September 2008


“Coleccionista de Canciones” | Camila

Tú, coleccionista de canciones, dame razones para vivir
Tú, la dueña de mis sueños, quedate en ellos y hazme sentir
Y asi en tu misterio poder descubrir el sentimiento eterno..

Tu, con la luna en la cabeza, el lugar en donde empieza
El motivo y la ilusión de mi existir tan solo tú

Solamente quiero que seas tú, mi locura, mi tranquilidad y mi delirio
Mi compas y mi camino
Solo tú, solamente quiero que seas tú
Pongo en tus manos mi destino
Porque vivo para estar siempre, siempre contigo amor.

Tú, coleccionista de canciones, mil emociones son para ti
Tú lo que soñe mi vida entera, quedate en ella y hazme sentir
Y asi ir transformando la magia de ti, en un respiro del alma..

Tú con la luna en la cabeza, el lugar en donde empieza
El motivo, la ilusión de mi existir, tan solo tú

Solamente quiero qe seas tú
Mi locura, mi tranquilidad y mi delirio, mi compas y mi camino
Sólo tú, solamente quiero que seas tú
Pongo en tus manos mi destino
Porque vivo para estar siempre contigo

Ya no queda más espacio en mi interior
Has llenado con tu luz cada rincón
Es por tí que corre el tiempo
Mi alma siente diferente. Solo tú

Solamente quiero que seas tú
Mi locura, mi tranquilidad y mi delirio. Mi compas y mi camino
Solo tú. Solamente quiero qe seas tú
Pongo en tus manos mi destino porque vivo para estar
Siempre, siempre, siempre contigo amor

—–

David Cawley, from Ireland, at a rare birds bioreserve

“Perderte de Nuevo” | Camila

Ya había desilución, dolor
Y resignación el tiempo
Supo esperar y así la dejé de amar
No había mas que decir
Había llegado el fin
Hacía dos años ya que no me la encontraba
Estaba aprendiendo como vivir
Ya de ti me olvidaba cuando te vi
Con la mirada..desesperada..

Y fue tan fuerte volver a verte
Sufri tanto tiempo por ti
Bastó mirarte, recuperarte y saber que te irías sin mi
Y fue tan fuerte volver a quererte volver a creer en los dos
Bastó mirarte, volver a amarte
Para perderte de nuevo amor….

Senti tanta confusión al verte tan fria amor
Así fue que comprendi que tu no eras para mi
Estaba aprendiendo como vivir
Ya de ti me olvidaba cuando te vi
Con la mirada..desesperada..

Y fue tan fuerte volver a verte
Sufrí tanto tiempo por ti
Bastó mirarte, recuperarte y saber que te irías sin mi
Y fue tan fuerte volver a quererte volver a creer en los dos
Bastó mirarte, volver a amarte
Para perderte de nuevo… amor.

—-

Spanish Words of the Day: “zarcilla” earring, tendril | “encuestar” to survey, to poll | “duradero” long-lasting | “reclamación” complaint | “centella” spark, lightning | “salitre” saltpeter, nitre | “alistar” recruit

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It gives me happiness knowing that I can figure out the calculus derivative of the velocity of a ladder falling down, you know? And the other day, I was just sitting on a bench, thinking about all the nuances of muscle tissue which have to work concertedly to bring about the slight facial expressions that we can all read.” Diana looked up from her hot chocolate and gave me a quizzical look, relieved when I wholeheartedly agreed.

“I know!! Just like when we’re going through the jungle, I wonder how many cubic liters of oxygen is simultaneously being produced by all the respiratory process of plants, and I wonder about the Kreb cycle.

Yes. We’ve bonded over the fact that, when left to our own devices, weird thoughts make us cheerful. Over educated young women of the modern yuppie generation. But what camaraderie. After so much Central America and Latin-ness, it felt wonderful to come back home to Chiapas, Mexico, and finally talk to an American girl’s girl again, and from that we both started talking about our past. It was remarkably similar.

Diana is intelligent, beautiful, feminine, and strong. In fact, I could imagine her recast as Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice, but now–like me–she’s slung back in an oversized sweater and old sweats, without makeup a swept up hair. It’s our deliberate attempt to uglify ourselves in a place where we don’t want that sort of attention. It’s something men never have to worry about, that is, having to put effort to make ourselves look worse than we do, in order to project the exact image of the public treatment we desire. But she’s a good friend, and I can say she’s honestly beautiful.

