Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Camp Jamaica - Emails from camp

(In June 1999 I traveled to Montego Bay, Jamaica with our daughter Erin, our daughter in law Debbie and granddaughter Andi. My husband Mike was unable to go because of his work schedule. We were going to help my stepdaughter Renee and her family wrap up the academic year at their mission school. Recently I found copies of the emails I sent home to update family of our activities and introduce them to the players.)

June 17, 1999

Dear Family,

Last night we arrived somewhat deepfried and incapable of thinking a rational thought so therefore, no email. Forgive me - Renee is keeping us busy - a reversale wicked stepmother role. Actually she woke us thi smorning when she left on the firs bus at 7:15am. We were suppose to be with them. Needless to say it didn't happen. We drug our weary bones from our beds, and prepared for the second bus coming at 8:15.

I got coffee, tried porridge for breakfat with fresh pineapple. Porridge is lie tapioca, sweet and lumpy. Not too bad. Last night for dinner we had stewed chicken, rice and callaloo (sort of a spicey spinach leafy green thing). It was actually very good. Of course my traveling companions were not sure of what they were being served and claimed to have eaten hugely on the plane. Didn't do much for breakfast either. By lunch time, Debbie was begging me to ask Renee if we could go "downtown". The driver, Glaston, took us with Hopeton. Because of an accident on th eroad, we detoured through a cemetery and several alleys. Driving is a unique experience. Left side of the road, 70 mph, horns wailing... Debbie is always holding on for dear life. No seat belts either. I feel like I have the advantage having lived five years outside of the U.S.

We changed money and stopped at KFC. It was good! We bought a bucket of 21 pieces to get Debbie through until we go to the Holiday Inn tomorrow afternoon. Tonight we had pepper steak (fried chicken) and rice. So... that's the food. Actualy, we have a bag of passion fruit for juice and there are mangoes hanging heavily on the tree in front. We had bread fruit boiled with green bananas and squash. I'm trying it all! No weight loss on this trip. Unless I sweat it off!

Auntie Merleen and Hopeton do most of the cooking. Mr. Berris is the houseman. He is in his 70's and has never left the island. They are training Nardia, the oldest girl, to do chores around the house and cook. She will not be going to class any longer after this year. She has a learning disability which cannot be diagnosed properly in Montego Bay. She doesn't speak much, but is a wonderful person.

It's hot and humid. Erin seems to have adapted very well. Sweat runs down my face, chest and back on a regular basis. I know I too will have adapted in a day or two. It's the rainy season. We get heavy, heavy humidity, the clouds roll in and the afternoon shower arrives complete with thunder and lightening. It cools off some and feels less humid. By bedtime there is a breeze, ever so slight, but a breeze. The frogs and crickets are loud. I remember those sounds and the storms from Venezuela and Puerto Rico. They are comforting sounds.

The children are very good. They have their normal squabbles but matters settle quickly. A snap of the fingers and a point to the hall and they are sent to their rooms. I've almost reached the point where I can call them by name without hesitating. They are much smaller than I originally thought, but they are happy and loving.

This morning we helped at the school. Andi and I opted for the fan cooled office doing computer work. Erin already knew the drill for helping in the classroom and Debbie was given the task of listening to children read - in the warm outdoors. The school rehearsed a small program they will be performing tomorrow at the "Infirmary". It's more like an old folks home - barracks style.

After a break this afternoon we took off with Jerry and Renee downtown once more. We stopped for paper for the yearbook print job and headed to a 'wholesale warehouse'. Not exactly Sam's or Price Club. You stand at a counter, check out the shelves in front of you stacked with goods and asked for what you want. We then went out to see Renee & Jerry's new house. It's actually a home they lived in nine years ago. The German landlord (a Natzi if you can believe it) is moving to Canada for good and wants to be rid of this huge home and it's furnishings. The best part is she is willing to finance some of it and will take several balloon payments. Renee & Jerry have been able to raise the down payment and closing costs through the generous supporters they have now. It's going to be a tremendous move. The house is well maintained, closer to town, very near the new school building and with the furnishings it's such a blessing!

They also took us up the road just a short mile to the new school building. On a hill. As it happened, there was a rainbow just over the rooftop. Very appropriate. The school is older but will be whipped into shape in no time.

