Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paper-pregnant

I am adopting a child. I received the official letter a few months ago that I am on the waiting list for a child and it might now be a matter of weeks until my daughter arrives. I am officially paper-pregnant soon to become a single mom. I am trying to prepare myself but from now on I might receive a call any day and within 3-5 days I will fetch my child.

Being paper-pregnant I realised that going through a real pregnancy does not only offer the opportunity to prepare for 9 months, it is also nature’s way of giving the new mom a clear sign – your life will change forever. You stop drinking alcohol, reduce your caffeine intake, you are more tired than ever, and your body changes significantly. You just can’t do the same things you were able to do before you fell pregnant (at least in the last 4-5 months of the pregnancy). Your life changes during a period of 9 months after which your life will once again significantly change.

Many women will think it is an advantage not to have to go through those changes when adopting a child; It might have its advantages but I do believe it has its disadvantages too. Adopting a child is a much more rational process. The whole adoption process requires not only a mountain of administrative procedures but also many decisions about your child’s health, background and features. You also don’t build a bond with something that is growing in your body but rather constantly try to imagine how it will be when you hold the child for the first time in your arms. How many times will I look at her and wonder if she is mine? How long will it take until I will feel that I am her mother? Someone said to me yesterday; it is probably how men feel becoming fathers.

Another difference being paper-pregnant is that you can make the choice any day to ‘switch it off’ to withdraw your application. When you are pregnant, you come to accept that a child will come at some point. You might have your doubts, but it becomes a fait accompli. When I have doubts, I find myself thinking to pick up the phone and just withdraw. Of course I won’t do it because I prepared for it for a long time and thought about it carefully, but there is the option, unlike in a real pregnancy, you can ‘cancel’ you subscription any day.

Besides being paper-pregnant, what I find much more mindboggling is becoming a single mom. I had given it a lot of thoughts before I even started the process. I don’t have too much doubt about my ability to ‘organise’ my new life. Luckily, planning and organising is one of my greatest talents. I am more concerned about the emotional shifts and changes. I have lived my life on my own for the past more or less 17 years. It is a little bit when people in their late 30s enter into a relationship. The issues that emerge are often about compromise and letting someone into your independent life. Am I ready to let someone permanently into my life? Someone that is 100% dependent on me and that will need 24/7 attention and care?

Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to becoming a mom. There are many moments when I imagine holding my daughter in my arms and rocking her to sleep; admiring her and just looking at her.

Becoming a parent is very scary and having to go through everything in the mind and imagination, doesn’t make it easier. In contrast to actually being pregnant people cannot see it and look out for you. Being paper-pregnant means – it is all happening in your head.


I am not writing this because I am looking for sympathy but I thought sharing this would be interesting as many people have asked me about the adoption.

Friday, September 25, 2015

I have got no plans

This blog entry might come as a big surprise for people that know me well. I am famous for my planning and organising skills, so much so that a friend of mine once wrote a hip-hop song about me and my planning skills.

Despite this, I would like to share about the beauty of not having a plan. I am off work for a few days and many people asked what my plans were. When I responded that I don’t have any, besides waking up without an alarm clock, many were surprised. And it is even a surprise to me. In the lead up to this time off a little voice in my head was telling me “You have five days off work and you are not doing anything; you are not going away or planning any activities. You are not using your time off efficiently.”

Modern life demands us not only to be constantly up to date with what is happening but also to be always busy. Not having a plan is a luxury. We have our ‘to do lists’ that can fill our days up with errands and the social pressure demands from us to be able to tell people about and share on social media all the things we are going to do and have been doing. Not having to do anything is for free and yet, I think, one of the most luxurious and precious things to have – actual FREE time. Another important fact is that society seems to promote that we have to maximise our time and fill our schedules to make sure we experience life to the fullest. Yet, are we not most satisfied after an unplanned, spontaneous nights out or an extended unplanned coffee date with a friend?

