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Archive for December, 2009

leon city

the key is to build up what you have
to create today
through it may not last through tomorrow
keep the core alive
a center
where it is defined
churches spread out around the city
18 of them,
at least one in ruins
still viable and used

take care of what is yours to use
do not take it for granted
a few changes of clothes
that fit the body
but freshly washed and pressed
a stoop is swept
and floor are washed
hair is brushed, pulled back or simply cut

Though the market is a lively place
yes, much stuff bought and sold
but a center of life
and the bus station
out on the edge of town
a chaotic place, but alive
calls to buses
taxis pull in and out
the yellow bluebird school buses crowd the gravel parking lot
stacking the goods on top
bags of oranges, packages, 2 overstuffed chairs
luggage tries to fit inside
ticket sellers and drivers abound
and those who sell snacks for the ride
flavoured water out of plastic bags
and the sweet fatty snacks
and the soft drinks of course
board the buses to sell
the battered buses
with numbers painted on the seats
5 across, a school bus fits 84 (+)
there is room for more
maybe not a seat
babe in arm
but there is room.

At the market,
on the streets
people walk on,
stop to talk or watch,
a historic centre and around
but one that lives
not a museum, but viable
recreated in every moment
hotdogs sold in the square and on the corner
outside the churches
people lounge outside

in the day
pedestrians crowd the shady side of the street
make room on the narrow sidewalks
taxis, the covered trucks that take people to pueblos, a few buses
few private cars
for this is poor here

i stand outside
is not my place to join
i and the other tourists pass through
a few here to work,
but if they stay elsewhere in the country most likely
but do not dominate
the land or the centre is not created for us,
yes, a few of the cafes, nicer restos
hostels and cheaper hotels
a few tour operators, many who give back to the land somehow

but generally us outsiders are ignored
something that is here
accepted but nothing more
part of the life of the land
as is the heat of the day
and the history of the place
we might stay or go
nothing is known
many changes have been seen
have the feeling that what is is
not a passive acceptance in this land
the revolution started here in 79
an engaged population
but does not seem to cling to the past
lives the day,
so many changes here
the city the place of the historic liberal elite
granada was the conservative elite,
and now the capital in managua
the sprawling centerless city
that all try to avoid
though most buses go there
the city that had its heart ripped out in 72
and where it was not rebuilt
a sprawl to negotiate
and try to get through safely
but here there is a centre
small from above
and the city goes on
paved roads turn to brick, cobblestone and dirt
homes become poor
kids play ball in the cemetary
a few shanties on the outskirt
but people seem decent
not take from one another
create a life
a city, yes poor,
but one that in many ways seems so rich.

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Christmas Eve in Leon

Christmas in Leon is a huge lively gathering – at least christmas eve. The central square and surrounding streets are full of people – families, friends gathering in their sunday best (people dress well here – may be a few changes of cheap clothes but always pressed and cleaned, and men tend to have shirts with collars) gathering in the square, in and out of churches, celebrating, buying food from the vendors on the street, hotdogs, icecream bars, soft drinks, some meat, and the christmas apples and red grapes which they seem not to eat on the street. it is 1030pm and people wander both too and from the squares, others sit on stoops or inside watching and talking, enjoying the night.
Went to one mass, or for the last part of it, here people wander in and out of churches, cut through the cathedral as a short cut, kids walk up and down the aisles – one i attended – smaller but my favorite of those in the center of town, a longer mass – cannot understand the words, but with singing, i in the doorway with many others. At the end the large mannequins on stilts enter and dance, drums going, a celebration, as fireworks and firecrackers go off outside. They just came by this street, performing as they go – a disco party with strobe lights in what has become the museum of revolution on the main square – market and vendors outside the cathedral still busy selling toys at 9pm, and in the main square, jewelry and temporary tattoos as well as food. I believe that all go home to eat at midnight, and then the fireworks or crackers go off en masse. The police unblocked one block to vehicles as i walked back here – the town is alive, an energetic air – i like it here. At midnight, the sounds of firecrackers in the street. The party should go on all night – and then tomorrow they sleep – i think.

