Monthly Archives: December 2013

adventure

I want to have an adventure. It’s been too long since my heart beat with anticipation because I had no idea what to expect. It’s been too long since I was somewhere I have never been doing things I have never done with people I would not have otherwise met, it’s been too, too long.

 

I want to just leave. Get on a bus, get on a plane, get on a train and begin to go somewhere. I am at a point in my life where it doesn’t matter where. It just needs to be somewhere new. Somewhere where the air doesn’t smell like Nairobi’s, somewhere the people think differently and speak in a different tongue. Someplace where the food is different and the drinks are too. I want to enter this place and look for the most affordable place to sleep in. Having found it I want to dump my bags there and head out into the cold, dark night or the warm, musty evening or the fresh sunny morning. I know I will be too excited by the prospect of what I will find out there to contain myself in a room whose four walls remind me too much of other four walls I have seen. For, how different is a room from another one anyway? The basic components are to be found lurking there: walls, a window, a door, a bed. This is not what I want to see.

 

I don’t want to stay in a hotel because they seem too antiseptic. Thanks to franchising the Hilton in Nairobi looks like the Hilton in Khartoum looks like the Hilton in New York looks like the Hilton in… and this is not what travelling is about not for me. I love to see the similarities in things. I love to see that part of the Caribbean that looks like my shags, just like it down to the rickety kiosk and the black men standing under it considering the rain with a slow cigarette. This I love but not the artificial similarity created by hotel stays. A similarity that ends outside the four walls. A similarity created to protect you from the country that you are visiting.

 

For, though I have always had a problem with the phrase “the real” when applied to anything I can understand the need to apply it. Objectively there is no such thing as the real Kenya and the fake one. The Kenyan living in a 4 acre mansion in Karen is going through life as much as the hundreds living in a four acre shantytown. The frame of their realities may be different but that alone doesn’t make one experience less authentic than the other one. Still I want to see a country populated by the people of that country. I want to misunderstand what they say, I want to use sign language because I don’t know what they are saying. I want to get so lost so late at night that there is no one to ask for directions and I have to wander up and down streets that look menacing and shadows that seem threatening until dawn breaks the sky the sun’s rays spreading their fingers of hope everywhere and I finally find my room too late to use it.

 

I want to know if the language of love really is universal, if the fact that the only words we can speak to each other are hello and thank you is enough of a barrier to stop us understanding what it is we want from each other. These are things I want from my adventure.

 

I want a late night foray into a place that has an authentic feel of their culture because, everyone drinks. In that bar I want to sit down and ask what I should order. I want to know just how friendly these people are, if they will sit with me and be curious about my story if they will tell me where I should go, if they will ask for news about where I am from. If their curiosity about me burns as bright as mine about theirs does.

 

I want to make a friend, a good friend, a true friend. A friend that understands that we may never see each other again. I have one friend who is concerned about the ephemerality of chance encounters, about the beauty of seeing someone who you may never see again, I know because he writes about it over and over again(i can’t find the specific posts but i remember him writing about it, look for it it will be an interesting journey). I can understand what he means. Some relationships like some people are lighters, they burn with a flame that’s steady and long lasting, its blue at the bottom with a vacuum and you can be sure the wind will not blow it out. Some though are matchsticks, you strike them against each other and the blaze burns red and yellow and short. It’s soon over but while it lasted it lasted. I want a matchstick friend because when you are travelling it’s much better to have a pack of 50 than a lone one.

 

I want an adventure to finish up this year and I heard somewhere that God only gives you the things you really want so this year I am going in search of an adventure.

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when it rains

It rained last night(well when this was written it was last night). It rained so hard it shook me out of my sleep and deposited me in the land of midnight insomnia, however i have never had a handle on the land of midnight insomnia. I am usually very soon deported back to dreams or black sleep. It’s a good thing I suppose. Insomnia from the few and far between nights of it I have had is not a good thing. You lie in bed and convince yourself that sleep is just around the corner so you try to grab it closer, you curl up more foetally, you close your eyes more forcefully, you attempt to empty your mind more completely but it doesn’t work. Its hard work because you get sweaty and your mind runs over all the things you would rather not but they are exactly the kind of things that come to mind when you are awake in the middle of the night. And then just when you fall asleep, just when you find the beautiful sleep that seems only consigned to moments of insomnia it’s time to wake up and feel like a zombie the whole day. Then spend the whole day hoping that once night comes you will be able to sleep.