Time without plans doesn’t mean to sit at home and do nothing, but to rather do things that you feel like doing in this moment – even if it means to just sit on the couch and do nothing. It allows for spontaneity and living in the moment, silencing the little voice ‘I still have to do XYZ…’ for a few hours.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting a society where no one commits; to wait until the last minute to confirm/decline an invitation to see if something better comes up etc. That would be the other extreme. I still have a fairly organised life and ‘plan’ my time. However, I started to factor time in without any plans. I know it is a little more challenging when you have kids, but I am convinced children feed of the relaxation and enjoyment of their parents. Not always having an entertainment programme lined up also teaches the kids an important lesson about being in the moment and focusing on what you are doing.


So what are you doing next Saturday? – I hope your answer will be ‘I have no plans’. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What’s up with WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is my primary tool for communication. In contrast to SMS, I can see when my contacts have been online and if they have read my messages. The latter is not always 100% certain because on some phones you can ‘read’ parts of your WhatsApp messages on the dashboard instead of opening WhatsApp. So if it shows ‘unread’ the person might not have seen it or might have read it but chose to keep it showing as ‘unread’. If you see that someone was online on WhatsApp, you can assume that the person has seen the new messages in their inbox but has not opened them. Ok, so why all this detail about WhatsApp messages?

So what happens when someone sends me a WhatsApp message and I do not reply? Normally, I am busy and I am not able to respond immediately. Sometimes I don’t answer because I don’t want to talk to the person or I actually don’t know what to say. At times, I want to respond later and think about the response before typing an answer. I then honestly often forget about it.

When I send a message and don’t get a reply, I first check out when the person was last online, if it was after I sent the message, I start wondering why. Knowing the person's day-to-day life and chat habits help to gauge whether the person has not seen it or is just not responding. It then reaches the point when I start speculating and make assumptions about the other person. I still try to be easy-going and to make up excuses why I haven’t received a response. After another while, I get impatient, and a nagging feeling is settling in that the person is avoiding me deliberately. Good etiquette, however, requires not to show that I am irritated and not to ask or bother the other person further.

Chat apps like WhatsApp put pressure on us to say something immediately, and the sender feels almost entitled to an instant gratification of a response. So, is it bad to choose when, how and if to respond to a message? Is there an acceptable time lapse when it is still ok not to reply or is it rude not to do it at all?

I sometimes get upset about non-responses and make assumptions in my head. However, I think it’s time to be self-critical here. I believe it’s time to give our friends and acquaintances the right back not to answer or to do it within their own timeframe, without attaching any negative feelings or assumptions to it.

Secondly, I think as much as we make choices about our chat behaviour, we should have the grace to allow others their chat-response behaviour.

Yes, of course, any person in dire need or distress would love an immediate answer, but even then the person on the other side might be in a non-conducive environment to reply. And if it is a matter of life and death? I would suggest don’t use WhatsApp but pick up the phone.


So maybe this post is more a letter to myself but I hope some of you can identify with this…. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Five things I discovered on my sabbatical

My workplace afforded me the opportunity to take six weeks of a sabbatical as a thank you for five years of service. The break was a wonderful experience and I appreciated the opportunity. I travelled a bit (see my previous post). I took the time just to be, to socialise with people and to write. It was great. The time is over and I would like to share five lessons I am taking away from this period:
  1. The power of a smile: Smiling is such a powerful tool, not only for your well-being but everyone around you. I want to continue smiling as much as I can. When you smile, you can turn your seemingly grey surroundings into a colourful painting with people smiling back at you.
  2. Being at peace with myself – just be: Being comfortable to be alone and enjoying it; being happy with who and where I am. It feels like carrying sunshine inside yourself. I have discovered a method for myself to put me into this mind-set. The first step is to find a spot to sit quietly if possible in the sun. Then, I try and be grateful spending at least five minutes thinking about all the things I am thankful for. After that, I think back to a situation when I was happy and laughed. I do that filled with thankfulness that I was able to live that moment. And lastly, I reflect on compliments I received recently. These small steps help me to be at peace.
  3. Hosting people: I organised a few dinners at my place mostly with one or very few people. It was wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed having people at my house. It reminded me of my mom’s house where people were always welcome. In my daily life over the past years I often got sucked into the attitude of feeling stressed and thinking that having people over is too much work. It is not. The pleasure of having people over outweighs the little bit of work (also see point 4).
  4. Working hard and being disciplined: It seems odd to add this to a list after six weeks of a break. It is also odd because nowadays most self-help advice is about relaxing and switching off.  I, of course, did not work during my sabbatical but I did do quite a lot of manual labour during this period. To be honest, I had become quite lazy and rather used services available to do chores like cleaning, maintenance and ironing. Getting things done yourself brings satisfaction. I am not only highly motivated to go back to my official job but to also start doing some freelance work and to continue doing more work myself – all with a smile. I don’t want to become a workaholic or overdo things but I realised I have time at hand, much more than most people. I appreciate and treasure this luxury but I want to live a bit by the slogan ‘work is love made visible’. 
  5. Writing and reading – improving a skill: Since I was a teenager, I liked writing mostly for pleasure, processing of difficult life events and sharing. But I also always had to write a lot for my studies or work. Moving to another country and switching language made writing more difficult and I became insecure about writing (besides writing for pleasure like on this blog). The interesting experience of the past weeks was to a) just write and b) spend time exploring my writing. I left my fear and insecurities behind and just wrote. I silenced the limiting voice in my head that would normally tell me that my English is not good enough and that I don’t have the vocabulary neither skill to write. In addition, I worked with a writing coach/editor to help me understand my writing and learn a few aids about how to analyse and edit my text after I have written it. It is of course just the beginning of a journey but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was about immersing myself into doing something with dedication and discipline. It was great to have the extra time to focus and without this long break, I would have probably never gotten to do it. 


