The last day

I’m struggling right now to put things into words. This is weird for me, usually on this blog as soon as I sit down to write my thoughts finally form a coherent picture. I can tell you about my last full day here at least, which was the best last full day I could ever have hoped to have. Thinking back on it, it included everything I was hoping to achieve/experience this semester: Chilean food, oral fluency, cultural understanding, and two fantastic friends.

I met up today with Macarena, Oscar, and his little brother Enzo at the metro station. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, mild and sunny with a warm breeze. We stopped by a supermarket where I bought some chancaca to bring back to the states (You can’t have a Chilean fiesta without sopaipillas pesadas!) and then we walked over to Macarena’s house. I met her mom there, a very sweet woman which whom I enjoyed talking. I had leche asada for the first time, which was a lot like flan and delicious! We took pictures after we ate and talked for a while, and then we walked to a Chinese food restaurant for lunch. That was also delicious, for those of you who are wondering it was pretty much exactly like Chinese food in the states although I couldn’t find crab rangoon on the menu. All the more reason to eat too much when I come home!

We ate way too much, but we laughed and talked and took pictures and had a great time. When we were all finally stuffed to the bursting point we took the metro to another supermarket so I could look for an extra special gift I want to get for my dad. I’m not going to say what it is because I know he is one of my most avid readers (Thanks Dad!). Afterward we hopped on a micro to Oscar’s house. There we dropped off our stuff and went to go find his mom, who was in a community meeting. Being mature 20-something-year-old adults, we played on the playground in the plaza while we waited. When his mom was done, we walked to the local neighborhood shop to pick up supplies for once (like a small early supper), talking all the way.His mom is also a delightful woman, I very much enjoy talking to her. She is very smart and also loving, she made me feel very welcome and comfortable in her home.

Back at his house, we had an once of tea, queque (pound cake) with manjar (a bit like dulce de leche), and sandwiches with avocado, ham and cheese. I need to eat more avocado when I get back to the states, here they put it on almost everything and it makes everything-bread, sandwiches, fajitas, salads-at least 243% more delicious, but I could be underestimating my figures.

After once, Oscar’s mom showed us family pictures from Oscar and Enzo’s childhood. It was really fun, I liked seeing the similarities between his childhood and mine even though we grew up on opposite sides of the globe. Also when they come to visit in the states if they eat at my parents’ house with me,  as I’m sure they will, my mom will probably do the same exact thing (Maybe when I get back I should hide certain albums…). Afterwards I showed off my awesome* dance skills when we played the Micheal Jackson Experience game for Playstation Move. (*awesome in this context is hilariously terrible). We talked, we looked at funny pictures on the internet, we discussed amusement park rides and we laughed.

Finally the dreaded hour came. Macarena and Oscar and his mom all walked me to the metro. I hope I expressed my feelings well enough, I wanted them all to understand my gratitude for all the help and support and my happiness for their friendship and my sadness for having to leave and my hope that we will meet again in February when they come to visit. I seem to be having a lot of conflicting emotions these days. I didn’t want them to see me cry, I wanted to end on a hopeful and happy note so I scanned my Bip! card and headed for the platform, trying to keep myself together. As I crossed the skybridge over the street I looked down, hoping to catch one last glimpse of them, and saw them all below looking up at me and waving. I don’t know why that made me so happy about seeing them there waving at me but either way the rising tide of emotion inside me finally burst its banks and I rode the metro and micro home for the last time through a haze of tears.

Back home in my room, pulling on my pajamas plugging in my estufa for the last time, I let myself really cry about leaving for the first time. I had cried a little when I said goodbye to our program director Isa, and had lumps in my throat that I controlled when I said goodbye to my program friends, but finally I was able to let it all out. Even now in a state of calm, trying to explain the whirlwind of emotion behind those tears is a challenge and I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived abroad for a significant amount of time will understand. I’m going to leave that explanation for another post, for now I want to focus on why I was glad that I broke the rules of the metro (the metro is like baseball, there’s no crying in either of them).

Leaving my two closest Chilean friends was incredibly hard, especially because I feel like our friendship had only just begun. I feel so much gratitude toward them for all of their help and for making me feel so welcome and relaxed in their country and culture. It shows in my Spanish; because I feel so relaxed and accepted with them speaking and understanding is so much easier. Besides all of that, they are just two really fun and nice people and we have lots in common to talk about.

