Truce of the Discoverers
(If you find out « Mômmanh », « existence », « need of existence », please go to chapiter 2 to learn more...)
Yes, I remember: I have abandoned you all; here is a good moment in the full tropical heat and without the slightest refreshment, in the middle of Ouagadougou, the unknown capital of an unknown country, in the Deudeuch of the colleague director whom we still call “Monsieur”. Rest assured that the trip is proceeding normally and we shall arrive at the planned hour.
There was an atmosphere which was pleasant to us: at times nonchalant attitudes, subtle and gracious, vigorous also. Smiling faces and even laughing, quite often: laughter and smiles under the rags. Easy and communicative laughter, grand convivial laughter of simple good humour, laughter without embarrassment and naughtiness which invade space and boost your morale.
In Paris, everybody is in a hurry. Could it be some mysterious illness which ravages the town of “modern” countries? In any case, the illness is very contagious: I, who like a lizard in the sun, would simply stroll on the quays of the Seine, I am carried away to rush to a goal which I ignore. At Ouagadougou, the only ones to push were the “Toubabous”, that is to say the Whites. The Blacks, themselves, took their time as if they had been installed in eternity.
I have just used two terms which were taboos: that which in spite of everything would have used them to call “cat” a cat could have risked being accused of racism. That is the weight of the affective charge accumulated on those simple words throughout the centuries. One therefore had to say: the Africans, the Europeans.
We passed by a wide avenue bordered with curious trees, at times twisted and knotted, powerful and fragile : the “cailcédrats”, we can say, a local variety of mahogany, with hard wood without much value. It was the avenue of the ministers and the great ambassadors, at the bottom of which there stood the presidential palace. It was the avenue of the international dignity and black Mercédès. The colleague director informed us that they called that avenue “the Champs-Elysées”. I do not know any longer if that was its real name or rather if one nicknamed it like this out of derision. On the central strip there grew a type of grass, strange like all the plants here. It must be the real grass all the same, since some donkeys on liberty grazed daringly. There at least, there were no pigs or poultry, to the contrary of the popular quarters of the city.
We drove therefore along the most solemn and the richest avenue of the country. However, it is here, paradoxically, that in my being the concept of “poverty of one third of the world” took consistency, which, up till then, had only been a thought hollowed out, the wrapping of which I was going to discover at Burkina Faso. Some modern buildings of modest dimensions, the asphalt of the double avenue quite rectilinear, but not surpassing the kilometre, the electric street lamps, some trees, some ornamental plants, the whole combination rather out of tune more or less budding, more or less badly kept: there that poor luxury stopped. The earthen pavements were muddy, because it had rained; there were puddles of water along the streets; a number of constructions awaited, for a long time doubtlessly, urgent maintenance jobs; thin savage plants stubbornly lived in that difficult surrounding which the rags contributed to disfigure. It was nearly all the luxury which the Burkinabé people could offer to men supposed to represent them, to the leaders of the state, so that they could officiate in sumptuous surroundings, worthy to be shown to the look of the nations.
Was it necessary for them to be poor!...
It is true that, in addition, they hardly had the sense of state, but I discovered that later on.
At the end and on the lower side of the “Champs-Elysées”, we entered into the modern commercial quarters, constructed around the Big Market. By “modern commerce”, I mean that of imported products, an incredible diversity of goods and of services which that nearly prehistoric economy couldn't supply. Every time that the colleague director gave us a piece of information, we came out with some “Oh!” and some “Ah!”: we were much more surprised, when we heard that a good part of the merchants were Lebanese and the others were French.
“- What are the Lebanese doing here? And why not the Burkinabés?
The Big Market was an immense hangar covered with iron sheets which were not yet rusty, planted in the middle of an asphalted space. It was already too small to contain that crowd of small merchants who were overflowing on all sides and invaded the entire place, stopping right at the beginning of the streets. In that place, where all sorts of meetings took place, there was a confused pilava of shouting, of laughter and of smells often strong, but not necessarily appetizing.
I learned later on, that that market the hub of activity was also a reserve of extras for a spectacle belonging to the local culture: when it required a popular and warm welcome to an eminent personality, the authorities sent some beaters to the Grand Market; their mission consisted in persuading the people to go spontaneously and in a crowd along the way of the official cortege to discover and acclaim the idol of the day.
Here still, in the heart of the city, poverty was evident: holes in the asphalt, papers and waste spread around, a little dust scattered or mud according to the weather, corrugated iron, a lot of badly kept buildings. One distinguished well an architectural project for that central square, but its realisation had been also botched up as well as unfinished. In that poor country with uncertain tomorrows, the foreign merchants wished to build only the precarious, so that they could withdraw easily if their business was threatened. At last, a third cause explained the destitution of the scenery: like numerous peoples whose way of living is still close to the prehistory, and they don't have yet the sense of the state, the Burkinabés did not have any longer the worry to look after the public framework of life.
How is the evolution of the material framework of human existence done: of the clan towards the world-state.
Why is it that the Burkinabés don't even have the sense of state?
Yes, as we have seen, the human existential type, favours the overdeveloped ego, that which leads us to choose a social family, alias “a homeland”, quite close to us. Along the course of the historic evolution, we have known the clan, the tribe, the state-nation, the multinational state, and we are probably on the way towards the state-world.