Friday, June 26, 2015

Travelling solo

I just returned from a holiday travelling solo. It was an awesome experience to travel on my own without a partner or friends. Besides discovering more of the beauty of the African continent, embarking on this trip alone was a great adventure.

For the larger part of my trip, I had booked a tour on an overland truck joining a group of 17 people aged 18 to 77. I knew no one in the group. It was a little scary at first. The rest of the time I spent on my own. The trip exceeded my expectation in every  possible way.

The best thing on this trip was to just be me. No one knows you, how you 'normally' are, knows your preferences, baggage, history or moods. They know absolutely nothing about you and have to take you at face value. Every human encounter is new. I entered this trip leaving my insecurities and fears at home living every day to the fullest. It had an exhilarating effect to see how people perceived me and how easily they opened up. I rediscovered things about myself, my strength, my inner beauty and calmness. I had time and space to listen to my thoughts. There were no expectations. I could decide every moment what I wanted to do and what not. I did not have to please anyone, neither did I have to worry.

The power of a smile and laughter was another rediscovery for me. Smiling does not only make yourself happy, but it has an amazing effect on your environment. I had the privilege to wake up with a smile and go to bed with one on my face.

The time without the group was also interesting. There were moments when I wished I could have shared some thoughts, observations or chatted with someone. I have to admit that there was a little bit of chatting and social media interaction during those moments. But nevertheless, the time alone allowed my mind to become still. It was almost as if my mind was lying in a hammock and after swinging forth and back in silence for hours/days, it became calm and relaxed. New impressions would come and go, but my mind was just quiet. It was very different from my day to day life when 100 thoughts wonder through my head at the same time, when I have to care, think, plan, function and remember.

It was an experience - nothing one can have all the time. Meeting new people and spending ten days of vacation together offers the opportunity to only see the good and fun side of people. There is no need for depth, pain, hurt and the day-to-day struggles we face. All interactions are by choice. I do think it is a healing experience to float in this bubble of happiness and joy for a short while. I am taking a lot with from the past weeks. I will try and spend more time listening to myself and allowing myself just to be; to meet new people with an open mind; to smile more and to truly trust in the power that lies within me.

I'm deeply thankful for this experience.

I'm walking on the beach
alone
surrounded by the sound of the ocean
only my footsteps in the sand
peaceful beauty
rejuvenating the soul
perfection of nature
quiet

psssssst



(2009, poem written after my last trip on the continent)


Africa – Afrique
Dressed beautifully in bright, natural colours 
Diamonds and gold are your earthly jewellery;
Your people are your wealth.
Pearls and oyster shells of the sea are woven into your colourful dress.


Africa – Afrique
Your body shaped like a gazelle - strength of a lion - endurance of an elephant and speed of an eagle. Your skin shimmers in multiple tans. Your nature unifies serenity and wildness - cat and lioness.

