You run. And you run. Until suddenly the only words you think in are foreign.

There was a sect of Orthodox Old Believers, whose name can be translated as “Runners”. They believed constant movement to be a sacred state. For them being permanently on the run, changing places, crossing boarders signified an escape from everything that’s evil, everything that tries to take away your freedom. It was the only way to be absolutely free and not belong to anything or anywhere. This approach adds spiritual dimension to the very notion of traveling. They were more than just pilgrims traveling to a specific destination of religious significance, more than nomads moving from one place to another together with the cycle of changing seasons of the year, in order to find food and necessary means to survive, more than refugees escaping persecution in their native lands, more than gypsies evading any national/social patterns, structures and civil duties and responsibilities, more than just travelers, and God, way more than mere tourists.

Perhaps that is us. Scattered around. AD 2015.
A cross-country mess, a global mess, an inter-galactic mess.

So is it WHAT we are running FROM or is it WHAT we’re AFTER? Are we running away or are we chasing?
Are we running away from responsibilities, memories, mistakes, places, people, or are we chasing freedom?

Shall we grow up, love?
Build a house, plant a garden in June,and in March brew tea and wear hats?
Brush our teeth in the morning, grind our teeth, bite our tongues off at night?
Shall we build a gypsy caravan, just like Noah’s ark?
Load all dreams and hopes and leave all fears behind?
Perhaps that is that.
Perhaps that is us.
Settle down in the middle of desert. Walk around naked all day.
I don’t mind starting from scratch.
I don’t want scratching from start what has almost healed either way.
Hunt bears. Bears in the desert.
There are bears in the desert, all right.
Or otherwise
I don’t care
Winter gardens
Summer hats.
The only words I can think in are foreign.
Like you and the land you were born in.
Just because I can speak
Doesn’t mean I know all the right things to say.
I just want to stay.
I just want us to stay.

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On The Road Again (and on: How to Become a Hero)

Thank you, Peru.

I saw hummingbirds in the wild, I walked Machu Picchu, I made travel friends.

And for the first time I truly understood and experienced the romantic concept of a journey, as a metaphor of life. It’s all about moving; moving forward, moving on. It’s all about pursuing your destination, your goal. Most of the magic, most of the adventure, most of the experience happens in between point A and point B, on the way to it, not upon arrival at it. It’s all about the process of making your way there, not so much about getting there. Such manner of conscious traveling is like meditation. It teaches you to be fully in the moment, have your eyes and ears wide open at every step of the journey, to be fully immersed in the here and now and fully open and perceptive to whatever happens. It blissfully strips you of any attachments to whatever-it-may-be; to your own past and future, to all your belongings and relationships, to your job, hobbies and addictions, to concerns about what uncle Eugene said over Christmas dinner, and what to wear for the wedding of your beloved’s cousin from Berlin. All of these things suddenly become wonderfully irrelevant, because traveling consciously gives you the feeling of the ultimate freedom.

One is so true on the road. So un-refined, un-perfected, so beautifully raw. Doesn’t try to seem cooler, smarter, more interesting or better. One is simply oneself; with no bells and whistles, existentially naked and pure.

When I was standing on the train station in Ollantaytambo I suddenly felt the overwhelming sense of the miracle of being alive. Suddenly, out of the blue everything was perfect and made perfect sense. I suddenly felt overflowing gratitude for everything that happens, and realized, that I am one lucky human being and would not exchange my world and my experiences for any others. Such realization can be achieved through fearlessly giving yourself up; either in conscious traveling; confiding in the unknown that is just about to happen as the road unwinds, or in love. Both; traveler and lover is the essence of pure, naked, transparent self. The self that exists and shines brightly outside of any social or economical contexts. It exists only in the context of the universe. It validates its true, cosmic meaning.