 

When I was woken up by the rain I gave thought to it though. I wanted to wake up and do something. There’s something vaguely romantic about the rain and the night in my mind. I love rainy nights. I like that the world has decided to come alive and join in our conversation and make us shout so that we can be heard above it. I can, on the nights of lightning and thunder, begin to believe in the ancient Greek religion. I remember on  one of these nights I was watching the rain waiting for a party to begin with a drink in my hand and friend to talk to, we took a flight of fancy. We imagined that every lightning bolt was Zeus thrusting into the maiden or goddess or woman of experience that he had chosen as his for the night. That the thunder was the sound of his moaning and groaning as he took and gave pleasure. That Zeus was such a boss, such a big god that he didn’t care if anyone heard him having sex, he did not have to concern himself with the social strictures of mortals and other gods. In fact when he had sex every woman caught outside the house was in danger of getting wet just from his exertions. It made perfect sense then.

 

There is something magical about lightning and thunder though. Something otherworldly and when I was startled from sleep last night I wanted to wake up and do something. Grab an umbrella and go for a walk or else sit down at my laptop and write. I have no problem with either of these. If I went for a walk I would light a cigarette as soon as I could and share it with the world because cigarettes always taste better when it’s fresh. When the competing pollution of the world is being washed away or else when you are surrounded by trees and there is so much fresh air. Maybe it’s about combustion. I can imagine the red glow of the cigarette as I dragged it in, the disorderly spray of the smoke as I let it out and the other spray landing on my feet making my shoes and my socks wet. I can almost see how slick the road would look mirrored in flowing water rushing downhill as the sidewalks were caked in red mud as if the earth was bleeding out on that rainiest of nights. As if the only way it too can truly feel alive is when it was losing some of its life essence.

 

Else I can imagine sitting here where I sit now and writing. I have no idea what I would have written about but I doubt that such a night can have a lack of inspiration. Maybe when it rains muses are driven away from their homes and hovels and must go in search of new masters and if I had just forced myself awake one of them would have landed on me and made me think, made me wonder, made me write. Then my fingers would type faster and faster as happens when the writing is going well, they would dance over the keyboard to the music of the rain and they would start to make their own music on the blank page.

 

If only, if only, if only… in fact I need to find out about one or both of these things. Either the walking or the writing or both and next time it rains so hard it shakes me out of sleep I will leave myself shaken to see what happens.

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happy belated

Happy belated my love.

 

A few days ago it was your birthday and on that occasion i wanted to type you a massive missive but i missed the chance to do that. Why I did was the flaws that I have that some say come from being you, it may be true that we as Kenyans have no fidelity to deadlines, that we love fun too much, that a chance to relax and be easy is one we do not easily pass up. It’s even truer once that month of December rolls around. But I think you understand. December is a big month not just for me but for you too. It is the month you finally gained your independence, it’s the month you were born and the myth of who you could become, the legend of who you have been began to be crafted.

 

It has been 50 years, that is a long time for anything and after 50 years I am sure you can forgive me a few days of tardiness. I thought the things I wanted to say to you would come with no thought to what they were but emotion does not always equal inspiration and I find myself searching for the words that I want to say. I have been Kenyan all my life and luckily for me I have found a way to be patriotic and hopeful about what you could become. For the first 2 decades of my life nothing threatened my Kenyanness. The spectre of tribalism while always on the horizon did not cast its shadow on what I felt until the year 2007.