Africa – Afrique

is your most common name but in hundreds of languages they sing your praises and lullabies. Wisdom is your birth name.

Africa – Afrique

When I look into your eyes - tears slide down your bronzed cheeks.
Your body scared – divided – cut in pieces.
Your open mouth a silent scream
Red marks – blood, rape, death all over you.

Africa – Afrique - rise - Africa – Afrique 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Time off

I have been granted a six-week sabbatical off from work. It is a strange feeling to have all this time ahead of me. I hope this break will be refreshing and an opportunity to switch off.

Fully disconnecting from work amplifies the role of work in one’s life. In any social setting, people make admiring comments about people that don’t have to work or that can take a break such as this one. I do of course agree that it is a great privilege to be able to take this time off. However, having this time off, it becomes clear that work fulfils a greater purpose in one's life than we would normally acknowledge in our day-to-day conversations. It gives structure and offers purpose. A job offers a space that makes you feel needed and wanted. Working also offers the opportunity to ‘give back’. Even though not every type of work is about a good cause but generally, one gives something of oneself at work. We normally try to ‘give our best’ and whatever our jobs may be, giving the best, means we are giving something. As much as a short break is always welcome, a longer break might cause the worry about one's purpose at the workplace. I do think it is a sobering exercise for me. At the workplace, every person is replaceable, and the world will not stop turning if I am not there. I think it is a key exercise for any professional to cut off 100% from work from time to time. It brings perspective.

Another interesting observation for me during the first few days is about time itself. I have all this time ahead of me, yet I am worried I will not have enough time. Enough time to relax and enough time to do all the things that I planned to do. Instead of just immersing myself into this beautiful time and taking every day as it comes, I worry. I want to exercise, read, write, research, meet people, get all my admin stuff out of the way and, of course, just relax and do nothing. The fear to not maximise the time I have off, takes away some of the beauty of just having time. However, now on day four, I am already easing into my time off.

I encourage anyone who has time off to ponder the following:
  • Press the reset button
  • Interrogate what is important in life
  • Check-in with your priorities
  • What are these things you ‘always wanted to do’ but never got around to?
  • What do you want to change in your day-to-day life?
  • Who are the special people in your life and how have you been relating to them lately? 


Sunday, May 17, 2015

My lazy Sunday

MY

               sipping a large Latte
                           starting A new book
                                        Zero work
     connecting with familY

              enjoying the Sunshine
                                   Unwinding
                reading the Newspaper
                                   Delightful music
                                   Awesome church service

chilling on my balconY

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Breakup

The end of any relationship is painful. It means literally to break every little thing in your life up into pieces and reassemble it again but without the significant other in the picture. It is almost like a colourful mosaic of which you are asked to take out one specific colour. It means the picture looks dull, broken, not the same. You have to rip out each and every piece that is linked to the present and future. You need to decide how many of the pieces of the past you want to keep in. Most likely it is only the beautiful memories that you want to keep - but maybe not even that. Every time you have to look at those memories the realisation that it is over will hurt and you will ask yourself why was it so beautiful and what happened that it is not anymore? Do you maybe need to cover up the parts of the mosaic that portrays the beautiful memories?

For a real breakup to take effect, there needs to be distance – no contact. For the first time in a long time, I will not be able to share my pain and hurt with the one person that was my companion, friend and partner. Both of us have different versions of the same story, our relationship story, to tell and if we have to listen to each other’s stories, it will hurt. Our perceptions and memories are different. At this point, our stories will differ and it is not anymore about understanding the other, compromising, listening. It is about healing. We need to both heal but separately. Once you break up it is because you have reached the point of no return. It is the point when you have tried, you have talked, you have hurt. When you break up it is not just about the other, it is about you. It is the day when you wake up and look into the mirror. A mirror you have not looked into for a long time. You see yourself clear and real. You see your flaws, and you acknowledge who you really are. What are the things that you have covered up with the sweet blanket of love and relationship? What are the things that your relationship did not want you to see and acknowledge? 