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I leave Leon today – feel that i must write an entry – but i do not feel – my mind chatters on endlessly, how to be calm for i am caught in frenetic motion again, how to have a slow steady motion, calm inside, not so intense. Maybe i do need a beach, but i can´t stand the heat. the tourist card thing eats at me, why did i only check the stamp, what is it on my passport that makes them hesitate – the 30 days flows me into motion, and this motion is hard, i tire of travel, but in this beautiful but hot city i do not know what to do, i go on, it is not a place to relax. i feel out of kilter, play tourist and do not commit to anything and it is that lack of commitment that has gotten my in trouble, but then when i want to feel that i am not wanted, or the situation i am unable to – where is the balance.

Yesterday, i felt calmer for a while. walked and sat in some of the grand churches, wrote a bit which will hopefully end up in the other blog, and maybe for this blog that will turn to be what it should be – but in order for that to happen i need to get clear and be able to see. I sat in the cathedra, high curved ceiling of white, i stopped for a coffee, and then i went to the art gallery – Ortiz Gurdián Foundation – which made me smile. It was primarily the works by the latin american artists that grabbed me – those that captured the human element, vibrant colours, abstract with the universal designs, influenced by petroglyphs and by the Europeans – the designs of our imagination – klee, miro, picasso etc. shit i cant write. but to take the time to create – how we think of these s nations as all poverty and glorify the peasants, but it is usually the upper classes, not the conservative elites, who create the art, who have the time to. even the revolution, the leaders and ideas come from there.

Leon feels better to me, a traditionally liberal city, one which had a more real feel – i wander many of the 18 churches each with their squares.

I take a tour in the afternoon.

I continue this message – am back in Leon after a day in Esteli and i am glad to return – in a new hostel – this city feels better – more open, dynamic and honest – Esteli had a harder vibe, was hoping to like it, but did the retreat. Maybe need to be more on the gringo trail, around a few other travellers – had heard about esteli, the harder faces and it is true – is in the mountains a bit cooler but something is lacking.

I am back – yet the party crowd from Monteverde follows me to what was supposed to be a tranquillo hostel – lord, i want peace and understanding, i want love and belonging, i want calmness inside. Why lord, why?

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Why here?

Well i made it to Leon today, another colonial city but with a mellower, realer feel. I took the microbus and passed through the sprawl of Managua – it took just over 3 hours and cost $4 including the cab from the station into town here. It is a more weathered town that Granda, even more interesting buildings but not as maintained. It felt nice in the afternoon, a surprise rain today which kept all cool, exploring the central square, the museum of the revolution – not much of a museum just tattered photos and newsprints stuck on the wall of a building that was once a presidents home, and now sits empty, and worn, in need of expensive restoration and repair -but climbed out on the roof with my ¨guide¨ who knew little but seemed to want to relive his glory days back when, and had a magnificient view of the city and the volcanoes off to the distance.

I still wonder if i should have gone back south to the Isla de Ometepe – that island of twin volcanoes – one still active – that sits in the middle of lake nicaragua – about at 15 km boat ride from short – it would have been more peaceful a slower pace of life which is what i think i may need, but something about volcanoes in the middle of a choppy lake made me wary. It is a large island, population about 35000, with several hostels, fincas, and other places to stay, and recently a paved road between the 2 towns, all else is gravel and it is also an island of many petrogliphs and an energy about it, but as i looked over the lake on the ride up, and as i thought about my long ride and ferry trip to Montuzuma which was a disappointment i decided not to. but if as i said i wanted to write about the energy of places, should not i have gone there, see what it feels like, even if it is uncomfortable – people say it is wonderful.

And maybe it is because i do not really feel the energy anywhere – (or do i) what i feel is my own sadness and lonliness and yearning for a home – a home where i belong and am accepted for who i am, wanted and loved – and i feel like going north again though i have no place to go, and i have been up and down that coast too many times. And that yearning claims me, and influences all that i see, and all that i fail to see by not being present, alive and appreciative in the moment. I feel that i have drifted from what my path is meant to be, that i have thrown too much away, and that sadness claims me again as i return to the wandering mode. I feel that i have fallen away from god and the spirit – i look at all the wonderful cathedrals and chuches in this town, and wander in, but they do not claim me – are less ornate inside than out, high ceilinged and pale – often white, inside. It is almost christmas, but i do not attend mass, i stand outside and look in and walk on. Here, i feel that i have wandered far away from the spirit inside. I do not light the candles and write in my other blog, the one that over time, began to feel more real, feel like my call.

