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jeudi 29 novembre 2007

Friends, Food and Far East

Shuttling between La Habana, Cuba; Miami, Florida and Paris, France, in addition to participating at professional conferences, this year 2007 had been full of travel. But the travel times did not include visits to Friends in far flung places. In these modern times, our friends are scattered around the globe, we maintain contact with them with email and VOIP and video/message/messenger, it brings their voices, and their presence into our lives. Yet it is not the same as breathing the same ambience and sharing a meal together. I am too busy for my friends have never been my excuse, so I planned a short trip, short in time but large in distance, to visit some special friends, leaving Paris and arriving back in Miami ( my two affections and residences, the third is Havana, of course ) in a matter of just 11 days. Little did I realize that all stopovers would be to meet friends brought closer after 2003, friendships made during my other trips to their countries.
I am writing this on 28th November 2007 in Miami, Florida. The first leg of this journey is not part of the Friends tour, since I am going form one home to the other, eventhough special friends wait for me in Paris. And not to mention, special food.
Called the Vietnamese Embassy in Paris, only to be told that the tourist visa takes one week to process ( you wonder why?) and that an express visa could be issued in just three days for 90 Euros. This made me think of the various places and expediency of obtaining Vietnam Visas.
Singapore, same day service, through travel agents (Burmese Chinese who run a travel agency in Singapore). Cost 60 sgd
Over the counter service, done within one hour, in PnomPenh, Cambodia. Cost 20 usd
Embassy of Vietnam in Havana, Cuba. One day service. Cost 25 usd
Embassy of Vietnam in Buenos Aires, Argentina. One day service. Cost 25 usd.
I have on three different occasions received visa on arrival which involves sending your details ahead of time to a travel agent in Vietnam and within a few days you get a letter clearing you to board the plane and when you arrive at HCMC or Danang or Hanoi, you stand in a separate line and get the visa stamped on your passport. The cost of the visa is the same 25 usd but the travel agency may charge 25 usd additional. They demand payment before they would request the visa on your behalf. Friends in Vietnam usually advance the cash and I repay them when I get there.
I contacted this time, my dear friend Pham Thi Nga, as I was going to HCMC just to see her. Received an immediate reply saying that she would wait for my passport details scanned and emailed to her and that a friend of hers would get me visa on arrival at HCMC in four days. Since I do have four working days before I leave Paris to Cennai on my first leg of the journey, I will scan and email her my passport details today. Hopefully I will get the e-visa. Cambodia now issues e-visas on line, so there is no problem. I do not visas for Singapore and I have a five year tourist visa to India in my passport. If I decide to go to Malaysia, I don’t need a visa either.
Why do countries require visas? Cant be security reasons. If it is just financial reasons why not just issue them electronically? In Asia, I need visa now for DPRK, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bhutan, India but not Hongkong or Macau. I don’t need a visa for Sri Lanka and I have not travelled to Bangladesh or Pakistan, so I don’t know the current situation.
Sister Jacqueline in Miami has promised Jamaican Curried Chicken for tonight, so it is a promising start of a trip.

dimanche 4 novembre 2007

Where am I?

When you order a coffee at one of the elegant salons in this city, the capital of a country that produces no coffee, a tasty morsel of melted chocolate comes in a glass thimble. Where the pure cacao comes from, I am not sure, could it be from Baracoa, my beloved village in Cuba? Or Ghana?
Tourists by the hundreds mill around ornate edifices of 17th century in this 19th century city. I cannot figure out any words in a popular language here which sounds more like a sore throat. I particularly enjoyed the Exhibition opened today, depicting the culture of the maritime conquest of Muscat, Porto Novo, Hormuz, Cochin, Malacca, Molukku and Macao, by people referred to as Ninbars (the southern barbarians) by the warrior lords of a hermetic archipelago. I thought of Dr Tan, founder of the Zheng He museum of Malacca!
Now the Quiz:
And the prizes are: Dinner at NonYa Restaurant at Hotel Equatorial prepared by my friend Chef Bong, the best Nonya food I have ever tasted. ( airfare and accommodation not included)
In which countries in Africa and South America, something similar to the language I was trying to decipher, spoken?
