The World Behind Me

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

-Mark Twain


Self-admittedly, I have always been a little self-righteous. It began innocently enough – as most sins do – something good rooted in a sinful nature that eventually turns into something not so good.

I grew up in a home that taught me to love knowledge, love truth, love the practice of it. And because of that, a very large part of my identity is founded on a pride in knowing and following the truth. I build up a castle of facts around myself so that when I am faced with conflict or adversity, I have ground to stand on.

Truth is my fortress.


Several years at college, in the workforce and then on the other side of the world have done a lot to change my view of the world. Issues I used to take for granted, used to stubbornly defend as the absolute truth, I am seeing are more complex than my 16-year old mind could have understood at the time. The details aren’t important beyond mentioning that only what I believe about my faith has remained completely unaltered.

Since coming home, I have begun to see much more vividly how far I have branched away from the views of my family and friends (and now I understand why they say never to discuss religion and politics at the dinner table).

It has felt isolating, to be honest. No one prepared me for that. I certainly still align myself more with the views of the community I grew up in than say, the far liberal left. The unfortunate result is feeling like I don’t really fit in either group.

Maybe other millennials are feeling the same way. This is what our parents wanted, right? They wanted us to grow up and become our own thinkers.

But I’m afraid I have played the part of the bitter idealist for too long. I have been the tortured, enlightened martyr in the fight for perspective and balance that every secretly hates talking to for more than four minutes lest I begin another rant. And it was yet another journey that has begun to cure me of my own self-importance (which, though much less self-righteous in nature, has manifested itself similarly).

Athens is quite a place to experience. What a city of paradoxes. Greeks are a people divided by a courageous compassion for those washing up on their shores and a fearful self-focus, making them apathetic to the needs of humans in the throes of great tragedy. It’s a ruined city built around a city of ruins – both of which are celebrated in their own way. And it’s a city with ancient people and modern people; tourists, foreigners and refugees.

It’s an amazing place to build a church.

I visited three churches while I was there, all of which were freckled with different nationalities, different worship backgrounds, different theologies. It was uncomfortable for me and my frigid protestant background.

My self-righteous spirit was much more awake during those services than my humility ever was, as it critiqued and criticized every aspect of the worship. There is a Biblical way to have a church service, there is order and method for a reason. The liturgy, the depth of our hymns, the fencing of the table, the preaching of the word all has ordained structure! I’d be screaming on the inside as I sat through a messy fifth chorus of “Good, Good Father.”

Following one of the services, the congregation of Greeks, Americans, Sri Lankans, Iranians and North Africans piled into cars and drove to the seaside. It was time for a baptism.

Now, I was raised as a paedobaptist, which means we baptize our infants as a sign that they are born into the covenant family of God, whether or not they are elect believers. I have seen several adult baptisms, one in a backyard pool in the Czech mountains and another in a church baptismal in the South.

This one was different. Perhaps because I was already feeling so rigidly defensive of my own beliefs and practices.


We spilled onto mushy white sand, which was littered with trash and seaweed. A huge storm had rolled over the night before. The debris seemed to suggest that the sea had gotten sick and thrown up whatever was in its belly onto the beach.

We picked our way to the water’s edge where four Iranians stood, ready to give us their testimonies. They were all refugees. Some had left their homes seeking God, others had found him along the way. Some had been rejected by their families and spouses because of their faith in Christ. Some had left good jobs and good lives to come to Greece. Each one had made a dangerous journey. Each one had had to leave the community they were born into to join the family of God. Each one gave up their world for the next.

The sun was still low in the late-morning sky and it turned the water into a silver sheet of ripples. So bright were its rays, so clear was the sky, that all we could see were the silhouettes of our new brothers and sisters as they were lowered into the water and brought back up, new creations in Christ Jesus.

An African woman to my left began to sing a song I have known since childhood. It’s one of those songs I have written off as shallow and repetitive, but in the context of this baptism it took on new life.

I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back.

The cross before me, the world behind me
No turning back, no turning back.

It was a long way down for me that morning. You don’t realize how high your horse is until someone clubs you in the stomach and knocks you off.

I am so narrow-minded.

The impatience I once had for people who grew up with different values than I did, I now have toward those who don’t apply these values the same way I do. My stubborn insistence that I am right has made me unkind and uncaring. Some child of God I am.