I feel alone here, as i have on my other travels, but is something that i have not wanted to admit. I feel somewhat like i did in Mexico almost three years ago – off kilter and out of place for when i am out of gringa land i stand out and while much is wonderful i know this is not my home, it is a place to pass through, and i ask why am i doing so?

A few answers have come to mind.

The first has to do with fear and the entry i wrote yesterday – here is central america i have been much more fearful of place than i have at home – i felt that may happen but came anyways, wondering how i would react – in buffalo before i left i felt caged with the different areas where you do not go when you go into town. And here it is greater. But i cage myself in so many ways, with the fear, in my life have felt like an animal pacing a cage. And with travel, that is what i am often doing, pacing up and down, nothing more – and i have travelled as a way of avoiding the real fears, the panic and utter anxiety that sets in when it comes time to stop, fear of being unwanted, cast out, alone, a fear that overcomes me and takes me over, and takes me over, and it is a fear that i have been unable to pass through alone and have not had anyone to hold me hand. And when i have tried i have failed misreable, like at the school in Orosi – cast out once again, so i move and i move and i am tired, i am in a city, like in other poor places, there is nowhere i really belong in the country except at the beach, and that is too hot. I am lost, and i wander. And in avoiding one fear, i learn to pass through others.

And what was the purpose of this, to be with god? But i am so far away now- I wonder – or was it like my return to Buffalo, where i had felt that i was not allowed to go for so long, just the feeling of the need to do what was disallowed. A journey to my past ideals. A journey that never was – and was meant to be different. Coming into this town, the liberal town that has been at the forfront of sandinista power, the tour of the museum of revoluntion, the ideals of where i must go, is all part of my past, a forbidden journey of long ago, one that i wanted to make with a purpose but did not. but now i no longer have that purpose, do not volunteer or save the world, and being here i realize how little i knew with that for i was grasping at straws then and it was not my path at the time.

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I have walked around the centre of Granada too many times, circling the central squares, walking the restored streets in the centre of town so many times that i should know them by heart by now. Finally had the guts to walk down to the lake, had been wanting to for several days, but i felt afraid to venture beyond the zone, the zone that is marked in darker green on the tourist map. Still, i have not really felt the energy here, have not really looked, too consumed by the voice in my head that says “what the fuck have you done now – just what have you gotten yourself into this time girl.?” wondering just what i am doing here, why i have come to this land.

What is it that i hope to see? What is it that i have to prove? I pace the streets, the same ones over and over, feeling like a street walker of sorts – see a few others who do the same.

Maybe it is because i have not really met anyone since i arrived despite moving between hostels – the first one empty, talked to a couple, her mainly as he was sick for a day and a young german girl who i could tell felt as caged as i but i was exhausted that first night and just wanted to sleep. It was recommended by the woman who i met on the bus, attached to a non-profit centre which felt good. Yet it was the people who used the centre who took up the common couches in a group and i felt like hiding in my private room – a guys bonding and tv watching and i felt lonely. I walked around, not in the present, wondering where to move to and checked out the other places – most seemed just as bare except 3 – one a party place, the other a pothead place, and the one where i am now – a much younger crowd and i do not seem to bond with any – more in groups sticking to themselves – and many who are on the way to the beach and spend intense late nights at the bars – so that may influence how i feel here.

But i also feel like Granada is a large tourist city – an old montreal, a quebec city where you do not venture beyond the walls. Is it because i have entered a poorer country and notice the difference, the street dogs are skinny not like in Costa Rica, and when i do see the side streets and look inside the homes i see it, as i did when we crossed the border and the simple country homes of costa rica (which looked poorer as we approached the border) became shacks. Is it just a city vibe descending upon me? Is it a new culture shock? Or is it travel without a purpose? My plans messed up by the time on my tourist card 30 vs the 90 in my passport so it is hard to commit. I spend time sitting in cafes, in front of the computer, yes, maybe this is gift i had been given since i said i wanted the time and focus to write and it has been forced upon me. Or is this a realization of what i have felt before, travelling, observing, standing on the outside. That the difference between those who visit and those who reside is so great – and i am on the other side.