Consolation Prize: Lunch Buffet at Palms Restaurant at Metropolitan Hotel in Ernakulam, the best Kerala food you would ever taste in your life.(airfare and accommodation not included)
Which are the SIX plus FOUR islands in the western hemisphere where the natives of this country may be understood?
Bonus Questions:
1. Prize is dinner at my favourite restaurant in Buenos Aires, La Bodeguita with a bottle of Rutini Malbec ( airfare and accommodation not included)
Name a poet from the country in South America in question, but he wrote in an Asian Language.
2. Prize is Roti Canai with Teh Tahrek at the place of your choice in Kuala Lumpur.
In which hill will you see tombstones in the language in the quiz or name other places in Asia you may have seen the tombstones in that language?
Special Question:
Cuban Dinner in Miami, with Cortadito either at La Carreta or Versailles in Calle Ocho.
Name a descendant of this language speakers who has made a name for himself, writing well in another language, and he lives in Canada?

Globalization will not eradicate Prejudices
Competence, Efficiency and Education will!
Or Why we need Israel to train security agents worldwide.
Rainy end of October day. 0730 AM. Steady drizzle. Not intense but constant. Air France Cabin Stewards on strike. Do you know how the Airlines are making lots and lots of money? Pay the staff less and offer no services at all. Budget airlines with Budget salaries, Air France in its arrogance ignore their clients..Transatlantic traffic is its highest in years, but try to find a good fare or value for money!
Today by a stroke of luck, I am flying American Airlines AA, just seven days after arriving from Miami on Air France AF.
Radio announcer, while in the taxi: since 6 am, this morning, all flights of AF has been cancelled, since they are not sure who would show up for work. A friend who had a flight to Boston on AF had to take a bus overnight to London, stay at the airport until 5 pm to catch a flight to Boston. Ah Well..
A very competent taxi driver. Middle aged. French. Used his blue tooth telephone to contact the base and then took it off, to concentrate on the road, full of cars heading for Charles de Gaulle Airport CDG
40 minutes through the drizzle to CDG. Unlike younger drivers, no chatting on the phone, trying to save time and be safe, to get me on time for the flight to Miami MIA. Thank You.
Taxi Drivers
The worst ones are of course in MIA, fresh out of the boat immigrants, less conversant with the local geography and language (which is Spanish rather than the star spangled English), more than once I had to give directions to the taxi drivers, to common place addresses such as 107 avenue. Don’t worry, hopefully I would help one of their children to get into medical school, such is the life in the Americas..
Bangladeshis in New York, Eritreans in Washington DC, Togolese in New Haven, Congolese in Bruxelles.. this great metaphor for displacement, and movement, as if they are constantly in motion. But not so in Argentina, where the locals are in a hurry to emigrate, but the taxi drivers are not displaced Bolivians, carton collecting Peruvians but Portenos who know their road well.
Bienvenidos a Miami y las Playas. Good Luck to you, Mate..
CDG is not an user friendly airport. By now I know the layout. AA has, like most other airlines, special security lines for its Elite Frequent Fliers, I stood behind 7 or 8 middle aged to older Europeans and Americans, men and women.
I looked at the two desks where the security checking was taking place.
My heart sank!
Two distinctly Tamil (generic term to describe a native of Southern India or Northern Sri Lanka, their faces etched with the millennial miscegenation with the indigenous tribal people of India) faces- possibly, immigrants from Pondicherry, Sri Lanka or Ile Maurice, they looked much more Sri Lankan to me, certainly not the French locally bred ( don’t mean colour or face, there are plenty of Tamils from Ile Reunion or Pondicherry who are very French)
And they were being Trained!
I overheard the young Tamil girl ask a Spanish couple, she was checking
Where were you last week?
What are your plans from Miami?
And she took a full 20 minutes to check, a well dressed Spanish middle aged businessman with an elegant wife, flying Business Class to the USA!
Where are the Israelis when we need them?
Her pair, the pre diabetic Tamil lady to her right, fared no better, if anything only worse.
She was in the process of interrogating a Japanese Businessman. Asking for papers and other identifications. Humiliating, if you ask me.
Then she interrogated a pink lady, an elderly French lady, whimsically dressed in pink, flying first class nevertheless.
The Line inches forward.
This is incompetency.