We should seek the truth, but we must speak it in love. Our castles of fact will not serve us well if we cannot learn how to invite others in with winsomeness and charity.

God’s people come from all over the world – in it, not of it. We are born into different cultures and traditions. We will disagree on how to be good stewards of this earth or godly citizens beneath the authority of men which God has placed us under. We will even disagree on what it looks like to be a child of the Risen King. Our churches will have different flavors and our Christian walks will be the varying tunes of a mighty orchestra that rises in harmony to the ears of God, the Great Composer.

And if the beauty of a broken people united and made perfect in Christ were not enough to strip away self-importance, the reminder that we are all refugees in the eyes of God, washing onto the world’s shores with nothing to give brought me back down to my knees.

In the damp sand of an ancient shore on a very clear day, I remembered the second greatest commandment. It is not, love the truth. It is love your neighbor.

The truth about Athens

The truth about the markets

Every guide book I read and every recommendation I received from friends and work fellows warned me about the smell and volume of the meat market. And, of course, the skinned lamb carcasses hanging upside down with feet and head still very much attached.

I went anyway, naturally, with my faithful camera slung over my shoulder.

What no one told me – and what someone definitely should have mentioned at some point – was that going alone, as a woman, to a meat market is probably one of the worst ideas of all time, ever.

All of central Athens is loud and slightly uncomfortable to walk through as a human of the female gender, but it’s all safe and I can handle myself.

I could not handle the meat market.

The moment I stepped under the thin roofing of the covered market area, every vendor within ten feet started calling out to me. At first it was stuff like, “Come buy meat. Best meat here.” Then it was stuff like, “You very pretty. Nice face. Where you from? Want dead lamb?”

I did the smile-and-nod routine as I walked past several stalls before stopping to snap a picture of some of the produce. Immediately, the tone changed. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but the camera had caused a stir. At first I thought they didn’t want me taking pictures – that happened more than once in Greece.

Nope. They all wanted pictures of their booths. My camera became a celebrity in 0.2 seconds.

“Take picture! My meat best!”

The increase in energy levels was harrowing. Word spread very, very quickly, because by the time I arrived at the end of the row, someone was literally waiting for me with a huge butcher’s knife asking for a selfie with me, the knife and his stand (of which he was very proud).

It all sounds harmless. Funny, even. And it was, sort of.

But I avoided the meat market for a while after that (though the fish section was worth the walk-through).

It wasn’t until my last week that I returned to the area. Just the fruit stands on the outer rims. I went with some other girls. Harmless, I figured.


It started out innocently enough. One of the guys behind the stand started making fun of our English. In a high pitch, he would mimic whatever we said. It was almost entertaining, so we let it slide. Then I laughed about something (in my unfortunate, ill-tuned cackle that really carries) and the entire row of vegetable dealers started parroting it around their stands.

LISTEN UP, GENTLEMEN. You can objectify my camera all you want and make a mockery of my native language, but making fun of my pitiful, unhelpable laugh is crossing so many lines!

I stared, amazed at their audacity, before stomping away to a distance beyond earshot and just within the line of sight of my friends. My less that charming laugh has been a sensitivity of mine since the bitter years of high school and here were these randos stringing it up a tree for amusement.

Arms crossed, eyes narrowed, I ignored the calls of the other marketers until my posse caught up with me. One of them was holding an orange.

“One of the guys gave this to me for you,” she said.

Begrudgingly, I took it from her. Apology fruit hardly makes up for the emotional damage of having a row full of complete strangers hit you where it really hurts, but it’s better than nothing.

The truth is, the markets weren’t the worst places in Athens. They were fun and the shouting and selling is part of the experience. No one was ever untoward. The same cannot be said for other parts of the city.

I’m finally understanding what so many women have complained about for years. I’ve been lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where you can walk down the street without feeling like people are eating you with their eyes, where you don’t have the distinct impression that to them you may just be a dead lamb hanging by its feet.

The truth is that the U.S. has done an amazing job cultivating an environment where all people are respected and viewed with propriety, regardless of gender. And if there are claims that areas in our country still exist where that is not the case, those should be taken seriously. Because feeling like a piece of meat in a market is not something anyone should have to experience.