I visit the churches – magnificent outside, but so plain within – high ceilings but devoid of much decoration. I climb the tower in one and look out over the city, much greener than it appears from the street, as all the trees are in the courtyards to the homes. The centre area is nicely restored, smoother sidewalks, fresh bright paint of blue, orange, yellow etc. on the buildings you walk beyond, sidewalks crack and paint fades. It does not seem dangerous like a big city, few policemen or armed guards, just outside the banks where they sit bored, watching the money changers who patrol the corners outside.

It is dusk, i hear the birds sing outside in the park, gathering in the trees.

I was not the only one who feared the walk to the lake – just a few blocks beyond where the dark green zone and the pedestrian area of Calle la Calzada ends. I went today, a Sunday, and a few families walked down the emptier boulevard. I had walked some side streets on my way there – past homes, a few horses grazing on an empty lot, kids playing ball in a street. There is little down there at the lake, polluted is seems. A few from the hostel were wondering about going down and had been told to be careful so it was not only me.

My new hostel is on the edge of the market area which goes on for blocks – narrower streets with vendors selling shoes, lotto tickets (everywhere) food, bras, DVDs with tvs set up on the street which at night a few sit on chairs and watch, taxis (not the uniform red of Costa rica) but a variety of cars, many beaters, most older, some independent, others granada taxis, and a few buses mainly longer distance, and the bicycles other with more than 1 person, and the mini bikes and motor cycles, a few horses with carts (the nice horse-drawn buggies do not include the busy market on their route), and the people, buying, selling, bread comes out at night, a few men carrying large bags on their heads, and a few women baskets, all walk on the shady side of the street (it is hot here and the sun is strong) and the sidewalk is full of vendors, so it is a mix of pedestrians and vehicles. The market building itself is dark inside and a bit of a maze – i enter breifly – in the front section many bras, tshirts and shoes, yes more shoes.

I venture beyond to the bus area to Rivas where i might go, a block beyond the market down a narrow side street. All are helpful, i look at the unpaved lot with old yellow school buses, a crowded one pulls out, and i wonder about the romance of bus travel in this area. The expresos that go to Managua and then with a transfer to Leon, while cramped mini-buses with open doors to let in some air, do not seem so bad.

I shut myself down and hide inside quiet a bit. Most are friendly, the vendors are not agressive, a few beggars, and a few kids that seem to be trouble, wanting food from the table at restos, but seeming strung out.

So many kids, in arms and all. the sidewalks and streets vary from packed to empty with little in between.

Still i wonder why i am here? That as a poor gringa i am a rich nica and can enjoy the cafes and places to stay that i could not at home? What do i want to do here – write but about what if i shut myself down and do not reach out? I feel caged – makes me appreciate the freedoms of home.

I do not know what to do with myself? Volunteer – but where – i want internet connection so not an isolated farm. my time here is shorter than i imagined – need to cross north or south and that has been eating at me. but with that, have wasted at least a day, which has become valuable, mulling over it. I am not as in love with Granada as i had imagined. Yes, the colonial centre has been restored, but i had been expecting something more, had rushed up here, had built it up in my mind perhaps too much so.

I have taken few pictures here – do not feel as comfortable pulling out the camera. Do i head north up to Leon another colonial town or down to isla ometepe? Only tomorrow will tell. Or is this just culture shock?

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Central Squares

Again this is an entry that i started some time ago, the time when i devoted part of the day to writing. I yearned for a central park when i was in the tourist towns of manual antonio, monteverde and montuzuma, and now i have been around them but i do not linger. I hung around the various squares in San Jose, but never stayed long, watching people, children playing, families gathering, people listening to music, and a few tourists taking photos – myself included.

I came to Granada, as a colonial town, one with a restored parque central dominated by the huge yellow cathedral off to one side. Yet i do not linger there – it is dominated by the locals, who have claimed all the shady benches, and i do not feel right sitting there alone – the tourist blocks the run towards the lake, with the outside tables at the restaurants seem the place for that. There are vendors selling hotdogs, cigarettes and drinks, souvenirs, and snacks, and two shady stands set up with tables in the corners to buy coffee or icecream. As many times as i walk through it, i do not stay, it is not a place for me to people watch and i am disappointed.