Both; true journey and true love are experiences of ultimate freedom and growth that open and transform your heart and teach you to see things differently. Through fearlessly opening yourself up to either; you learn to understand that all the contexts created by the society are useless. You learn to understand that your job does not define you, your financial status does not define you, your accent, religion, color of your skin or where you come from does not define you either. What defines you is the essence of your existence; your heart (and/or) soul, and how much tenderness, love and trust you have to confide in the face of experiencing the unknown and unforseen as your journey progresses in new, undiscovered directions, or in the face of exposing yourself to unveiled intimacy with your loved one. Fearlessness is your choice. You can always back out, or take a shortcut. But if you choose to be fearless; and find the courage to truly embrace the experience and take it for what it is step by step, one challenge at a time, with trust and understanding; it will always turn out rewarding in the end. Taking up the joys and challenges of a true journey, true exploring, and true love is always nurturing, always strengthening. Regardless of bumps and difficulties on the way; given the fearless trust, there is no struggle, no pain, no doubt, no destruction involved. It is always simple, pure and good.

Traveling to unknown places is like loving fearlessly. Once you’ve done it; you’re already a hero.

And it may lead you to an awe-inspiring self-realization; that you have suddenly become who you have always wanted to be.

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On Paradise being lost; Pardon my intrusion on the Oscars night.

When I first arrived in Cusco, Peru it won my heart immediately. Lovely, peaceful, fairy-tale-like Andean town situated in a picturesque valley, surrounded by breathtaking mountains. Beautiful architecture consisting of a mix of Inca and Spanish colonial influences. Narrow, cobbled streets, charming terracotta roofs, amazing energy and extraordinary microclimate resulting from the city being located 11,000 feet above sea level. A perfect balance between proud, rich local culture, and abundant thriving nature; which is literally within the reach of one’s hand.

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When I was talking to R, who I was staying with for the first few days he said: “I lived in California. It was way too expensive. I lived in Ecuador, right on the beach. But it was way too hot and humid. And too many insects. And then; three years ago I moved to Cusco and it is perfect. And this is where I am going to stay. When people come to visit me they often say: Cusco is sixty years behind the rest of the world! And I say: Yes! And that is exactly what I love about it! I loved living in the sixties. They were the best. And if I can still live in the sixties today, I am not going to hesitate even for a moment.”

And I said: “Isn’t it amazing that with everything that is happening right now in theUkraine and Venezuela and with all the crazy things happening everywhere in the world we are here, in this beautiful, peaceful place? Does it not seem unreal?”

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Fast forward 3 days.
Protests in Cusco region started with some of the local businesses shutting down for a couple of days. Later people took to the streets. Some of the businesses remained “half-open”. They were officially closed, but were secretly opening the doors to the customers; shutting them back down when the protesters were approaching, in fear of potential riots.
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The protests were peaceful. But I guess you never know.

Local roads have been influenced by the protests too. So has the safety of their users. Protesters have cluttered the roads with hundreds of pounds of rocks scattered all over frequently attended routes; such as Ollantaytambo-Cusco, as well as within city limits. On the night of the protests I was on my way, in a van, with few fellow visitors on that very road. It was about midnight, we had arrived on the last train from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo, and had to make our way up to Cusco somehow. This route is dangerous as it is; a narrow mountain road with a steep cliff on one side and a mountain wall on the other. If you add driving at night and maneuvering among huge rocks and pebble-filled bags scattered all over the road every few yards; it all adds up to a pretty scary adventure.
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The protests in Cusco were originally about quite drastic and unexpected raise in gas prices and prices of utilities. Very quickly they became protests about everything; about peace, tolerance, independence, about all sorts of freedom (freedom from corruption, freedom from foreign influence, freedom from prejudice, freedom from fear of financial instability etc).
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In this incredibly peaceful, quiet and happy corner of the world, where people are normally mellow and content; those two summer days of late February 2014 became the polarization of all sorts of frustration, discontent, and doubt.

