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Etude de Milieu (first 3 months at post in Kougnohou)

September, October, November 2002

Monday, November 25, 2002  Last time I did internet I bought a disk.  Now I can type these stories in Word, save em, then cut and paste em onto my website...and when it all crashes I wont lose my typing for the day ;)  I forgot how important it is to use disks to back up your work after years on servers at my jobs and grad school.  Ahhh, yes.... simple technology can do wonders for my sanity.  The hi-tech things I brought with me or that I can find here that I lover the most are:  my rechargeable batteries and clam-shell portable speakers for my CD walkman, ELF brand insecticide (peach scented!), my indestructible Nalgene water bottles, mosquito net, my Chaco sandals with anti-microbial soles, my water filter, and good pens.  On the other side of the coin, my favorite low-tech things are:  my 2 burner gas stove and propane tank and my dutch over (success today with my first attempt at banana bread!), fences made out of natural plant materials all around my veranda, clear starry skies due to lack of electricity and no light pollution, inexpensive custom-build furniture and handmade baskets and clay jugs, seeing brightly colored/crazy patterend pagnes on blowing in the Harmattan winds on the clotheslines strung up all around and between my neighbors houses, and the refreshing feeling of cool water as I scoop cupfuls from my shower bucket and immediately start air-drying as the sun beats down on my in my outdoor shower.  Overall, as a PCV Im living large here in Togo.  A far cry from my life in the US, but somehow I expected it to feel more difficult to acclimate.  5 months has been slow and fast all at the same time for me.  Already things at home in the US are changing in big ways in your lives my parents, brother and grandmother will all be in new homes/states when I get back, several friends have already gotten married and others have had babies, and still others Ive heard are planning weddings for 2003 and others are expecting new additions to their families (congrats! You all know who you are!!).  My 10 year high school reunion is this weekend.  Although Im still in touch with my closest friends, Id love to know about everyone else and what theyve been up to since 92.  If anyone reading this has any info or photos, pls drop me a note in my guestbook or send me a letter!  10 yrs ago I would never have dreamed Id be in Togo right now speaking French with a funky accent, calling home Seattle.  It seems like a huge amount of change since high school, but I still feel like the same person Ive always been.  On a different note, Ive now seen 2 village houses for other PCVs...and their latrines and showers.  Im in the process of looking for someone who is a reliable mason to start construction for a new set for chez moi.  I put up with cockroaches, flies, funky smells and curious neighbors for 3 months and its not getting any better.  Its also been made clear to me that other PCVs have much nicer latrines and privacy fences surrounding their homes and I can and should too!  (Hmmm, wonder what challenges the other UW PCMIers are finding in Bulgaria, Morocco, Paraguay and the Carribbean?)

Tuesday, November 12, 2002  Id blocked out half the day today expecting my director in town, but he had to reschedule at the last minute.  Well, he tried to get a msg to me yesterday and again this morning, but the phone lines didnt work.  After trying to call him for a few hours myself I finally got through.  Ive been up since 4:30 this morning.  Got out of bed after an hour of trying to fall back asleep and by 6:25am was out for a bike ride.  I finally made it up the hill to Adape.  5km isnt far, but its almost straight uphill from here to Adape!  The way home was much quicker :)  During training I used my bike every day, but not much since I got here to Kougnohou.  My PCV neighbors will be at their villages soon so Im trying to get back on my bike more regularly so I can visit them.  Im getting a little push from the PCV 36km from me who has biked here and tells me that next week shes coming back via bike again and together were going to Djon (12km each way) and a day later to Klabe Efoukpa (10km each way) to see the new PCVs while they are visiting their posts.  Ive only gone 10km in a day so far, but Im going to try a little further later this week before she gets here next week so I wont be thoroughly embarrassed!  Im flipping around on my shortwave right now and somehow seem to only find a Spanish station.  I feel like I should be able to understand what theyre saying, but of course, I cant.  The French stations are hard to understand, too.  Im getting better with understanding people when we talk face-to-face, but still struggle a lot.  I have realized how much Ive picked up that is brand new vocab.  Back in high school we definitely never learned words for harvest (recolt), flys (moucherone), malaria (paludisme palu), gas stove (rechaud), cockroach (carfa), roasted coffee (café torefié), can of tomato paste (boit de tomate), bleach (javal), box of matches (boit des allumettes), my taxi broke down again (mon taxi brousee a tombé en panne encore), etc. Im now more comfortable discussing project plans with associations and individuals.  Actually, does anyone out there want to look into something for me?  My region grows robusta coffee beens and the farmers cooperative would like to export directly themselves rather than continue to use an intermediary for-profit assn anymore.  Im looking for contact info and guidelines for US companies that buy fair trade coffee.  My internet connection is so slow and infrequent its hard to surf and there often arent printers available.  Any info you can find and print and mail to me would be great!  (Emailing links to websites doesnt usually work well.)  Thanks!  And, of course, keep writing regular letters to me and signing my guestbook!  :)  Miss you all!  Oh, random comment of the day (as if the rest of what I write isnt random)  Im about to chop off my hair.  Its been almost 6 months since a haircut and I havent left my hair down more than 10 mins a day since I got to post!

