Saturday, July 21, 2007

Water and Electricity... Essential to our Lives

As I sit writing this message, we have electricity but no running water. You see, these two basic services that we very much take for granted in Canada, are luxuries in a country like Nicaragua. What is most difficult is the lack of water and coping mechanisms need to be taken. For example, water in my house is generally available from 8:00 PM (but it can start as late as 11:00 PM) to 10:00 AM (but can be shut off as early as 7:30 AM as it was this morning). This poses obvious challenges such as no water to bathe, to clean dishes, to cook or to drink. So, coping mechanism as having bottled water to cook and drink as well as storing water in large vats such as plastic garbage cans becomes an indispensable item of life here.

For electricity, it is most missed from 6:00 PM when the sun sets to 10:00 PM when you typically go to sleep (no late nighters here as the roosters, birds, parrots, dogs seem to get up like clock work at 5:30 AM every morning). Fortunately for me, the lack of electricity in the crucial evening timeslots has only occurred 4 times but it was felt and made life difficult for everyone. Mostly, it is the productivity at work that gets challenged. For example, our office has electricity shortages daily from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM. This means that people work from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM and then go home (they would usually stay till 5:00 PM). This has had an impact on productivity and expectations of timelines have had to be relaxed (even further than you would in a Latin American country).

This blog was not written to complain because I realize that so many people around the developing world live with this constant reality of poor government infrastructure and planning, lack of funds to fix the problem and issues with water quantity and quality. No, this blog was mostly written to initiate the discussion on how we can sensibilize ourselves to the reality outside our shielded lives in Canada. I am a hypocrite because I long for constant water, for electricity to work without problems, for proper roads and sewage systems, for clean streets. However, I know that these are luxuries, not essentials as we have been led to believe. We are lucky to live where we do and let's never forget that. We should help others in their struggles but in a sustainable way. Only through this means can everyone live a comfortable life while insuring a future for our children.

Monday, July 16, 2007

From Costa Rica with Love

Well, having no plans for the weekend and always in search of a little adventure, I decided to accompany Wendy on a quick weekend trip to Costa Rica in light of her illegal, alien status in Nicaragua (her visa had expired and a huge fine of US$1 per day was being imposed on her). Fortunately, we were able to take Friday off. Waking up way too early, I rolled out of bed at 5:30 AM on Friday, grabbed a taxi and explained him our route from my house, to Wendy’s place and then to the bus station and arrived around 6:30 AM. The bus was scheduled to depart at 7:30 AM but since we had no reserved seating, we had to wait until 6:45 AM to find out if we could go to Costa Rica. Thankfully, there were a few seats available and we started our trip.

The bus was comfortable, air-conditioned and we even got to see corny American flicks like Little Man. Everything went by seamlessly until we got to the Pena Blanca border crossing (i.e. refugee camp crossing). Amidst this confusing area of border crossing, order reigns over chaos. But it does take time for you to figure out which line is for food, which line for the bank and which line for the passport control (not kidding). Finally finding the right line, we slowly moved up into the chaotic yet efficient border control (quick look at the passport, picture, whether we had any rejected visas and bam! You are stamped and on your way). It only took an hour and 15 minutes to get there but are they ever efficient once you do get your stamp.

We continued on our way until we got to Liberia which has a bus station but in which you get dropped off at the outskirts of the city. Near a gas station. Totally confused as to our whereabouts. After asking many questions to different people, we figured out the bus to playa Coco (our final destination) was across the street of a very busy intersection. We saw the hourly bus go by… without stopping because it was full to the brink (people leaning out of the window). I’ve rarely seen anything quite like it, even in Nicaragua. We lowered our shoulders a notch and then thought it would be smart to get some money out to take a taxi to Playa Coco. So, Wendy put in her bank card only to have the transaction rejected and the machine eat her card. She waited more than an hour to retrieve it while I went out looking for the bus station to reserve our seats on the way back (no reservation, no taking the bus). Unfortunately for us, I was heading in the wrong direction (forgot my campus again). So, Wendy got her card back, I took out money from a different bank and after spending $25 to get to playa coco by taxi, we made it safely to our hotel. We were so happy to be here and not stranded on the road. We decided to take a quick dip in the ocean. It looked so pretty.

