Barreiro & The Grande Hotel

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Wow I am so behind on this blog! After spending all day in front of the computer at work, by the time I get home I’m never in the mood to get on for another couple hours to write a post. I’ve also been really busy doing fun things, as you’ll see below.

The most famous landmark in Araxá is the giant Grande Hotel in Barreiro, a neighborhood about 15 minutes away from the city. If you do a google image search for Araxá, you might think it’s the only thing in this town because the majority of the pictures are of the hotel, which is funny because it’s not even really in the city.

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The resort was built by the government in the 1930 – 40´s to capitalize on the hot springs here and bring tourism to the area. It’s a good case study for why governments shouldn’t build hotels… the thing is so huge relative to the size of Araxá (and so expensive), that I don’t know how much business it gets. But the area around it has beautiful lakes and hiking and lots of people go bike riding and running there on the weekends.

On one of my first weeks here my boss took me there with some other people who were visiting from São Paulo. It was night time on a week day so we couldn’t do much outside but we got to go to the spa which was practically empty. Inside it hasn’t been remodeled from the original design and fixtures, and that plus the darkness and emptiness really gave it a sanatorium feel. And one of the guys who came said he couldn’t stop thinking about the shining. But the creepiness made it feel like more of an adventure.

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The spa itself had a sauna, by far the hottest one I’ve ever been in, thermal baths decorated with really pretty Portuguese tile, and a water jet massage that seems to be unique to the hotel. You go into a tiled room with one of the spa employees and he stands on one side with what looks like a small fire hose, and you go on the other side and he blasts the heck out of your body. I think I prefer normal massages, but this one was more exciting and did feel really good on the bottom of the feet.

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Note her look of terror!

I went back to Barreiro with my co-worker Diana the next weekend. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were tons of people running, biking, barbecuing , drinking coconuts, and riding horses (!) Of course I would love to ride around there but the horses looked pretty mistreated so I’m not sure if it would be good to support their business…

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When I had been researching Araxá before I came I stumbled upon this really cool place on Google Maps that looked like the set of an Indiana Jones movie – The Radio Hotel Ruins. It was the overgrown ruins of a previous hotel built nearby in 1910. According to this highly reliable source, the hotel began to fall into disrepair when a woman committed suicide in one of the rooms and the guests and employees began to hear strange sounds and to see figures walking the halls of the hotel.

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Oh and just to complete the creepiness, the hotel isn’t named after the device for listening to music, it’s named after the radioactive water in the region. There’s another point nearby where you can drink the sulfurous water and it’s supposedly healthy. Is that true though? I thought the reason humans think sulfur tastes bad is because we are supposed to stay away from it….?

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The only free drinking water in Brazil…

Well that’s all for now! Just a couple more photos. Até mais!

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Working life

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I have to be better about keeping up with this blog! Somehow even though I get home at 4 pm, I still feel like I can’t get all the things done at night that I want to. It actually takes about 2 hours to write a blog post since I have to find and edit the photos too. Luckily my lack of time is generally for good reasons like hanging out with people and getting invited to things. I hope this post makes up for the delay with lots of photos!

Here’s a little introduction to my work life… this is the view I have every morning when we drive in.

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We also drive past the flags of all the countries with whom CBMM does business. There are 50 flags and I haven’t been able to name all of them yet but I’m working on it.

Everything is very industrial but also beautifully landscaped with palm trees, flowers, and even a Chinese garden (in honor of their biggest customer I suppose).

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I love how the factory in this picture looks like it just sprouted out of the grass.

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Categories: CBMM, Minas Gerais | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Weekend!

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One thing I was afraid of before I came here was not being to make friends. That’s funny in hindsight. My first weekend here I was invited to my co-worker Daiana’s family’s house in the country. It was SO beautiful and had a pool and one of the biggest houses I’ve seen. One big difference between here and other places I’ve been is that it’s very neat and clean here. The houses, the sidewalks, the landscaping, everything just has it together a little more. I don’t want to put down Salvador and Belem for being dirty because there are a lot of issues that go into the differences between the northern and southern halves of Brazil (income inequality, race, colonialism) but it IS nice to be in a clean place.