It goes without saying that good, hardworking people should not be forced to lose business in order to attract some government’s attention. They should not be forced to put rocks on the roads and delay the journeys of other good, hardworking people, not to mention putting their lives in danger by doing so. Good hardworking people should have the right to lead decent lives of civil freedom and freedom of worries about whether or not they will be able to pay their utility bills and feed their families. This goes for Cusco. This goes for the Ukraine. This goes for every corner of the world. And, by God; I know that it all goes without saying, but the more we speak about it, the bigger the chances that things will change for better. It is heartbreaking to see that literally every corner of the world is troubled by unrest and human discontent. There is no way and nowhere to escape this realization. Places like Cusco, once safe heavens, idyllic, isolated towns are as close to the craziness that is taking over the world nowadays, as ever. And all these plights of all these peoples are connected. And so are we all. We are all connected to all protests happening everywhere in the world. And as long as there are plights leading to a need for people to protest, take to the streets and cry to their governments, for what they naturally deserve; it does not make Pachamama happy. It does not make any God happy. And the least we can do is talk about it, care, solidarize and support. This goes for Cusco. This goes for the Ukraine. This goes for every corner of the world in distress. They might seem far apart in terms of distance, but in fact they are closer than ever; brothers and sisters in courage, determination and strong drive to change. Peru is Ukraine. Ukraine is Peru. Everything is everything. And we are everything.

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This time of the year is here again

This time of the year is here again. Prospect Park turns into Amazon Rainforest. Coney Island turns into an enchanted bay in Hawaii. A promise turns into a warranty. One’s own body turns into a body from a Victoria’s Secret Commercial; all brown, curvy, happy and relaxed. Everything turns into a better version of itself. It seems like the mouth of Mother Earth, which must be located somewhere in the Antipodes, swallowed mdma the size of the sun and is now projecting its cosmic trip of perfection, harmony and oneness onto entire humanity.

I touch the grass. It’s thick, warm and healthy. The heat makes blood run lazy. But it’s speeding up on circulation encouraged by the commotion on the outside. I’m biking down south. Every single muscle seems excited. The high temperature enfolds every single organic part of me and it seems like I’m wearing a protective suit made of pulsating warmth. It makes me think of the summers I used to spend with my Grandma in the country and how we would walk in the heat through the fields of red poppies to get some fresh milk. It makes me think how my Dad first taught me to ride a bike and I was so ecstatic to be doing something so out of my own way, and believed that I only learnt because he taught me, but he said “You had that ability in you already. I just helped you to find it.” Somehow it is always about Proust and madeleines in the end. No heat weave can come without reference to a heat weave long gone. No love can be greeted without being compared to loves from the past. No breath is released without a memory of those it is a reminiscence of.

I am riding on in the heat. My dress turns into a sail. No, it turns into a pair of wings in the breeze. I am a butterfly and I’m not even kidding. And luckily my brain turns into butter and melts away with the sweat.

I don’t need anything beyond this time-frame. I don’t need to be any better at anything. I don’t need to push myself in any direction from here. I don’t even have to speak. Thank God I don’t have to speak; speaking would break the spell of the Amazon Rainforest, the enchanted Hawaiian bay and the likes. Dreams are sound and safe. Life; suddenly amazed by its unexpected completeness. Everything falls into place. And everything falls there quietly, effortlessly, with no fireworks and status updates, as if it has always been there.

Ah, Summer; when you start to do your magic I already feel sad knowing that you will, in the end, have to go away.

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Road Trips and Romance

Road trip. The most natural and the happiest state for a Human Soul. Being in a state ; where nothing can touch us, my love. Flowing, sliding, mentally or spiritually kite-surfing. Say on the West Coast. Say on thePacific Coast Highway (slashTHE ONE). The cliffs and vegetation and the winding roads are breathtaking. And the Pacific. You had not expected it to be that beautiful. And so infinite. Staring at it for days lets you stretch your eyes and your thoughts and realize that where you are and how you feel today is not ultimate and final because really there is an infinite number of possibilities and perspectives. You think ‘freedom’. You think ‘we’re so fragile’. You think all these things that make love, laugh, tears, poetry, prayers and the best songs by The National come to life. You think all the things that make you think you might actually write the entire volume of lyrics for their next album.