Time out... need to get bug spray.

Despite our rocky start, we are having a wonderful time. The trip down was fine for me - Debbie and Andi another story. I ended up carrying the bos that contained my binding machine. Wish we would have thought to put a rope around it. I arrived in St. Louis on schedule and dashed down through two terminals completely, one end to the other. St. Louis has these wonderful moving walkways. Just wish they had been working! Finally broke down and rented a 3-wheel cart. My shoulders are bruised from my over-burdened carry-on bag and my arms black and blue from the box. But I was so excited. Andi and Debbie were to be waiting at the gate for the next leg of our trip. They started boarding almost immediately. I kept looking for them. Couldn't believe they hadn't showed. Looked around the food placed, watched restroom doors, but no family.

I waited my turn and asked about their flight from Portland. A very rude TWA ticket agent told me she needed the flight number and asked me to step aside. I dug through the carry-on for my daytimer and their flight information. I waited in line, once more, to asked the question once more. She informed me the flight was cancelled and said "next". I stepped square in front of her and said, excuse me but what do you mean cancelled?. She said 'maintenance' and reached around me for the next person. I again stepped in front and said "where are the people". She told me they were coming in at 12:30pm. I wondered outloud if I should wait for them but she said there were no more flights to Montego Bay that day. Reluctantly I boarded and sat in my first class seat all my myself. (We had this big plan, upgraded our seats to have some fun together.) The attendants were wonderful. I asked the questions of them. They took my box from me to check down in the plane belly and told me my family would be rerouted on another flight and may even be in Jamaica before me. The plane took off and I sulked. I wanted to cry. I was overtired, bruised and frustrated. Then I realized - hey lady, you are in a first class row by yourself, lots of leg and elbow room - and look - they serve alcoholic beverages FREE! :-) Well I didn't overindulge but I did treat myself to a bloody mary with breakfast. It was only 8:3oam! I felt like I had been through a small war by then.

After a hot meal and calming drink I found the blanket Erin asked me to carry down to crash and burn! I woke 30 minutes out of Montego Bay as we started our descent, filled out the immigration card and watched the approaching island. It was beautiful! Memories of our time in the Caribbean flooded back. Best of all - we landed early! The airline employee who was going to meet me for Renee & Jerry was at lunch. I cleared immigration by myself and retrieved my bags. In Customs a gentleman asked me to step aside to xray my bags and the box. I had to open and explain the metal. I had trophies, medals, plaques as well as the binding machine. He asked how long I was staying, inquired about my vacation with trophies and wanted to know how to use the binding machine. I opened up a file folder with last year's yearbook and showed him how it worked. I can hardly wait to carry the machine home... NOT! The Customs agent took my form, gave me a big smile and sent me on my way. I'm sure they see it all but I had dozens of deodorants, razors, sweetnlow, coffee creamer, bathsoaps, Pam oil spray, graduation gowns for the kindergarten class, shampoos, hairsprays - oh sure, all for my personal use. It made me chuckle.

Where are Debbie and Andi? Their story begins in Portland. Thirty minutes prior to their departure they are informed the flight was cancelled. They dashed to the ticket agent for Plan Two and were rerouted on Northwest through Minneapolis, Tampa and Jamaica. Of course, Debbie was in Minneapolis before she realized she wasn't still going through St. Louis where we were meeting, didn't know of the stop over in Tampa, only she was going to end up in Montego Bay. They did get in at 2pm just an hour and half after my arrival. They still got to fly first class AND were met at the gate by the airport person. I'm glad. I was carrying the island address where we were staying. At least they had help getting through it all. At this point I knew I'd done it before.

I arrived, we waited for them, they arrived and we went home. Just as the skies opened. It was refreshing. Much cooler for awhile. I love watching Debbie's eyes when she sees things for the first time. She's never been east of Nevada!
June 20, 1999

Good Day All! Happy 17th Anniversary Mike. Happy Father's Day Dad, Mike and Rex. We've just returned from Fantasy Island. Back to the real world. We did however, leave Tatoo at the Resort. What a blast. I think Debbie might have enough pastries to make it through the week. We already have the a/c on in our bedroom (much to Jerry's dismay), two loads of laundry running and our first cockroach in the Tootsie Rolls.