 

That year Kenya, that year for most of the younger generation is the first time we came face to face with crisis. With a deep national existential crisis. For many of the others it may have been their first brushes with disappointment as the fruits of independence were marred with bitterness and bile. The killings of Pio Gama Pinto and Tom Mboya among so many other of your illustrious sons must have broken the hearts of many across the nation. The absolute dictatorship and hold on power that Jomo Kenyatta had, the massacre at Kisumu General Hospital all these things must have had an effect. Betrayals and deaths don’t leave anyone unmarked and the effect of history repeats itself even to people who were not there to see them happen. I remember buying the official story of what a great man Kenyatta the first was, about his struggle for freedom, about all he gave up for the country and thinking thank God we had him. Then I rounded the corner to adulthood. To that point where you are told Santa isn’t real and you begin to doubt the existence of God as we read about him in the bible and you know for sure that Kenyatta as we were taught about him did not exist. An ugly picture emerged then of your first president. Stories of killings and stealings and beatings and I began to wonder… That wounded me then. I will never know if the wounds were because of the past lies or because of the past acts of this man.

He died though and Moi came to power. The ones alive and in the towns and cities carry memories of the coup attempt of 1983. That was another trauma and it seems deep. Either that or it happened to a generation who never believed that any therapeutic power exists in the telling of stories and the reliving of experiences. It doesn’t come up casually in conversation. You have to mine history to know what happened then. And even while you are blessed with legions of storytellers and musicians, with people skilled in the visual arts and blessed with a creative eye there is still a dearth of stories about what happened then. It must have shaken you, it must have shaken your people but I don’t really know.

 

There must have been innumerable little heartbreaks between then and 07. Someone once told me or I read it somewhere that marriage is a contract that in the fine print promises you a thousand heartbreaks and the strength to survive each of them is what keeps the relationship going. I imagine that citizenship is much the same way. Disillusionment and disappointment, hope and optimism, love and hate, and all the little things in between lead to what exists as the relationship between a country and any of her citizens. Not everyone can stand the little heartbreaks and the lack of survival in a country like you have been. People run away. People run away habitually and when they are in foreign lands the heart does its little thing of forgetting and they look back with nostalgia at a life they left behind.

 

It’s been 50 years Kenya and we still struggle to make sense of who you are. It was never more urgent than after 2007. You will notice that I think a lot about what happened to you and to us in that year. But it’s my original trauma, it was my witnessing of a poisoned apple, it was dark days for us all and to be honest many of us did not believe you would make it. The brink of the precipice it is called. Where all that was needed was a small push. Not a shove, just a push and there lay an abyss that so many of our neighbours are still struggling to climb out of. Still we fell into our own abyss. We fell into one of mistrust and lack of dialogue in those days. I still feel it Kenya. I still feel it in the anger that rages inside of me when people dare say that they don’t know who won. I feel it in my bones. I felt it when I read that Kibaki would get a statue to commemorate his efforts at unifying the country by shepherding in a new constitution. I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to forgive that son of yours, or even to admit the legitimacy of arguments for his role in the good things of what you are today. But I can’t.  I have a purely emotional response to what he did. I know I do. And, even if he did no steal the election, and even if we cannot know who won I find it difficult to forget how quiet he was as you were being killed. I find it hard to think that the symbol of national unity sat back quiet and content as war raged and there was none of that unity. Words mean a lot to me and his words would have helped.

 

Oh Kenya, the years since then have been interesting. A mishmash of changing political alliances that I try to believe in but find that I don’t, not really. Are things better now than they were when you were born? I like to believe so. I like to believe that there are more rich people now than there used to be but there are also more poor. I like to believe that there are more opportunities but there are also more people who need them. I like to believe that we have taken two steps forward but how many back have we taken.

 

I would like to make a solemn promise to help you along for the next 50. To stop looking to the past except as a source of lessons and not, as I frequently do, as a place to find hurt and hate. I think I can. Because in the end I do have love in my heart for you. Not as an abstract measure of borders but because of what lies within those borders. You carry the most people that I love and love unabashedly. You carry the most memories I have ever heard. The sweetness of my firsts was experienced in you as well as the bitterness of my ends. My shape was a product of who you are of who the people within you are and for that I can find love. I know you are my home and while my restless heart must see other places it is in you I truly feel comfortable . You I will always return to. And I would love to have you whole again. I would love to have you not defined by insecurity and the world weary shrugs we give to stories of robberies, rapes, and murders but defined as a place where you can walk without worry, you can work in if you want to, and you can make a home no matter who you are.