She grew up in Romania and eventually finished John Hopkins pre-med program in neuroscience and economics. She told stories about working in India, about Eastern Europe, and wanting a child who speaks ten languages. We then talked animatedly about Krygystan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. “Oh I know a really fascinating girl who grew up in Kazakhstan, I’m going to meet her, we should all go.” The girl talk slipped into Spanish, then English again.

I couldn’t help being amazed at how unrecognizable we were from our parents’ generation, three college-educated city girls transplanted from ex-communist cultures (Kazakhstan, Chinese, and Romanian) into the First World (Munich, New York, and Los Angeles) finding common ground doing social work in one of the poorest states in Mexico, swapping books and personal stories over scented hand creams, congregated in an elegant three-story house, and still being girly. As women, our lives could have been much more limited, but we’ve all come alone to places off the beaten trail in other countries. We enjoyed each other’s company for hours. We watched Arrancame La Vida, and apart from all the Mexicans who thought it to depict life really accurately, Diana and I had a gringa response:

What’s really Latino about Mexicans, I think, is that everybody cheats on each other and has these fits of passion where it just overrides logic. Did you see how he just started at her for three seconds and suddenly the next scene they’re in bed naked? Who was that guy anyway?! See, that kind of stuff, you can’t really translate into other cultures. Or like, the general somehow just officially marries a young girl from a poor family just because she’s beautiful. Doesn’t happen in US films…it’s so Latino. Haven’t you had a guy talk to you for, like, an hour and suddenly go head over heels for you and really seem intensely enamored? I had a Colombian guy wanting to marry me after two days of knowing me. I mean to us, it seems like they’re false or exaggerating, but seriously I think somehow they fall passionately in love in fifteen minutes, and it’s a stereotype but it’s true: if you hear the songs, love seems like some horribly irremediable flu that Latinos get, and suddenly people are desperate and dying and so overly melodramatic.

Yes! I know!! And we started talking about how weird it was that women just have seven or ten babies from different fathers and somehow keep doing it even though it’s making them poorer and poorer and highly increases transmitted diseases. What exactly is going through their thought process anyways?! I mean, make a mistake once out of passion, but isn’t the tenth time getting a bit ridiculous? Other poor uneducated people manage to control themselves. And don’t give me that bullcrap about contraception being too expensive, too unavailable, and lack of education or that the Catholic Church does not condone abortion. Even someone extraordinarily stupid would have to learn by the third accidental child–if not by personal experience, then seeing all the blaring warnings around her—that (a) the mistake of having an unwanted child is far more expensive than the contraception, so you can’t say you can’t afford contraception (b) the mistake of having an unwanted is far more hassle and bothersome than contraception, so you can’t say it’s not easily accessible, (c) I’m sure that regardless of the Catholic Church’s anti-abortion stance, I’m sure they also promote abstinence. So bad excuse: why are people suddenly all pious and religious AFTER they get pregnant and not from the start?

“Yeah, so if women are being impregnated by several men, and men are going to several women, wouldn’t it be kind of hard in these sort of places to draw a Family Tree lineage thing?”

“No, over here, trying to do ancestry would be more like a Family Brush.”

“A Family Hedge. With lots of lines connecting. Like a Family-Chain-Linked-Fence.”

Ever more so, like Western Europe, many middle to upper class Mexicans now don’t believe in marriage or the idea that love lasts. Only cohabitation, hence several siblings all fathered by different men. And that’s okay! I think it’s a form of cynicism in society. Yet American neighbors to the north, I find that we are far more conservative, still clinging on to traditional notions of spirituality, long-term commitment, (and, um, not populating the earth with bastard children. We agreed that some aspects of another culture, we’re never going to understand.)

…But what I’m looking for in a relationship, is a sweet guy who wears the pants in the relationship, someone who’s got spine and makes decisions,” continues my house mate after we ranted about the Indian caste system and how horrible it was for women in some of the regions, when we’re traveling to underdeveloped nations, it’s like they always ask my boyfriend what we’d like and ask him if he wants any food or drink. Like I don’t even exist.”