All of this far outweighs the pain of having to leave them to go home. If I had never met them, I would still be just as sad but with the pain of regret from never making friends. Therefore my lesson to anyone going abroad is this: MAKE FRIENDS. Talk to people in your classes. Add them on Facebook. Get lunch together, share life stories, watch dumb videos on YouTube, smile, and relax. I don’t mean you should try to force a friendship, that’s impossible. But if you and someone else click, put in the effort to get the friendship going and the rest will fall into place naturally and effortlessly.

Anyway, it’s not really goodbye. Even if they weren’t coming to visit I would still stay in contact with Oscar and Macarena on Facebook. Complain all you want about globalization and the interwebs and all that but I love that even when we are literally a world away I can always send them silly pictures with a click of a mouse. Also I love how bilingual my newsfeed is now (sorry for all the Spanish statuses, Facebook friends!)

In terms of this blog, I still have lots to say so I’ll be posting until I run out of things to say. Stay tuned!

 

Two weeks and counting…

I can’t believe that in two weeks I will boarding an airplane to go home. Somehow I feel like this semester flew by while at the same time I feel like I’ve been here for years. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, trying to understand this wonderful, unique, bizarre experience so I can try to explain it. Why don’t you step into my kitchen, we can talk it over while I make some sopaipillas.

First we need our ingredients. We need a squash, Oil for frying (vegetable or canola), butter, flour, salt, baking soda, chancaca, cinnamon, and orange peels.

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Because it needs to boil for a while, let’s start by preparing the chancaca. In a little saucepan I’ve added the block of chancaca, a cinnamon stick, and some orange peels with a few inches of water and set uncovered over medium low heat. The block of chancaca will melt over time and as the water evaporates it will thicken, just be sure to stir it every five minutes or so to keep it from sticking.

Chancaca, Orange Peels, Canela

Now, to prepare the sopaipillas first you need to cut up and seed the squash. Usually one good karate chop is enough.

Karate Chop!

So while I skin and cut up the squash, I am thinking about all the things I have learned from this trip that I would never had learned otherwise. Obviously my Spanish is much much stronger and so is my understanding of Chilean and Latin American culture. But more than that, I think I’ve developed a skill set I never had before. For example, using public transportation was completely new to me when I arrived, but now I have no problem hopping on and off the micro and metro like a boss. I’ve also improved my “street smarts” and lost much of my small-town naivety.
A very important skill that I learned is the ability to accept the things that I don’t know and ask for help when I need it. Before I was afraid of people finding out that I didn’t know how to do something, so I would refuse offers of help even though I had no idea what I was doing. Here I quickly learned to swallow my pride and ask for help and clarification when I need it, and to persist until I fully understand. I could have saved myself a great deal of time and frustration if I had just done that from the beginning!
So I’ve cut up about two cups of squash into a pot, covered it with a few inches of water, and set it to boil. We’ve got about twenty minutes until the squash is soft enough to squish with a fork.

Cooking Sopaipillas

Some of the skills I already had got fine tuned and sharpened during this experience. For example, I have always been a very motivated and engaged student but I often lacked self-discipline when it came to my procrastination problem. Since I need much more time to complete an assignment than my classmates here, I start projects much earlier now to make sure I have the time I need to be successful. I’ve also become more attentive in class because if I miss a few key sentences or words during a professor’s lecture I can be lost for the rest of the class. Lastly, in terms of academics I learned the value of making friends, even if it takes an extra effort. The inside advise and explanations from my Chilean friends were more valuable then I ever could have imagined.
As the squash finishes up cooking, I’m going to melt 10 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and set it aside. Then in a large mixing bowl I will mix the four cups of flour, two tablespoons of salt, and three tablespoons of baking soda. When the squash is nice and soft, I drain it, let it cool until I can touch it, and mix it with the butter before adding the butter and squash mix to the flour mix. The next part is fun because you get to knead the mixture for around 10 minutes until you get a nice, smooth dough.

Dough no you didn't!

