Infinitely in Transit

We woke up to Raksha’s voice coming through the window, “Girls… girls!!! It’s 4:40!!!” We quickly threw on our clothes and grabbed a bite before our 5 am departure to the airport. As seven of us boarded the bus in the dark, our three-week stay in India felt like a dream. While we were going through the past three weeks they felt infinite, as if we would never reach the end, but here we were and it felt surreal. We waited at the gate for our flight only to discover that there was an hour delay. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep but that feeling that this would never end returned and that hour felt like five. I’ve never been on a domestic flight that stops in different cities along the way. The route the plane was scheduled for was Mumbai then Delhi then Srinagar. Because of the delay we were now an hour behind schedule and anxiety overcame me. Our connecting flight out of Delhi was departing an hour after we landed… what if we didn’t make it?? Sitting on the plane after our first stop in Mumbai we waited to take off for the second time and that never ending feeling returned again. After finally landing in Delhi we said some quick goodbyes, then Rachel and I had to run around the entire airport to catch our next flight to London. We were unable to transfer through so we had to collect our luggage, go all the way back to departures, check in to get our next boarding pass, go through security again and then run to the gate. The gate was of course at the very end of the terminal. Out of breath and red in the face we just made it for final boarding. It felt like we would be living in transit forever and this airplane would be my new home but after another nine long hours we were finally in London. Sitting in my friends apartment in London looking back on these past three weeks, it feels strange that we were in India for what feels like forever but in a weeks time when I leave to return home to Toronto, this trip will probably feel like forever ago… But I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it was an experience we will never forget.

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The Big Day of Presentations

Today is a big day for all of our groups! Excitement and nerves fill the air as we make our way into the bus. Yesterday, we had our Magic Bus session with the kids and saw all our hard work in action as the children had fun, laughed, and learned. Today, we present our work and our findings to the community. We also planned a group activity where adults and children play one of the games we designed for our Magic Bus session: Blanket Ball! Since the game was such a success during our session, we thought it would be a fun activity to conclude our presentation.

As we set up in the temple, a group of community members begin to gather around. My group and I watched the Infrastructure group, and the Behavioural change group present their final projects. As I watch their presentations I am in awe, both groups clearly put such thought, research, and dedication into their final projects. Their thoughtful presentations and creative prototypes raise discussion, questions, and curiosity from the community members who have come to watch our presentations.

My group also presents our work. We run through how our Magic Bus session was organized, what it meant to achieve, and what we wanted the children to take away from our session. Some of the children from the community joined us as we sang the song we used for our Magic Bus session. Later, we played Blanket Ball with the community in the field, which turned out to be a success once more!

Once our day of presentations was done, we said our goodbyes to all the new people we had met. Today had been our last day in the community. Tired, but happy to have seen the final product of our work, we arrived back the guesthouse. The rest of the evening was finishing off any last bits of work, and packing for our travels plans for tomorrow. We ended our evening by having dinner as a group, while reflecting on our experiences and learning moments in India. We spent our dinner congratulating Sarah, Raksha, Arun, and all of us students for our hard work in this course!

How to work under stress

It started off as another day of group works. But, it wasn’t one of those crazy dragging brainstorming of how we’re going to approach the community anymore. After having few words with Sarah last night, our group now really knew what we had to do. Things were finally cleared off and everyone started to figure out what their roles were. Two main things that needed to be done today for our group: the song and few games for kids in the community to build their idea of ownership and working together as a community when facing any problems.

That was the point where we were told that our group had to present our finalized ideas to Rashimi, the head manager of MagicBus within few hours. Everyone who were in our group began to feel the pressure and started panicking a little bit. But who said that the best results were always made under a bit of pressure; our group managed to create a full 15 slides presentation within the short given time. We were all very proud. To be honest, i was mostly super relieved that we were able to click the send button ten minutes before the promised time. The amount of adrenaline that got released at the moment we sent out the file must have been terribly massive.

Everyone in our group all felt completely knocked down after pulling full brainpower for five hours straight. We needed some fresh breeze in our brain. I thought I was going to pass out if I didn’t do anything about it. Few girls and I have agreed that we needed mental refreshing moment and decided to go out to the beach. The salty taste of the breeze of the ocean was enough to bring back the smiles to our faces. Our empty stomach was soon fulfilled with deliciously cooked vegetarian Indian style Chinese food as soon as we got back to our guesthouse. The taste of famous deep fried cauliflower dish was the only escape for me from never ending vegetarian dhal. It gave me an amazing illusion of eating sweet and sour pork from Canada.