The house is owned by Daiana’s sister and brother-in-law and it’s about 15 minutes outside of the city. Daiana brought another friend who works at CBMM and she brought her nephew. There were also 3 other little boys there, Daiana’s nephew and his friends–they were all so cute! I met her nephew on Friday night and he started holding my hand and pulling me all through their house. This time and came over and gave me a huge kiss on my cheek. Definitely one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen!

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For lunch they made salad, rice, beans, manioc, sausages, beef (which garlic dipping sauce), and… chicken hearts! I tried a tiny piece of the chicken heart but the residual blood taste made me gag a little. I think it was mostly a mental aversion. The kids on the other hand ran up to the plate of hearts like they were candy, stuffing as many in their hands as they could! Then it became a competition and they would run up to the table saying “more hearts, more hearts!” Being very squeamish about organs, it was a little surreal for me hearing kids scream for hearts but it was very funny.

On Sunday I was invited to my boss’s house. He’s the head of the environmental monitoring department and has been very welcoming. I really liked his wife and children and I talked a lot to his in-laws who have traveled a lot. There house was BEAUTIFUL, and they lived in the mining neighborhood which was gated and so peaceful. I helped make an enormous salad and we also had filet mignon with gorgonzola, rice, potatoes, and two types of cheese: one is a local specialty, and one is made from cutting out the center of a parmesan cheese wheel so you just get the moist center. I had never heard of this but it was good! I told them I like to cook and they said I should come over and help make dinner sometime. I didn’t take pictures in my boss’s house because it felt a little intrusive but he said I will be invited there much more so I will take more later.

Categories: CBMM, Minas Gerais | 2 Comments

My first day

The view outside my hotel room.

The view outside my hotel room.

Last Thursday I landed in Brazil and after a small flight from São Paulo to Uberlândia, MG and a 2 hour drive to Araxá, I finally arrived at my hotel. I guess I will be living in a hotel for the near future but I will see if I can arrange an apartment at some point. I didn’t really know what to expect from Araxá but the drive here was BEAUTIFUL, sort of like a combination of Eastern Washington and Jurrasic Park (no dinosaurs). I think the tropical trees are what makes it feel prehistoric, but then add some cows, horses, and corn fields and you have Minas Gerais, at least the part that I saw. The city itself seems like a good size, it has about 100,000 people and feels overall safer and more developed than the other cities I’ve lived in. I miss Salvador but it would be nice not to have to be on guard every time I go out.

Lots of people have asked where I am. Right now I'm where the red pin, and the other pins are where I was when I studied abroad. Click to open the map.

Lots of people have asked where I am. Right now I’m where the red pin, and the other pins are where I was when I studied abroad. Click to open the map.

I had my first day of work on Friday. Note to future self: Friday is a great day to start a new job because everyone is really relaxed and happy to take time to help you get settled! First I met my boss, the head of the Environmental Management department. He started by asking me what I want from my time there and how long I want to stay, so I really feel like I’m in control of my experience here. I told them I was interested in the social and economic effects of the mine and its environmental effects. It will be interesting to see how the reality of operating a mine differs from what I’ve learned in class.

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Here you can see what the countryside looks like–it’s so pretty!!

The only other woman in the Environmental dept. was in charge of taking care of me and she took me through the whole building meeting everyone who works in administration… everyone was nice but there is no way I will remember all their names! First, everyone wears a uniform so looks more or less the same, and second foreign names are just harder to remember.

My boss gave me an assignment right away, to read a publication from the World Economic Forum on “Mining and Metals in a Sustainable World” and to report back on what was most applicable to CBMM. This assignment was exactly the sort of thing that might have been assigned in one of my Environmental Studies classes so I felt like my degree was actually useful–always a good sign.