Thursday, November 7, 2002   Happy Birthday Mom!  Im going to try to call home later hope youre there.  This week Im catching up on some paperwork.  I got my site journal notebook over the weekend from my director and have started filling in infowho Im meeting with, organizations Ive met, projects Im getting started on, general info about my area like marché days for nearby villages and taxi fares between places.  Im in a new post and in 2 yrs another PCV will take my place and add to the site journal notebook, as well.  Theoretically there will be 3 PCVs in a row 6 yrs and then PC will graduate this village for my program and move on to give support to another village.  Another PC program may use Kougnohou as a post (girls education and empowerment, community health, or natural resource mgmt), but not small business development for a while.  Im crunching away on soy nuts that I made the other day.  Amazing the things I do on my own here that Id never think to try in the US soy nuts are just soybeans, rinsed off, stones picked out, and stirred in a pot on a low fire, then a little salt added in when theyre done 15-20 mins later.  Without pretzels for 2 yrs, I think Ive found my new snack food (I can readily find peanuts to munch on, but soynuts are healthier).   Just got back from calling home and surprising my mom with my call on her bday at 6am NY time.  The phones cut out 4x in 30 mins.  I hadnt ever called for more than 5 mins from my village before, usually I use a phone in a larger town, but I now am hearing that it is usual for phones to cut out in this region.  And someone in my village actually told me that hed like to start an internet placeafter 6pm, of course, when our electricity comes on.  Um, yeah, right. There are just some projects that Ill have to decline.  I really feel like Ive started work now.  Im having mtgs and follow-up mtgs with a few groups an have started to commit to a few projects.  One group of neighbors wants to expand their savings group to become a microcredit institution.  Another group who collectively make and sell soap needs help restructuring their financial records, raising profits to help pay off a huge loan, and growing their business.  Another group is researching prices and suppl y of wood planks and transportation costs in order to start a lumber depot here in our village for all the local carpenters.  My Sous-Prefet mentioned wanting to start a chapter of Croix Rouge here, too (there are other chapters in the region, but a bit further away and Kougnohou is the sousprefecture capital).  I find mysef constantly explaining how I dont give funding, just advice, like a consultant.  And that external funding from the European Union or an international NGO isnt a guarantee of successor necessarily desirable.  Funding always comes with strings attached.  But Im happy to be working after being here for 5 months.  The first 2 months at post are challenging in many ways, but feeling like youre floundering in search of good projects is one of the biggest challenges.  But by being patient Ive learned a little more about the motives of the many whove approached me, who I can trust and rely onand who I cant.  Hope this explains a little more about what Im doing for those of you whove written letters or notes in my guestbook asking for more info!