Nothing could have been more perfect than ending our long day with a nice henna time. After waiting on a long line up, I finally got a chance to get my henna done from Raksha at around 11pm. The noise of a quiet night with looking at Raksha putting henna on my left hand brought me a huge sensation of relaxation and happiness.


Plans Underway

Panoramic Rickshaw

Panoramic Rickshaw

With a quick change of plans to the project that came Monday, each new group began to prepare for our community visit on Wednesday. The teams divided into the infrastructure group, behaviour change and children’s play and education. Each group was working away at how we would implement and plan within the final two days.  Organizing of materials, meetings, conversations and presentations had to be done. It was decided that in terms of accessing the community we would have one visit tomorrow to have an interaction with the community and one final presentation day of of the sustainability plan on Friday. During the day most of us were found crouched in front of our laptops, our notebooks or having group discussions. We felt like we were back at OCAD for a moment  doing work until the smell of Hussein’s cooking and brought us back to where we were.

This day became a learning activity in and of itself. All of our insights had to be presented analogue, a presentation style many of us hadn’t experienced since elementary school. We worked away until the late afternoon on how best to approach and development visual graphics that could be translatable and easily digested.

As we wrapped up the presentations a few of us decided to take a rickshaw into Maragau, seeing as this might be the last opportunity to gather materials and to wander around Newmarket for the last time. The rickshaw whisked us away under the midday heat to the city. First stop: Fabindia, to see what what was so fab about it. Turns out it is the Indian version of Anthropology. We soaked up the air conditioned atmosphere, admired some beautifully patterned kurtas and compared futon prices and then off we were to Newmarket. Our rickshaw driver led us to where he said we would find the best spices, despite the fact that we were already quite familiar with this area. With some saffron in our pockets, we wandered a little more, only to discover that every exit looked the same and there were minimal opportunities to reorientate ourselves. Exiting Newmarket, we decided on a quick stop at the ice cream shop that had the unique Indian flavours we had enjoyed before. The cool fig and mango icecream is always the perfect treat. Arriving back at the guesthouse we had the groups favourite “Indian” meal waiting for us: Chinese food! 

Busy Week Brings Us Great Insight

Today, our separated groups (education, infrastructure, and behavioural change) brainstormed 3 possible ideas that we could implement in the Zuarinagar community. The infrastructure group was tasked with developing various system designs that could be adapted by the community and practiced, the education group would create a program that could be used by Magic Bus. The behavioural change group would create ways of messaging that would promote health education, a sense of ownership and other knowledge surrounding waste management.
After we developed our ideas through the ideation process, we travelled to the community and presented them to the people who lived there. It was a small group that consisted of women, children, men and elders. Children were coming and going out of curiosity, women left to go back to their homes to return to their work, and the men and elders gave us insightful feedback.
The garbage and infrastructure group presented possible systems designs that could be implemented into the community and many questions were posed by community members. They were concerned that no one would volunteer or take turns to monitor the waste or pick it up from households, if it was a paid position it may not generate enough income, and people would not be interested in paying a fee for these services.
The messaging for behavioural change presented two ideas to the community. The first was a Kollam or Rangoli design that would be a symbol for cleanliness that could be placed at entry points to the community. The other option would prevent the children from jumping over the trench that surrounds their play space by creating a simple bridge with concrete blocks; this bridge would have messaging and symbolism that would promote cleanliness in the community. The community members enjoyed both of these ideas, and the group thought that a combination of the two could be appropriate.
Lastly our class assisted the education group in conducting a Magic Bus session. The created a few games and we helped them organize the children into groups and clarify instructions. The practice session was successful in the groups process; they discovered what games would work best, how to simplify them, and make them relatable to education surrounding waste management.
Continuous online research was done to answer the questions and concerns the community had for the infrastructure group. The group contacted Green Goa Works, a local organization that tackles waste management in Goa to gain more insight, and possibly pair up the organization with the Zuarinagar community. Clinton Vaz was a member of the Green Goa Works, and recently started another organization titled vRecycle. There is a lack of infrastructure that supports waste management, and the government does not fund it. Clinton explained how his organization works, and vRecycle promises to help people manage their waste once they begin recycling and separating their garbage at the source. They discovered that 10% of waste is non-recyclable and is used as a fuel for cement kilns. The insight that the infrastructure group has gained from the community, and Clinton will help them further develop their system of waste management in the community.
Today we gathered a lot of information and inspiration that would bring us closer to our Friday deadline. We have learned so much in the past two days since altering our group project, and we have made a lot of headway, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. We are all excited to see what we will bring to the community!

