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Donna in India

Welcome to Donna in India 's Travel Page. Here is where I will be keeping a record of my travels for all of you to read. I hope that you'll leave comments for me. When I have time in between discovering new places and meeting new people I will reply to them! Thanks for coming along!

Two things to be aware of:
1) If I reply to your message, it automatically gets posted on the blog. If you would prefer to keep it private, let me know, and I will not reply, okay?
2) There is something at the top to click on to allow you to read the blog from the beginning (i.e., rather than with the most recent entry first), if you prefer.

Diary Entries

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Location: Manchester, CT, USA

A lot of thoughts go through one's head during and after a trip like this. I read that traveling to India is not about discovering India - it's about discovering oneself. I think that's true of any independent travel, but perhaps more so in a place like India, that makes one rethink one's values, capabilities, and world view.

Where to start? Maybe I should start with the Guru's assessment of my energy level; "You have a low energy level" (Well, I've been traveling...) "No, I mean your mental energy" (I'm in the midst of making a decision, and decision-making always takes a lot out of me...) "You need to please yourself instead of trying to please everyone else" (That's why I'm traveling in India, to please myself...)

Then there's the assessment of a new Indian acquaintance, Ganesh (also the name of a God). He's in his mid to upper twenties and exactly the same height as I am - short! I had briefly met him with Maria and Vicent when we returned from our camel safari. He is one of these young guys who has mastered enough of a few languages, enabling him to start conversations and make connections with a variety of people. (I can do that to an extent with French and Hebrew.). He spoke with ease to them in Spanish. (That's going to be my next language. I have several new Spanish friends who made the effort to speak with me in English. I would like to return the favor!) Back to Ganesh... When I returned from the train station in Jaisalmer, where I bought my ticket for the following day from what was to be my second-to-last very brief stop in Jhodpur to my last stop in Mumbai, he saw me get out of my rickshaw and fell into step with me. Asked me the usual questions, "Where are you from, where are you going?". At this point, my Guru-suggested low energy level was in full effect - and along with my low energy level came my low threshold for tolerance. I entered my jaded mode, in which I doubted the sincerity of anyone trying to make a connection with me. Are you seeing me as a traveler who wants to have genuine interactions with people, or as a tourist with rupees available for you to pick off? So, when Ganesh started in on the routine questions, I had some questions of my own: Do you have a rickshaw? (No) Do you have a boat? (No) Do you have a store? (No) Does your uncle have a store? (No) Are you a guide? (No) Do you have a guest house? (No) ...At this point he was seeing that I had been through the tourist scams and that I was not feeling particularly trusting. So, we ended up spending an afternoon together, and I did get some insights into what life was like growing up poor in India...what it was like to be a beggar as a child, and how a person from outside of the country could make a difference. He did actually end up guiding me around parts of Jaisalmer - to see a historic "haveli"(courtyard house/mansion), a distribution center for a women's handicraft cooperative (where I bought a door hanging), a couple of shops that had things I needed (like tea and spices for David), and a hilltop that had a lovely sunset view of the fort. I needed to get back to my hotel to clean up and grab my things to get to the bus station on time for my night trip to Jodhpur. But we agreed that I had time for a quick beer in the rooftop restaurant at the Artist's Hotel nearby. There was a small ensemble playing harmonium (an Indian instrument played on the floor that resembles an accordion, tabla (hand-drums), and a percussion instrument consisting of pieces of wood that are played like castanets. The man who played that played with such emphasis and style!! The harmonium player also sang. The custom when giving a tip, is to make a circle around each musician's head with money prior to depositing it on the harmonium. It was lovely up there, but unfortunately, I was in a rush to catch the bus. Ganesh was quite popular with the young tourist crowd there, so he found it difficult to break away. I, on the other hand, with my impeccably inaccurate sense of direction, needed some guidance on how to get back to the hotel. When we started back, I didn't recognize the way at all (very typical for me!), and I expressed doubt that we were going the right way. At which point, my new acquaintance Ganesh expressed his own low threshold of tolerance for my doubting attitude! It wasn't just me he had a problem with - it was Americans in general - we're apparently not as easy to get to know as Italians and others! (Hard to explain to others how I reconcile my own experience growing up Canadian and having a bit of an anti-American attitude with my ultimate destiny of being an American and raising an American family!). So, despite a pleasant afternoon together (and even talk of forming a camel-safari business partnership in my retirement), we parted ways with a bit of a bitter taste. Ganesh was a bit mean when tipsy, but being completely honest with myself, my own presentation was not completely open and trusting. So this is where I tend to over-think things - Is it because I'm American? Maybe because I was tired? How about a 54-year old woman going through menopause? Jaded because of prior interactions with people popping up looking for something from me on the pretense of being friendly? Or am I just a witch?...Probably a combination of all these things, but certainly as pertinent and valid an experience as all the positive interactions I had with so many people on this trip. There were some other negative interactions as well - actually, the hotel owner in Jaisalmer who was quite popular with the young travelers gave me a feeling of his being less than genuine. I didn't like him and it was clear that he didn't like me. Same as my Guru. I did not dislike him - he just seemed very curt and dismissive, but I had the distinct impression that he did not like me. Still, I maintain that he knew me like a book - that's probably why he didn't like me!