But i do not know why – i had the same feeling in many of the squares in Mexico, those that i idealized and yearned for – some were ok for a woman, a gringa, alone, and others were fine when i wsa with someone else, but others were for the locals, the place where they can relax and live their lives.

But still, they provide a centre, a place that you can come back to, a public place with trees, as many of the homes and buildings are built straight on the sidewalk, the leafy gardens hidden away in the courtyards. And for those who have, that is the private place for retreat.

And around this square, here in granada, are some restos and bars where you can sit outside and watch all go by. And the traffic around it is sane – actually the traffic on the narrow one way streets in general is same. Another smaller square abuts this, and the pedestrian street is off beside the cathedral. Yet where the action and chaos is is the market place.

I was in one more town, Liberia, in costa rica, not a tourist town, with a central square, not leafy and green, only a bit of shade. i sat there briefly consulting my guide, it was a place to sit. Crossing into it was a challenge, as traffic whizzed by on all the sides, A smaller church at one end of course, and restos around. Yet, it provided an anchor to the place, the middle of the commercial zone, and a few paused here to sit a while – maybe it was the lack of shade, but was not a place where children played.

Initial entry

Ososi where i stay is a wonderful small town, but i have felt that something was missing, but it was a something that i could not define. But now i know what it is – it is the parque central or central square that forms the centre of most cities and towns that i have been in in this land.
The square is an essential feature of the towns, it is their hearts, the core, though the city or town may have spread far beyond, and other parks and squares may have been built as well. But the centre is the centre it is the heart. And where one should be in Orosi lies the soccar field, also an essential component of Costa rican towns, but it is not a place to gather.
The parque central is the heart, it is a relief from the craziness outside, a place to rest and reflect, and a place to gather, for people alone, for children to play, friends and lovers. It is the place in the centre of the maps ‘ a defining place from which you can explore, if you can find your way back you know how to go out in another direction.
They are often leafy, with trees and benches below. You can sit and watch the world go by. And while there are similarities each has its own flavor.

I fell in love with them on my trip to mexico a few years back – the zocallo they were callled, and they were full of life – often a church on one end, and in colonial towns historic buildings surrounded, and cafes were laid out upon the endges. Here there are no cafes in the towns where i have been, a fast food chain somewhere on the perimeter in the larger places, but still. And while the village green is a part of old new england towns, and i spent time in the squares in new york they are not as ingrained part of the culture, and i wonder if they still are here.

In Alueja it was the place to where i returned over and over again, trees, benches, music and later in the week vendors as well. On the peremiter are banks, a few stores, a heladeria )ice cream places and people line up at the special counter at McDonalds for icecream. on the edge is a church.

In Cartago the center square has few trees, but it is large. It sits beside las ruinas, the remains of an old church that had been rebuilt too many times and now is an open structure with gardens within. It is near the market, the local buses stop on one edge and the other bus companies stop within a few blocks. There are panderias near by, and banks, and stores, the centre of the shopping district. Traffic whizzes by, but on one end are the ever too rare traffic lights to you may easily cross the street. While not as removed, it is an oasis, and when you find your way there, directions finally make sense.

I spent but a few moments at the square in Hereida that one day i was there, but dogs lounged and children played, people ate lunch and there was more life than in the fancier gardens that belongs to the church that sat on its edge.

My favorite so far has been the square in Turrialba though it held less human life, and it was mainly men who sat about. Still it has many trees, and wooden sculptures of monkeys and other animals, a new gazebo, and like the town, they are trying to bring life to it. It sits across the street from a newer church, and signs inside announce the free wifi available in the town. I feel life coming back, the town was poorer at the edges, and from above it sprawled out a bit more – the shop streets led out from the park and some sodas and restos surrounded it – the traffic was less crazy as they had built a new bus station up the hill a few blocks away a few years ago.

Afterwords

What i long for is a square to sit and reflect, to write and relax and people watch. My morning in New York at Bryant Square was one of those moments – i could be there, sit and write. What will i find as i journey on – i do not know, but i will find out.