At noon everyone left together to go to the cafeteria. There was one line for the lunch buffet and one line for the “light” buffet. I went for the light one but it was huge… a filet of grilled fish (that tasted amazing) on top of broccolini with beans, rice, and a huge salad. I am planning to eat a big lunch for free at work and then eat a snack at home (which is currently a hotel) for dinner. That’s more Brazilian anyway. The only strange thing about lunch was that there was nothing to drink. And I put hot sauce on my fish. I guess people just aren’t expected to be thirsty!

After lunch we went to get my uniform. I agonized over what professional clothes to bring and in the end I had to wear a uniform! So it goes… I have to wear a men’s shirt and pants and huge black boots, and they also gave me a helmet and protective glasses. The interns have to wear uglier clothes than everyone else, but at least we are all in the same boat. The most valuable thing they gave me a bottle of sunscreen which can cost $30 here!

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My new friend, Daiana. Note here the difference between the normal uniform and the intern uniform which only comes in men’s sizes! Also they get to wear jeans.

When we got back to the office my supervisor took me for a walk and we went to the zoo they have where they are breeding endangered animals from the biome here called the Cerrado. He took me to meet the veterinarian and said I could do some work at the zoo. I told her that had been my dream when I was little! She said I can also do some environmental education with kids, which is perfect for me too! As we walked out there was an ant eater just chilling in his enclosure and since it’s a private zoo there aren’t as many guard rails, so I got really close.

The best thing I found out all day was that interns get to leave every day at 3. I don’t know how I will ever get used to a real job… short days, free food, and anteaters, who can beat that?

PS I will try to include more pictures next time!

Categories: CBMM, Minas Gerais | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Waiting game

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I wrote this post for the Center for Latin American Studies’ blog. It’s more relevant to how I felt a week ago but I thought I’d post it here.

I think almost everyone who studies abroad imagines themselves going back someday. Some people dream of it, some people make a firm promise that they’ll make it happen. There are the examples of people who did it–the girl who married her foreign boyfriend, or the woman who moved to Brazil to become a yoga instructor–but in reality we all know the chances are slim we will get another opportunity to live abroad for an extended period of time.

This is why I felt so lucky and grateful to be offered a (paid!) internship with CBMM, a mining company in Minas Gerais whose CEO, Tadeu Carneiro, is a graduate of Pitt’s business school. I graduated in April and the company set the wheels in motion to get a work visa starting in August. Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

And then started to feel like I was making it all up when people asked what I was doing with my life and I said, “Uh yeah I have a job but I’m waiting for a visa…”.

I started to envy my other friends with normal jobs (and incomes) in new cities with new friends (i.e. not living with their parents). When the wait stretched past the new year, I started beating myself up for what I could have done. If I knew it would take so long, I could have gotten a part-time job here and saved up some money or I could have taken classes at Pitt. None of this made the waiting any easier.

I think several things came together to make this an unusually long wait: 1) Brazil has probably received a massive influx of visa applications in advance of the World Cup, 2) US-Brazil relations soured since the process started with the revelation of the NSA’s activities, 3) this is the first time the company I will be working for has recruited an American student so there wasn’t a streamlined procedure in place and then 4) of course, Brazil is known for its red tape!

My friend pointed out that it was rather impressive that Brazil makes Americans jump through so many hoops. We are used to being able to go wherever we want, pretty much whenever we want while this isn’t the reality for people from most other countries, and especially isn’t the reality for Brazilians traveling to the US. I have to admit, Brazil’s willingness to give as good as it gets to the most powerful country in the world is something that I like about the country, even if it causes headaches for me at the same time.

I want to acknowledge all the people who helped me along the way–I certainly don’t know what I would have done without them. CBMM hired a lawyer to process the paperwork on their end, and I had a great point person at CBMM to respond to all my emails. I also had a lot of support here from CLAS (especially Luis Bravo) and from connections I made at the consulate in New York through CLAS and Pitt. I’m very grateful for all their support and responding to so many emails!