The water was so nice and warm until… Ohh! What was that? It felt like a bee stung me. But what could it be? There were millions of mini jelly fish in the water. And there were fish nibbling on my legs (very unnerving). We quickly got out when the small stinging sensation got too irritating. We walked to the main part of the village, found an over-priced restaurant and had a remarkably great meal. We decided to call the bus station tomorrow to see if we could book places on the Sunday bus back to Managua. After calling about 5-6 different numbers to contact someone (you see, they are working and they are there but they have decided not to answer any phone calls… Costa Rica bus services are not known for their great customer service). Wendy and I made an executive decision to strand our local, jelly-fish infested paradise for a night in the Liberian-border town. We made our way back and found the bus station. I used landmarks to make my way to the bus station conveniently located in the middle of nowhere. Before we were served, another lady began crying and saying this couldn’t be true. We knew we were in for bad news. There were no seats available until next Tuesday, late! But we needed to get back to Managua for Sunday night. We decided to go the more expensive route and take a taxi to the border the next day… And then, it started raining and didn’t let up until the next day.

Because of the stressful day I was envisioning on Sunday, I couldn’t sleep which didn’t help me one bit. I eventually fell asleep only to wake up too early and realize we needed to start our crazy trip back. We found a taxi and made our way to the border. We had to cross the border this time without the helpful international buses that shielded a lot of the chaos from us. We walked the one km zone that separates Nicaragua from Costa Rica after going through the two border controls. It only took us one hour and a half this time, beating the previous two and a half hours of the time coming in, so an improvement of sorts. We made our way through the thick of taxi drivers, helpful Nicas trying to sell us everything under the sun, until we got to the Managua express bus. Oh, how I missed the Nica express buses. Always there to serve, without reservations and oh, so very cheap. We made the 150km trip in about 2 and a half hour which is very fast by Nica standards. I made it to my bed by 2:00 PM and slept a solid 2 hours and felt funny (my stomach was hurting). And there you have it, folks, the weekend trip from hell and back. It could always be worst and if I didn’t have horror stories, I would have nothing to tell, right?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

How does one cope with daily rolling blackouts?

Two weeks ago, Nicaragua passed an infamous record: the largest one-day shortage of electricity in its history. Three of its plants went down reducing the electricity capacity by 174 MW (with average daily demand at 480 MW, that’s a little over a third of the demand). With neighbours in Costa Rica having similar problems and Panama and Guatemala who typically have excess capacity not able to lend a helping hand, this has resulted in rolling blackouts throughout neighbourhoods in Nicaragua for up to 10-12 hours per day.

Unfortunately, this was not just a one-day occurrence. The Ortega government was elected on three principal platforms: (1) peace and reconciliation from the 1980’s contra wars; (2) solving the growing poverty and inequality problem in Nicaragua; (3) solving the electricity and water shortages that have plagued recent governments.

Unfortunately, it has been unsuccessful in most of its efforts resulting in the government’s popularity to plunge in four short months from +60% approval to -10% disapproval.
However, one may wonder how one survives in a black-out prone country. For example, what happens to food in fridges (or in supermarkets) when the fridges don’t work on a consistent basis (especially in tropical weather like here)? How does one work especially in this day and age of electronic communication and information gathering as well as a dependence on computers to complete most work? How can one sleep, cook and eat when microwaves, electricity appliances, often water (because it relies on electric pumps) and without fans or air conditioning? The answers to these fascinating questions I have to live with everyday… but then again, I’m gone at the end of July. What saddens me is that there seems to be no end in sight to bad infrastructures, name-calling by private electricity companies and the government and short-term solutions to the detriment to long-term thinking and envisioning.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Serge and Jessica's excellent adventures in Central America

I was able to not check my e-mail for seven days which was such a relief. However, the ability to get continuous Internet access at work also meant that I was now all alone in Nicaragua and that the last two amazing weeks with Jessica were over. We both shed tears as Jess boarded her flight this morning to Miami and then to Toronto and I slowly realized that I was still very much in Nicaragua for the next five weeks as I try to complete my demanding work term. But that's enough about today's morose reality. Let’s reflect and savour the memories.