To be fair, amiga… you’re highly educated, you’re the only jetting off to Bangladesh and here we are, making plans to explore Tajikistan or remoter parts of South America by ourselves. I mean, we’re not normal girls. Most guys in America would be intimidated to just do what you’ve accomplished.

True,” she conceded. (Related Article: Nice Guys Don’t Have To Finish Last.)

And the conversation drifted. We talked about what sort of mothers we’d like to be, about how strange this Latin culture was that they seem to be often oddly overtaken by bouts of passion and emotion, and how–unlike Latin America–females raised in certain Old World cultures had the advantage of being expected to achieve just as much as males in the educational arena.

And in a long silent pause, my mind slipped into thinking about the vibrating soundwaves that reverberates in our room.

—–

Spanish Words of the Day: cajetilla” cigarette packet | “calabobos” light drizzle | “apostar” to bet, to wager | “noviazgo” engagement |

Volcán Pacaya, Guatemala. Ascension was otherworldly. After muddy trailed through thick vegetation and ducking under wire fence to get there, the path led us to a massive range of perfect black mountain ranges composed of coal and gravel crumbling down, veiled in white by mist, rain and ghostly fog looming over the pass.

I hadn’t eaten lunch. I felt delirious, tired, and the rain was smothering me…my breath shortened at the altitude above the clouds…the fog stormed thick and gray below us, some of the verdant landscape and the lights of Guatemala City far and below reaching into the distance. Terrifying lightning storms cracked next to us like an electrifying natural force, shocks of energy pummeling down. I had never been so near to lightning before. The guide screamed to tuck away my camera, the metal parts would attract the lightning. Last year a Canadian trekker was lethally struck by lightning. But I could barely hear his rapid Spanish fading into the howling wind. And in special scenarios, all ability of Spanish fades and I’m only about to huff out short phrases. Just over the black mountain, you smell the burn. Contrasting with the drab monochrome, magnificent rivers of burning lava were dripping just ahead over the black, releasing pristine white steam. No where else did I ever feel a sensation so unreal.

This being Guatemala, nobody had even mentioned what “Pacaya” was going to be like. No mention of what shoes to wear, what clothing to bring, what to expect, just a sign on a board with a $7 price. Consequently, I thought we were going to the top near a crater in hot temperatures, peer down into the bubbling lava, on a designated trail with a police escort and guide. (That’s what I paid for.) So I wore a lacy blouse, a bonnet hat, comfortable walking shoes, and knee-length capris for the sunny weather. Instead, I was drenching wet and trembling cold, with a plastic sheet over me struggling to keep pace. The guide ended up saying nothing about the volcano, instead, telling sexual jokes about how Latino men were and leaving us far behind.

By the time we got to the lava, the pumice rocks were brittle and cracked as we stood on them but you could see the thermal red glow of magma in between the crevasse. I felt the intense heat on my toes and bare skin as the soles of our shoes melted–(softened and melted! Do you know what kind of heat melts running shoes?! Pain!)—and as the flow trickled down in infrared, the guy kept telling us to get close to it, to poke at it with our sticks.

Some of us–me too–wanted to stay back, others started roasting marshmallows over the lava, but Guatemalans kept insisting we proceed forward. Nobody could remain at a distance. Two very stupid Americans ran and jumped over the molten lava, which plumes of heat singed their hair and eyebrows in the split second they leaped (they do know this is molten rock, right?) Another stepped upon cooled lava, which crushed and crumbled under his weight. I wondered how close the magma was beneath our feet. They told us that one year a girl had tried to jump over the stream and instead barely missed and fell onto the incinerating molten lava, with severe caustic burns all over her body.

While up there, it felt like walking on the surface of Venus… one of the most outstanding experiences in Central America.

$6,500 dollars. That is how much Salvadoran laborers each pay to be transported in covert trucks to be an illegal immigrant in the United States. $4500 to $5000 for Guatemalans. And $2000 to $2500 for Mexicans. The sum is inequivocally high, especially to end up working as a gardener or farm hand. At the moment more than a third of Salvadorans are found outside of the country, the hardest working Central Americans sending remesas (remittances) from abroad to rebuild families that suffer from repercussions of a savage bloodbath.