The truth about the cats

People complain about the cats here. I don’t know why. So much personality, so much sass, so little concern for literally anyone else in the whole universe. I liked all of them. The mangy ones, the quiet ones, the ones that hissed, the ones that climbed trees, the ones that jumped at their own shadows.

Yes, they smell. Yes, everything else smells because of them. Yes, I’m pretty sure there is a certain amount of rampant sickness in Athens that can be directly tied to the number of homeless cats.

But they enchanted me, and that’s the truth.



The truth about transportation

Driving in Greece is a lot like playing bumper cars, except that magically no one ever seems to actually hit anyone (though maybe not for a lack of trying?). People park in driving lanes, drive on sidewalks (like, if you’re a motorcyclist, the sidewalk is one hundred percent fair game. Ten points if you hit a pedestrian), and cut the occasional red light.
Walking in Greece is possibly worse. Crosswalks are for babies and tourists. If you want to get to the other side of that six-lane street, you just walk yourself across it! The cars won’t hit you (as we’ve already established) and as long as you’re not taking your sweet time, they won’t honk or slow down either. Actually, they’ll never slow down, so don’t take your sweet time. Just go already.

The truth is that Greeks are pretty no-nonsense about getting from A to B, and even though it took me eight days (and several minor panic attacks) to start crossing the street on my own, I feel like it grew me as a person and I respect Greeks so much more for it.

The truth is that sometimes caution needs to be thrown to the wind. Roads need to be crossed. You know you can do it and the only thing stopping you is a tiny bit of fear that the massive objects careening your way may actually hit you and a cultural norm you haven’t been able to break away from yet. Like, honestly, doesn’t that sum up so much of life as a twenty-something?

Just cross the road, already.


The truth about the view

Athens is not a pretty city. It’s dirty and smelly and even the nice neighborhoods look a little forced. Someone said to me that Greece is the Mexico of Europe (no offense to either country), and I can see it. It’s poor and run-down. Tourists come to see ruins that are thousands of years old, and walk through ruins from just this last century to get there. In a row of houses, at least one will be completely missing and two more will be missing window shades or balconies.

But if you can find a hill to climb up (and they’re not hard to find), you’ll be treated to an unbelievable view. And I use that word because I literally could not believe what I saw.

The sprawling mass of the city, alone, could take the breath right from your chest. But just where the city ends, the sea begins. Like a lovely lady who is constantly changing evening gowns, she appeared silver one day and indigo the next. The sunrise would dress her in gold and the sunset would change her to pink.

Behind her, the sky would dance to the ever-evolving rhythm resplendent colors brought on by sunshine and starshine and storm clouds.

And the islands. You would never believe islands like this could exist. They rise out of the silky water and run to the horizon, fading with every mountain range until the last visible peaks are only a hazy purple or a foggy blue.

The truth is that you will never see the same view twice. Once you’ve seen the Acropolis, you’ve seen it. But you could stare at the islands of Athens for a thousand years and never grow tired of the sight.

The truth is that Athens is a living testament to the beautiful mind of our Creator. Never has man seemed smaller to me. Never has God seemed so, so grand.  



The truth about Greeks

Greeks are all gorgeous. Let’s just start there. No wonder their cultural heritage is built up around gods and goddesses. They’ve got the looks for divinity. And the women are all really good dressers.

The men seem to be on a sweatpants bender right now, which feels to me like a throwback to toga days. And I get that comfort is important, but if you’re going to leave the house, you should put on real pants, bruh.

But let’s talk about them strikes. I was told to be prepared for strikes and riots. I did not realize just how frequent an occurrence those really are in Greece. Like, a country made up of hundreds of islands shut down the entire ferry system for THREE DAYS to make a political statement. Which would be a huge deal except that they do it all the time. National monuments, transportation systems – whatever they feel like striking about, they strike. Is it any wonder that the economy is in the dumps and there are houses that are literally falling apart in the streets?

But the truth is that it’s easy to judge. It’s easy to come in for three weeks and assume you know everything, or that your country or people do it so much better.

The truth is that Greeks have done an amazing job in bringing in the refugees who have fled to their shores despite the intense amount of controversy over the issue within their own borders and throughout the world.