 

Because people love you. There is a magical hold you have over people who are not used to your charms. They come back, people from other lands. They always yearn to feel Kenyan. I shouldn’t generalise but it is a general truth or a general lie they have been telling me. Your sons and daughters love you too. They may feel a closer kinship to their original nations but that’s only natural. A pride in tribe, as sense of belonging in shared cultural heritage is important for all humans. But one day you may be just as important as those are. If I see you turn 100 I will party as hard as I can because unlike you my bones will be brittle and my blood will be bitter. You though are immune to old age. The youth of subsequent generations will keep you young and hale and healthy. Their optimism will always give you another chance. Every new Kenyan is a new breath of life for you which means you will be here long after  I am gone. But that is ok. When that happens I want to know I tried, that for you, I tried.

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2 more days

Its 2 days until Kenya turns 50 years old. There is definitely something magical about this number in so many of our lives. It doesn’t matter that numbers are completely arbitrary, what they signify is not. They are symbols, symbols of growth and symbols of aspiration. They represent the passage of time which we need to be reminded of otherwise all we will ever ask is where did it all go?

 

Last week Monday I went back to my former high school. There was no real reason to, I was in the neighbourhood, I was broke and I asked myself why not? You see Strathmore high school gave its students some of the best food they will ever eat in their lives, platters of steaming lasagne, chocolate and vanilla cake with the corresponding custard, jam tarts and ice cream, huge pieces of chicken so big you could clobber a protestor with one of the drum sticks, and perfectly fried potato chips no oil dripping, no fat wasted just golden goodness. One of my ulterior motives was that I would be offered one of these meals.

 

I walked in and realised it had been  years since I was a student there. 9 years. 9 years is a long time in foresight but it never is in hindsight. All you can ask about them is what happened to them? They flew by like droppings of tissue paper with nothing to mark them if you have no children or business, if you have no wife or political seat. Nothing much has happened in the 9 years at least for me. I finished university I travelled I went back to school I finished that too but if you really asked me what happened in those 9 years I would say nothing much.

 

This in the end is how time is vast expanses of emptiness with a star here to guide us a black hole there we forgot to avoid, a supernova waning, a planet, an asteroid floating and whirling around this vast emptiness. Most people have this basic understanding of space as a place where there is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Planets are divided by hundreds of thousands of kilometres and in between there is nothing. To get to the next star you have to span light years, a unit of measurement so vast that saying it in kilometres would render it nonsensical so we find another arbitrary measurement system. It would take light a year to travel that distance and in that distance there is nothing. Nothing at all. Space is called space because that is exactly what it is, space.

 

Most people have had the theories about the correlation between time and space that they are nothing but the same thing experienced differently. Different sides of the same vast whirring coin taking us towards an oblivion that we are so scared of imagining that every society finds a way to ascribe meaning to why it is we are travelling through them. So how come I have heard it so rarely said that time just like space is made of vast expanses of space.

 

In your most busy year you spent 3 hours asleep a day, that’s approximately 40 days doing nothing but recovering. If you add up the hours you spent on that day you will find some unaccounted for. And, let’s be honest we are not all the kind of human being that will spend only 3 hours asleep a day. That great responsibility is only given to those possessed of a drive that will give them great power. The rest of us sleep maybe 7 hours a day. Then another 6 disappears down a vast drainhole somewhere. We work for maybe 9 and can say where 2 went. Now this is not one of those motivational-get-your-ass-off-time-wasting-and-do-something posts, its an it’s-ok-we-aren’t-angels-we-shouldn’t-try-to-be. Because we aren’t. We don’t have that discipline and if time and space are the same why should we stress ourselves trying to figure out how come there’s so little stuff in the universe? That’s just how it is.

 

9 years had passed. The school looked the same. The grass was in the same place, the people playing basketball did it in the same place, the books in the library were in the same place, even my favourite toilet for shitting was right where I left it. Near the chemistry lab with an unending pile of tissue just like I had walked out 9 days ago. Instead of leaving me unsettled this made feel stable. Some things don’t have to change. They can withstand the rigour of travelling through space and look the same, give us an anchor to hold on to.