What’s great about road trips is that they make you feel 100% present. Everything is new and exciting all the time so you naturally appreciate every single moment. There’s not much room for plans, expectations or old habits; you’re just here and now and that is good; you reconnect with the real you and you suddenly realize that happiness is so easy. And then you get back to the real life…

It is in a way similar between girls and boys , (slash; men and women). Say on a random night out with friends you meet someone. There is a spark. You have a great time. Great conversation. The energy flow is right because it’s new and unplanned so you dont have time to make any assumptions or tap into any of your worn out habits. You are present; busy being here and now; there’s no room for reasoning; you’re going with the flow. Letting yourself be. You feel like going to a karaoke at 4 am not even remembering that it is not possible at that time… not even in NY… You feel The Chemistry. Say you want to make love to that someone. You do it. It works just right. There’s no room for “Ooh; maybe it’s wrong”. And then you get back to the real life…

Maybe She’s a psycho bitch? Maybe he’s an inconsiderate idiot? She comes back home tired after work ; had a bad day and needs his attention. He’s busy doing something else. Something Else that’s very important to him this very moment. She’s miserable because he’s ignoring her when she needs him and starts crying. He snaps at her because he doesn’t understand why on earth she’s crying and what on earth he did to her again. Score. She goes from being “smart and beautiful” to being a psycho bitch. He goes from being “a positive force” to being an inconsiderate idiot. One might assume it is one of the possible scenarios.

Or maybe they will not speak again. until he gets back to her in years from now to cheat on his wife that he will have acquired by that time. wife that is Jewish enough, Catholic enough, Buddhist enough, rich enough, poor enough, American enough, Chinese enough, Serbian enough, skinny enough or fat enough for him, but yet he might need a break every now and then… But then… No. Whatever happens afterwards depends on whoever has the strength to carry it over on their shoulders.

Heart; heart. Thank god you are not made of crystal. You resonate with crystal-like sounds when things bigger than yourself touch you, but thank God for the fleshy , mushy arteries pumping the blood in and out. This way it is not quite easy to break you into a thousand pieces. You just go on. Fervently but quietly and intimately; amidst the social media and amidst the overpowering clatter of the outside 21 century. Amidst the shortage of oxygen or otherwise ; blood-ties related love scene.

How do I explain this to you?
How do I explain this weird choice of fate? How do I explain this sick lust of independence? How do I explain this self-begotten exile? How do I explain the misplacement of these eastern European features on this particular patch of the world map?
I do not think I know anymore, love.

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This is what dreams are made of. This is where dreams are made.

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There is this playmate i remember from childhood. She had this little sister. I meet her and ask ‘so how old is your little sister now?’ “28” she answers. I take a moment to figure if someone aged 28 can be referred to as anyone’s little sister at all. And then we have lunch outside their house together with their parents. Her dad prepares snacks made of sliced cactus. The snacks have eyes. You have to devour them quickly, otherwise they will bite you with their sharp cactus beaks. And then I find myself sitting in the back of a gallery watching the radio city christmas spectacular or the nutcracker arm to arm with my once beloved. I am wearing my pretty black dress and my eyes are smiling. I take a moment to think if there in fact is any difference between ‘once beloved’ and ‘beloved’. Perhaps the distance between two human beings once miraculously shortened to zero, can never be undone. I take another moment to think about how wonderful we are. Made of adventurous, star-gazing spirits, glorious and righteous hearts and beautiful, chemistry-propelled, spark-inducing flesh. And how much more beauty shines upon us only by having a ‘you’ and a ‘me’ inscribed in each other’s blueprints. And then there is a lot of water. Some steam perhaps. And human voices wake us and we drown.

Fast forward to:

I’m onstage, wearing a traditional Polish folk costume, surrounded by a dozen women. After a while I notice that they are all in their late 60’s and look down on me with contempt. The lights go up, the curtain opens and I suddenly realize that I have no clue what the choreography is for this gig.

Fast forward to;

I’m walking in the mountains in winter, wearing a ball gown. I hail a horse-drawn carriage and ask the driver the way to my university, as I am just about to go back to school. On my way; with the snow reaching up to my knees I am hesitating between German Studies and Social Sciences.

Fast forward to:

All the people in New York are commuting to work by water-scooters and water-skateboards. I can fly and my father is a world champion in dancing merengue.