Do I sound confused? You bet! And that's perhaps the value of a trip like this. This was not a vacation. I did not sit by the sea and relax. I did not ski down a mountain. I moved around. I saw things I had never seen before (people sitting amidst garbage near train tracks; others exploiting children in order to get money; others willing to extend themselves to help a traveler find a bathroom, get out of a fix on a train, or begin to understand the intricacies of their country; cows in train stations, on highways, and anywhere else they darned well feel like being!; a variety of animals coexisting peacefully; people expressing their spirituality in and along the Ganges River, one of the most polluted yet holy places in the world; and on and on and on). I interacted with people from all over the world, enjoying the positive interactions and questioning the negative ones. What was my role in the negative ones?

Basically, it all comes down to one thing - something said so well on so many t-shirts I saw, with the name of a clothing company - "Being human".

There is more, and I may add to this blog as different memories or thoughts come to me. In the meantime, I'll end on a positive note. When I returned home, I found that I earned the respect of some pretty important people in my life. Both my father and daughter shared that they admired my ability to easily make friends wherever I went. Two of the people I admire most in the world admire me. That's something...

Then, I've had perhaps the highest compliment a mother of an eighteen-year-old young man could have. He invited me to accompany him, several of his buddies, and the father of one to go parachute-jumping this weekend! They all agreed that I would be someone who would be up for such an adventure! (Oh, if they only knew!) To me, this is an immense compliment. My answer is that each must find and be true to their own adventures. Parachute-jumping may not be mine (but now that I think of it, why not?).

I've recently grown very fond of quotes. One of my favorites is from Helen Keller, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing!". And on this note, I will close, at least for now. Photos will be coming within the next day or two. My photography skills with my basic point-and-shoot camera are wanting, but I'll try to choose photos that illustrate some of the life as I observed it in northern India.

Thanks again for traveling with me! I loved having you all as my companions!

Tuesday, 09 August 2011

Location: Manchester, CT, USA

Not everything goes smoothly when traveling. Some things happen because of others (e.g., when I almost got run over by a rickshaw driver in Varanasi). Other things just happen (e.g., when weather or vehicle malfunction lead to delays). And other things happen because of traveler error. I forgot to include perhaps one of the best stories of the latter.

My flight home was at 4:50am on Monday, India time (10 1/2 hours ahead of our time here in the Eastern USA and Canada). I wanted to be in Mumbai (Bombay) on Friday. So at the end, I had a short amount of time in which to fit my last quick stop in Rajasthan, to see the fort in Jodhpur. So, in Jaisalmer after finishing my camel safari, I bought a bus ticket to Jodhpur through my hotel for that evening. I then went by auto-rickshaw to the train station to purchase a train ticket for the next day from Jodhpur to Mumbai (LONG trip!). When purchasing train tickets, you have to fill out a little form with your date, destination, and personal information. So I did that, and bought my ticket. Then I questioned someone at the station about what the ticket said, because it was all in Hindi. I couldn't even make out the destination. I verified the time and destination of the ticket and left.