Check their frequent flier status. Check their profession. A middle aged Japanese businessman with a Platinum Card from JAL is no threat to George Bush. He is possibly rich enough to buy the entire township of Pondicherry!
I was behind a gay American, young with a musical instrument in case, we could only guess what it might be, stylishly dressed. He went to the young Tamil girl on the left, while the prediabetic one was still asking stupid questions of an American couple.
This line is a special line for people who are Frequent Fliers, not your once in a while fliers, and certainly no one has a name vaguely resembling Ahamed or Mohammed.
While I mentally prepared myself to be interviewed by the prediabetic Tamil faced lady, a third security desk arrived
I was next in line
Viola, she nods in my direction
A middle aged, French Lady, who looked as if she knew what is supposed to do
My heart felt light at her sight
Elated as I walked towards her, full of cheer and in a good mood.
Having escaped the constructed curiosity of people without curiosity.
Seven or eight relevant questions from the French lady
No more than five minutes
And I was through the security
I am a Platinum Elite FF on AA ( and also on Skyteam)
What does it mean to tell a recent immigrant from Ile Maurice about the dinner I had the previous night?
Is this an arrogant attitude? Is it victimization of helplessness? Is it racial profiling?
I have always had dark skin, the people I belong to call Israel home, my passport is from Australia and I serve the underserved and marginalized of the populations in the richer countries
I have never felt discriminated or marginalized, eventhough I could make a case for it..
For people grown up under gentler societies, a difference is understood of class, culture and poverty. American Indians do not identify themselves as Poor, nor with other “minorities” who are poor, because they do not consider themselves poor, materially may be, certainly not spiritually.
Of the many countries I have lived in or have had intimate associations, I would say the most racist has been Jamaica (the majority population of Blacks), and the legislated racist state of Malaysia.
All of us are only two to five generations removed from poverty and lower class upbringing, unless of course, you belong to one of the other ancient civilizations: Arab, Ottoman, Persian or Moghul….(all paradoxically Moslem)
A little lesson in European Civilization, with Food as an example.
Cutlery is considered a metaphor for superior dining in the west. It is a recent import there. Knife was necessary but not used for eating. Fork was the main instrument of eating in the west, it seems to have been a Byzantine innovation, was introduced to England in the 17th century via Italy. ( did you know that Italian was the language Ottoman and Arabs used to communicate to the Infidels of the West, not French and certainly not English)The English word Fork comes from the Italian “forchetta”. No mention of “fork” in the plays of Shakespeare even though Ben Johnson mentions it in one of his plays, this new device to eat with. ( he died in 1637)
Compare this to the cultural wealth of Persia. Abu Ishaq or Bushaq, known as Bushaq i-at’ima, Bushaq of Foodstuffs (late 14th century or early 15th century Shiraz, Iran), a poet, dedicated most of his literary output to writing poems about food. Among his major works, Kanz-al-ishtiha or Treasure of apetite.
There you are..
So the sigh of relief of seeing a middle aged, competent, French security agent at CDG line for Platinum Frequent Fliers cant be a blind adoration of the culture she belongs to, symbolically or metaphorically,
A sense that her efficiency would be helped by her relevance of her life to the career she has chosen.
Comparing to the professionalism of Israeli security agents, on a recent flight to Tel Aviv, all of them young Israelis, men and women, post military service obviously educated. And this was not at TLV airport but at the El Al check in counter at CDG. Cultural Congruence and cultural relevance.
Globalization is giving rise to a Fraud, seeping into our lives, poisoning us slowly.
Made in China has more meaning now, Thai, Japanese, cuisines offered by Chinese immigrants ( also Korean immigrants) in Paris.
(I am writing this as this AA flight is taking off, most of the AF planes are on the ground, it is still drizzling)
Hotel receptionists at fashionable chains, unaware of the local geography much like the Haitian taxi drivers in Miami, in Bruxelles, in answer to a general enquiry, I was told: Sorry, I am not from here. Honest but not helpful.
Then there is wholesale Mimicry, young IT men and women, becoming rounder as they abandon saris for Jeans, marching towards their early deaths, eating with forks and knife , wasting their newly found buying power at KFC’s, McDOs!
I met a Bengali recently, mentioned to him, some well known writers in English from his subcontinent: Ghosh, Mishra, Tejpal. He was unaware of any of them, but strangely enough he has heard of Indian writers who have made a name for themselves in the west, like the Bengali Indian, Jhumpa Lahiri.