The truth is that they can brew a really good cup of coffee and bake a lot of really good pastries.

The truth is that I’m glad I had a few weeks to get to know a new kind of people and I hope I will be able to understand my own a little better because of it.


The truth about toilets

You can’t flush toilet paper in Greece. At least, that’s what they say. It could just be a huge conspiracy to make foreigners feel as uncomfortable as possible.

How Greece can be considered a first world country and not have the infrastructure to flush sanitary paper is beyond me. Did these people not also build massive marble temples that have lasted for thousands of years? CULTIVATE SOME PLUMBERS. HOW HARD?

I don’t know how I managed to get used to this, but I’m assuming I’ll get unused to it as soon as I get back to literally any other country with regular plumbing.

Okay, I’ll keep this one short.

The truth is that there are worse things than not being able to flush toilet paper, and after these three weeks in Athens, I’m aware of what some of those things are.


The truth about streets

Alright, here it is. What you’ve all been waiting for.

YES, I spent 80 percent of my time wandering around completely and unreasonably lost.

Athens is not built on a grid, it’s built on a bunch of semi-circles and baklava-shaped triangles and if you overshoot by one street, you’ll end up in Macedonia (not that they’ll let you across the border). If you start out heading west, you’ll end up going northwest with a touch of elusive east-ness and a dash of ‘just kidding! you’ve been going in circles!’

Only some of the streets are labeled. They’re all very Greek names that start to sound the same after the dozenth one. And they’re mostly one-way to cap it off, so if you’re driving fo’get about it.

I took two girls from the center to the National Archeological Museum one day. I thought it’d be a nice treat for them. And it would have been if we hadn’t gotten lost for an hour in the middle of Narnia.

The truth is I will probably get lost in every city I ever visit, grid or no grid. Or, as a friend here likes to say, I’ll be creatively displaced. And as aggravating as it was to find myself asking, “Haven’t I been lost here before?” about twice a day, between the cats and the skies and all the lovely people, Athens was a decent enough place to get lost. And that’s the truth.


The truth about the Acropolis


Thursdays are dedicated to men’s outreach at the ministry center, so the ladies get the day off. I’ve taken this day once a week to see a bit of the city, wander around Athens, cater to the junior high version of myself who once poured over books on ancient Greece and Greek mythology.

I do it in good spirits, grateful for the opportunity many never get, but the truth is, I never wanted to visit Athens.

I have always held strongly to the belief that you shouldn’t visit your favorite places, the ones you’ve built up in dreams and imaginings. Because there is just no way that the real thing can ever live up to the idea.

So when I began my trip to the Acropolis on a frigid, blustery day, I tried to put away the 13-year old and approach this exploration without expectations.

The previous week I had gone to the Acropolis museum. It had been a quick drop in-drop out kind of visit. Frankly, the museum isn’t large. But it gave me some good background on the temple of Athena and the surrounding structures. When I would find myself standing beneath the arched columns, I would know that the faded carvings around the rim were depictions of centaurs carrying women away from a feast. (I did wonder, both in the museum and again on the Acropolis, how grown men could have actually believed in centaurs and fauns. Like, wouldn’t someone have eventually been like, “Bro, shouldn’t there at least be skeletal evidence of these guys? Do you know anyone who knows a centaur? Like, what the heck, man?” …Just my thoughts).


The walk up the hill was quicker than I expected. Cold weather and brisk walking made the time fly by.

A whistle blew as I walked through the entrance and a guard raced down some stairs towards a girl doing a handstand in front of the entry steps.

“Stop! No funny pictures!” he shouted as the few passersby paused their ascent to stare at the bewildered girl. “You think this funny? You think this not serious? You take funny pictures?”

The poor girl just babbled incoherently, so taken aback by the outburst of the furious guard, who by this time had lathered himself into a righteous wrath.

“They’re not funny,” she tried to explain as he insisted she delete them. “They’re just for me. I’m not putting them anywhere.”

I could hear them squabbling all the way up the huge stone steps to the Pantheon until the wind whipped their voices into the distance. Most museums and monuments in Athens have signs that request visitors to be respectful of the history – no singing, no “funny pictures,” no nonsense.