 

That can’t happen with a country though. Its been almost 50 years and things are the same. The same grievances we had, the same named politicians we are angry at, the same feeling of impotence amongst a certain part of the population, and the same patriotic optimism amongst another. If 9 years is so little in the life of a man though how can 50 years mean anything in the life of a country. Its arbitrary but we need to be reminded otherwise we will just float through space and come to the end of another 1,000 look back and see that black hole we should have avoided and that star that blew up because it shone too bright. So 2 days until 50. I’ll count them down because if we don’t call things light years and make them mean something everything will flash by without us having a handle on how.

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when change came

 

“you know what I mean, whoever wins its going to be the same problem”-Bob Marley

I was watching an episode of this TV show called treme the other day. It’s about New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Done by the same guy who did the wire which is probably one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows there is. With treme I believe HBO told him you can do whatever you want and allowed him complete creative license. This is something that is hard to come by in this life with all its demands on what to do for art in order to make it more commercial. There is a lot of music in this show; New Orleans is a music-y place. It’s a bit like Jamaica in that way, music pours out of all pores, people will make music when they get up and when they go to sleep. There will be random bands playing on the street it’s just a way of life. My favourite quote from this episode happens when a guy is arrested for peeing in public. The cop shuts him up by saying, “you can flash your titties if you got them, you can lie in the streets in your own vomit but one thing you cannot do in the city of New Orleans is take out your pecker and pee on our hallowed ground.”

 

In this episode Obama has just won his first term as president. People are saying YES WE CAN as loud as they can. There is hope and cheer in the world and Obama gives that beautiful speech about change having come to America. You know, I remember that day. I remember how much hope there was in the air. Things were different, things could change, yes we could. He was one of the most universally loved people in the world. He represented hope and on that potential he won a nobel peace prize which with hindsight seems like it was given in sincerest irony.

 

A few years later and things have changed by being the same. I don’t know much about his domestic policies I don’t know if obamacare is making the impact we thought it would. We do know though that implementation was a nightmare, that their government nearly shut down and now we know other things. We know about Snowden, I read a lot about him when he was new news. I read a lot about the spying program that was instituted by the NSA. I used to tell my friends that when sending each other emails we should just cc the US government because it was clear that they would read them anyway, at least we would look like we had clean hands. It’s amazing how much information they can collect, its amazing how little justification they need to collect it. But they are the good guys aren’t they? They are the ones who are fighting wars on horrible boogeymen like terrorists and drugs.

 

But we can’t be sure of this. We should look at their actions. We should wonder about the wars that have been started by the United States in the last century. We should think about hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and Afghanis and we really should talk about these statistics in terms of the death of these people rather than how many US soldiers died. The statistics on the Iraq war are as conflicting as statistics usually are they range from 50,000 to over 1 million civilian deaths. The Afghanistan war effort promises such muddled and numerous numbers too. So we can’t really say these are the good guys. They have visited so much pain and suffering in the world. But these are continuing operations. They can’t be blamed on Obama. This was before that night in November 2008 when change came to America and then it did.

 

In addition to the surveillance which at the hands of Obama’s administration was expanded beyond all past dreams there is the drone program. A program that defines a militant as any male between the ages of 15 and 45 in a one kilometre vicinity of a terrorists suspect. Almost everyone is a militant and despite this it still manages to chalk up civilian deaths. I can’t understand how with such liberal definitions but there we have it. As usual I would refer everyone to an article the lethal presidency of Barack Obama to see just how much power can corrupt, to see just what has been done in the name of the war on terror. To get an idea of why I feel the way I feel now about Obama.

 

The truth is he broke my heart. He was the person in our generation who made people, not just in his country, believe that things could change that the world would be a better place. He is therefore also the person whose job it was to teach us that things are bad, that the world is a mad place, and it’s not going to get better. Politicians, no matter how we hate them, are people who do a job that the rest of us would not and could not. They decide who will die and who will live. They have a sense of what it’s like to be God and of course they fail. We all would. I can’t blame him for failing, everyone understands failure we all do it. He probably got into the oval office and was told all those promises you made(remember Guantanamo?) well you can’t do them because of this and that and this other as files containing documents that very few of us will ever read were handed to him. Do you remember how quickly his hair turned white? This is what happens when you take on the problems of the world and decide you are the one with the solutions. This is what happens.