We are anticipating a hard work week at school. The yearbook must be copied and put together. We've heard talk of award certificates, award programs, teacher evaluations, report cards... good thing we got as much rest and relaxation as we did. (Just kidding)

There is a Field Trip for Honour Roll students, another all-inclusive resort for the day. Ya mon - this is great. Mind you it's not all play. We are packing the school up and moving on the 26th. We'll work hard and leave for home the 30th.

The resort was awesome. All-inclusive. We did our best to get our monies worth. The main buffet never lacked nor should anyone go hungry between meals. The grill was always ready with hamburgers, hotdogs and endless grilled cheese sandwiches. I want you to know Andi and Erin LIVED at the grilled cheese line. The guy didn't even have to ask any more and he wasn't the only shift worker there. The other side of the grill hut was a beverage bar - with or without. We'll leave that part to your imagination.

The pool was incredible. The girls kept the appropriate 10 feet away from us. We didn't want them to cramp our style. Those old fuddy duddies. Debbie enjoyed the night life. I had to drag her kicking and screaming from the casino. She kept insisting she would break even next time! That wasn't the end - she found BINGO at the pool. Next stop the bright lights. She ended up on stage dancing to "Hot Hot Hot". Look out Mama. She can really shake her bootie. Of course, I being the respectable one of the group refrained from traumatizing my granddaughter any further and remained seated!

We stayed up late nights chatting, watching HBO, Jay Leno and SNL. Erin has her late night fix again. We're back at the house now in sweltering heat. Thinking we'd really be ready to go home if permitted. But we came to work and that is what we shall do. We are a tad toastier - more like crispy critters and that is WITH sunscreen. Debbie wasn't going to use sunscreen as she was afraid she'd go home with no tan.

Did we mention the fish for sale on the side of the road? The guy had a barracuda. Earlier in the week he had a shark. They hand the catch from a tree to sell to passerbys. It was enough of a deterent to keep us from swimming on the beach below Renee & Jerry's home, despite the fact Glaston assured us the caught the fish WAY out dar mon.

We are becoming accustomed to the Game Preserve with it's dozen or so cows. They have ropes securely attached to their necks to keep them from straying. It must work as they don't leave the grounds... howver, the ropes are not secured to anything on the other end. Go figure!

There are road hazards. Not the large trucks speeding 70 mph or the motorcycles zigging and zagging. We're talking goats, chickens, people walking where they please on the side of the road.

Friday before the resort we started at the bottom and worked our way to the top. We went along with the school on a field trip to the infirmary. It was an old folks home. Separate barracks for men and women. It wasn't quite as bad as we were led to believe, but it wasn't where I would want my family.

We were dropped off downtown at the City Centre so change more money and bargained our way through the Craft Market. Debbie just couldn't say no and they figured her out quickly. We all have new wraps to cover with at the pool. We lunched at McDonalds... no burgers just chicken and fish. They ran out until July sometime. It is imported. Erin had them stumped because she ordered a meatless Big Mac and they kept telling her 'no burgers just chicken and fish- and she kept saying she didn't want the burger. We met up with Renee and Jerry and headed for our weekend at the resort.

We miss ice. Debbie is having phone withdrawals. Erin is having Jay Leno withdrawals. Andi's having heat attacks and I'm typing as fast as I can.
June 21, 1999

Greetings! Today was a work day at school after spending last night creating, typing and printing out certificates for awards. I thoroughly enjoyed a brisk cold shower and went to bed to the harmonious tune of dogs fighting with God knows what jungle creature and again the sound of my crickets.

Up early to head out with Renee and Jerry on the first bus to the school. Particpated in morning devotions with the teachers and started putting out some more awards. The printer is slow and it takes forever.

We had Pizza Hut for lunch at the school. Debbie, Andi and Erin all headed for home to eat while I continued to slave away... poor me! :-)

When my tasks were done on the computer Glaston, the diver, had the van taken apart. The only vehicle available was his motorcycle. Yes I did ride home on the motorcycle with Glaston. Common sense lost out to the need to change from a skirt and blouse into shorts and tanktop. It's not bad enough the traffic is psychotic but I have to jump on the back of a two wheeled vehicle. You should have seen Debbie's face!