—-

I felt so much heartbreak today. A dreadful sense of lamenting and empathy, and I am at a loss for words from the sorrow.

It didn’t occur to me what I knew about El Salvador, until a series of occurrences happened me. Salvadorans (even in the chaotic capital) were unanimously cordial, helpful, and respectful, contrasting with their ugly past and the innumerous semi-automatics and AK-47s carried in hands. Evidence of war-related violence pass me by in the streets or sit next to me on the bus: fine human beings saying “good morning” and “how are you” who had lost an arm, or a leg, or had gory burn scars across their bodies, or a machete cuts over their skull, the brutally blinded… stories of relatives who had died, the consequence of a government and army that crushed its own people and massacred entire towns. But they don’t even feel pity for themselves, they keep working. Salvadorans are so resilient! And even though people are vague about what happened, they are surprised (and so am I) when I fill in the details.

You mean the football wars?” I added when a young Salvadoran waiter was recounting the conflict between this place and Honduras, and its uncensored brutality.

And somehow out of the recesses of my memory from some long-forgotten history class sitting in a lecture hall, ( in a detail that I am surprised to recall,) I blurt out El Mozote in conversation. El Mozote! El Mozote was in El Salvador! The tranquil little town nearby FMLN headquarters where the military came in and massacred everyone indiscriminately, senseless killing, total annihilation of a town. In fact, didn’t I read about survivor accounts of those who came home only to find their mother, father, and siblings all cut up and…riddled with bullets. El Mozote was in El Salvador… just over there.

So I took the bus to Morozán, and the people are unreasonably nice and accomodating, even while I am hating my own government. The guide, frankly describing what happened to her family and the US involvement in supplying arms and training soldiers to be unmoved by slaughtering innocent people. I felt so sick, so harrowed, so disturbed, but mostly so empty and sad and grateful for the anguish. I even wished that Salvadorans were more bitter about the past, more angry, they had every reason to despise Americans, but instead, they accorded hospitality. I remember my insides felt like trembling, moved and yet unable to comment on it, but afterwards, just devastating grief and sorrow.

And the crisp light of dawn that shone upon the cliffs and lush palm trees was so triumphant that several hundred birds flew overhead. This, too, is El Salvador.

(Excerpt from Inevitable Revolutions, The United States in Central America.)

Turning a country into a cemetery: “I wish the Americans would just leave us alone. If we want to kill each other off, it’s our business. The United States has no right to interfere.” …US trained and equipped army personnel carried out most of the killings…throughout these bloody, bleak years, they tried to resolve the unresolvable: extend US military and economic aid so the army could fight the growing revolution, but threaten to cut off aid if the “rival mafias” did not stop murdering Indians, labor leades, educators, lawyer, and each other…Most North Americans, ignorant of a sense of the past, solved the problem by looking the other way.”

Travel note to self: Enter Guatemala… while there are decent people, immediately I am being ripped off and lied to and a lot of people are flagrantly corrupt and unabashedly not good people. Not so much as a matter of money, but as ethics and principles, I really despise people who feel no remorse for their wrongdoings and will go out of my way to ensure they don’t get my business. As a society, they’ve got mafia and criminals and druglords running the place. Honestly I don’t know how foreigners get by without street smarts and Spanish around here, they must be victims all the time. I’ve already gotten into three arguments and had to circle around finding my way outside the establishment. I am staying in a hostel to meet new people, (the hippy crowd today) and many seem kind of dumb and naive about navigating through Guatemala.

When you think about it… you know, respiring.

Breathe deeply. Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause.

Every breath is precious, worthy. A gift of life.

You don’t really notice it, unless you scuba dive and you’ve got that mask as your only source of breatheable oxygen and you sound like a respiratory machine. Darth Vadar.

Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. An involuntary but life-giving cycle. How many of these do I have left? What shall I do with them?

My lungs fill up with sweet fresh air, breathing Central America in, all its aromas and pungent stench. Exhaling, sometimes as pants, other times as sneezes, or maybe even burps. But mostly unnoticeable passges of air exchange, and yet these repetitions, like everything about me, is finite. As mundane as anything, breathing too shall pass away. One day it will be no more. So what shall I do with the remaining ones?

I stare at the dirt.