My tastes have also broadened during my stay here. I set the president for myself during orientation of tasting everything that was offered to me, as well as being open to alternative ways of doing things. I learned to like tea, mushrooms, squash, and a wide variety of Chilean foods such as cazuela, empanadas, sopaipillas, flan, manjar, and of course choclo. I’ve learned to use graph paper notebooks instead of college ruled, to smother almost everything in mayonnaise, to wear a million layers in the summer, and to use a calefont. I’m more conscious of my use of utilities like electricity and water, and more aware of how I spend my money.

Mmm! Melty yummy chancaca! Let it simmer gently over the heat to let it thicken some more while we form our dough.
Chancaca ready

Now put a few inches of oil in a pot on to heat up while we make the circles of dough. I roll it out on a floured surface just like for sugar cookies. The thinner they are the better, I used a flour-rimmed glass to cut the little circles and then I pierce each one a few times with a fork to let them cook all the way through. Now all you have to do is drop them a few at a time into the hot oil and let them fry, a minute or so per side until they are a nice rich gold.

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Looking back on the entire semester, I think it will be a while until I can fully wrap my mind around all of the effects it has had on me. I can certainly say I’ve changed in my tastes, worldviews, my perspectives, and my individual culture. I’ve learned that I love to blog, for example, and I hope to continue blogging after I get back. Sadly I don’t think my day to day life is interesting enough for this style of blog, but maybe I will be able to branch out and find another engaged and interested audience like the one you are a part of right now.
Now that your sopaipillas are all cooked and warm, you can prepare them a variety of ways. Some people like to eat them plain. My host brother Seba likes his with ketchup on top. Try them with salsa, condensed cream, powdered sugar, tomato sauce, anything you want.
A tisket, a tasket, a sopaipilla basket
But since we have a nice hot batch of chancaca ready, let’s make these sopaipillas pesadas (soaked in chancaca). Chancaca has a maple syrupy taste, in fact it is a form of unrefined sugar. All you have to do is soak the sopaipillas for about five minutes each in the hot chancaca and they are ready to eat!
Soaked in Chancaca, yum!
Like sopaipillas I cannot physically bring Chile home with me, but I can experience it, describe it, try to understand it and then bring it home in my memory and in my skills. In two weeks I’ll be back on U.S. soil, but the knowledge of sopaipillas will come with me and I can’t wait to share them with you all!

Lovely Listy Lists

Today we had a meeting with Isa, our beloved program director, about re-entry. Re-entry is the IFSA term for reverse culture shock and the process we will undergo as we transition back into our home countries. Basically, regular culture shock is when you find the unusual where you expected the normal. Reverse culture shock is when you find the normal where you expected the unusual. I remember feeling the same way when I came back from my Peru trip when I was 10.

To help us start to prepare ourselves for these transitions, today we did an exercise where we made lists on some topics that Isa gave us. I thought I would share some of the lists with you guys

5 Things I will miss about Chile

1. El pan (the bread)-Always fresh baked at the supermarket, delicious for sandwiches or by itself!

2. Lit Cafes-Like Starbucks, but with silence reinforced by employees I like to call the “quiet police.” I love working there because its warmer than my house, there’s free wifi, and I can order a teapot and a slice of cake for around $4.50!

3. Buying things from the street or artisan fairs– I don’t know why, maybe because it’s so novel for me, but I love buying things from streetside vendors. I’ve purchased gloves, socks, a fanny pack (they are actually very fashionable here, and practical!), last minute birthday presents, and more. Artisan fairs are also always fun, especially when the vendors are actually selling things they made and not the same old tourist stuff.

4. Being surrounded by Spanish-I’ve grown used to hearing, reading, speaking, writing, and thinking in Spanish for the vast majority of my waking (and sleeping) hours. From the important sounding chatter of businessmen on their cell phones on their morning commute to my host mom calling for my host brothers to set the table for dinner, I am enveloped in the sounds and undulations of the language: the smooth vowels roll like riverbed pebbles and the consonants are like an artist’s brushstrokes, some short and precise and others broad and sweeping. (Spoiler alert-this one will crop up in another list)

5. My favorite lunch-A chicken fajita, with lettuce, avocado, corn, and ciboulette sauce bought from an adorable little place on Sazie for about $2.50 USD.