I then spent the afternoon and early evening with a new acquaintance (see my next entry), and caught the bus for a five-hour night trip to Jodhpur. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning, and took a rickshaw to the guest house that my new friends from my Jaisalmer guest house and camel safari were going to be arriving at by train a bit after me. (They had already bought their train ticket. I ended up traveling by bus because there were no more train tickets. I ended up saving a bit of money by traveling by bus on that trip). I was only going to be staying in Jodhpur until early afternoon, as my train to Mumbai was scheduled for 2:15pm. So instead of booking a room, I went up to the restaurant and stretched out on the marble floor for a nap! (One of the ladies who ran the place said it was okay). Other people were sleeping on the next floor up, on the roof. A few hours later, I met up with my Spanish friends, had a shower (the lady who runs the guest house allows people to use a room just for freshening up) and breakfast, and went exploring the fort with Maria and Vincent. Freshened up again in the early afternoon, and then made it to the train station with time to spare.

So, I climbed up into my upper berth and settled in. There was an older gentleman who had a lower berth opposite me and he motioned to me an invitation to come down and sit where I would have a view out the window. (The upper berths don't have windows). He didn't speak English, but was friendly. After awhile, the conductor came by and checked tickets. He paused a long time, examining my ticket. Finally he said that I was traveling on the wrong day! I looked at the ticket, which indeed had August 5th on it, when it was only August 4th. I realized that it was my mistake - that on the little paper at the train station, I wrote August 5th as my day of travel. I simply had the wrong day - very easy mistake to make when traveling and you lose track of dates! (Well, I do, anyway!) This would have been very difficult to explain with the language barrier, so all I managed to convey was that the ticket was wrong, and that I was traveling on the right day! The conductor went away and returned with two other men. He sat down beside me and harshly demanded 600 plus rupees as penalty for using an incorrect ticket - "This ticket is not allowed on this train. You can contest this fine". (I don't want to contest it). "You don't? You want to pay it?" (I just want to travel today to Mumbai. The ticket is a mistake). The three men started to talk animatedly amongst themselves. My new acquaintance who invited me to sit near the window entered the conversation, apparently speaking up for me. I just shut my mouth and observed. These men just talked in a heated manner for several minutes and then it was resolved. The conductor said, "Okay, go back to your seat". I did, and that was that! It reminded me a bit of Israel, where everyone got into the discussion, and "rules" were suddenly dismantled! I was grateful to the gentleman for speaking up on my behalf. After things quieted down, he again invited me to sit by the window (nobody else was in the lower berths at the time), so I did.

I was amused at the process of a disciplinary measure evaporating due to discussion. I wonder what they all said - maybe, "How do we know that the clerk at the station didn't make a mistake?"; or, "She's a guest in our country, and needs a bit of understanding"; or, "Big deal, let it pass!"; or, "She has a dishonest look! She should be punished!"; or, "She's old and doesn't know what she's doing"! Wish I could have understood!

My own error reminded me of an adolescent boy I work with in school who gets in trouble for handing things in late. Then, one time, when he tried to hand in something early, his teacher wouldn't accept it. He told me, "I can't win. I can do late, or I can do early, but I suck at on time!". I'm afraid that I'm like that at times!

Monday, 08 August 2011

Location: Flight Home

I'm on the second flight of my trip home. I was so exhausted last night that on the first flight, immediately after watching the lift-off, I fell asleep, missing any night view I would have had of Mumbai! Then, in the airport in Abu Dhabi, I found a reclining chair and continued to sleep!

Yesterday in Mumbai, I started my day at the famed Victoria Terminus (called CST, short for the Hindi name that was adopted after the end of the British rule in1947). This, the busiest train station in Asia, is an architectural marvel, especially from the outside. I also took some pictures inside, including some of stained glass windows and people. This led to a kindly older gentleman approaching me and telling me that photography inside is not allowed, and the police are not doing their job in enforcing this regulation. He spoke a bit about corruption, which Indians seem to feel is the main problem in their country. Baksheesh, or bribing, is used at all levels to get things done, or other things overlooked. I didn't need to use bakhsheesh in the train station as nobody other than this gentleman seemed to care!

After that, I went to Dhobi Ghat, as I wrote yesterday. I then went to a temple in the same area, where the god of wealth is honored. I think that David will hope that it will bring us wealth; however, I feel like we've got it in droves compared to what I've seen.

Then I went back to the area of the city where I'm staying and where the CST is. There are other examples of gorgeous British architecture at the University of Mumbai and the High Court. Both were closed because it was Sunday, but I was able to see them from outside the gates.