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I started this entry a week and a half ago. I have changed countries and the unease continues – i limit myself, stick to the centre and the tourist places, limit myself and my journeys. I stick out, solo gringa, for all  to see – and while i am a poor gringa i am a rich nica, and i see eyes of resentment upon me. I fear, and that limits me and consumes me, i create a shell around myself, a small world, and am hesitant in all. This is what i wrote in Costa Rica and i have experienced it since, in a sleepless night in Montuzuma, in walking a few empty streets in Liberia with all my stuff, and here in Granada, as i leave the tourist zone and i dont like feeling this way – for i limit my boundaries, and do not reach out. Try to plan a trip so i do not need to cross Managua at all, for all one hears about is crime, and maybe even taxis are not to be trusted. People are friendly, and it is not healthy to approach others with distrust, it eats away at the soul. I do not venture out, sit in courtyards, in restos in the interior safe spaces. There was a brief break from this feeling in the national parks in costa rica, especially in Monteverde, where i got over this fear when on the trails alone, and could commune with something larger. And i long for the places where i used to camp alone, walk down the two lane highway, beaches, or trails by myself, and explore the corners of the towns. The places where i would feel sure and confident – even though that would be an illusion and others would sometimes ask are you not afraid. And the answer was generally, not really, maybe a bit but it feels fine. Here i fear, and how much is real and how much is me – like in Alaska where i did not hike much because of my fear of the bears, and looked behind my back.

When fear increased in the US after 911 i used to poo-poo it, and much of that fear that was put forth was a scare tactic – and how much of what i hear here is, and how much is real caution. But what is real is the way it eats at you, and changes you. It is not a definite fear, it gnaws at you slowly not one large bite, away of your surroundings. If nothing else i understand this feeling that others have had, i feel it. But i do not know how to move beyond it. And yes, i have this feeling in other areas of my life – the anxiety about belonging, trying new things, being accepted, and maybe some of that that i had slowly moved beyond, i thought, has come back in another way, to remind me. Yes, i have moved beyond my comfort zone – can i make this it, or do i run back to the zone that is familiar and comfortable. will it ever be here?

Well here is the entry that i wrote

I tossed and turned last night, unable to sleep, thinking about this place and moving on – about travel and safety. About safety and security and fear. And here i feel unsure, i watch myself, my belongings, i do not walk after dark. I have felt this fear in myself and in others and i do not like it. Where i am now is safe, or safer, a tourist enclave, but still signs everywhere not to leave your belongings unattended.
Yesterday i met a guy who had been mugged his third day in quepos, the owner of the hostel where i stayed in san jose – a native tican (though blatantly gay) had been mugged the night before i got there – and the muggings were not just give me your money – but violent – the first had 7 stitches in his foot, and the latter had bruised ribs. Both were alone at night coming home from bars but still. I miss the safety of my native lands, of being free to come and go as i please, to poo-poo the fear that others have, to camp alone and walk alone and hike alone.
And here the road to the beach twists and turns, narrow with no shoulder, and is unsafe to walk, not out of human danger during the day, but with cars, i walked on monday when the park was closed and the traffic light, but it is crazy. Not like the roads in orosi, also narrow, but with less traffic and mainly local and accustomed to locals walking on the side of the road.
And here places are not barred and gated. Yet it seems like a bit of an illusion. Maybe it was my first arrival in the country coming into Alujeala after 10pm, when all was shut, metal sliding grates like in New york cover all the shops, bars on windows and compounds. It was quiet, too quiet.
And there is talk of crime everywhere – some of it country vs city folk, in orosi and environs, actually everywhere, talk of crime in the capital, the tican on the bus warning about crime in Jaco – the drugs, prostitutes, and gangs, the beach in quepos apparently filled with crackheads – much like in america, but so often i have felt safe, now i feel the unease.
And costa rica has been a safe country, not the history of wars in places that surround, and maybe that is what it is, building compounds and walls, abolished the army in 48, no wars. the water is safe to drink.
but this fear, is this what it is like so many places, i move beyond it, it is random. but i have rarely felt it before.
and is that why people grasp for safety.

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