5 Things I will NOT miss about Chile

1. Having to take public transportation everywhere– Although it’s clean, reliable, safe and relatively easy, I am excited to have my car back and be able to go wherever I want whenever I want without having to figure out bus routes and recharge my Bip! card and such.

2. Paying to use public bathrooms– especially when they don’t have toilet paper! Protip: always carry a little pack of tissues with you, they come in handy.

3. Piropos– These are comments that men, typically lower class workers, shout at passing women about their appearance. Basically, it’s catcalling. And basically, it makes me uncomfortable. Many Chileans have explained to me that it is not meant in a threatening manner, but I still quicken my pace and keep looking ahead when it happens.

4. Being surrounded by Spanish– I know I listed this as something I WILL miss, but I have very mixed feelings about it. I think sometimes I will miss it and sometimes it will be a relief to be able to express myself and understand others effortlessly. Sometimes I want to say something but I can’t find the words or the grammatical construct so I stay quiet, or sometimes after the third time asking my friend to repeat his or herself more slowly I just smile and agree and hope it wasn’t a question.

 

I’ll do some more posts like this as my experience here winds down and I try to make sense of it all and put it into words so I can remember it all and learn from it. I feel a strong urge to preserve these ideas and feelings now, while I’m still here. Some part of me is afraid that when that plane lifts off three weeks from today all of these emotions and lessons and experiences will stay behind on Chilean soil. I also need to start thinking about what I’m going to do with this blog after. I envision it as being something like a love child between a how-to manual for students who want to study abroad and a story for people who like travel. We shall see.

We Tripantu Festival

Last Saturday we had another IFSA field trip, this time to the far south of the city to Cerro Chena. Cerro Chena was and remains an extremely important site in many of the indigenous cultures both as a meeting place as well as a sacred place. We were there to celebrate We Tripantu, which is the indigenous people’s New Year and is marked by the winter solstice or the longest night of the year.

It was an overcast day and the sky threatened rain but the people who began to gather at the foot of the steep hill were excited and happy to see one another. Children were running and playing together, and a group of kids our age were dancing and laughing in a circle. Before the ceremony started we took a hike along the winding trail up to the top of the hill, where we could look out over the farmlands and nearby mountains. The view from the top was breathtaking and we stayed for a while just looking out over the countryside.

We wound our way back down the mountain and took our seats in the folding chairs that had been set up to watch the ceremonies. The facilitator of the event thanked us all for coming, and invited us to stand in a half circle to watch the purification rituals. In the middle of the circle of onlookers was a sacred tree, which was blessed by a mapuche elder who sprinkled it with water from a hollow gourd as he prayed under his breath in mapudungun (ancient Mapuche language). The facilitator prayed aloud in Spanish, thanking the spirits for the past year and asking for their blessing and support in the coming year. An offering of beer, grain, and bread was sprinkled over the sacred tree and also some was burned in a small bowl. Finally we were all asked to hold hands in a symbol of unity and alliance and acceptance of diversity.

After the Mapuche ceremony had concluded, the Rapa Nui delegation from Easter Island also held a ceremony in which they offered water and salt as symbols of the old year and the new. We were invited to think about the elements we will carry with us over to the next year and the things that we should let go and leave in the old year.

Next representatives from the three tribes that were present preformed some of their traditional dances and music, which I enjoyed very much. Here are some short clips of the dances:

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After the dancing was a great cookout, all free of charge, with such awesome food. I had grilled chicken and bread, a sopaipilla, a chicken soup with vegetables, another sopaipilla, some barbequed pork, and a teeny sample of some traditional wine made from fruit. It was all delicious! Full to bursting and happily sleepy, we crawled back into the van and slept all the way home.

 

A Cheeseburger in a Happy Little Box

I’m not normally one for fast food but since I walk by a McDonald’s every Friday on the way to class I thought I would give Chilean Micky D’s a try. I got a cheeseburger Cajita Feliz (a Happy Meal, in Spanish it translates to “happy little box” which I think is adorable). It’s very interesting to see the mix of American and Chilean influences, even in a company that has become the face of globalization and hegemony, or at least that was my justification for ordering up some fresh McGrease!