I always say that once you loved a person and you have given a piece of your heart you will never be able to 100% unlove the person. Yes, you can replace it with hate, you can try block it out, but ultimately, the person has taken a piece of you and you have given up a piece. This means you have to transform the love for this individual into a different type of love. Transforming your love is tough. It means you have to reduce your love and emotions to something different, something much smaller and less prominent. 

So why is a break up so tough? It is because you have to deal with loss, hurt, transforming your love, your mistakes, your flaws and you have to keep on walking into a ‘new’ future. Quite a lot for one person...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Change is as good as a holiday

The only certainty in life is that there will be change. As much as we know that change is eminent, it is the one thing we dread the most. Most of us like our routines and once we have found a life pattern, we struggle if change comes along. We also often prolong change that is visible on the horizon. We try to avoid and deny it. 

A lot has changed in my life in a very short period of time and has reminded me of the sentence ‘change is as good as a holiday’. It is very cliché, but I have to admit it is true. Big and small changes are the ones that generate new energy and challenge our routines. If it is a move, a breakup or any other life-changing event –we rethink our lives. We will interrogate what we do and how we do things. We break routines. It is literally like going on holiday to see new, unexplored terrain. The difference is, from a holiday you come home to the known. When change happens, there is no return. So it is like a holiday without a return ticket, and if we think of it like that, it will make us feel uncomfortable. Who is going on a holiday without return? We would not even call it a holiday…. 

I actually don't like change but because I have experienced the rejuvenating nature of change I still push for it. When change surprises me, I am first upset. It takes me days to get over it.  Then the moment of realisation happens, and I start to grasp the opportunity that this change brings. I have this deeply entrenched trust that things will be ok and that things will reveal themselves as good. It might sound superficial or even insensitive to hurtful events and pain. I know that some change comes with very deep hurt. It comes with overwhelming pain. There is change that makes us angry or sad. It is a battle – a battle of acceptance. Once we have gone through the battle, we emerge as new people. 
I would like to encourage me and you to embrace change.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bend over backwards

When we don’t listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don’t, others will abandon us. We’ve been raised to question what we know, to discount and discredit the authority of our gut. -  Terry Tempest Williams in ‘When women were birds’

The other night a friend of mine compared women to the silver metal wire that seals champagne bottles. He held the silver wire in his hand, bent it and said that women in relationships are like that, they bend and bend until they take on a totally different form, but they don’t break. It is so true. Women are so quick to abandon who they are in favour of a relationship. I have done it, and I have seen it across the board by different type of women. A few years back I wrote a blog entry titled Women = Chameleons in relationships, where I argued that women change significantly in relationships. Now many years later, I am still not sure why we do it.

I think Terry’s quote has some truth in it. We are afraid of being abandoned. I don’t think it is only about the physical abandonment of the other person. It is also about the abandoning our own belief in love. We are convinced that our love is meant to nurture, save and protect and we have to do everything possible to ensure that we don’t abandon these principals. Our strength to bend to the most extreme hurts us, it leaves scars and deforms our souls. Yet, we chose to bend. The bending happens subtly and slowly. We are often not aware as it is a fluid process. Most times, our partners do not expect or want us to bend. It is us who bend and adjust. We are the ones that shape and form, we make things fit, we make ourselves fit. In the process of bending and moulding, women lose sight of who they are and become a deformed individual. One day we wake up and realise that we have become someone else, someone we don’t know and we don’t like. And that is then often also the person that the partner does not like anymore.


We often realise the deformation very late and when we notice we either fall into denial, get angry or sad. The angry part can be really ugly because we start lashing out and blame the world around us for the status quo. Denial, of course, is even worse because it ensures that we remain in this deformed position for a while longer. Luckily women are quite resilient creatures. We can recover and find our form again. And we do. However, my goal – stop bending over backwards but rather nurture and encourage your original shape and trust that it is beautiful enough to be loved as it is. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Perceptions

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” Anaïs Nin

As human beings, our decisions and perspectives of the world are informed by our experiences. Often, we make statements about things and events not realising that it is all about our perceptions. A colleague of mine hosted a seminar on perceptions and shared his experience as a conflict resolution practitioner about the role and influence of perceptions. He took us on a fascinating journey showing that in almost every instant of life we look at something and agree on what it is through our own filters – it is our perception. If we do not have the opportunity to gather further information, we will store it as our perception. The whole advertising industry is built on this notion of perception. If we see a certain colour and packaging, our minds associate a product with it, a perception that it is either a brand of quality or an item that offers attributes of quality.