Now the visa is finally here and I can relax a little before I leave, hopefully as soon as possible!

Categories: CBMM | 2 Comments

Protestos e minha vida ativista…

Nosso grupo, Pittsburgh Environmental Student Coalition, em um protesto em novembro de 2010 contra "fracking" que ajudamos organizar.

Nosso grupo, Pittsburgh Environmental Student Coalition, em um protesto em novembro de 2010 contra “fracking” que ajudamos organizar.

Neste fim de semana, vou para um protesto em Washington, DC para demandar que Obama se enfoque mais na mudança climática. Neste post, vou falar sobre minha parte no movimento ambiental em Pittsburgh e os outros protestos em que eu participei.

O meu major é “Estudos do Meio Ambiente” (Environmental Studies), mas o meio ambiente não é só o que eu estudo—faz parte da minha vida inteira. Nos últimos quarto anos, tenho feito muito na comunidade ambiental em Pittsburgh. Em Novembro de 2010, nosso grupo, Pittsburgh Student Environmental Coalition, ajudou organizar o protesto maior naquela época contra a exploração de gás natural (chamada “fracking”). Foi a primeira vez que eu realmente estava envolvida em um protesto, e me deu um sentido de poder que me inspirou fazer mais. Fazer ativismo ambiental não é fácil e “burn out” é muito comum. Mas as sensações depois de fazer um protesto sucessível valem a pena.

O meu amigo esteve preso no protesto em agosto 2011.

O meu amigo esteve preso no protesto contra o Keystone XL Pipeline em agosto 2011.

Em agosto de 2012, os grupos Tar Sands Action e 350.org fizeram um protesto muito importante contra o oleduto Keystone XL que teria ido do Canada até o Golfo de México. Muitos meus amigos foram para o capital com o objetivo ficar presos (por alguns horas só) para mandar uma mensagem forte a Obama. Embora cerca 1500 pessoas ficassem presos, o protesto foi tranquilo porque os organizadores trabalharam com a polícia, não contra. Eu queria ir muito, mas eu estava mal saindo pro Brasil e não queria arriscar o meu visto por ficar presa.

No semestre passado, eu fui com alguns membros do grupo Free the Planet para DC para participar em mais um protesto de 350.org. Não foi muito grande (tinha cerca 1000 pessoas), mas eu me diverti e o me motivou voltar para campus e fazer mais ativismo. No domingo (dia 17) vamos de novo mas com um grupo muito maior—tem um ônibus inteiro de estudantes de Pitt e CMU indo. Espero que o evento seja grande e faça uma diferença! Pelo menos seja uma chance introduzir os alunos mais novos ao sentido de empoderamento que vai os motivar continuar a luta ambiental!

Eu e os meus amigos no capital para um protesto em novembro de 2012.

Eu e os meus amigos no capital para um protesto em novembro de 2012.

Categories: Aula de português | 2 Comments

A história da minha pesquisa no sul do Pará

This post is for my Portuguese class. The first part is a freewrite, the second is about a grammatical topic, and the third is 10 new vocab words.

Este post faz parte de uma atividade da minha aula de português. A primeira parte é freewriting, a segunda, um assunto gramatical e a terceira, 10 palavras novas.

"Education for All" - part of the MST's core philosophy.

A escola em Palmares II.

Vou falar em breve sobre minhas experiência de fazer pesquisa no MST no sul do Pará. Eu pesquisei o ativismo no movimento das “sem-terrinhas” ou jovens em dois assentamentos do MST. A pesquisa fez uma parte de um programa de study abroad que eu fiz em Belém e outras cidades Amazônicas de setembro a dezembro de 2011.

Primeiro, eu fui para o assentamento Palmares II, perto da cidade de Parauapebas. Eu fiquei em casa com uma família que eu já conheci quando o meu grupo visitou o assentamento. Eu adorei minha família lá, composta de uma mãe, duas filhas e quatro filhos (incluindo um bebê extremamente adorável). Minha mãe tinha um irmão que estava um líder do MST, Charles Trocate, que estava na casa por algum tempo. Eu estava com muita sorte ter algum que poderia falar sobre a liderança do MST.