Jessica arrived on Friday, June 15th at the Managua International Airport. I was waiting there for her alongside my adopted brother, Oscar. We saw her but she looked anxious and couldn’t seem to find her piece of luggage. Unfortunately, it had not made the connection so we were told to come back the next day to hopefully retrieve (which we later did). We went to Pochomil on Saturday with Wendy, my friend and colleague from work, along with her two cousins that arrived that same day. We had a wonderful time at the beach while eating fried fish and shrimp. I was the designated driver and drove through villages and mountains trying to avoid the free range dogs, sheep’s, chickens, pigs, horses, cows as well as free range kids, bicyclists and old people as they strolled in the middle of the road. Didn’t hit anything and we made it back safely.

Sunday was spent travelling to Isla de Ometepe where our kind guide, Daniel Jaminez was waiting for us. We spent our first night in Charco Verde and Jess and I had the opportunity to go on a nature hike, find a secluded beach with very warm water and swim while looking up to the islands two volcanoes, Conception and Madera. The next day, Jess and I hiked up to see the San Ramos waterfalls while Wendy and her cousins did quite a big hike up to the top of the Madera volcano. On Tuesday, Jess and I parted ways with Wendy and her cousins and we spent the day in Granada, admiring the unique Spanish colonial architecture of the oldest continuous European settlement in the Americas. We then took an hour and a half boat ride along the Granada islets and dreamed of living in one of these huge houses. We even got to befriend some monkeys on the isla de monos (monkey island). I had to return to work the next day only to find out that Nicaragua was undergoing huge electricity problems resulting in rolling black-outs of eight hours or more. We tried to work from the nearest mall (as they had free WI-FI access) but eventually gave up and went to see Shrek Three, ate a good meal and relaxed.

Thursday was spent in Masaya, the headquarters for much of the Nicaragua art and crafts talent. We went through the traditional and old market and found some very good deals on quality pottery, hammocks, wood carvings and paintings. As we admired our purchases and sat in a local café enjoying our coffee, we looked at life go by for a little while. On Friday, we made our way to our weekend destination which was La Conchia or the village of San Juan del Oriente. The British owner of the Spanish School I attend in Managua has built an impressive eco-lodge along with plenty of animals, an amazing garden, solar panels and a solar water heater (resulting in my first warm shower in Nicaragua). We ate great food and visited the Mombacho Volcano on Saturday located amongst the cloud forest. We were able to do a hike up there and admire the amazing foliage and wildlife. We also made it out to a much different volcano in Masaya where there are plumes of Sulphuric smoke still coming out. After burning our eyes and lungs a bit, we made it back for some more great food at the hotel. On Sunday, we finished our journey in Nicaragua by swimming in the most amazing lagoon called Apoyo Lagune near Masaya. It was clean and warm and very sunny so we spent a good part of the afternoon swimming with Giamina, the eco-lodge’s daughter while our driver sat and relaxed while reading the newspaper.

Monday, June 25th saw the second part of our trip commence. We boarded our flight to Costa Rica, a bit anxious because all indications was that Costa Rica was not nearly as nice as Nicaragua. After driving around in circles with our rented 4x4 for the first few hours, we eventually found our hotel in Alajuela and had a great meal because getting a much deserved rest. The next day, we left early and drove to Monteverde and its treacherous 30 km of unpaved, pot-holed and narrow roads up 1000 metres to the village of Santa Elena. We found a hotel and took a night walk that same evening seeing tarantula spiders, black widow spiders, a silver fox, a family of racoons, a porcupine and a sloth and its baby. We saw countless types of insects I won’t start to name. The next day, we did what we came to Monteverde to do: a 18 platform canopy tour with the Selvatura company. It was worth every dollar as we both had a great time. Jess was the only woman who tried the Tarzan swing (a few men decided not to do it). Jess doesn’t look like the bravest person but she sure is! Actually, that same day, she tried to fight her irrational and debilitating fear of snakes… so we visited the Serpentarium and viewed 40 different types of snakes. Towards the end of the night, as I was holding a baby boa constructor, she stroked its skin three times. Last time I saw Jess in front of a snake she was shaking vigorously and had turned white as a statue. Huge steps here!