Saturday, Oct 26, 2002 8 :14amwaiting for someone to show up for a mtg. This is one reason why working from home is a good thing. When folks are late or no-shows, you can easily go about other parts of your day while waiting. So far during my 3 month etude de milieu while not working Ive managed to get involved in a few projects. My mail goal for now is to help organize a group of menusiers (furniture makers) to buy planks of wook in buld to stock and resell locally here in Kougnohou. As it is now, they constantly go off to the bush to look for vendors every time a piece of furniture is ordered.. My menusier happens to be the president of an assn of workers for the Akebou region and has started meeting with me to discuss logistics. One day he gets a lot done, the next day his feet are dragging. But its all a metter of perspective, I guess. I dont know what other demands he has on his time (family, working in the fields, supervising his apprentices, etc), so this may not always be a high priority. Theyve been so long without a lumber depot, whats another month or so, right ? The guy who Im waiting for this morning had approached me through the chiefs wife, my friend Akouvi. He came by as scheduled last Sat 8am (he picked the date and time). Not sure if hell make it or not today. He formed an assn (groupement) that involves about 50 people in the region who grow piment (hot peppers), peanuts, bananas, and plantains and want to export them. And also buy cafe and cacao from this region to resell via exporting. We didnt exactly cover export logistics in training, but I was able to suggest that he visit the Chamber of Commerce in Lomé on his trip there last week to drop off official papers at the Ministre de Finance. Im sure they know of an ONG or assn already doing this who could point him in the right direction with more info than I have. Another guy wants me to work with his family groupement who are starting a teck plantation (a lumber tree which sells for a high price). Hes pretty organized already, not sure what I can do. I asked a natural resources PCV about it and he mentioned that some people plant the trees too close and also that teck draws water from surrrounding land and can harm nearby crops if too abundant. Im going to request some resource books from the Lomé PC office. I have til March 2003 before he starts planting to figure out a plan with him. On the non-business project side of things, the middle school English teacher, Peter, just came back into town and stopped by to introduce homself. Hes worked with PCVs before up north and wants to set up a girls club and do presentations about Life Skills and AIDS all programs I have info about from training :) Im going to go to his class to see things firsthand for a bit before formally starting any activities. Ive gone to Badou to help a volunteer there with an ONG that wants to offer computer classes, has comuters and funding to hire an instructor, but doesnt know the questions to ask the 2 job candidates. So, Im keeping busy. Still chasing down the other menusier who hasnt finished the cover for my cistern and the mason who tried to tell me he completed the cement work, but had left a part of the inside of the cistern undone. But the best thing happened yesterday ! I found zucchinis and string beans in my marché for the first time and much cheaper than in Atakpame. The new volunteers swear in mid-Dec and come to visit posts in a few weeks. I cant wait to have nearby neighbors (10 and 12km). I hope they like their posts and dont decide to go back to the US (some trainees do after seeing what their posts are like). Hmmm, 9 :23am, guess my mtg isnt happening. Off to look for the menusier again !

Friday, October 18, 2002 (written in village) 10 letters and a package from my folks in the past 2 days ! (4 at the min-poste, the rest via the PC Lomé office). I really would love to go to Lomé to the mail processing center to see what on earth they do that gets mail to me in such sporadic disordered bursts. Im glad I went into Atakpame again after only 1.5 wks. Usually it will be more like every 3 wks, but Id offered to dogsit for another volunteer goin out of town for the wkend. Possibly a practice run for me.. Ama is lying on my bed as I sit here sipping freshly-brewed lemongrass tea and listen to my ABBA Gold cd. My stomach feels a bit funky today. Probably because I ate at a restaurant last night. I tried to order pintade (ginea fowl) and couscous, but they were out.and out of chicken.so I settled for a 2 egg omlette over couscous that comes with this really good tomato sauce served on the side that you spoon over it. Or it could be the yogurt from lunch. The same restaurant sellsa big serving of plain yogurt for really cheap and I cant readily get yogurt anywhere else but Lomé. I split an order with another PCV and made tzatzaki J Im finding myself in bush taxis way more than I expectedin the first 6 wks at post. Ive been to Badou 3x for meetings and end up staying over a night or so at Elishas b/c taxis and night travel and mt roads are not a good combo. Im heading off again on Mon-Tues to Kpalime, the town I lived in for training. Im returning Ama to her mom wholl be there to help with the new group of trainees. Im excited to visit my host family, too. I spoke to my oldest sister on the phone to tell her Id be coming into town. Im getting better at speaking and understanding French on the phone which used to terrify me. Petite à petite. A French woman whos working for a French org here in Togo was at the Atakpame maison yesterday and I could understand almost all of what she said to us. The French-French accent is SO different from a West African-French accent. Mosquitos are bad in my house tonight.going to get ready for bed now and climb under my mostiquaire after I pop a benedryl so I dont keep myself up scratching all night !