Kersti Nurka and Natassja Addeo

We’ve been here for long, long time

AAA_5962AAA_5933cTwo weeks passed. It seems that we have been here for a long time, because every day was packed with layers of layers of experiences and activities. Our project has been restructured according to the feedback of the community and all the research work we have done. The whole day, we were geared into three groups trying to figure out project prototype. It was mind boggling and twisting. The weather was extremely hot, but now we have adapted into the environment quite a bit. Everybody seemed to be in good working condition, not any dizziness or stomach uneasiness was reported today. Monday night was our special night; we all ate out; the dean of Faculty of Design has come to GOA to see how we are doing overall and treat us for dinner in Mickey’s restaurant in Colva beach. Everybody got dressed up for dinner, men wore outfit and women wore make up, some even wore traditional Indian Sari, including myself. Facing the beautiful Arabian Sea, we sat along a huge long table, feeling the wind from the sea, listening to the sound of the waves. The half Moon was high in the sky, encircled by sporadic stars. What a poetic night in GOA – the smallest and richest state of India. Somebody mentioned our project during the dinner, others shouted at her, “please let go of the project, let us at least have some time to relax and enjoy after a long day’s thinking, thinking and thinking.”

The Final Week

It’s the beginning of the third and final week with the Design Abroad program. Three words come to mind: exciting, scary, and stressful. We have been faced with numerous challenges along the way. The biggest, and initial one being: how can we just enter a community we know nothing about and expect to find out what they need?

There have been some obvious barriers (low speed wi-fi, anyone?) but joking aside, more prominently language and cultural barriers are at their strongest. Very few speak English and there are so many cultural norms different to ours. Religion is very engrained into the lifestyle. This is something that is not practiced to that extent in the place that I grew up and where I live. It is difficult for me to grasp.

Additionally, ethnographic research has proven to be able to show us what we (a western group of people) might think of as a problem. However, it takes asking, conversation and involvement with the locals to find out where our place is to help through design.

Through many interviews we also found out that the answer won’t just be served to you on a golden platter, but rather in fragments that have to be pieced together over time. Participatory design is a process and it takes a team of great minds and great leaders to work with along the way. There is no creative brief to tell you who your target is or what you need to answer to. There isn’t a formula, and that has been a hurdle I have faced. We must segregate ourselves from the organized, western way of thought, and enter each day with a neutral lens.

This morning we began defining what our goals and objectives over the next five days will be as we wrap up the program. The next four days will be busy and chaotic for everyone, but it will be well worth it. I’m excited and curious to see what will come of our time in India.