Throughout this trip, I've been carefully keeping track of my possessions and hadn't lost anything until Friday evening. But yesterday, I was a bit bummed out when I discovered that I had lost a scarf that I only paid 50 rupees for (a bit more than a dollar). I just really liked the style and color! So, in the evening I went in search of a similar one - and succeeded! Not exactly the color of the one I lost, but similar. I even found a perfect match for a salwah or Punjabi suit I bought for Ilana. Usually these suits come in 3 pieces: a kurtah or long shirt, baggy pants that the kurtah fits over, and a matching scarf or dupatta. This one, however, didn't have a dupatta, so I was amazed to find one that is such a perfect match. I'm actually wearing this suit now, as I ran out of clean clothes, and I wanted to try wearing an authentic Indian outfit before I left. It's very comfortable!

Monday, 08 August 2011

Location: Mumbai (Bombay), India

It is 2:30 am and I am in the airport waiting for my 4:50 flight to Abu Dhabi, and then my connecting flight to New York. Had a very pleasant two days in Mumbai which I'll write more about. One of the highlights was seeing Dhobi Ghat - the area where most commercial laundry is done (e.g., for hotels, etc.). This is in a slum with people of all ages getting into the clothes washing. I swear that I will never complain of doing laundry again. People are barely dressed, scrubbing jeans, etc. on concrete surfaces. Somebody else slams them down over and over to get the water out. There are some machines, but much is done by hand. There are huge piles of clothes everywhere! And clothes on lines, rooves, railings - anywhere that there's a surface, there are clothes! I couldn't get anybody to answer how they keep track of which clothes go where - which hotel, which customer, etc.! It is a vast operation done by all the people in this bare bones community that looks like it's right out of Dickens. AND there was somebody slaughtering goats right nearby, with a throng of little children looking on. It was quite a sight. I am so very lucky to live the life I do.

Going to do a bit of last minute shopping here. See you all soon!


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Recent Messages

From Linda Hilliard
Hi! It is Sunday, the 14th and I haven't heard from you. Lee and I leave for Vermont for a week of camping tomorrow morning around 9. Hope to see you when we return, and have you over for some home cooking, or maybe a cookout before we are back at the old grind. I wonder, will I even KNOW you? You are such an old friend. And I don't mean old, I mean long long time. Did you really parachute?
Take care!
Response: I'm sorry about not calling. There have been things to take care of and sleep to catch up on! Ilana's home for a day before we go to California for a family event. No, I did not parachute! Have fun camping at Grand Ile! See you next week!
From Laurie
If being human means being adventurous, open to new experiences, sanely protective of one's safety and property, thoughtful and reflective then that describes you to a "T". I would not credit most people with these traits but you seem not only to possess them but have the capabity to share them with others. Like America we are all "melting pots" with characters shaped by our experiences, family and friends. That is what makes stereotypes such dangerous things. Your experiences this summer have made you a better person and truly, what more can we ask ourselves than to keep trying to be better people. Thanks so much for sharing them with the rest of us; it has helped us grow vicariously!
Response: You are a sweet cousin and friend, Laurie! Thank you for the encouragement and consistent willingness to listen and share!
From Maren&Simone
dearest donna,
greetings from agra! we just cruised through your interesting reports about the safri and the last days of your journey. we just realized that you are already on your way back home. hope you had a safe trip.
we really enjoyed udaipur and spend some very lazy days there. now we are on a tougher travelling schedule...a night train to agra, and in 2 hours we are again going on a night train trip to varanasi.
it was so nice meeting & talking to you!
love, maren and simone (hopefully writing without an accent?!?) :-)
Response: Hello Maren and Simone! You already speak English without an accent! Aren't those night trains great for saving both time and money? Enjoy Varanasi! I enjoyed the time we spent together as well and hope to see you again - perhaps in America? You'll be most welcome!
From Maria & Vicent
Hi Donna!!

We're in Udaipur and this afternoon we will go to Bundi.

We've had a great time with you. It's been a very nice days.

See you soon!