We are having a wonderful time. The children are so happy and so normal - ready for school to finish. Wednesday is the last day of class. Thursday is an Awards Celebration in the late afternoon. Then summer holiday begins. Tomorrow we are going to FDR, an all-inclusive resort with the Honour Roll students. Dran, we won't be able to work. Only 25 of the students are on the honour roll.

The sun goes down about 6:30pm. It's such a surprise after being use to the 8:30-9pm dusk. Even more difficult for Debbie who is bright-eyes until late as she's still running on West Coast time. With this knowledge, we now understand why she is so sleepy and groggy in the morning.

School gets out about 2:20. It won't be long now before children arrive. Peace and quiet prevail for now. Erin and Andi are keeping up with the photocopying today so we may start binding yearbooks tomorrow. It's coming together nicely. Debbie found a lawn chair and a sunny spot overlooking the ocean. I think I'd better keep her company.

I'm interested in any yummy lizard/gecko recipes you have to share. My brother offered a cockroach with melted butter. Tempting. We had fried plantains and bread for breakfast. Erin brought peanut butter.
June 22, 1999

Happy 40th anniversary Mom and Dad. Sorry for the late email. I wrote earlier but we had trouble with the internet and coudln't get back on line. One of the hardships for 3rd World countries.

We are staying up a bit later trying to get another page or two of the yearbook printed. Only Erin and Andi are going to FDR tomorrow on the field trip. Debbie and I are going to stay here and work on the yearbook. The group is traveling with parents. Erin and Andi are asked to go to keep track of Kalen and Jourdan - the only two from the Winkler household on the Honour Roll who didn't have demerits or detention slips. That's our grands!

I'm always the worrier. When Renee was talking of the kids going without adults I worried. Of course, it's not like Andi or Erin can do alot but this way I know they have supervision around the pool, etc.

Debbie is apprehensive about Andi going. Partly the driving (it's an hour from here) and partly the responsibility of watching the kids. I know the girls will be fine with Glaston. I think part of my calmness comes from having been in Venezuela. It's bad here but I remember Caracas. This is a picnic!
Good Evening - we are down to five yearbook pages left to copy. We are making great progress. It's soooo hot. 96 today and nearly 100% humidity. I feel like a walking puddle - I even splash.

Debbie and I stuck around the house today and had a blast with the help! The landlady was coming so they 'cleaned for the queen'. We made them grilled cheese sandwiches and ice tea. While a thunderstorm brewed off coast, Debbie and I sat in the sun to melt away the poundage and then showered in cold water and sat in the a/c bedroom. We've got it so cold in there the kids walk by and complain of the cold draft coming from under the door. We call it the "Bat Cave". I don't think w even have it on the highest settings. It cools some at nights but not enough for us. It's the humidity. It's worse these past few days. Even the locals complain.

We are making progress. Debbie killed a lizard today. She wouldn't go into the kitchen before and now she's swatting the critters while cooking sandwiches. We coudln't find the body of one when it fell behind the freezer so it's possible there is a lizard around here tonight with one heck of a headache.

Tomorrow is a half day of school. One of the teacher's father passed on and they are closing to attend the funeral. We will finish collating the yearbook. We have 40 copies put together minus the last few pages which will be added in the morning.
June 23, 1999

Good Morning - greetings from Jamaica. Jourdan and I are sitting here waiting for everyone to get moving this morning. She will be leaving on the first bus with her folks. She's ansy to get the girls moving so they won't be late.

It's already warm. Not much breeze as before. We've had little rain since we arrived. No daily showers since last Thursday.

Erin and Andi are leaving today for the Honour Roll field trip where they will eat, swim and relax.

We've decided our arrival shall include a large dosage of ant and roach spray. Our plan is to stop in the garage with our bags, put them in big black trash bags and spray them down, tie them closed and let them sit for awhile. The cockroaches are abundant- mostly due to the rainy season. I don't think they exterminate like we did in Caracas.

The school starts moving next Monday. They close on the new house today and hope to start moving as well. Renee and Jerry have a great deal on their plate right now.
Good Evening. Waiting on Jerry to return with our midnight snack. He was out for a meeting and is stopping at McD's for goodies. Debbie is nearly salivating...