The virtue of walking

The night before Raksha told us about the waterfall, about how we’d go hiking up a trail with nature surrounding us and after about how’d we eat a complimentary meal and explore an old spice farm. We were excited to wake up, and when we did we all quickly packed our things ate our breakfast and made a dash towards our van. Hopping on, the usual scenes of Goan houses and palm trees scrolled past us while most of us napped. When I woke, we’d arrived. The setting was rural village, the old dirt road that led us there were littered on each side by old mud houses, built by generations before. We walked into a what seemed like a forest of palm trees and various plants stepping over fallen cashew apples along a trail that led us to the gates of an old spice farm that welcomed us with a open walled tiled roof eatery. The menu offered papaya shakes, melon juice, and chai just as a start. Food had to wait though because soon our guide for the hike arrived. He was a thin man dressed in a stripped shirt and loose pants with sandals. Given his attire we thought that maybe our hike would be more akin to a stroll. Our hike had originally been planned to be two hours but it was decided that we would drive then hike for one; some became disappointed but were still pleased to finally be able to explore nature in India. After driving up winding roads up a steep hill we came to the gates of the park where we would hike. The old steel gate opened and we proceeded onto a small dirt road that led to a trail. We got off and adjusted our things then started walking down the path towards what we expected to be an exciting and refreshing tour of the sights. Our guide led the way as we walked deeper and deeper in. Trees and small bushes began to surround us and dots of sunlight escaping the canopy shimmered on the trail. About five minutes in, we came upon a clearing. On our right was an incline into the heights of a steep hill and on the other side the reverse, a steep rocky descent down into the buses. The view of a distant giant came into sight. A mountain covered in trees, it seemed to make dwarves of anything in it vicinity and cut into the far distant sky. We stared and took pictures for a while slowly moving along the trail. We had our wow moment; this trail seemed promising. We kept walking and thin bamboo like plants a bit taller than us enveloped our team. We walked along this narrow trail, our eyes more focused on the trail in front, which had began to become rocky and loose. Then we started to feel the beads of sweat roll down our necks. We had become tired and barely noticed but our guide was on a stroll as if he was going to the supermarket. The thick tall plants became fewer and now we were into a dense forest packed with ancient trees and fallen leaves, I started to remember the sights and feelings of forests in Canada. We kept walking and now our breaths were short and shirts stained, the guide kept his leisurely pace. We navigated steeper and steeper, down more declines. Then we started hearing the sounds of a stream. We were getting close, not much longer now. It must a been a while though, I had now noticed new landmarks planted by mosquitoes on the back of my leg and I felt like a survivor of a grueling march. Finally, when I came back from the hypnotizing pattern of rocky paths and thick forest the waterfall appeared into view. It was cut deep into the surrounding mountainside. The water slid down a tall rocky wall splashing itself on the hard rocks on its descent. Below it was a small pool of water cradled by the rocks of the mountain with a small island of dry pebbles in the center. We eagerly tried to find our way down until we realized that to get down we had to climb deep down. The only things for our feet to hold onto were small rocks embed into the trail downwards. The guide as usual seemed to float down while we struggled to find our way. Finally we reached the pebble island. We shed our clothes revealing swimwear underneath and eagerly dipped into the water. The water greeted us with a refreshing cold sting that turned into a comfortable cool. We swam and splashed and dived, I opened my eyes underwater and saw the light of the sun dance and shimmer like the northern lights. The waterfall splashed into the pool, spewing mist and rained itself on us. We swam underneath, and felt the water come down. Despite its crashing force it felt like a massage. We swam in bliss then it was time to go. We took pictures and dried off. It was time to make our way up again. Feeling refreshed we started on the trail back up with renewed energy. We stepped onto rocks and gripped onto the dirt trail upwards. We started to feel our breaths only after a few steps. We slowly climbed until we reached back onto flatter trail. From there on our trail was a steady climb up. We marched with our heads down trying to ignore the shortness of our breaths and the sweat rolling down our faces. We walked past the canopies and up through bushes. Our breaths were now heavy, heavier than some of us had breathed in months and even years. We kept climbing for an unknown length of time until finally, we reached back into the clearing with the view of the mountain, the breeze rolled onto us and we felt its refreshing cool on our worn bodies. When we finally reached the van, we sat inside and enjoyed the AC. I felt like I’d been through a marathon but we did it, we felt the nature of India and came out new, or at least breathless. We had lunch after the drive back to the spice farm, with fried fish, chicken, daal, and mixed vegetables. It was what we needed after our hike. We sat drying until we started the tour of the farm itself. We walked out the gate and into the forest again. Expecting neat rows but we were surprised to learn that the forest was actually the farm. The trees and plants were all naturally grown, planted by bird droppings and the natural process of pollination. Our guide was another planter from generations of planters who had started the farm years ago. He showed us the nutmeg fruit that split open on its own to reveal nutmeg covered in a thin red white web that seemed to be more work of art than webbing for a seed. We walked further and saw more plants and trees that grew vanilla, pepper, and even coffee. We learned that for some plants the time of harvest only come for a few days a year and that to miss one meant waiting another. Through that I learned a bit about the virtue of patience and the importance of timing. We headed towards a temple afterwards and saw a man-made pool that was dug deep into the ground laid with ancient bricks. Methane gas escaped from the bottom of the pool and bubbles blew up from under, as if the pool hosted breathing creatures underneath. From the temple we walked and saw the house from which the farm started. It was a 250 year old home made with mud that absorbed heat in the summer keeping it cool, and insulated warmth in the winter keeping it warm. We saw in the back courtyard a tulsi plant and learned how the ground floor of the house had been cleaned with cow dung. Cow dung was antibacterial and kept flies and insects away, it seems that people, especially in India, always have a way of finding the best use of anything. We left and came back to the eating area outside under the roof. We sat and relaxed, helping ourselves to chocolate shakes made from chocolate grown on the farm. We also bought a variety of spices that were all locally grown. After the goodbyes to the farm and its keepers, we took the long ride back towards the guesthouse. It was a day that had felt like it was two. We learned the importance of endurance, and patience and how much the human body can perspire. With these thoughts I fell asleep on the bus and arrived back to welcome a new day.