Likely the sort of dirt that has buried countless people here in Central America. The sort of earth that has been sprinkled on those who have passed before me, from peasants to oligarchy, from blacks to indigenous to mestizo, from the mighty to the cowardly, plantation owners and slaves alike. This bleak dirt suffocates, under which there is no breath for mortals like me, and only place for worms and crawling creatures.

—-

So, first thing’s first. With the remainder gifts of heart beats and fresh breaths, treat my body like the temple it is. It is the greatest physical instrument I will ever own. Drink more water, breathe more deeply. Breathe in. Breathe out. Respire. Inspire. That breath is gone forever, so treasure the next one more. And for all those people screwing up their own bodies by smoke or drink, remind them gently.

Second. Avoid doing things because they are socially expected, and keep exploring your curiosities. What compels you? What intrigues? Do not make choices out of fear, but rather, providence and calculated risk even if I am hesitant. Exercise should never be done because everyone else is doing it, or simply for the ends of a waistline. Exercise might (should) be the byproduct of what I like to do anyway: searching for wisdom or inspiration in a jungle hike. Or accomplishing a physical goal like climbing a certain mountain. Swimming in spectacular lakes in places I love. Spending time with family in a pool, something of an active lifestyle. Playing sports with friends. But never because it’s “the thing to do.” Note to self: never ever buy a treadmill, never ever weigh myself on a scale. I don’t, and hope I won’t.

Third. Spend less time on noise, more time on substance. Do not read newspapers in Latin America, which is all about horrific murders and homicides and assassinations anyway. If I paid much attention to newspapers, I would have been too scared to go to South Central L.A., which then would never have brought me to El Salvador. So many beautiful places in the world would have been lost to me. Focus on what can be accomplished under the circumstances.

And spend as little time as humanly possible with stupidity. When detected, avoid contact and exit as quickly as I am capable. If dull minds are encountered, and they are quite often, escape or buffer with excuses. Because ignorance wastes these precious breaths on frustration, sighing, anger and disappointment. Idiocy, by the way, is different from education. It seems that in certain places, knuckleheads are everywhere, and some very academically capable folks don’t have the simplest common sense. Note to self: Do not waste limited remaining breaths on these time and energy sinks. Do not reason with them, simply remove yourself from the vicinity and do other things.

Fourth. Continue to improve Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese… exploring the places that use them and picking up regional accents and differences as part of the learning. This skill is proving ever-more useful, and rare

Breathe in. Breathe out. Gone. What am I going to do today?

Update: I’m still not used to everyday Salvadoreños carrying automatic rifles and revolvers and rounds of ammunition around their waist. It feels like a case for alarm, if it weren’t for the gallant chivalry. I guess I feel safe. But anyway, here is a back post of a journal I wrote on the bus:

Murals from Leon, Nicaragua

6:54am. September in Nicaragua. Magnificent rainbow after the rain today, which shot from the forest canopy to an incredible arch traversing the sky. Sunrise glorious over the verdant landscape of tamarind and mimosa trees. Every minute of the madrugada rich shades of lemongrass and winter fern green over huts and hammocks, palm trees and lazy white cattle swatting flies with their tails. Sometimes there are swamps, othertimes just lush savannah. Squat shurbbery intercept endless fertile grasses which sprout as softly as terraces of rice paddies.

At this hour in the morning, a shrouded periwinkle volcano sleeps under the most gentle wispy clouds, back-illuminated by brilliance, struck by gold sunshine, clean triumphant rays of morning light. This glow drenched the entire landscape in glorious hues, cloud forests dissipated in fog, as if to announce a divine blessing. And it’s not hard to imagine that this might have been endowed as the land of procreation, land of abundance, land of seed and of sprout.

Silence would have been the most profound accompaniment, but instead, there is the caw of birds, the start of motors, the crack of old cars chugging down the highway. At the moment, I can only be humbled, and soak it all in. All the beauty, a botanist’s paradise and a naturalists’ dream, confronted with tragedy and poverty and lack.

The rain drips from blades of grass from this morning’s thunderstorm.”