Thurs, Oct 10, 2002  (handwriting from home again for retyping later)  Waiting to start my first real meeting here at post.  I've only gone to sit in on and be presented to a couple of groups for meetings us until now and they were all held in local languages which I don't understand.  Today I'm not sure my role exactly, but I've been given a seat up front facing the attendees.   I'm with a group called Chambres Régionals des Métiers which is like a regional merchants assn for all sorts of jobs.  The meeting began at 10:20, pretty much on time.  The room setup was typical - row of chairs at the front, table for the center of the row only.  Set towards the back of the room are close rows of simple benches, no tables.  Lots of space between the presenters and attendees rows.  .....  2 hrs into the mtg now, the Regional President has been doing a great job of presenting in French and Ewé, switching between the two languages every few minutes.  Most here speak both, but not all of us, like me!  It's common to repeat things many times in mtgs.  This helps get the point across.  He's not using any visual aids, unless you count that he held up his sole copy of the bylaws and budget to show us that he has them here.  I don't know the literacy rate here, but that's probably just a part of why he's not writing anything for the group to see and follow.  Someone read out a 14 point agenda when we got started, but it was too fast in French for me to catch it all so I have no idea how much longer this meeting will continue.  .... It's now 12:30pm, I'm hungry and have to pee and there is no sign of a pending break.  I have  mtg in Badou at 3pm with another NGO that the PCV there asked me to help her with.  I have no idea when a taxi may leave here for Badou and I need about an hour and 15 mins to get there.  I'm going to have to bail out of here if we're not done by 1pm the latest.  I think 3hrs of my time is enough here today.  I'm learning a lot, but I really need a short break!  And lunch before heading to Badou.  Amazingly enough he still has the attn of the 30 or so attendees, only one is sleeping in the back.  This style mtg would never work in the US.  I'm trying to figure out mtg protocol here so I'll know what's expected of me when I call some group to a mtg I'll one day run.  They always start off with a slow process of thanking everyone with a title for being here, Monsier le Sous-Prefet, M. le Commisionaire, M. le Cheif, Mademoiselle la Representatif du Corps de la Paix, les chiefs des villages, Messiers, Mesdames, Mademoiselles, chères invitees....  Then each person with a title gets to then say thank you for being invited, also mentioning the long list of VIPs.  I watched the Police Commissioner next to me taking notes and then realized he was just writing down the titles of people so he'd be able to read off the appropriate list when his turn to speak came.  .... How do I duck out of this mtg now?  It's 1pm.  I have not idea if it's wrapping up or only halfway through.  Going to try to catch the eye of the person who invited me and sneak out now....

