart.  I’ve also come to appreciate how food is created and processed is important for the future of the planet

This was reinforced by a weekend of harvesting olives at the Almeida family farm (Katia Almeida, Portugal Fulbright, 1999–Lusofona University).  Harvesting olives is hard work when you are a small farmer without machinery. We used a battery-powered “picker” but mostly it was climbing trees and  brushing them with combs.  After all the 100 trees are harvested, the olives will go to a local press.  We joked that this was the most expensive  olive oil with olives picked by people with advanced degrees, and that probably people in New York City would buy it! It was hard and dirty work but there was satisfaction in seeing the olives bagged and ready to go.

However, the best part of my experience was being part of a family and being at the table with them, speaking in both Portuguese and English.  My tendency to “eat and run” has been greatly changed by watching people laughing and sharing stories at the table.   I can understand why in a world full of “business” that it is important for families  to make the time to come together to create a meal and to share it.  This may not be a revelation to many of you, but to me, it was as I looked around the table at 3 generations.  I also realized that if you are a pig in Portugal, you are not going to be herding sheep like Babe the Pig–you are going to be eaten. However, there is no waste in the food–everything is eaten, and what we did not eat, the cat colony did. IMG_0304

 

“Putting on the English”

I’ve been adopted by a group of PhD and post-docs in education at the University of Porto.  They invite me to lunch because they find my habit of working and eating lunch alone vaguely troubling, and help me when I lose my keys or can’t manage doors.  They also tell me about cultural events such as the film festival this weekend on racism and advise me about food and shopping.  They correct my Portuguese and answer my questions about the academy in Portugal.  As a stranger in their country, I’m grateful for their help and guidance in my daily life in the University.  It has greatly eased my adjustment to a new University life.

I’ve been thinking about language this week, and they are what started me on this thinking path—so bear with me. The name of this blog is “portolistening” not “portotalking” because I knew that my “talking” was going to be limited.  This week I did notice that something happened in my aural comprehension in that I was no longer just hearing “nasal incomprehensible  sound, word, word, WORD THAT I RECOGNIZE, nasal vowel that I can’t recognize, word and nasal sound.”  I started to hear and string sentences in my brain, so that while there were still incomprehensible words and sounds I understood sentences rather than individual words.  That is not to imply that I can sit through an entire TV show or movie and understand, but I did notice a difference.   It felt like a breakthrough after more than a month of nodding and staring at people’s mouths.  I do find Brazilian Portuguese easier to comprehend because it is what I am used to hearing, and it is slower and less “closed”.  In the North, there is also a difference in diction that makes it harder—more closed vowels and a slurring of words and fast tempo.  Sometimes I wonder if they ever take breaths when talking!

I’ve experienced a tiny break-through, but speaking is still challenging for me due to my innate reluctance to show my limitations.  I’ve been speaking English fluently all my life—it is the outward manifestation of who I am.  Words are how I make my living, how I show how funny I am, it is how people know me, and here to not to be able to express in words fluently what is in my head has been challenging.  I don’t feel really “known” here.  Which leads to a book that I’m reading….

Trevor Noah’s book “Born a Crime:  Stories from a South African Childhood” is a great book on several levels—I highly recommend it.  Because he is “colored” or what we consider mixed race, he lived in an “in-between space”—not black, not white but colored, which is a category in South Africa but under Apartheid, illegal.  One way he turned this in-between space to his advantage was to learn all the languages that he could including Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, German, English.  He was a linguist chameleon and could move from group to group and no one could figure out what he way really, and he made that work to his advantage.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a natural talent for languages so I remain “English”.

So back to the students who adopted me and how language can be transcended to some degree.  This week one of the students talked about how he took his English committee member to a restaurant and had a great meal in a place where the food is often indifferent.  One of the other students commented that “they were putting on the English” which made me laugh out loud—and got us talking about these phrases which indicate something other than what direct translation would imply.    This URL gives you some idea of them but we discussed our common sayings which are often descriptive of a state of mind or a future activity or a warning.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/24478537/Portuguese-sayings-that-make-absolutely-no-sense

There are lots of commonalities although Portuguese to English translation would probably not make sense.  For example “swallow frogs” in Portuguese is the same as “take your lumps” in English—both mean accepting something unpleasant but direct translations make no sense to a non-English or a non-Portuguese speaker.   But perhaps these visual metaphors help us to get beyond “words” to feelings. We spent a lunch hour laughing about this in English, Portuguese and Romanian.

So, here is hoping that my language continues to improve.  I certainly hope so because for some reason everyone asks me for directions!

“Calma Americana”

Metro_do_Porto.svgThis week my subway pass had to be renewed for the month of October.  As I was fidgeting in line thinking of ways to make this process more efficient than a monthly queue, annoyed that the machine was malfunctioning, the transit officer said to me “Calma Americana”.

If someone had written this in a facebook or in an email, I would have been very annoyed, feeling that I was being patronized, and I would have fired back some response about how much time people waste in lines and wouldn’t the GNP for Portugal be higher if this time was spent in more productive ways”?  But instead, I laughed out loud because his tone, his face indicated that he understood the frustration that I was feeling but that all would be well.  I got to my place in line, renewed my pass and we exchanged pleasantries and social chit chat in Portuguese and English.

In the last month, the biggest adjustment for me has been adjusting to this—less “efficiency” and more social contact.  While Portugal has progressed exponentially in wireless access since my last visit here, at the same time, face-to-face and social contact remains the primary method of communication.  I finally realized that if someone was not responding to my emails, that I needed to “make a visit” or “take a coffee” or just show up at their door.  Through in this process I’ve learned about their research, family and passion for their work. It’s pushed me outside my typical way of working with people, but there is much more to gained in this process than just “work”.

Senator Fulbright was prescient when he established these awards.  He may not have envisioned the day when we would communicate virtually but he did realize the value of face-to-face exchanges and time spent in a place so that you could understand deeply the culture and the social norms. When I was at the Fulbright Portugal last week,  I realized the scope of the work of Fulbright to bring this mission to life:  it extends from preparing young Portuguese to apply to American colleges, college students to do exchanges in environmental sciences and social entrepreneurship for a summer to graduates spending a year in the US in graduate programs.  I also realized the other side of the exchange beyond scholars and specialists, which are the American college graduates who spend a year embedded in a University of Polytechnic in Portugal teaching language and culture.  The Portuguese watch Fox TV here and I am afraid that they think we are all crime and forensics and car chases! So these exchanges and communications are what the Senator had in mind—we are all cultural ambassadors, teaching and learning.