—-

Spanish Words of the Day:buitres” vultures | “garzas” herons | “aguacero” downpour | “garúa” drizzle

They’ve said awful things about it, I’ve always wanted to come here. Not sure if it’s from meeting all the illegal immigrants in Los Angeles, or the pupusas these Salvadorean mothers once prepared for me over five years ago…or…the brutal headlines of the Salvatrucha maras. The gangs are notorious in Los Angeles, extensively tattooed from face to arms, known for their gruesome and grisly murders. And then, going to South America so many times, I saw this wet country from the airport, a stopover, one time when a team of Taiwanese water engineers who chat with me. They didn’t speak Spanish or English, and managed to enjoy their time in El Salvador. So I’ve always wanted to find out for myself, what is El Salvador. Alone.

Suchitoto, the church outside. The name means “Place of Birds and Flowers”

Entering the country from the Panamerican Highway through Honduras there’s nothing particularly striking about the tropical leafy landscape. Cool breezes. Squat houses, very poor houses, a lot of rusting corrugated metal roofs and houses made of cement and sometimes wire fencing. Muddy. Dirt floors. Everyone is barefoot, and carrying around guns: security, officers, even normal people walking around with a semi-automatic on their waist. Without the company of my friends, I am reliant on the company of Salvadoreans, who are noticeably very hardworking, diligent and…honest and kind! I’ve been warned by privileged Salvadoreans never (ever!) to take the public bus. So, I took the public bus. Just to see.

I take very calculated risks. I choose my seat on the bus carefully, and I’m aware that my physique compels machismo chivalry that keeps me safe for the most part. Most people like to hear me speaking Spanish to them, older women instantly protect me like a mother. You know what I notice? As a percentage of the population, more people are amputated and with deep scar tissue from machete cuts than I have noticed in any other Central American country. BY FAR. I mean, parapeligiac strong men with both legs ending at the thigh. Legs that stopped at the ankle, beat up. Missing arms. Grotesque. The civil war which had displaced some three million abroad was obviously unspeakably brutal, but then, the people: remarkably kind and getting on with their lives, even courteous and sweet to me. Very fair, too, I haven’t once felt cheated, harassed or misled.

Upon arrival, El Salvador is a country that makes me grieve. Makes me angry, makes me responsible, and it’s the many settlements of dwellings made of corroding metal and cement blocks. Trash everywhere, and lacking potable water supply and constant electricity. The first impression is that of sorrow mixed with a twinge of admiration. People packed standing in the back of trucks, while rain pours on them. Like other parts of Central America, people suffer from obesity and poor diets.

…And of course, as life turns out, the hotel name that was recommended and I booked reservations for, happens to be a gorgeous Spanish hamlet overlooking forested cliffs and the great Suchitlan lake. There are fluorescent butterflies that are several inches across, and vibrant beetles. I’ve got the spacious upstairs to myself, three rooms with antique furnishings, comforters, bathtub, hot water, elegant ceiling fans in every room, a veranda hammock to overlook the lake, sitting desk to write my private letters. And a fully-equipt Spanish-tile kitchen with electric stove, oven, microwave, and mahogany dining table. I don’t even have to worry about charging my iPod, laundry is taken care of.

I’ve paid $40 for the night. Suchitoto is a world apart from real El Salvador, idyllic stone roads, mango trees, and the occassional drunkard passed out but generally the old colonial flavor.  In this sanctuary I cannot help feeling irremediably guilty for my privilege, so unfairly class conscious. And the only consolation is that at least the money is going into Salvadorean hands, and at least I made it by myself to get to know El Salvador. But even so, it feels flagrant and prolifigate—some 2% own some vast 90% of the country’s riches, and I cannot erase the images of the poor’s living standards: Snarling traffic, gucky markets, thirty-odd vendors climbing on our bus to sell apples or tortillas or candy, crowded streets and putrid smells that remind me of urban recesses of China.
El Salvador is relatively well-paid, people earn far more per week than neighboring Guatemala, Honduras or Nicaragua. But what amount people earn in dollars, is not reflected in their standard of living. It will take time to understand, but people are more industrious, more resilient, yet poorer. (Comparatively, I now find that the impoverished population in Chiapas, Mexico rather whiny, complainy, and lazy for having relatively many natural resources and riches. Chiapanecos on average seem to not to appreciate what they have.)

San Salvador inspires me. It packs heat. Salvadoreans deserve better, especially in housing and infrastructure. If I become an interpreter, and leverage China’s massive industry with Latin America, I will want to fix this.

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