No More Photos Please

With a day packed full of activities, sleeping in was not an option. Our day began early in the morning with an introduction to the Dean of the Faculty of Design Gayle Nicoll and her husband John who joined us for the day. After an hour-long bus ride to North Goa we arrived at Aguada Fortress, aguada meaning ‘watering place’ in Portuguese. We were reminded upon arrival to the fort that when visiting tourist destinations we become the main the main attraction, families and little children asking us (sometimes begging) that we take a photo with them. On a hot Saturday morning most of our replies were “No photos please.”

Goa is unique because of its Portuguese influence and our next destination displayed Indo-Portuguese architecture that can only be seen in this state. This Architecture Museum is located within an exclusively designed geometric household. Its winding spiral staircase and circular windows were able to captivate the group for a while but hunger crept up on us. We all decided to have seafood and Raksha recommended Ritz Classic, a restaurant famous for their Goan cuisine. Because of the popularity of this place, the only way to accommodate all their incoming guests was to have them wait by a table that was still eating. After standing awkwardly watching people eat we were finally seated and eventually rushed out again. After lunch we visited the Ruins of St. Augustine. The Portuguese government ordered its demolition after it was abandoned due to the expulsion of the religious orders from Goa. Artifacts from this church were either lost or sold and dispersed within other churches in Goa and the bell from the tower was actually taken to the Aguada Fortress first but now resides in the Lady Immaculate Church in Panaji. Our final stop was at a functioning church called Basilica of Bom Jesus. There was a wedding service going on but we were still able to explore one side of the church and even saw the preserved body of Saint Xavier. After a slow day of sightseeing a few of us decided to walk to the beach. With the sand between our toes, the sky painted orange and grilled corn with masala and lime in hand we watched the sunset fall into the Arabian Sea.


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“Magic Bus, Magic Bus!!”

I woke up with that Friday Feeling, the one that always catches you by surprise after a long week and gives you that extra push to roll out of bed because finally – finally – it’s almost the weekend. Breakfast was a slow start; the early birds in our group weren’t occupying their usual tables and the only noises that morning were coming from our cooks in the kitchen, even the dogs who like to attack us on sight were calmer than usual. Which meant my handful of slobber was downgraded to a head-butt in the knee. I decided to eat my breakfast, some spongy idli with sambar and coconut chutney, by the pool before the days activities began.

Once everyone made it outside – and faking awake – Sarah broke down our schedules for the day. After splitting into our teams the morning would be spent on defining our overriding design direction based on the feedback we received from the previous days presentations and visits. The second half of the morning would be spent on prepping for whatever activities or survey questions we would need for our afternoon visit to Zuarinagar. For my group this meant we had to finalize the pilot session with Magic Bus and the kids from the community. Most of our questions and games were already decided on but we were concerned with the possibility of kids not engaging enough with what we had planned – whatever insights we brought back from this pilot session would decide our design direction for the rest of the program. Which meant the weekend vibes would have to wait for just a bit longer. We spent the rest of our time fine-tuning questions and making our activities more interactive to break the ice as quickly as we could in the short amount of time we had for the session. After a quick dip in the pool to cool off and a bite to eat we all headed out for the community visit.