We finished the yearbook this morning - printed and bound - by 10am. I printed out the remaining certificates. Our reward was an afternoon at Doctor's Cave Beach. It was wonderful. We went about 11am and came home around 3pm. It's a 'pay to get in' public beach. We got an umbrella, laid our towels in the white sand and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. As one group departed they gave us their chairs. The water was so blue and sand so white. One of us had sense enough to sit more under the umbrella and read while others insisted on getting max sun-age. Needless to say, one of us is comfortable right now sitting at the computer while three others are gingerly moving about the house, fearful of contact or movement. The a/c will have to be set higher tonight due to the heat radiating from their bodies!

Tomorrow is the Awards Celebration at church. We'll decorate in the morning. The children will receive their trophies, plaques and certificates.

We had an awesome thunder and lightening storm tonight. We spent several hours on the veranda watching lightening. We taught Kalen to play "War" with cards. He's just a wee bit competitive!
June 26, 1999

Good Saturday to you! We are back from a second trip to Doctor's Cave Beach We thought we'd go early - 9am and come home by 1pm as it was so hot last trip. Of course, when 1pm rolled around we were still enjoying ourselves, not hot at all, wishing we had more time.

We spent last night in Renee and Jerry's new home. They finally had the last of the paper signed. It has been a week long Jamaican work in progress. I's to dot, T's to cross. Such fuss. But the house is a miracle. The owner is a woman they previously rented from, returning to the island to close her home. They happened to contact her out of the blue when they learned their current rent was going to increase. The German woman has left the house and belongings inside to Renee and Jerry. We spent a night without cockroaches! Andi, Erin and I all shared one half of a king size bed while Debbie slept very well in the other half. We reminded me of Willy Wonka's grandparents. Very comical.

The new house has dozens of keys. The rooms come off a center open courtyard. Very tropical and pretty. Errol, the gardener, who lives there, locked the door with the deadbolt and we couldn't get in. Imagine, the six of us, each with a huge string of keys trying paddlelocked gates, grates and doors.

Finally we were able to get a side gate open. Jerry found some cement blocks and climbed to the roof. We figured he could swing down over the wall at the courtyard, walk to the front door and undo the deadbolt. Well, SOMEONE has short legs and decided he couldn't swing his legs. In his defense, he messed up his hands on the broken glass that surrounds the edge of the wall and roof (there to discourage just such access to the house). So (don't read this part Mike) our daughter decised "mom I can climb up and swing my legs down easy enough - I'm taller and longer than Jerry". I'm fearful to even say anything so I don't look at her and pretended I didn't hear. I continue to try another key and then decided I could no longer just sit and wait, so had to watch. If she was going to slip and crash to the cement courtyard, I would break down the front door - somehow.

Erin managed the cement blocks, over the top and walked around the wall to swing her legs over and climbs down like a professional. Then we had to figure out how to get Jerry back down. Me tinks my doh-tar da tief has been here too long on dis island mon.

Erin undoes the deadbolt, we get Jerry down and in we go with our KFC dinner. The only injury incurred was when Erin pinched her finger on the deadbolt! The smaller side of the house, the cottage, was still locked and the real goodies were on that side. We explored some of the closets in the main house. Vintage 1970's home decor. It was a fun night.

Renee had a dentist appointment this morning. She cracked a tooth on some of the Skittles we brought down. Jerry dropped us off and we walked to the beach. We enjoyed ourselves. No sailors, no Coast Guard, no cruise ship employees for our daughters to meet this trip. Debbie tried snorkeling. She thougth if she could see the fish she wouldn't mind. She wasn't disappointed. There are some reefs out at the ede of the swim area and they found the typical color-filled salt water fish.

Two couples from Lacrosse, WI arrived with morning. They are here to help with the school move. The new school lease isn't finalized as the owner is a reggae singer who is off island right now. They will get the lights, fans and desks ready to move.

Glaston is driving us to Ocho Rios tomorrow, to see the Falls. Monday we'll be working at the school and Tuesday we'll prepare to head home. We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit, feel like we've been productive and helpful and still been able to relax. But you can bet we won't be missing our plane!
June 28, 1999 (Final letter from camp)

Good Morning Mon! We are starting another glorious Caribbean day here in Jamaica. The children have been up for awhile therefore so is Gramma Deb. Auntie Merleen is packing up books for the move to the new house. We treated her to dinner last night - we made tuna and grilled cheese sandwiches - whoo-hoo. The girls stayed up last night to watch movies with Renee and Jerry. Being the old lady of the quartet I went to bed early.