Best regards.Your Spanish friends :)
Response: Ola, Maria and Vicent! How are you enjoying Udaipur? Very different than Jaisalmer and the desert, no? I felt like I was in a part of Paris! It was great to get to know you on our camel safari, and then to spend a bit of time together at the fort in Jodhpur! Would love to see some of your pictures! I hope to see you again soon, perhaps in America? Spain is definitely on my list of places to visit! Take care and enjoy the rest of your travels in India and Nepal!
From Karen & Dave
Hi Donna, There are a couple of good AMC rides that I will let you know about when you're back - one in August and one on Labor day weekend. Amities, Karen
Response: That would be great, Karen. Got home tonight (the 8th). Going to sleep! See you soon!
From Linda Hilliard
Hi, Donna! I've read your meanderings and am caught up. Unbelieveable. We have been away in the south, in Tennessee, picking up Christa. I cannot wait to see you, and see how all of this has changed you and inspired your faith in humanity. I think we all need to learn what a beautiful planet this really is, as you are.
Response: Thanks, Linda. It was quite an adventure! Manchester looked different coming home tonight... See you soon!
From Karen & Dave
Hi Donna, We are amazed by all of your acquaintances and adventures! Let us know how the camel ride and desert experience went! (Karen) I did a 32 mile bike ride with AMC on Monday - very pleasant - through farm lands in Ellington etc.
Response: Camel ride in the desert was fun! Eating food made from scratch over an open fire, and sleeping out also added to the fun! Back home now in my own bed! See you soon!
From Laurie
We just returned from 2 weeks in Maine after a week with Lauren and the girls. I am making my way through your blogs...you have been very busy. I love how you have found friends and travel companions wherever you have gone. Glad you are feeling better...you have been very lucky indeed to get by without some tummy upset. Keep the blogs coming and I will see you when you get back.
Response: Hi Laurie! How was Maine with the girls? I actually have had some tummy upsets but all better now!
From Karen & Dave
Hi Donna, I did an AMC ride in Collinsville, Burlington, Avon, West Avon, Farmington and Canton. It was spectacular! Andy Johnson lead the ride. Your travels sound fascinating! Amities, Karen
Response: Would love to do that ride. You should see how many bicycle shops they have here Karen - and each one has someone sitting in front fixing all the flat tires, or assembling bikes!
From Karen & Dave
Hi Donna, Varanasi sounds fascinating! You certainly are meeting people from all over the world to travel with. What an adventure! Our trip is over - complete with a walk on a glacier! See you soon. Karen & Dave
Response: Looking forward to seeing your pictures! Varanasi was interesting but trying. I'm now in the state of Rajasthan and enjoying it so far! Bought a couple of decorative tiles for my kitchen yesterday - inspired by tiles from your trips! See you soon as well! Donna
From Iris
Oh, Donna, how I wish I were there with you!!! Wonderful blog, I'm visualizing the trip as you write about it. Great reports! Enjoy!

Iris from Israel
Response: Wish you were here too! You would deal with the "roughing it" I've been doing. (Except today-I'm in a really cool more upscale place in Jaipur!) Take care! Donna
From nini
Donna, I just read your blog. What a trip you are having. You ae so brave to do something that most of us want to do but don't. Good for you. I feel that this is a wonderful travel log. Please don't take chances and be careful. Love you, your cuz Nini
Hi Nini, So good to hear from you! I'm not taking chances. I never feel unsafe here - just somewhat annoyed at times! But I'm now in the state of Rajasthan and enjoying this part very much! I'll add more as I have the chance!
Love, Donny
P.S. Give Sandy and the guys my love!
From Michael
Donna,
Sounds like you are having fun and making memories that will last forever. Melissa turned 16 today and I had her drive my car in an empty parking lot- talk about making memory to last forever, ehh?
It was 105 degrees in CT yesterday. The temp has dropped today but is still very hot.
Very glad you are meeting up with nice people to travel with. Your 3 boys, Dave, Matti and Noah seem to be keeping the house up and staying out of trouble while you are away!
Take care for now, mama, auntie or madam!