Girls/Boys, immature beyond their years, in Malaysia and Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in the Far East (the Japanese like to have flings with foreigners but prefer Japanese partners for themselves when they choose one), looking at laisons with westerners as an escape from their intellectual and emotional poverty
1104am Paris Time. AA 63 takes off . 6 04 am in Miami (yet to change the time). Constant Drizzle accompanying as the ageing aircraft 767-200 lifts orr
Every single seat is taken.
I would like to see the English being English ( there are no Black English, only Black British). This does not negate the benefits of a million poles coming into England in the last few years. Europe needs 20 million educated people, as immigrants- from within and outside the European Union.
Every one is envious of Australia’s record of attracting quality immigrants, it is because Austalia since 1966 has had an immigration policy based on what is needed in Austalia rather than the dicatates of whimpy politicians or right of the spoon politicians pandering to the agricultural and political interests. Australia has the highest rate of qualified immigrants. Europe and America, for the sake of political correctedness, has attracted immigrants, perhaps not all of them well suited for the economy of their present day industrialization.
Despite the fact that I have lived in 8 different countries, I have never migrated anywhere. I have chosen well: Israel for emotions, Australia for legality, as far as my nationalities are concerned.
Now learning to liven France!
Another Decade, Another language…
Perhaps that is why I have strong attractions to the countries which have strong native identities: Cuba, a strong political and cultural identity and Myanmar, a stong religious identity.
No McDOs, No KFCs, Best Buy, Quick etc etc in either country.
Is it a mere coincidence that both countries are subjected to Sanctions and Embargo by the USA?
Is it a good thing after all, being boycotted by USA
Visit them, before they visit you..
We have to stop thinking in terms from the past: skin colour, cultural origins are no longer handicaps if you don’t want them to be, or give the other a chance to do so.
My Father, Olah Ha Shalom, once said to me, quoting Chou En Lai: for us to get ahead, all of us must get ahead together.
South Africa rencently gained the Rugby 2007 title. Not a single player was Black. Everyone rejoiced except the Politicians, Mbeki, and the Sports Minister who said: this is a country of blacks, 80 %, so there should be positive racial quotas in sport..
This is al-Qaida kind of militancy. We cannot regain the Moslem grandeur of the Past, but the future is before us to plan and bring into being our dreams of what was lost and what is possible. All of us are capable, in culturally superior ways of each of us, to achieve but it is up to us, as individuals to find strength in that culture, by first of realizing what is the true culture, rather than cultivating on e in some one elses image. Build more ovals at Black schools, Mr Black Mbeki, bring education to the Black children, along with sports, so that they can excel in computer as well as Cricket. So that in the 2020 Rugby games, an all black S A team can hope to defeat the allblacks of Aotearoa..
Where did I begin?
Where have I ended up?
10 minutes into this 9h30 minutes flight to MIA. AA Lounge at CDG is a sham, compared to the Virgin Lounge at LHR (the best I have seen) or the AF lounges at CDG( the French do it in style)
The Virgin Lounge had full service breakfast, a bistro, where you could have salmon fume.
AF lounges at CDG have multiple magazines on all subjects, champagne flowing freely
AA Lounge at CDG had Frito Lay chips and USA Today.
Ah! Well!
But the boarding process was smooth and I look forward to the company of my sister in Miami. I might even get something nice to eat which I am not expecting on this flight, AA 63.. Alors!
Today is 29th October 2007
Tomorrow fly into Omaha and then on to South Dakota
Miami, Denver and La Habana
I would have the pleasure of other “tamil” security agents in Miami, Houston and Paris and elsewhere..
I have always welcomed the security inspections at La Habana. They are much better at it … Experience I suppose. Not as good as Israelis. For whom security is life, rather than a career..
Mazeltov to my Brother Ricardo
Mazeltov to Shimon and Avital..
Arrived MIAMI 3 20 pm. Got out of the plane at 3 25 pm. Cleared immigration 330. 340 was already on the AVIS bus taking me to pick up my Rental Car..
As suspected, sister Jackie furnished Jamaican Curry, Chicken and Rice, Peas and Pappadams and fresh Lemonade.