The trip to Ocho Rios was beautiful. The water was cool and very refreshing. We climbs the Falls. Hopeton blazed the trail for us and we gingerly stepped up the sometimes slippery rocks and rushing water. As we climbed I looked up and there stands Glaston above us already. I've decided that Jamaicans are secretly born with suction cups on their hands and feet - therefore given an advantage. Some of the rocks were even slippery in our water socks. There would be pools of water to stop and swim a bit. Some tours were climbing with guides, holding hands, stepping together in a long line. I think that would have been more dangerous. Debbie and I stopped about 100 yds from the top where it got very steep. I noticed even Hopeton and Glaston were struggling. Erin, Andi and Jody continued on with them. They forged their own trail to the other side and Hopie and Glaston decided that looked like a good idea and joined them. It was beautiful. I took lots of pictures.

Today we will be heading to the current school. The two Lacrosse couples arrived to dismantle desks and pack up rooms. They will fill holes and we will start painting. We are going to take down lights and fans too.

We head home soon - it's been a wonderful two weeks - bugs and all. It certainly has been a growing experience and very eye-opening. I hope the girls go home and thank God for all they have at home. I know I will.
June 29, 1999

This is our final, final from Camp Jamaica. We've set aside our "get out of jail free" money for our airport tax. Nothing will stand in our way. It's been a great experience to live outside of tourist resorts - a taste of the 3rd world country. We've seen it all - well most of us - Debbie wouldn't always look!)

Since our arrival we've heard the tale of 'the 40 legs'. It didn't thrill me any to know this infamous creature was once discovered in Jody's bed... the bed I'm sleeping in!

Now I've felt comfortable here for the most part. I can deal with cockroaches on MY terms. I travel the house with an extra show for swatting. I turn lights on in the dark rooms I enter. I have bug spray for mosquitoes atnight. The spiders and moths are no threat. I've survived a snake in the house in Venezuela, rats in the toilet in Puerto Rico, but '40 legs' almost did me in!

Last night the Winklers headed to the new house with some of the children. I helped Mandela and Ricardo in the kitchen (it's safe with the lights on). Erin, Debbie and Andi dealt with Nickel. Trust me - it's a fair trade.

Debbie taught Ricardo how to play poker and 21. Probably the the best choice of games for that one - he's already quite a wheeler and dealer. He caught on quickly and soon wanted to place bets. Fortunately they were betting glasses of water with ice!

During one of our wild Crazy 8 games, the family arrived and the kids began to bathe. Ours we were left with were already bathed. The first little girl, Nickicia, started for the tub and returned wrapped in a towel. There was a '40 legs' in the tub. Ok... Auntie Merleen calmly heads down the hall with a shoe and Alex follows, the little girls close behind. Curiouslity got the best of me so I had to go look too!

OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT WAS HUGE!

This is no regular centipede. I'm thinking - hey it's only 40 legs not 100! But this mutant was over 6" long and about 1" around, BRIGHT RED, with pincers and a stinger. They tell us if you are stung you need to be 'carried' (not literally just the term here for taking someone) to the hospital for antihistamine shots. Merleen had it in two pieces and at first I thought it was two bugs. It didn't help my goosebumps to learn that is was all one bug. Like our friend the cockroach, '40 legs' travels in the plumbing. What IS IT about me and creatures in the plumbing?

Soon after we wrapped up our card games with Gramma Deb finally beating Alex, and headed to bed. We stuffed towels under the bathroom door and a washcloth in the sink drain. Debbie and I wrapped up extra tight in our sheets and prayed to fall asleep. Every twitch and itch on my skin sent me into near hysteria.

As we finally doze off, Erin starts up with one of her frequent nightmares. She's sitting in the bottom bunk, facing the wall, pounding to get out! We get her awake - sort of She is dreaming she's locked in a box. Then as things quiet down she speaks again "a bug is crawling on my foot"... Needless to say Debbie and I are VERY tired this morning. I've had enough! UNCLE!

It's a beautiful island. The weather is suberb. The people are wonderful. We are having a wonderful time - wish YOU were here.

28 more hours and we'll be on our way THERE!

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