The inside of the McDonald’s restaurant looked exactly like the ones in the US, with plastic tables and the thick smell of french fries. As I waited in line among the crowd of chatting hungry university students, I looked up at the menu. I saw lots of the stables we are used to in the US, like the Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Chicken McNuggets. I noticed the addition of several menu options featuring avocado, a staple here that gets smeared on or sliced into almost everything. For example, beside the regular McWraps was the Avocado Snack Wrap featuring crispy chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise and avocado. A very Chile-influenced option was the McPollo Italiano. An Italiano is a very popular hot dog here that has tomato, mayonnaise, and avocado; the McPollo Italiano is a McChicken with these ingredients. On the breakfast menu, there was a lack of those artificial egg and cheese sandwiches. Instead, a ham and avocado sandwich was featured, plus a ham and cheese sandwich.

McPollo Italiano with tomato, mayonnaise, and avocado

So, as I mentioned before I ordered a Cheeseburger Cajita Feliz. It came with a kid size soda, a cheeseburger, a serving of french fries and of course a toy, which in this case was a little book about sea creatures. Right now McDonald’s Chile is doing a pro-literacy promotion so every happy meal comes with one of four little books on science topics. Straight to my hoard of authentic materials! As a future Spanish teacher I hoard any and all spanish-language “realia” with magpie like enthusiasm.

In comparison with McDonald’s food I’ve had in the US it was pretty much the same. The soda tasted better, but it always does in  South America. I’ve heard that they use real sugar here instead of high fructose corn syrup and that’s why, but I’ve never confirmed that. The cheeseburger and fries were exactly the same as I remember in the states, fatty and salty and oh so good but oh so unhealthy. Just like in the states, the cheeseburger consisted of a burger patty, cheese, onions, and ketchup on a bun. The other Happy Meal options were the same, McNuggets/Cheeseburger/Hamburger with Soda/Juice and French Fries.

If you’re curious and/or want to learn some Spanish food words, the McDonald’s Chile website is linked here! Or if you want to see other Spanish-speaking country McDonalds, I’ve put together a Delicious.com link list here (Plus a very good online Spanish-English dictionary).

Sopaipillas, Amigas, and Spanish

¡Hola a todos! I had a really fun day today, despite waking up to a torrential downpour outside my window. I reluctantly hauled myself out of my cozy bed and onto the micro to class, grumbling at the sky from under the umbrella I bought from a man outside the metro station for 1.500 pesos (USD$3.00). Class was interesting as usual, but nothing too exciting.

After class, my friend Tabea invited me to her house to partake in a traditional rainy day Chilean pastime: making and eating sopaipillas. Sopaipillas are a kind of fried dough made with squash. They can be topped with a variety of things or eaten plain; we made ours plain with pebre (a spicy salsa) and also soaked with chancaca (a sweet sauce made of raw unrefined sugar crystallized with honey and flavored with orange peels). I’m a terrible chef so I was more of an observer while Tabea made the dough from scratch and fried them in oil, and made pebre and the chancaca to top them with. If you want to try your hand at sopaipillas, here’s a good recipe.

More than the sopaipillas, which we delicious, I enjoyed the company and the conversation. Because we have different native languages the temptation to speak English (or in her case, German) wasn’t an issue, and for me listening to non-native but fluent speakers is easier because they tend to speak more slowly and deliberately than native speakers.

The temptation to speak one’s native language when abroad is strong and requires a great deal of willpower to resist, especially with a group of people who are also native speakers of your language such as in my exchange program. Many an evening or outing has started in Spanish only to quickly deteriorate into English. It’s only natural to want to express oneself with the ease and precision that one’s mother tongue offers, and to want a momentary sanctuary from the foreign culture that you are immersed in night and day. All the same, it is of vital importance that you resist the urge and make friends who do not share that language with you so that you won’t be tempted. Living with a host family helps with this immensely, of course, which is why I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about improving language skills and learning about the cultural context in which it is spoken.

Thinking about my own language skills, I am extremely impressed at how much I’ve advanced over the semester. Sometimes my brain doesn’t even notice which language I’m reading/listening/speaking/writing/thinking in at the moment, and it is an exhilarating feeling to realize you’ve been planning your day effortlessly in Spanish without even noticing. On the other hand, as I am writing this I have to continuously proofread for little Spanish words, especially prepositions, that have started to sneak into my English. Tricky prepositions!