The final leg of our journey was to drive a snail-like pace from Monteverde to the Caribbean coast to spend a couple days near Cahuita Park, 40 km south of Limon. After spending countless hours behind 18-wheelers, we finally made it. Cahuita was very quiet and very much a reggae-based culture. There was a groove about the village which we didn’t miss. Unfortunately, it was also the rainy season meaning there were long bouts of rain and the humidity went through all our clothes. We did get to do a great hike and took some pretty cool pictures in the Cahuita park. We drove back to our base camp in Alajuela and readied ourselves for our departure on Sunday back to Nicaragua. This brings us back to today, Monday, July 2nd, the date of Jessica’s departure. So, as I sit back and reflect on our trip, I can only say that I have thoroughly enjoyed spending so much time with Jessica in a really interesting and hospitable part of the world.

To view pictures of our trip, click here.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A typical day in Nicaragua

Well, I haven’t written a blog entry in a while but with good reason. The last two weeks have been spent trying to get the final projections and business plan ready as we may face a cash crunch starting in July. I also wanted to get most of my important work done before Jessica’s arrival (which is amazingly in less than a week!). I’ve decided to devote this blog entry to a typical day in the work life of Serge in Nicaragua.

Well, it all starts at around 6:45 AM in the morning when my alarm clock rudely awakes me from my somewhat deep slumber. Then, there is the cold shower as we have no hot water. It isn’t that bad when you consider that it averages 30-35 degrees everyday here. I do a bit of exercise, get the coffee running (bought organic coffee from a local farmer on the Isla de Ometepe for a taste of paradise), have my daily ration of cereal and yogurt and if I’m lucky (and remembered to buy some), orange juice. Then, I’m off to grab a taxi off a busy 4 lane road near my house. I usually get a taxi within five minutes of my arrival as many drive by honking and slowly down pointing in various directions. I tend to have better luck with empty taxis but most of the time I share a cab ride with complete strangers. The cost of the taxi ride to the Spanish school varies from 25 to 40 Cordoba (about $1.40 to $2.25) and takes about 10-15 minutes depending on the traffic and the patience of the taxi driver (and whether he stops for gas along the way, a regular occurrence). I usually arrive at school at about 8:05 where I may have to wait until 8:20 for my teacher to arrive. She lives in la Conchia and needs to take a microbus which can take up to one hour and twenty minutes to get to Managua. I have my hour and forty-five minute class and catch another taxi ride which costs me between 30 and 40 Cordoba to get to work. I usually arrive at work between 10:15 and 10:30 AM. I work with Wendy in the conference room. I don’t really have an office but we do have WI-FI internet access which is nice and the conference room is large and air-conditioned which is another nice feature.

A typical day at work involves responding (or sending) numerous e-mails to my Canadian supervisor, Fred Wall. It also involves drafting and asking for advice and information from my Nicaraguan bosses: Veronica, Junior and Octavio. They have offices about 10 metres from the conference room but I usually get faster responses and less headaches in sending a well drafted message in Spanish. I do tend to pop into Veronica’s office three or four times a day for more complex information requests. Over the past 5 weeks, I’ve completed a 2 megabyte file on the 5-year projections for MiCrédito based on tacit knowledge held by the management team on costs, HR hiring practices, projections for branch portfolio growth, market information on the MFI sector and individual cities where we want to open new offices. I’ve also been able to interview all the current branch officers, some clients and association directors for the MFI sector. I’ve been able to accumulate a mountain of information on the competitors, where they are located and what they are doing (and whether they are successful at doing it). I’ve been able to give a convincing answer to banker’s questions on: Why MiCrédito and what makes you different? This is something that we’ve addressed in our Schulich program at various stages but is always difficult to answer without knowing your market, your competitors and your clients. I’ve tried to incorporate as much of the experience, knowledge and ideas of the management team into a business plan while also considering the desires of the board which is not always an easy political task. The final business plan including appendices and footnotes is fast approaching 60 pages but is an easy read and is complete in the assumptions that we’ve made.

This has been my work over the past five weeks. Next week, I plan on starting the second part of my work term objectives which is to facilitate investor and banking relations. Already, Veronica has approached two local commercial banks, one international bank, one local government funding agency making my job much easier. Yet more is needed and long-term banking and investor relationships need to be started at this point in their history to ensure the future capital needs of MiCrédito. The organization is professionally-run with a clear social drive behind the efficient and profitable operations. It is a living example of working within a double bottom line paradigm. It is successful at recruiting like-minded people and in convincing bankers and financiers that its plans are genuine, realistic and passionate. It has been a busy five weeks but I’m hoping that the time invested in preparing the business plan and five-year projections will pay off by attracting excellent partners to the business over the coming eight weeks.