Fast forward to:

S is throwing his birthday party. S is French . At the party his girlfriend, who is Japanese, is serving pork loin a la Varsovie and Polish dry sausage. Having served those she starts playing the piano. She’s playing a Mazurka. T shows up and starts dancing with me, but I mess up Mazurka with Polka, so T says “Sylwia, chill. It’s a Mazurka! It’s not jumping, it’s like walking.” The girl switches to playing a famous Michael Jackson song called “In my little garden” and everybody knows the lyrics, but me. The Bolivian guests know the lyrics, the Greek ones know them too, the Koreans, the Germans and the French are all singing along. The girl’s brother steps forward and starts to sing a famous Bonnie Raitt song, called “Without food and obligations”, and then KM steps forward and screams on top of her lungs “Hey everybody! AH just married a flight attendant!” In the meantime I am painting a birthday picture for S. I’m painting three heads, one of which is mine. The painting is round and is meant to be installed inside a bathroom wall. When you turn on the tap; the heads are moving.

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Guatemala 6 years later

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I had been obsessed with going to Guatemala since circa 2007. Precisely since February 2007, when for my birthday I got a book about traveling to Central America. From Poland. In, I recon; late 1980’s or early 1990’s. Let me say that again: a book about traveling to Central America from Poland in, I recon, late 1980’s or early 1990’s. Now; there is something very special about traveling specifically from Poland to Central America around that time. The special thing is; it was practically undoable.

In late 1980’s or early 1990’s; tourism to Central America practically doesn’t exist, because it is considered super dangerous (at least in Europe; it’s believed to be one of the ‘suicide destinations’), tourists from Poland practically don’t exist, because passports are still hardly obtainable for Polish people after the recent fall of the iron curtain. Plane tickets to anywhere in the world are extremely expensive against Polish economy, which is just slowly and shyly making its first shaky steps on the international free market after years and years of dependence on foreign economies. Plus there is no internet (at least not in Poland and not as we now it) and no decent cable (at least not in Poland and not as we now it), there is no global village yet; Eastern Europe is very Eastern, Latin America is very Latin and they are very far from each other, so going from Poland to Central America is basically like going to a place on earth that is not even sure to exist.

At that time in my country everybody has family or friends who fled abroad in the early 1980’s and live in the US or Western Europe, but hardly anyone knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who went to Central America. Nonetheless the author of the book overcame all of the above odds, made his journey, wrote a book about it and became my hero.

Of all the places he visited he spoke most highly about Guatemala. I don’t remember exactly what he was saying, because I had read the book 6 years ago and then left it in my Warsaw apartment, so there’s no way I can even check it for the sake of writing this text. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he speaks so highly about it that by doing so kind of fathered my obsession with going there. His experience became my ideal of an amazing, truly romantic journey. Going to a country that is so far away both; in terms of spacial and cultural distance, going to a country where nobody you know has neither ever been to, nor is planing to visit. Going far and alone to meet the unexpected, the ABSOLUTELY unknown. Going against some odds. How good does that have to feel? Overcoming some new, unexpected challenges. Hell yeah!

Fast forward 6 years. I’m already living in NY and even though the world has gotten so much smaller within the last years and even though I am as close to visiting Guatemala as ever it’s still hasn’t happened. There’s always something… finding the time, finding the money… Right so; how do I find the time? And how do I find the money? Maybe I can sell something? My literary hero sold his fridge to buy his plane tickets. I do own a fridge back in Poland, but it has to be at least 9 years old and even if I found some weirdo; someone who for sure would have to be slightly retarded to be up for willingly making such purchase, the amount I would cash in from this transaction will probably not fly me further than New York-Rhode Island. One Way. Seems like a lame idea. Romantic, but lame. So yes; overcoming challenges… Making your dreams come true against some odds… After a few years of failing to make this journey happen I finally decided that if I can’t have it the way I want it (preferably for at least two months) I am going to make it however I can make the best of it. No journey is ever too short. It’s all about what you make out of it. Some people can travel for months and still come back unchanged, untouched by the people, stories and views they have encountered in foreign lands they visited. Others can travel within barely a span of days and come back dirty rich with the wealth of every small experience of the journey. I happily follow into the category of “others”. I turn into a sponge whenever I travel and absorb everything with some sort of serene yet hungry experience lust. So yes I’m making it happen. And I’m making it my way.