Tuesday, October 8, 2002  It was helpful last time to have my "story" written out in advance - my thoughts almost went in order and when the computers ate it, I didn't lose everything.  So, now I'm writing at home and will copy this in Atakpame.  I'd like to share more of the little things that make life here what it is.  I'll try to walk you through a typical morning... I wake up to sounds of neighbors chopping wood or pounding fufu, roosters calling to one another, and radios blaring.  I may vaguely recall that I woke up and rolled back over after hearing the first round of roosters and the distant bell for the 4:30am call to prayer.  I stay in bed wrapped in my top sheet against the slight chill in the air since I sleep with my bedroom shutters open (screens are closed trying to keep out most of the bugs).  I feel around for my glasses which are next to my pillow and my watch to verify that it's as early as I know it is...sigh...5:30am.  I turn on my shortwave radio to see if BBC has any interesting programs or just news.  Today it is a story about 'out of body experiences'.  I pull up the edge of my mosquito net from where it's tucked in between my bedframe and mattress and slide my feet into my lime green flip flops that I wear around the house.  (I have another pair for the shower and one for walking around town that both get full of mud and dirt.)  I wrap a pagne around my waist and take my chamber pot (sorry if this is too much detail for some of you!) outside and dump it in my latrine.  On my way out I nod a quick hello to the family next door and the goats.  Little lizards scatter diagonally across the wall of the house as I walk around the corner.  After returning to the house, I wash it out.  I know it's time for coffee and b'fast.  By now BBC has told me all about Bush wanting to attack Iraq, continued fighting in Israel, and further updates on the coup in Cote D'Ivoire.  I get coffee going in the biletto espresso maker that Wendy sent me (thanks again, Wendy!) and put up some hot water for oatmeal.  The varnish is now dry on my newly delivered guard à manger (pantry shelving) and I can finally put away all the ziplocked bags, plastic containers, plates and pots and fresh produce that have been in boxes and large plastic tubs on my floor.  Aahhh, my house finally feels like home now.  "clap-clap, excusé, clap-clap, excusé..."  My host family mom, Imaculé, is stopping by to let me know she's leaving for the marché in Seregbene, a village 36km from here that she goes to every Tuesday to sell things.  She goes 12km to Djon every Mon.  Friday is our marché day.  The rest of the week she helps her husband in their boutique here in town, takes care of stuff around the family compound, or heads to the fields to supervise the kids working there.  It's now harvest time for corn and sweet potatoes.  After eating, I wash the dishes and then carry the 'sink' basin outdoors to toss the dirty water into the grass.  I swap flip flops at the door in a feeble effort to keep some of the dirt out of the house.  While finishing my coffee I try to organize my desk/kitchen table. Yes, even here in Kougnohou I'm surrounded by paperwork!  I'd just visited Atakpame this week and got my mail, including memos from PC Admin.  I find an appropriate place for my personal papers and memos I need to follow up on and start writing a letter to a friend.  I get about one letter for every 3-4 that I write, but mail is slowly making its way to me from you all! I just got a letter from someone who sent it 2 months ago.  I pop in my Moby CD.  Caffeine has now kicked in and I feel like sweeping before going to take a shower. Always start at the back room and work towards the front door, out onto the veranda and off the front step.  Now, where'd I leave my shower flip flops?  I get wrapped in a pagne, slide on the flip flops and pick up my shower bucket from its home behind the front door.  I use a large deep purple and yellow striped plastic bowl to scoop about 12 liters of water into the red plastic bucket from the large blue plastic tub I keep out on my veranda.  The neighbor's kids come every other day to refill the blue tub with pump water for me.  (My new cistern is almost done, but not quite ready to use yet.)  I put my sponge and soap dish into a large plastic cup and hang it by its handle into the bucket which I pick up in one hand while carrying my shampoo and conditioner with the other.  The front door closed behind me, I head around to the side of the house to the outdoor shower area.  It's now close to 9:30am and the sun is strong.  It feels nice to dump cupfuls of cold water over my head as I wash up.  The shower stall has 4 sides, one with a small wooden door.  The walls come up to about my shoulders.  It was strange at first knowing that my neighbors and anyone walking by would see me out here, but its a little away from the main pathway and half the people here don't even use a closed shower stall.  Women breastfeed very openly and some don't cover their tops when at home, so I'm the only one who'd even notice someone taking a shower.  Even knowing only my head and shoulders show, I still feel better when my neighbors have already left for the fields than when they're all outside preparing meals or hanging laundry as I walk to and from the shower wrapped in my pagne.  After getting back in the house and dried off I put on a batik print skirt and tank top, pull my hair back, brush my teeth, pop in my contacts and grad a small bag on my way to the petit marché to buy tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Not sure what I'll make for lunch and dinner yet, but I almost always use these ingredients in some form or another.  I'll probably stop by my host family's boutique and say hello to a few friends who live near that side of town. You always pop in to salué when you're passing by.  After I get home, well, I'll figure out the rest of the day when something comes up....