-Mike
Response: Hey Mike - one man called me God! "Mama is God!" Melissa is 16!! How is that possible?! Give her and the rest of the family my love, okay? Donna
P.S. You didn't mention my 4th boy, Cotton! Matti says he's doing well.
From Janice
Wow! This definitely the adventure you were looking for. I love reading all your perceptive commentary and look forward to the next installment like the next chapter in a suspense novel. Love you and take care
JJ
Response: Hi there Jannie! You're right - it is a great adventure! I have lots notes for further "installments" but I'm either en-route, touring or too tired to get on the net. I'll try today to add some more! I'm glad you're coming along! Miss you!
Don

From Iris
You are blowing me away, Donna! What is so special about the way you travel is that you befriend whoever is there. I remember that from our short tiyyul in Israel. You are seeing the real India, tourists and residents! Much power to you!
Keep on writing!
Love,
Iris
Response: Meeting people from all over is really the best part! It makes the world so much smaller and friendlier! Hope all is well, Iris!
From Michael
Donna,
We are having a heatwave today. We went over 90 degrees today! What is the temp over there?
Everyone misses you in the neighborhood and hopes you stay safe and have a good time.

Mike
Response: It's about the same here in Varanasi, Michael. But it feels much worse. The buildings here are so closed in and the people are on top of each other! I miss you all too and appreciate your support! Regards to your family and the rest of the gang!
From Karen & Dave
Wonderful reading about your adventures. We're on our much
Ess exotic bike trip in the Canadian Rockies, but at least we've seen a bear and a wolf while riding. Take good care of yourself as you continue on the adventure of a lifetime
Response: How close were the animals? It's cool in the Rockies when someone sees an animal, all the traffic stops! How's the riding and gradient? Take lots of pictures there!!
From Dad
Hi Don! I am enjoying your blog. Your descriptions are great. I almost feel that I can smell those bus stations and bathrooms.Continue enjoying. Keep safe. I love you. Dad
Response: Thanks Dad! I'm thinking of you as I go from place to place. Love you very much! Don
From Ronnie Kim
Ever the adventurer Donna - you will have much breadth of a world view to bring back with you to Manchester/Coventry - in fact, wherever you go. Don/t disturb any sacred cows and continue your delightful descriptions of your daily discoveries.
Regards,
Ronnie
Response: Thanks Ronnie! These cows are complacent! I have managed to step in their droppings twice so far! Last night, I took a slippery step and managed to keep from falling right into it! On another note, I was sorry not to be able to be there for the recent situation in Coventry. Everything ok?
From Kevin & Mary
What an exciting adventure. Thanks for sharing it all with us.
Response: Thanks for following along! I've met people from all over the world, including some Irishmen!
From Ilana
Everything looks great; can't wait to see pictures :)
Response: I need someone your age to upload them for me! When there is a rainy spell, I'll get some pictures up! Love you, Puppy!
From Susan Taylor
Fantastic blog Donna - loving every word! I returned home from Ireland on Thursday, 14 July. We had a lovely 10 days there. How long are you staying in India? Must get together for tea when you return - safe travels, Susan
Response: Sounds great, Susan! Tea on my new tablecloth! My trip is 5 weeks, including the air travel. How was the trip to Ireland? Did you finally get your Guinness?!!
From Noah
Sounds like youre having a great time. Everything youre writing is very interesting. Keep it up
Response: Thanks, Noah! I hope you'll keep reading. Whenever I meet travelers here, I think about you and how much you would enjoy traveling with your friends. I really miss you and hope you're doing well. Let me know the outcome of the tournament. Take care of yourself, Dad, Matti, and Cotton. Love always, Mom
From Karen Smith
Hi Donna,
I have read about your travels, it sounds like your meeting lots of interesting people. Enjoy your time there. Noah and Dan are working out as I write this. They will be playing in a tennis tournament this coming weekend. Hope to catch some of that. Have a safe trip, Karen & Family
Response: Hi Karen, Thanks for reading and "coming along". I'm glad you'll be able to see part of the tournament. Will Dan be playing singles as well? Let them know I'm thinking of them, please? Take care and regards to all!
From Matti
Mom,

Great blogs so far! I really like the one about the boy littering on the train.. that was funny! Elephants on highway's hugh? What could be more strange? I'm glad you are enjoying this experience! Love you and miss you lots! Stay safe!

Matti
Response: Thanks, Matti. You're right. There are things that seem so strange, yet fascinating. I love you too! Take care of yourself, Mel, Dad, Noah, and Cotton. Are you playing in the tournament? If so, good luck and tell me about it!