By the time I found myself on top of the massive steps leading under the marble pillars of the entryway, I couldn’t feel my hands. My eyes watered from the wind and I had to pull my scarf over my head to keep my ears from retreating up inside my brain. The good news: no one else was there.

Pockets of other humans, yes. But the crowds were nowhere to be found. For all intents and purposes, it was just me and the Acropolis. And I wouldn’t have had our first meeting any other way.

The Acropolis is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. Still standing after more than two millennia is quite an architectural feat. Both temples on the hill, and the crumbles in between, were visually stunning. And, like, really big.

But it wasn’t the ruins that stole my breath when I crested the top of the mountain. It was the view.

On one side, beyond a city of dirty-white rooftops, enormous mountains were enveloped in clouds that seeped between ridges of the ancient rock. When the wind picked up and the clouds pulled back, slivers of snow were visible on the peaks.
On the other side lay the sea. One minute it would be brilliantly, deeply blue, set against azure islands and indigo skies. The next minute, the clouds would break open, spilling golden sunlight on the water, causing the waves to turn silver beneath them.



Someone I work with at the center here said Greek ruins make him sad. He reminded me that these once great structures were built to worship gods that don’t exist. Their pagan worship included forced prostitution and their false gods certainly had none of the power and wisdom attributed to them.

The truth about the Acropolis is that it is cheerless. These broken pillars are all that are left of a magnificent people with incredible minds – minds given to them by the God of the Bible, who they rejected and refused.

But God’s workmanship stands as glorious as it did they day he created it. His mountains, his seas, his skies.


On top of the Parthenon, surrounded by the eroding testimony of man’s finite nature, I realized once again how great is my God, greater even than my largest expectations.

The truth about pineapples

“Why do you call it a pineapple?” Lukas asked as the tram rumbled gently along a blue coast.

“Because of the spikes, I think,” I said, giving the fruit in his hand a concentrated stare. “And because it’s a fruit like apples are, I suppose.”

He laughed at me and shook his head.

“It’s a silly name,” he said. “Ananas is much better.”

We had already established that pineapples are called ananas in both Spanish and Czech but our tram was taking its sweet time in getting the crew to our destination, so the pineapple kept coming up.

“What is it in Farsi?” I wondered aloud to our companions.

“What is what?” asked Samir. One hand gripped a bag full of groceries and one eye followed the bouncing energy of his young son, *Samaneh.

*(For their privacy and protection, all names in this post and those I will post about while in Greece have been changed).

“What is the word for ‘pineapple’ in Farsi?” I asked.

“What is a pineapple?” he asked me.

Lukas held up the pineapple by its foliage and said in his native German tongue, “Ananas.”

Ananas,” Samir repeated. “We call it that also.”

I glared at them both incredulously and tapped Ali on the shoulder. “What do you call this fruit?” I asked, pointing to the subject in question.

Ananas,” he assured me, smiling.

I didn’t believe any of them.


Saturday, January 9, 2016. By 1:30 that afternoon, about the time we were rolling past sloping beaches along a smooth, steel river, I had been in Greece exactly three days. It seems like a lifetime already.

I came to work with an organization that reaches out to refugees, primarily Syrians, Afghanis and Iranians, but I have been told that the center has hosted Nepalis, Nigerians and more when occasion necessitates it.

The team is primarily Greek, German and Finnish, with the notable addition of a Dutch girl – ‘Kiwi’ as the refugee kids call her – and several American women. For an ametuer linguist like myself, this is heaven. Most of our time has been working at the center, but Saturday is a day off and the interns decided to take a trip to the beach.

Lukas, Johannes and Doro, our German contingent, had led the charge. On Thursday, after our work at the center was finished, they invited me out for coffee with Kiwi to make plans. Sitting at a little table in the middle of a square beneath the shadow of the Acropolis, we sketched out the weekend.

In the morning on Saturday, we girls would take the metro to Neos Kosmos, getting lunch supplies on the way, and meet the boys at the tram. The boys would go to the market to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables (hence, our peculiar pineapple) and invite some of our Afghani and Iranian friends to join.

While waiting for the group to collect at the tram stop, Lukas asked me to guard the pineapple so he could buy a volleyball from a nearby vendor. Thusly, our discussion about the name of said fruit began.


It took us several false starts to find the perfect beach spot to settle at. We got off the tram three times before we all agreed, “Yes, this is where we should spend the day.”