It is 2 35 am in Paris, 8 35 pm in Miami, 7 35 pm in Winnebago and 5 35 pm in Yakima.
The night of 21st/22nd October 2007.
I have just finished my dinner. Not just any dinner. Alone.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne
Foie gras de pato con chutney de fruta seca
Provencale style braised Chicken
Cotes du Rhone Villaes Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2005 Perrin et fils
La selection du maitre fromager; three different types of cheese
Mango Sorbet, Cookies, Royal Ceylon Tea
What is this occasion?
I can think of two reasons for celebrations.
I am looking forward to seeing the person around whom my world moves.
In Paris.
I have just left the Indians, after a very very fruitful week with them.
I have to be thankful, to the spirits, said I to Georgia Gomez, my Hocank Indian Sister.
The only thing you have is your body, everything else is borrowed, what sacrifice you do with that body would demonstrate how much you would like to do for the people.
Might put you up the hill for four days, do you think you are ready?
Am I ready?, I asked, frightened at the thought of being left all alone, without food and drink, and a blanket to ward off the cold nights under the clear skies.
Wehnona St Cyr was selected as one of the outstanding community health leaders, I felt all of us was part of that celebration. She is the CEO of the UmonHon tribe Health Clinic. I am the Endocrinologist to that Clinic.
Michele Smith, I think every nurse should model themselves after her, visionary, innovative and totally committed to the welfare of the Indians. I had lunch with her twice, once at her favourite Chinese restaurant in Sioux City, the Hunan Palace and the second time in Decatur, Nebraska. As I entered the lady there said, where have you been, have not seen you in a while, and before you open your mouth, there is nothing healthy here to eat..
So in effect, shut up and eat what we give you. Two large pieces of fresh river fish braided in batter..
All for the price of a cup of café in Paris!
People had come from Indianopolis and San Antonio to speak to me and Georgia and Tina De Cora, the administrative assistant of the Diabetes Programme of the Hocank Indians.
They are impressed. And appreciative of our efforts and more over supportive. More human an interaction than commercial one.
I tell them, we can do things community wide, because we don’t have to construct a community, we live in a community
Would you be able to go to Denver on November 12th and present your work to the Health Committee of the American Indian Congress, the oldest organization of the Native People of this country?
It would be an honour!
Calculating in my mind. I have to give a talk to the association of latin American diabetes societies at la Habana, Cuba on Friday 16th.
There is a chance that the Robert Wood Johnson work group of the four tribes of Nebraska, who are getting together to put together a grant application for prevention of childhood obesity might be meeting on the 13th in Omaha, Nebraska. Wehnona wanted me to go to that meeting.
There is a flight from Nassau to la Habana on Thursday 15th.
It was good to meet with our visitors, who had travelled far to come and see us, in that corner of northeastern Nebraska. The day before, faculty from the Creighton University School of medicine were there to witness the honouring of Wehnona at the UmonHon Clinic.
Two things I had to explain to our white American friends.
It is quite common among Indians for those who are being honoured to give away presents, a custom quite contrary to the one in the majority culture
Secondly, I tried to explain to them, Europeans have long forgotten the concept of social responsibility in which you take responsibility for others, this concept of a relative, Mitakuye Oyasin, that we are all related. A major portion of the life of the Indian and his time is consumed by this desire and the need and the effort to do something for the relatives.
Right now I am 3000 miles away from Paris, have been flying for 2 hours 45 minutes. Five more hours to go. It would be good to sleep a little.
This week with the Indians was extremely satisfying. A drop in the ocean of their misery, but some relief. As Delacroix had said somewhere, relief of pain and misery is what people remember you by.
Everyone who had appointments to see me at the clinic showed up and more. Deb Parker does an extraordinary job as Diabetes Coordinator at Umonhon, herself married to an Umonhon Indian. The days at the Hocank Clinic was very pleasant thanks to Teri Eckerman who makes sure that the patients who need to see me come in time.
It was time to reflect
The person I am going to see in Paris is the gift of the Spirits to me. A humble, sacrifysing self, ethical and giving; she envelopes me like the big sky. I feel secure knowing that she will take care of me while I take care of the Indians.
Who else takes care of me.. the list is long and dear to my heart..