No centro de Palmares II, tem uma cidade pequena com a escola, a igreja, um parque e alguns lojas e restaurantes. Minha família, como muitas, tinha uma casa na cidade e no campo, mas passou a maioria do tempo no campo. Todo dia um ônibus passou para levar as crianças e jovens para escola. Eu fui com eles e fiz as minhas entrevistas na escola e no colégio.

Depois alguns dias lá eu fiquei com febre extremamente forte. Alguns meses atrás eu fui atingida por uma arraia, mas pensei que o ferimento, que foi no pé, já melhorou. Mas porque eu estava viajando e caminhando tanto, ficou infectado. Fomos pro posto de saúde, mas o médico não estava disponível e eles só me deu um comprimento de antibióticos. Eu estava muito preocupada, mas eu tive que voltar para a casa no campo porque foi sexta-feira e o posto fechou pelo fim de semana. Eu fiquei o resto da visita em casa, na rede, tentando deixar o meu corpo combater a infecção.

Depois alguns dias, eu fui para um outro assentamento chamado 17 de Abril, perto de Eldorado dos Carajás. Lá, fiquei com um outra família que também foi muito legal. A mãe foi um líder do assentamento e tinha duas filhas e um filho. Primeiro, ela me levou pro posto de saúde lá, onde finalmente recebi alguns remédios.

Family picture!

Minha família em Palmares II.

Embora foi difícil andar, eu comecei com minha pesquisa. A escola lá, embora fosse um dos melhores da área, só tinha espaço para 2 – 3 horas de aula por dia por cada grau. Eu fiz minhas entrevistas e passei muito tempo assistindo televisão e os jogos de futebol das crianças. Na verdade foi chato e percebi como é importante as crianças terem escola pelo dia todo.

Depois mais uma semana lá, um amigo da família, um policial militar, ofereceu me dirigir pro aeroporto (o meu programa não me permitiu ir de ônibus por longa distancia naquela região). Foi interessante falar com ele, especialmente porque a polícia militar seja uma coisa bastante intimidadora. Do aeroporto eu voltei para Belém, e no hospital lá, finalmente recebi os remédios certos e meu pé começou a melhorar. Embora tudo não desse certo, eu gostei bastante da minha experiências nos assentamentos, especialmente com os jovens. Também, foi legal que as duas famílias que eu conheci tinha mulheres fortes e ativas na liderança das suas comunidades. Eu gostaria de voltar um dia.

O meu artigo: Sem Terrinhas No More: The Place of Second Generation MST Settlers in the Agrarian Reform Movement

P.S. Eu traduzi a maioria do artigo para português… mas naquela época o meu português foi muito pior. Provavelmente é um absurdo…

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Categories: Aula de português | 4 Comments

Chapada Diamantina – An Outdoorsey Vegetarian’s Dream!

The prehistoric-looking orange waters in Chapada.

During the Easter break we went to the interior of Bahia to Chapada Diamantina, an outdoors destination about 6 hours from Salvador. The interior is pretty dry and arid, and the landscape there went from almost-desert to scrubby to dry forest. The area of Chapada has some AMAZING geologic formations that make for a beautiful landscape. I remember missing hills–any topographical variation, actually–when I was in the Amazon (weird thing to miss, eh?). This place more than made up for it. Continue reading

Categories: Bahia | 2 Comments

The Culture Shock Cycle

The Culture Shock Cycle

The picture above was taken from my friend’s great study abroad blog. Thanks!

The culture shock cycle is pretty standard stuff that they go over before you go abroad, but I’ll post it here so people don’t worry I’m spiraling into a depression!