“We have nothing but time,” Ali reminded us after our second attempt to find a patch of sand to set up camp. We had landed upon an empty beach, only to find that it was empty because of the stench and garbage. Dragging our feet and our empty stomachs back to the tram stop, we waited for the next carriage.

But it was worth it. A pebbly shore and brown-sugar sand with room to bounce the volleyball and several jetties to isolate us from the crowds was just a few stops further down the line. We spread out blankets and unloaded our lunch.

Samaneh took off in search of little rocks. He is five years old. His mother and brother are both waiting for him in Sweden. When the paperwork goes through, Samaneh and his father, Samir, will join them there. Today, he was content to search for pebbles in the sand.


Kiwi and Samir’s friend, Hassam, both played an active part in watching and playing with the little guy whose unending well of energy and distraction was both commendable and inspiring.

Kiwi studies Farsi at university. As far as I can tell, she speaks beautifully. At the very least, her interactions with those who speak Farsi are beautiful to behold, but so many human interactions are when they are sincere. And hers are sincere.


Drinks were poured, bread was sliced and passed around, cheese was fought over with friendly aggression and the pineapple sat in the middle of it all like a king among his royal subjects.

I thought for a moment how strange it was to be sharing lunch with people from four different nationalities (myself representing a fifth). On the surface, we don’t have much in common. We only met through mutual connections with a church and church-related ministries.

So Christ. We have Christ in common.

Ali, a prankish kook, gleefully gave Doro lessons in Farsi in exchange for some German vocabulary while the rest of us watched and laughed and ate. When the language lessons petered out, Doro and Johannes grabbed the volleyball and instigated a game that I made a point of staying out of.

Kiwi and Samaneh were busy collecting rocks and building walls, so I took a walk along the beach.


If you have never seen a beach in Greece, let me describe it to you. The sand is thick and soft but speckled with colored rocks. Water laps the shore in modest waves that barely break, like the continuous breath of the bay as it sleeps. In fact, between our shore and the one on the nearest island in sight, there doesn’t seem to be a single disturbance on the surface of the water. Only the island rising out of the sea interrupts the smooth horizon. And it is quite a sight. It, and the islands behind it in varying shades of shadow-blue, is a monster. It is a mountain birthed from the sea. It is the nose of a sleeping giant lying just below the surface of the water. Boats pass by it and birds fly over it and no one seems to notice it but me.


By the time my feet were ready to return, the sky was dimming and the volleyball game had ended. Kiwi pulled out a guitar and we sang songs in German, English and Farsi.

The languages we share in bits and pieces, but the content unites us completely. Only with the Word of God can strangers be brothers and enemies be friends.

Ali grabbed a knife and assisted Johannes in slicing up our pineapple as Hassam and Samir helped the girls maintain a decent chorus. Occasionally, Ali would jump into a song with a round of “Happy Birthday” just to throw us all off course.


Before the last of the light left the sky, we took selfies and group pictures in front of the waterline. Johannes and Ali were brave enough to jump into the water and swim around for a bit. (“Okay, I was wrong,” Ali admitted as he shivered next to us fifteen minutes later. “That was a bad idea. We should not have gone in.”).

Then we all watched the sun slip behind those islands like a drop of gold blazing a path through the velvet sky.

We munched on the last of the food and divied up the remaining chocolate, bread and fruit. Collecting blankets and bags, we marched back to the tram stop in the dark.

I watched my companions as the tram slinked its way once more into the heart of Athens. What different roads we all have taken to lead us to this spot. A cynic would say it was chance. But we know better.

We know that it is God who has charted our course, and for many on this tram, only a faith that He will bring us to its end will sustain us during stormy seas.


Samir said to me when the day was finished, “I will forget my own name before I forget this day.”

Fellowship is sweet. It is precious. And to see brothers and sisters in Christ drink it up with such fervor is a joy I am not likely to forget either.

Three days in Athens and I have been humbled. Humbled by the courage of people who have faced tremendous adversity. Humbled by the kindness I have been shown by people who did not know me when the week began, who speak a different language, have a different history and use a different word for a fruit I have always known as a pineapple. Humbled by the greatness of the God who has brought us all together as heirs to a promise we do not deserve.