Thursday, Oct 3, 2002    Before I type in the new story that I wrote out at post to copy in today, I just need to say that the guy at the computer next to me is wearing a Santa hat.  You see everything as far as fashion goes here!  Ok, so heres what I wrote a couple of days ago at post:  Ive been here for a month and have successfully explained to half the kids that my name is not yovo and to not sing the yovo song at me.  My neighbors son, Emmanuel, now gets upset when I leave rather than when I show up.  I wish somebody will be able to come and spend some time here for a visit.  Its going to be so difficult to explain the realities of day to day life when I get back.  And Id love to show someone around my town, other parts of Togo, even travel to Ghana.  (Not likely that Ill be going to Cote DIvoire any time soon given the current situation with the attempted coup detat.)  Two new major home improvements that are making things more comfortable are my cement water cistern to collect rain water from my roof and electricity from 6pm-midnight (not that I stay up past 10pm ever).  Im used to living independently and its difficult to have to rely on other peoples timeline for something so essential as water.  Not knowing when the refill of my plastic container would occur by my neighbors kids, I often find myself debating between taking a bucket shower, washing dishes, and refilling my drinking water filter.  Even though the dry season will start soon, the cement cistern is huge and I can get it filled less often than every 2 days like I need to now for the small plastic container.  Once the cistern is in action I think I will be buying a large clay jar to use inside of the plastic container as a fridge with sand between the two for insulation.  But Im getting used to cooking without having lots of leftovers and have also realized that being out of a fridge for half a day isnt going to ruin most foods.  But of all the new things in the past week, Im most happy about my desk/kitchen table.  I finally can organize the stacks of resource books and papers I received at training and have accumulated in the past month at post.  I made a planner our of some folded notebook paper to keep track of the next few weeks now that Im actually finding groups that want to meet with me.  I was so burned out when I arrived in Togo after the last quarter at UW that I was glad to let the trainers take over my life for a while.  But after 3 months I realized how much I need to be involved in creating my own schedule rather than just show up the same time and place day after day.  Other new things.In case youre concerned, the coup in Cote DIvoire has not affect life here in Togo. Its 2 countries to the West (after Ghana). Peace Corps volunteers there have been evacuated to Ghana. Im very glad that I chose Togo when Peace Corps gave me my choice of assignments here or there!  Ive been keeping busy at post and have gotten my dutch oven up and running.  First item out was oatmeal choc chip cookies which were better than any Ive made back in the US and Im not just saying that because its been over 3 months since American food!! Next Im going to attempt bagels, shame theres only cream cheese in Lomé (if I can figure out who sells it I heard its available somewhere).  More letters are starting to arrive via Mini-Poste (5 so far) so I guess some of you are reading this website and havent forgotten about me yet J  Random question how do you keep leather sandals and hiking boots from growing mildew in a moist climate?  Its just growing on them by leaving them on the floor in my room.  Since I dont know if Ill get to email more than once a month, Ill try keeping more frequent update notes at home and will copy them in all at once next time Im in Atakpame.  Hopefully this will start making more sense and be a little less all over the place.  Im never quite sure what to tell you all about.  If you have questions or just want me to write about anything specific leave a quick note in my guestbook I check that first before adding the new stories.  Oh, and Im hoping to get some photos up soon (thats soon on Togo-time).  Ill put a big note on the main page when I do so youll all know.  And one last notea few friends in letters have asked me to let them know what they can send me.  Ive put a list of small things that can be easily mailed with letters on the contact info page so click on the link for How to Contact Jen on the left of this page and see what you have around your house already or come across at the supermarket or while out and about if youd like to send anything to me.  Thanks a million for all the wonderful messages and letters your support is really helping to make this an incredible experience for me. A bientôt..

 

Monday, September 16, 2002  I just typed this whole thing and it was eaten by the computer here and now I dont have much time left to rewrite everything.  Heres the short choppy version of what I said originally Im in Atakpame, the regional capital by my post, for the past wkend with other local PCVs.  Just spent 2 wks in Kougnohou and things are going well.  Im getting house repairs done, am ordering more furniture to be made, have gotten to know lots of new names and am getting settled in in general.  Ive visited Badou, the large town west about an hour away to see Elisha (another volunteer) and met the Prefet (local govt official).  Ive also gone with my host mom to a market day in a nearby village, Djon.  Those of  you whove read or signed my guest book may know that Ive gotten in touch with Peter, via email, whos a former PCV in Kougnohou and had married a member of the extended family whose house I rent.  Hes also in Seattle right now, small world, eh?  Im relatively healthy, aside from the mysterious 102 degree fever I had the day I got into Atakpame that ran its course in less than 24hrs.  Life is surreal here at times, I can see how much Ive adapted to and am starting to imagine how bizzare returning to the US will be in 2 yrs.  Of course 16 people fit into a 9 passenger van, why didnt I think so before now?  An indoor, cold, running water shower is a luxurious thing.   Bleach is an essential item for food preperations.   Military checkpoints every  10 minutes down the road is not something to be concerned with.  Nothing is thrown away, its ALL reused by someone for something cut an old gas can in half the long way and open it up and you can use it to bake bread.  Those old school notebooks, well the pages can be ripped out and used to wrap individual pieces of street vendor food.  Ive got a million more things to say, but no more time left today.  I hope you guys write to me some more soon!!  Miss you!!

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