Another encouraging sign of my improvement are those words that, unbidden, spring to your lips when things go wrong. For example, yesterday I woke up and blearily squinted at my phone. Realizing that I should have left for class five minutes ago, I swore loudly in Spanish. It was only after my frenzied dash out the door, onto the micro to the metro and then to class twenty minutes late did I realize what I had done. In my moment of panic, my mind still clouded with sleep, the first word of the day that my brain reached for was Spanish and I didn’t even notice! Now to you kids out there, I’m not condoning swearing, but I think the words your brain reflexively reaches for to express fright or pain or panic speak volumes about its subconscious processes.

That’s all I have for now. Tomorrow I’m going on a volunteer excursion to help some of the folks affected by the rainstorm we had a few days ago that experienced some flooding issues so it’s off to bed for me! ¡Buenas noches!

Wine and Dine

Hola todos! Those of you following me from the East Coast of the United States (you know, all you wicked awesome New Englandahs, enjoying some clam chowda with Autocrat coffee milk while weathering another nor’easter) Chile has finally set their clocks back so our clocks have synchronized.

I had a very fun weekend considering I have an 8 page literary analysis due May 6th hanging over my head.  Well, Friday was spent holed up in the library of the Universidad Diego Portales researching for said analysis so that wasn’t very fun. But Saturday and Sunday were pretty great!

On Saturday we had a trip to Viña Viu Manent in Colchagua, about two and a half hours from Santiago. As a vocabulary refresher, a viña is a vineyard. Yes, I know I’ve already posted about visiting a viña but I’m in Chile, therefore there is lots of excellent wine to be sampled!

Our visit included a tour in a horse drawn carriage of the grape fields and a tour of the distillery, where we got to try a red wine directly from the tap of an enormous steel tank. We were shown the machinery used to harvest, separate, and juice the grapes and our guide explained the new eco-friendly procedures the vineyard employs such as recycling the skins and stems of the grapes to use as fertilizer.

Next we were told we would have a chance to make our own wine! We broke into two teams and were given measuring cups, art supplies to make our brand label, and four wines to mix: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and Chardonnay (also plenty of crackers and water!). Hilarity ensued while we pretended to know what we were talking about as we tasted and mixed the wines. My group invented the label Las 3 Montañas, and I will upload a picture after my friend sends it to me. Sadly we lost to the opposing team’s label Vio Austin. The prize for each winning team member was a bottle of regular Viu Manent wine as well as a bottle of Viu Austin; the vineyard people reproduced their mixture and also reprinted their label design which was really fun!

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT FOR THOSE OVER 21:

You can buy Viu Manent wine in Massachusetts from Bayside Wine and Spirits in Avon, Massachusetts! ¡Cómpralo y disfrutalo! (Buy it and enjoy!)

On Sunday, I enjoyed the extra hour of sleep from moving the clocks back an hour and at noon met up with a group from CAUC (Student organization of the Universidad Cátolica that helps foreign students socialize with chilean students). The event was a cooking workshop, where we had an excellent time eating sopaipillas and learning to make empanadas.

Sopaipillas are a kind of fried dough with pumpkin or squash in the dough. We had it with pebre, which is a kind of salsa made with tomato, onion, garlic, and herbs. They are traditionally made and eaten on rainy days, and are delicious!

Next we learned how to make empanadas, a sort of large dumpling wrapped in a pastry-like dough and fried or baked. Empanadas are a staple in the Chilean diet, and can be purchased on every street corner with a wide variety of fillings. We learned to make the most traditional empanada, pino, which is filled with beef, onions, raisins, black olives, and a hard boiled egg and baked.

If you want to make your own pino empanadas, they’re super fun and easy to make and I’ve linked to a recipe here.

Besides making and eating the food, I had an excellent time socializing and talking with the group. There were three Chilean students from CAUC, a woman from Spain studying for her doctorate in Chile, four students from France, and my gringüita friend and I. We talked about everything from the political systems in our various countries of origin, favorite foods, our living arrangements in Chile, and more. It was lots of fun and great multicultural experience!