So perceptions help us to filter the huge amount of information we are exposed to and to package it into smaller bite size pieces. The challenge though is, if we leave it at the stage of perceptions and do not seek more clarity, we create assumptions in our minds, which can ultimately result in stereotypes. This is, of course, most important when it comes to interpersonal relations. Getting clarity on the ‘she didn’t greet me this morning, so there is something wrong’ or ‘the tone of the email suggest that….’ So without the clarifying our perceptions we leave a lot of room to wonder. We will store the perception as a fact. Next time when we see the person or a similar situation arises, we already ‘know’ what it is all about. We start predicting behaviour and making assumptions. This is typical for very close relationships like marriage or partnerships ‘I know already what she is going to say…’ or ‘I know exactly what he is thinking and not saying….’ but also for work relationships.

The reverse would mean to seek clarity; to interrogate. This, of course, is hard work and as human beings we rather gravitate towards the easier option, to build upon what we already know. The challenge, if we don’t seek clarity, is, these perceptions stay real. Perceptions are real for the holder of the thought and so if we do not clarify, the perception remains. This laziness of mind, however, allows us to build an environment of false certainty around us. It is a ‘world’ that is fully confirmed in our minds. It is safe, limited and we know what it is all about. This false certainty is the biggest hindrance to progress and growth. One will not grow beyond the own perceptions, not open up to new options and possibilities.


There were many more points my colleague mentioned about type of perceptions and origin of perceptions. I would not do him justice to repeat it in a blog entry. However, the point of limiting one’s own growth by living in a world full of self-confirmed perceptions really fascinated me. How often have I limited myself to something new because I ‘already knew’? How many times did I preempt the behaviour of another person?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Freedom of speech – anything goes



Social media and the internet have become the platforms for engagement and exchange about every moment of our lives. We share on these platforms especially moments linked to our emotions - joy, happiness, sadness, rage, anger. Social media and chat programmes like Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook are the main communication channels. It is quick and easy. If we do not communicate, we can just ‘like’, ‘retweet’ or use any emoticons to comment on the original post.
I am not judging any of it and I see a lot of beauty and positive in the growing online communities around the world. However, I disagree with the fact that we leave our humanity behind when we go online and just say whatever comes to mind. Do we actually think before we press ‘send’, ‘tweet’, ‘post’ if we would say the same thing to a person’s face? Do we have the same amount of courage to speak up facing the person we are talking about? It is an everything ‘goes’ mentality which takes on scary forms at times. There are no rules and in most cases, rude, harsh, racist, sexist posts will get some form of attention - a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ , a 'retweet' or a comment. Especially when comments are made about others or groups of people we often take our freedom of speech to another level. When we make comments we do not speak about one particular person but rather ‘those people’ and ‘them’, which seem to make it even more ok to ‘dehumanise’ them (and you can exchange the word ‘them’ with any group that comes to mind – foreigners, black or white people, women, natives, men really any group you can think of). So we don’t really care about the ‘other’ that we might harm or mention in our post. We are making a general comment. It is actually more about us then the other person.
It is an interesting fact that real connections with others takes place through authentic communication. Studies show more than 85% of our communication to connect with others is based on nonverbal body language. Are we loosing the ability to empathise with each other and to actually think about what our comments might trigger in the other person?
I also wonder if it has not a lot to with the fact that whatever is said has a sizeable audience. Most of the times you will get a reaction of some sort. Our audience on these platforms is on average much bigger than your average circle of friends around a dinner table.
Do not get me wrong, I am of course a strong believer in freedom of speech and the right to express ones opinions and thoughts. I am questioning, if it is ok that it is done in any way and any tone that we think at that particular moment is right. I am also interrogating the fact that much of ‘freedom of speech’ is done through anonymous online channels without direct interface and interaction. It is so much easier to type an opinion and press ‘send’ than to actually articulate your thoughts while looking someone else in the eye. It is so much easier to talk about the other than to actually talk to the other.
Hope this will be some food for thought…
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