And that my friend (if you aren’t already sleeping or on another website) is a day in the life of Serge in Nicaragua.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Monkeys, lizards, birds and barnyard animals… Plenty of life on Isla de Ometepe

Not to mention two gigantic active volcanoes that are known to erupt every 30 years or so. Wendy and I set out to explore this wonderful island full of mysteries, nature and opportunities to relax. We decided to stay at a hotel called Charco Verde. The Hotels call to fame is a wonderful beach head as well as a nearby green lagoon rumoured to house the island witch. The island witch is known to come out at night and protect the golden throne of a now-defunct king of the island of Ometepe. We didn’t see either when we visited the lagoon but we did see some pretty birds.

Saturday was spent travelling with our local tour guide, Daniel, who showed us the beautiful Santo Domingo beaches, the petroglyphic Maya art near the Magdalene Farm as well as the city of Altagracia. We also saw the Eye of the river where an eye-shaped spring feeds an important river on the island. No one quite understands how the spring gets its water but it has never run dry. If you swim in the eye, you feel water coming up. I imagine it has something to do with all the volcanic activity going on around this island. We swam and swam some more in this beautiful, cool, green island.

Sunday, we slept in and I slept an amazing 10 hours! This has not been done since I started at Schulich. After a hearty breakfast, Wendy and I sat out to explore a nature trail near the hotel. We saw lizards, birds, plenty of insects and most important, great picture scenes of the local coast and the Madena Volcano. Upon our departure of island on Sunday, we had an amazing shot of the La Conception (second and larger volcano on the island). We’ll be back in three weeks with Jessica and Wendy’s cousin and husband. We expect to hike to see the San Ramon Waterfalls on the Madena Volcano. They are said to be 120 metres high. Ometepe is a little slice of natural paradise in Nicaragua… soon to be overrun by tourists so make your way there quickly!

Monday, May 21, 2007

From Masaya to Masatepe to Granada… and back to Managua

As I stood caught between passengers in the Transporte Urbano de Collectivo de Managua, I now realize why I take the taxi every day to get from my house to school and then to work and pay the equivalent of $4 daily cab fair given the inconvenience of taking the public bus. But the public bus service between cities can be quite good… And for $1 to get to Granada, Masatepe or Masaya, you can hardly complain. So, this blog will be devoted to public transportation in Nicaragua, its many facets and the interesting and beautiful places in can bring us.

Given I’ve talked about taxies in previous blogs, I’ll start with a trip I made with a colleague of mine from work called Wendy last weekend. Wendy has lived in Managua since January 2007 and had not taken any public buses until last weekend. I was here in my second week, green as any Canadian worker in Nicaragua can be. We chanced it and made our way to the bustling Mercado Roberto Huembes to catch our “expreso” bus to Masaya. It’s a chaotic bus station but follows some general rules and guidelines. For example, if you ask directions to one of the porters, a tip, called “propina” in Spanish is required for the porter and his tag-along friend. The tip is not too onerous. 5 cordobas (about $0.33) for him and another 5 cordobas for his friend. Once you have found your bus, well, it’s not a greyhound. It’s actually your old bus you took when you were in elementary school. Seriously, it’s that bus… the same one. You see, there is a traffic of used buses that goes on between the USA and Canada and most of Central America (and I imagine the rest of Latin America as well). You still have some buses with the last owners inscriptions: “St. Patrick High School” or “St.Francis Catholic Regional Elementary School”. But some, thankfully, have been painted over in all the colours of the rainbow. Let´s call it eye candy for the masses.

Okay, back to our trip to Masaya. So, now we have taken the right bus. We are sitting in our seats. The bus slowly fills with people… and salespeople! They sell everything! The daily newspaper, chicklet gum, every pastry you can imagine, chips, coca-cola, and of course, “agua, agua, agua”. If you want anything, just sit back and let the world come by you. Buses leave on a very reliable schedule. Arrival times vary. If you have the Michael Schumacher Bus driver, expect to arrive in record time, if not with a few heart palpitations. If you are lucky enough to have Mr. I Like to See the Flowers Grow as I drive. Expect that time to double, see triple and sometimes quadruple. Most bus drivers are somewhere in between those extremes (please note that taxi drivers also follow this exact taxonomy).