It starts with the honeymoon period when everything is new and amazing and awesome! Then you start to recognize the things about the other culture that aren’t so great and miss things from money, and you start dipping. Looks like rock bottom is supposed to come at 4-5 months. Luckily for me, basically my entire first semester program was a honeymoon period, I think because we were always going to new places and because the program perfectly fit my interests. So it makes sense that I would be feeling a little “meh” right about now.

The good news is that after a while you start to adjust again. You adjust your expectations for the country and you learn to look past the ugly and appreciate the good. A good example of this is my birthday. That night was everything great about Brazil for me: so easy to meet new people, great dancing, delicious drinks, awesome music, so much fun! I was still riding that high the next morning when something as silly as getting photo copies of a reading had me running around an unfamiliar building, getting blank stares from people, and feeling utterly stupid and inept. All over getting a photo copy!

One thing I realize that I do here is that when something bad happens, I blame it on Brazil rather than on the act of one person. For example, when a car almost hits me in Pittsburgh I say “I hate bad drivers!” or “I hate people on cell phones!” But when it happens here I say “I hate Brazilian drivers!” And when people look at me the wrong here, instead of thinking, “I hate men who treat me like an object and direspect me publicly,” I just think “I hate Brazilian men!” No, it’s not very fair to Brazilians and the truth is that most people here are friendly. Now that I’ve realized I am doing this, I am trying to change.

And what happens when the long-awaited return home arrives? Well you start the cycle over again, this time reverse culture shock. Totally looking forward to that… NOT.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Salvador Slump

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I went to an awesome national park over Easter weekend. I'll post about it next.

I wanted to post about my awesome trip to Chapada Diamantina (ok, I’ll post one photo) but I’m not really in the mood. I feel trapped in my tiny white room. I feel like I’m chained to my computer – Facebook, Skype, email, everything. I was supposed to go to capoeira class but I just didn’t want to. I wanted someone to tell me to go but there was no one online to talk to and my real-life friends are at their own houses. Easter break and the trip to Chapada was a great escape from the city and classes but it made going back just as hard.

The days are a monotonous blend of trudging to class in the heat, sitting in class and struggling to understand everything (in the best cases) or stay awake (in the worst), getting stares and cat calls in the streets on the way home, trying not to over-eat as my family pushes more food in front of me at meals, and stressing about money.

Some people would say ,”Why are you just sitting in your room? Go out!” Sure, I’ll go out. For the price of one or two cabs and worrying if I’ll get mugged out there. The next best option is doing my homework, but I just tried to read the latest assignment for History and I couldn’t get through another word. And it’s not the fact that it’s in Portuguese, because the last one was at least marginally interesting and I made it through most of it.

The Pitt bomb threats aren’t helping anything, I thought I was worried when we got 12 threats on Monday, but getting no threats today is almost worse. I’m reading everything I can find about it, partly because I’m worried about my school, but partly because it’s a real-life drama and it’s sickly fascinating to watch developments unfold.

I need to do something other than be on the computer. If I were with my family in Belém I would go watch crappy TV with my family and make some conversation out of it, but my family here shuts themselves in their rooms after 7pm.

If I were in Pittsburgh I would be hanging out with my friends or at least doing homework in the same room as them. But although I love my friends here, we are living in someone else’s house and even if you did get permission to have someone over at night, they’d be left to walk home alone and no one likes doing that.

I’m dying to do something with my hands. I can’t wait to start cooking again and I’ve been hoarding recipes for when I get my own kitchen again. Same goes for knitting. Luckily I can work on my canvas for painting class (the only class here I can truly say I enjoy).

Sorry for this post to be such a downer. If anyone reading this is considering studying abroad here, let’s just say I never felt this way about my last program. I’d kill to be back in the Amazon again, even if it meant having all those mosquito bites… oh and that damn sting ray, almost forgot about him.

The good news is we are leaving for Rio and Iguazu Falls on Friday (two wonders of the world in one week!). After that my mom visits and after that it’s less than 2 months ’til home, and this summer is looking like it will be an awesome one.

Categories: Bahia, Salvador | 3 Comments

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