I’m cutting it a little short and flying in and out of El Salvador (to push it even more towards the “budget” side of the whole trip; plane tickets from New York to San Salvador are at least half the price of the tickets to Guatemala City) planning to make my way to and from Guatemala by bus. Ah, romantic. Big time. And even though we’re way into the age of the Global Village my destination is still relatively virgin. With everybody I know going to Taiwan, Thailand or Vietnam on a massive scale I imagine the entire south and east Asia must be as mainstream and crowded as Turkey and Egypt a decade ago for Europeans. Luckily whoever hears me mention my travel plans freaks out over how dangerous it is and how careful I have to be. This fact makes me hope that there’s nobody going there this March, but me and… what… maybe three other people? I’m also going to travel alone and I don’t speak Spanish. I do have this funny thing with languages that if I really need to I will understand the language even if I don’t speak it. If it is absolutely necessary I might even start speaking it temporarily, even if I officially do not have any command of it, but still; as of March 2013 I do not speak Spanish. Nor any of the Mayan dialects. Nada. So it is all looking very promising. Should be romantic enough to satisfy my travel thirst, that has been neglected for a while. Off we go.

Guatemala; the country of Eternal Spring, numerous volcanos, the most beautiful lakes mankind has seen, ridiculous skies, omnipresent culture and striking contrasts.

The first thing that makes me love it is the temperature. With early March in New York being sunny and pretty but way too “crisp” and “fresh”, and with El Salvador (which is my first stop on the way) hot and stuffy even in the middle of the night; the temperature in Guatemala of approximately 27-28 degrees Celsius feels just perfect. I managed to run away from the winter, and thank God for that, because I have absolutely no tolerance for extended periods of freezing cold. Or just cold.

I slept most of the way on the bus from San Salvador and woke up on the Guatemalan boarder. Crossing it by land is an experience in itself. Right before and right after crossing it the driver opens the doors of the bus and about a dozen people jump in trying to do some business with the newcomers. Half of them are men trying to sell quetzales- the local currency, the other half are women carrying baskets of home made tortillas, empanadas or fruit offering them to the passengers. For a couple of minutes the bus becomes a noisy marketplace with vendors running to and fro yelling “Quetzales, quetzales!” here and “Tortillas, tortillas” there, like it is a contest for; who yells louder makes more business. You can buy the food, but it is not recommended to exchange the money. The exchange rate obviously has nothing to do with real life.

The bus makes it way all the way from San Salvador to Guatemala City. It takes about 6 – 7 hours, even though everyone will tell you that it’s a 4 hour ride. That’s the thing with time; it’s absolutely relative depending on where in the world you are. Here it’s expandable. Every hour quoted by a local will most likely expand to at least an hour and a half.

Guatemala City is for me the first experience of huge contrast. In this case it is the contrast between what I was told or expected to see and what I actually saw. I was told by  my Guatemalan friends that the capital is very dangerous and that I should pass through it unnoticed and leave as soon as I get there. I then imagined it to be some nasty dirty, shady, God forsaken monstrosity of a metropolis. But upon entering the city I saw something quite the opposite; a jaw-dropping panoramic view like from a dream. If you’re driving into Guatemala City from San Salvador you’re actually driving down, because the city is located in a valley. So if you’re driving early in the morning in early March you will most likely see clear blue skies and a gorgeous volcano clad in white tufts of cumulus from the waist down overlooking a vibrant, diverse, clean city with modern suburbs, short-cut lawns and busy downtown. I did not visit the city, just passed through it. I will, however visit it next time around. Because come back I will for sure. And come back I will shortly.

Because there is so much beauty.
There is Antigua Guatemala.
There is Tikal.
And there is Lake Atitlan.
And there is Lake Atitlan.
And there is Lake Atitlan.

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