 

I still can’t help feeling let down. I put my faith in him. I put a lot of my faith in him and then he is not just a repeat of what came before but is even expanding what happened. He is doing things that George Bush did not. He is doing things that Bill Clinton did not. He is doing things that I never would have imagined he would do. Great hope comes with great disappointment and maybe this is what I am so angry about, the great disappointment. Because I remember that night in 2008. I remember when a black man became the most powerful man in the world and now he is the symbol of what politics does, what life does. It disappoints us. Our chances of happiness are dashed against the wall over and over again. Optimism is a recipe for craziness because whoever sits there next will do the same and I don’t think I ever really saw it before. My Kenyan politicians I had no faith in. One cannot win the other is suspected of crimes against humanity but I learned that we should vote for people who can win if only to allay the feeling of powerlessness for a few turns of the ballot.

 

Obama though showed me this is a worldwide disease. The people who can do the things the rest of us can’t are still people. And people disappoint, it’s an abiding emotion when you depend on people, disappointment happens. I had just forgotten about that hope until I saw that episode of treme. I should just forget it, it’s gone and perhaps the next generation can claim their share of disappointment when they have the audacity to believe in a man.

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after the bar

I have missed writing. I have missed it a lot. I don’t know how I did but I lost my discipline for writing. More important things cropped up like they usually do. I had my bar exams end last week Thursday and they were difficult. They were difficult to do, difficult to read for.

 

We had 2 weeks of study leave before they began and I embarked on an ambitious reading plan. I wanted to squeeze 8 hours out of every day for the reading. This was all I asked of myself, it was just difficult enough to be helpful and just doable enough that I wasn’t going to sleep disappointed in myself every day. The experience of reading for the exams though was like falling in quicksand. The only thing that more reading did was confirm how much reading I would not be able to do. No matter how many papers I looked at, how many cases I crammed, how many procedures I perfected, how many documents I drafted it was impossible. I couldn’t do enough before the papers began and the only solace I ever had was that I was not alone.

 

Something has changed in the way we relate to each other due to the ubiquitousness of the internet and social media. These are things that have invaded not just out politics and business, not just our religion and love life, they have also invaded our books, our schools, our way of reading. For me it was a facebook group created by…I still have no idea who created it and I think I don’t have to know, mystery is a good thing sometimes. It makes life more beautiful it gives more possibilities to events and most of all it gives options. I realise that I love having options, I want a way out, I want things to be much more than what they seem and not knowing who created this group means I have many, many options about who it was, in an alternative world it could have been me. It (the group)made me feel less alone being able to see just how little anyone else was prepared and that was important.

 

I used to go on long walks during study leave. Any excuse to leave my room, to see the world. A walk allows things to evaporate from your mind. It allows things to settle. It allows perspective and it may be the most relaxing thing anyone can do for themselves. A routine was settled into during study leave and I held on to it. Like I wrote before, studying just left me with a bigger idea of how little I would be ready but then I had a routine and I told myself that as long as I held on to this routine things would be okay. This is probably why religion is so powerful. It lets you know that you have very little power but then you can have this routine. You can take sacraments, you can make confession, you can kneel down and pray, you can go for sunday service, you can try to go to mecca and the person with the power will watch you do this and as long as you stick to the routine, things will be ok eventually. This is what I told myself, just try to do the 8, stick to your routine and things will be ok.

 

Then the exams themselves began. There were 9 papers to be done in 9 weekdays. Each paper was three hours long. No breaks just a marathon sprint. It felt like hell. Not in some metaphorical way but literally. As if there is some version of hell where all you do is 3 hour papers. Go home, read, sleep, and do another three hour paper. There were points I didn’t think it would ever end. In fact the only time I actually felt like it would was on the second last paper. I realised that this would actually finish one day and I was happy, so, so happy that that was a possibility. I cannot remember ever being so drained by papers. I usually like doing exams, it’s the end of what I’ve been working for, its the marathon I have been jogging for. But, 9 marathons in 9 days will kill the best of runners.

 

And so I overdid my celebrations as I am wont to. But its now December. December sings happiness and the end of the other things. December is the month you begin looking forward to as soon as you are in January. I love December so, so much. So after both purgatory and hell maybe I get a little slice of heaven. I really hope this is how life works.

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