Okay, so now Wendy and I are enjoying our ride to Masaya, a bustling trade and crafts center near Managua. As we make our way, the bus stops intermittingly to let in more passengers… and more… and more… until every last inch of breathable air in the bus is taking up with perspiring passengers eager to regain their natural shapes once they leave the enclave of the bus. Actually, it’s not that bad (only Transporte Urbano Collectivos are that bad). Inter-city buses are much less crowded although stepping on other people’s feet is quite a common occurrence. So, we made it safe and sound to Masaya and discovered a great crafts market that doesn’t sell trinkets but actually good quality craft stuff. And the people aren’t pushy. It’s tourist souvenir purchasing heaven. Will have to come back. Masaya other call to fame is a great big lake next to a great big volcano. Don’t expect to swim there after years of industrial waste being pumped into the water bed. It is off limits to anyone not wanting to grow a third arm.

This weekend was even more eventful in terms of public transportation. I was invited by my family… yes, I am now being introduced as the long-lost son of my new-father. So, Oscar Senior and his wife Estella invited us to their country home in Masatepe. Oscar Junior (Oscar’s son… I know, I got confused with that one too) and his girlfriend, Jody, and I took the Transporte Urbano Collectivo to Mercado Roberto Huembes to take a micro-bus (a large van that somewhat comfortably seats 15 people). Unfortunately, the line for taking the micro-bus appeared long so we took the local bus to Masatepe (see explanation of the big yellow buses above). Unfortunately for us, what should have taken 35 minutes with the micro-bus (express to Masatepe) stopped at every corner of Managua, Masaya and everything in-between before dropping us off in Masatepe 2 hours later. I did get to discover places I’ll probably never have the chance to visit again. That was nice.

Last night was spent in the very cool and beautiful green landscape of Masatepe. Unfortunately for me, the open windows let not only the nice cool breeze in but also the drunks, the dog barks and the crazy roosters that seem to not understand when day-light occurs. They like to practice their “cock-a-doodle-do" several hours before it’s necessary. After plenty of coffee this morning and a nice tour of Oscar’s plantation (which grows amongst other fruits, coconuts, pineapples, mangoes, bananas and many other fruits), we made it to the Masatepe bus station. We got there just in time to take the “local” bus to Granada. Although Granada is about 20 km from Masatepe, we took the scenic route and make it there in under an hour and a half. Once in Granada, I know understood why every foreign tourist to the country and mostly every Nica has visited this diamond in the rough. Granada is not only the oldest city in the Americas (it was founded by Christopher Columbus some 400 years ago), it is a colonial jewel with amazing architecture that has been kept up with the times and great tourist infrastructures I’ll be back!

Oscar, Jody and I lounged in some cafes, trying out the different frappacino’s before making our way to Nicaragua Lake, the largest lake in Central America and home to one of Nicaragua’s most beautiful sights, Ometepe island (two majestic volcanoes on a tiny island in the middle of the lake… read next weeks entry for full details). We negotiated a fee for a one-hour boat ride to some of the 365 islets near Managua. For your information, there is a somewhat active volcano about 10 km from Granada. It dominates the landscape. Oscar told me that these islets were created by a mega eruption. I didn’t understand. He said, well, the eruption was so powerful, it sent liquid volcanic rocks over 10 kms into the lake creating these islets. Glad I wasn’t there when that happened! However, very rich people do appreciate their small and secluded size. There are 1-2 houses on each islet and have huge, see monstrously big villas on them. This is your own island for a small price (one was for sale for US$350k… haven’t you always wanted to own your very own island? You could create your own city there and charge your own taxes?... well, not quite). So, my last segment of my bus story is my first micro-bus experience. Clean, airy and comfortable. However, micro-buses are known for one thing and one thing only in Nicaragua… Their speed! We had a young Michael Schumacher at the wheel and what took us roughly 3 and a half hours to do with the local buses took us about 30 minutes with the micro-bus. But it sure was fun! So, that ends another instalment of Serge’s Nicaraguan adventures. Join us next time for all the exciting stories from Ometepe Island.

More pictures at Serge in Masaya and Masatepe.