We pulled up to our regular parking space and as soon as we stepped off our blue bus there was a group of children yelling out “Magic Bus! Magic Bus!” and waving us along to follow them to their playground across the road. We were expecting ten kids – there were at least four times that. It turned out we didn’t need to do much prepping at all. The kids started to hold our hands and ask us what games we were going to play and began to tell us how much they already knew about waste management. One of the younger girls was even swinging around a pair of nail clippers tied to a string. They were ready. The first half hour – true to Indian timing – was spent trying to find a spot to begin. We bounced from place to place until we found a small mandir to use as our home base. The next two hours was loud, erratic and went as smoothly as trying to control forty amped up kids in a small room goes. We managed to get the answers we needed but not expecting the kids to exhaust us as much as they did, combined with it being Friday…we unanimously (and non-verbally) decided to analyze our findings after the weekend. Besides – it was Bollywood Night!

Raksha – our tried and tested dancing instructor for the past two Design Abroad programs – attempted to teach us a dance to a song from a Bollywood movie we watched earlier in the week. Despite Raksha’s best efforts we only made it about a minute into the song and an hour of trying to get there.


A Second Wind


Awakened by a pack of howling foxes, I was slapped in the face by another hot and humid day in India. I started the morning early in my own personal sanctuary; our breezy balcony overlooking our jungle backyard where pigs frolic and water buffalo graze freely –a far cry from the raccoons we’re used to.

After a breakfast we’ve grown to know too well –mint and potato sandwiches on white bread- the two groups presented their finding based on interviews we had conducted through our respective organizations. As our group is working with Magic Bus, we had spent the previous day interviewing mentors of the program, collecting insights into how we could assist with the new curriculum they’re designing, where their resources are lacking and where our unique skill sets of both 2D and 3D design could fit. Our presentation was met with a somewhat defeating critique, as issues of sustainability, cultural barriers and lofty goals were addressed. Back to the drawing board.

After another brainstorming session and some bean curry with roti, we piled into the van back to Magic Bus, where we met with the head honchos and discussed how the project will roll out. Our ideas were better received, and we decided on conducting a pilot session with the children of Zuarinagar, with activities relating to the mapping of their community to help this migratory community form a connection with their environment and a better understanding of public and shared spaces. We’ll follow up with exercises to promote understanding of waste management, separation of garbage, the effect that littering has on creating blockages within the open sewers and the health issues it creates around dumping in public spaces. Our ideas are still in their early stages, but we headed back home feeling optimistic that we had found a direction. We got our second wind.

We still had the van for a couple hours, so Raksha, Ali and I drove out to Margao, since I had never been. We picked up some supplies for our session with the kids: colourful paper, crayons, a ball and a world map. We then headed into the market for some sensory overload; merchants pedaled underwear and wedding dresses next to bags of unidentified spices and fruits, Goan sausages made from unknown meats swung from the rafters and flies swarmed between them. We picked up a couple petticoats for the girls’ sarees, and I got a dabba (an India lunch box for you uncultured Western folk). We dodged motorcycles and pedestrians and found our way back to the car, to head to the ice cream shop everyone had been raving about all week. Closed, of course… must be running on Goan time, where the traffic moves fast but the people move slow. We settled for some mango lassi and I played a round of Indian Dessert Roulette, landing on something called Besan Ladoo. It was… interesting. Back to Heaven Goa for a night of lazy pool hangs and rejoicing over Indian-Italian fusion for dinner.


One long day in India

My day started off with a sticky face, just like yesterday. Fanning myself did nothing — neither did changing my position or sticking a pillow in between my legs. My body refused to cool down. It was hot, gross and sweaty, like my socks after a workout. A quick shower with a bucket of cool water from last night always helps to wake me up.

At this point in the program, both groups got a chance to interview the organizations that have the ability to help us interact with the community throughout our projects. The one that our group is collaborating with is Magic Bus, the organization that uses sports to reach their goal with Community Youth Leaders. We called them mentors. Coming up with the equitable questions for the mentors were very difficult. We had to think very thoroughly in order to make the most out of the given period of interviewing time.

By the end of our group meeting, the white board was full of curiosity. Four of the chosen members including myself got driven to the Magic Bus office and slowly but surely our questions were insightfully answered. The language was a barrier throughout the whole interview, but the conversation flew naturally with my tint of silly questions.

Tomorrow in the morning, we have a presentation based on how our interview went today. The program started to become much more intense at this point, and my brain is about to explode right now. All I want right now is a juicy hamburger patty.