My sister Jackie, with whom I spend delightful time in between my trips
That is why I always begin and end my USA trips in Miami. I arrive, there is English tea, chicken breast marinated in a sandwich with fromage chevre last night when I got to her house, hours of laughter and always eating and spending time together, whatever time she can spare, in between giving of herself to so many people, including her mother who now stays with her.
I have gathered affections
In my sister friends
Georgia Gomez of Hocank
Michele Smith who works with the UmonHon
Dar who works with the Yakama Indians
Geri Martinez whom I met while I was working with the Kickapoo in Texas/Mexico

This is my family. I have a daughter, Claudia Prieto Noa in Baracoa who is in her first year of Medical studies.
Some close friends in Cuba: Castro and Beatiz and Yamina in Baracoa; Mother Lucia, Cari and Amparo in La Habana.
I am not close to the people who are related to me by blood. I don’t blame them, time and circumstances separated us for decades at a time. I admire sister Sudha for her devotion to her mother in India. I have completely forgotten those who were left behind in Australia.
I realized one thing today.
If you loose someones friendship, you never deserved them in the first place.
I had a delightful time during lunch with a friend of mine that I had met in Baracoa, El Capitan Pablo. Humble, human and gentle, I am so glad to be his friend, and each time I am in Miami for more than one day, I will make an attempt to see him.
I am slowly loosing my interest in Cuba, I did my best, with the greatest of intentions and without any interest, for years on end, what I could and I know I made the difference in the lives of some people. But I no longer have energy for their continued struggle, the relationships are becoming just one sided ( except those mentioned above in Cuba), it is a matter of diminishing returns. With lessening interest in Cuba, friendships that germinated in Cuba are also withering.
That which needs to blossom will blossom, if the intentions are pure enough. Hidden agendas, passive behaviours can all go out of the window. Adios!
I feel closer to Sam and Nava in Israel thus to Shimon and Avital , to Ko Maung Maung in Siem Reap in Cambodia. I saw Sam and Nava a couple of weeks ago at the wedding of their son, Shimon in Haifa, hope to see Ko Maung maung in Siem Reap in December.
I think very fondly of my two brothers, there has been some estrangement from them this past year. I used to look forward to going to see them, but the eagerness is somewhat dampened. I only want loves without strings, even if there are borders, like the borders I have put on my friendships with Nga in Saigon, Ming in Singapore and Jen in Kuala Lumpur. If we define the borders, we must be careful not to cross them. I miss Elliott and Richard, tremendously, but I am afraid, they will have to come and see me! Mazeltov to you, Brother Ricardo!
You are welcome to all the places that I call HOME
Hocank and UmonHon Indian Reservations
La Habana
Cochin in India
Yangon in Burma
So I thank you, my sister Jackie, my brothers Elliott and Richard and my sister friends: Georgia, Michele, Dar, Geri.
Thank you for listening to the sounds of my heart. I shall try and sleep a little so that when I arrive in Paris in five hours time, I wont feel very very tired. I have nothing planned for tomorrow but I do look forward to a pleasant weekend in Bruxelles.
I thank the spirits that each of the weekends have been spent in different places, and will be so until the end of this year:
San Antonio
And I look forward to
La Habana, Madras, Siem Reap and Saigon.

Finished writing this note
Sitting in seat 1 D, 747-400 of Air France
Miami to Paris 21/22 October 2007
3 15 am in Paris. 9 15 pm in Miami. 8 15 pm in San Antonio and Winnebago 6 15 pm in Yakima

The flight arrived at CDG at 7 50 am. There were not enough ground staff, because of the transportation strike in Paris. We waited for twenty minutes before someone could be found to open the door. Then we were whisked off to the Immigration and the officer looked at my passport for less than five seconds and that was that formality. We waited nearly half an hour for the luggage to arrive so by the time I left the hall, we had touched down two hours earlier.
Walking along the long corridors of the Paris Airport, I spied the Arrivals lounge and entered and was welcomed.
Would you like a shower, enquired the lady.
Yes Please
The shower facilities belonged rather to a five star hotel rather than an airport Lounge. Thick towels, all sorts of shower speeds and temperatures and positions. Occitane accessories. Ah well, they know how to do it, the French..
Capuccino. Fruit Juice. Pain au Chocolat. Internet.
Now I am ready to face the traffic to Porte Maillot and then HOME..