Ah well the Burkinabese state, ex-colony which gathers many tens of ethnic groups, was far from being a homeland in the heart of its inhabitants: they belonged to their clan and to their small nation. They were of such a clan, in such a village; there were some Mossis, or some Gourmantchés, some Bobos, some Dioulas, some Peuhls, some Dogons, some Lobis... They were not Burkinabés, or truly so few. They did not have therefore practically any duties towards what was not their homeland: the Burkina Faso, the country which did not exist yet.
A single example: the Burkinabé civil servant uses to the profit of his family and of his clan whatever he can take away from the state. Is he dishonest? No, because he will never rob his family or his ethnic group. His conscience is at peace: he is an honest man. He is an ordinary civil servant. As far as the people are concerned, they do not condemn him: they would rather be in his place.
Imagine now his similar in an old state-nation which at the same time is a homeland, like France. That civil servant embezzles also the public state revenues, but not to the profit of his ethnic group: he has a bad conscience, his people curse him, finally, he is not an ordinary civil servant he is an exception.
That behaviour as regards to the state, we find it amongst all the peoples who quite often still live in clans or who have been installed in modern states which are not their homeland: artificial states cut out by surveyors, like slices of meat in the flesh of a living animal.
But there, still, it was impossible to understand all that. Nourished by the ideas we received, we were, I remind you, convinced that their country recently freed was entering an era of striking progress towards which we were going to participate.
At that time, the capital hardly had more than one hundred thousand inhabitants, whereas there would be more than seven hundred thousand about whom I asked myself what they lived on. In order that the countryside can nourish so many citizens, it is necessary that the peasants make real progress and the international aid as well. Therefore, the city was not extensive. After having crossed the centre, then a little zone of residences for the rich, we covered two or three kilometres in the suburbs, the same as those previously described, with their “concessions” covered with the same culture and breeding according to the taste of the new citizens still attached to the peasant way of living; one must say that that agriculture in the city helps to survive when the work in the city is lacking, whichis frequent.
Must one renounce to the hope of a paradise on earth?
I have hurried to start my work to help them to install their paradise on earth. Am I an idiot? I still believe in it, the nearly naïve paradise of my youth has been replaced by a perpetual building site of continuous creation which, I hope, will please Mômmanh.
On our exit from the city, we were nearly dazzled by that space long in the shape, and having approximately the same surface as twenty football grounds and which, like a gigantic mirror, reflected the blinding light of the sun. It was an artificial lake which the colleague director called “dam”, on of those which carried water to the capital. Some fishermen in a boat were throwing their cast net and their gestures were beautiful like those that we could see elsewhere in the world : I want to speak of the net which, when thrown carefully, opens like the corolla of a flower before closing itself in the water, keeping the fish prisoners in its netting.
There were also some fishermen with their fishing line, fish vendors, washer women and girls who came to draw out water, and also some passers by on foot, by bike, by cart... who paddled gaily in the water of the apron.
I was going to forget the clusters of children clinging, some to a trunk of a tree half immersed, some to a piece of land, some to a small boat. They were mostly boys, nearly naked, not to say totally, and whose white teeth, still far from being carious, wrote down a big happy smile which lit up the young bodies to the sombre skin shining sweetly to the sun.
“- The “Bigas” are paying for a slice. I quite believe that it is they who are right, said our conductor director.
It had rained on the eve and the overflow of the dam was flowing over the route towards a small dirty valley situated below. That type of dump which served at the same time as the ford of the users of that street, the director called it “dam”. The Deudeuch started boldly. The water reached nearly the lower part of the door. Hardly had I the time to fear that it did not reach the engine, leaving us stranded in the middle of the apron: we were already on the other side and we continued our way.
“- Amusing, isn't it? There is no danger. One arrives just the same, but rest assured that is quite rare, it happens that after an exceptional rain, the crossing is impossible: so, one spends the night at Ouaga.
We have already learned, but without truly realising in our minds, that that country had two seasons: the season of the rains and the dry season. The names for us so familiar, of spring, summer, autumn, winter, names which we believe universal and in that resentment of many geography lessons, oh well, those words however well civilized had no meaning here. Man can try hard to invent an Orient of dreams and a fantastic interglacial universe, what a lot of trouble he can come across only to come out of this hole !...
Therefore, in the season of the rains, the water arrives from the sky, most often during violent storms which can uproot trees a hundred years old, big as the oaks, storms which one calls “tornadoes”. The heavy rainfall of enormous drops tumble down from the sky like a cascade: often, in less than an hour, the rain falls as much as it does in an ordinary month in Brittany. The streets and parts of the roads also, are transformed in torrents; temporarily, the aprons become impassable. The thirsty plants do not benefit from it as much as they want from those galloping downpours which, as soon as they arrive, tear along the roads, towards the sea, carrying with it all that its strength permits it to drag: pieces of good land, essentially.
After the season of the rains, during a period which lasts at least six months for that region of Ouagadougou, it is the dry season. Attention: thirst with extremely rare exceptions, not a drop falls and you can sleep under the stars. The grass of the savannah dries up quickly and the slightest spark is enough to set it on fire. Towards half of the season the harmattan blows which, endlessly, at the same time as the dust which rises in the blue sky, transports the meningitis and some other illnesses.
For the Burkinabés, the beautiful weather would have consisted in a sweet rain like we had at home, at night preferably, which would have refreshed the charred land, washed the sky and purified the atmosphere... Moreover, during that sick season, when the radio said: “Beautiful clear weather and sunny all over the territory.” one asked if the journalist was joking or if he recited by heart a formula learned during a course in France.
At our arrival, it was the month of August, the heart of the season of rains and farming. The tornado of the previous evening had left puddles of water in the holes of the street, and sharpened their colours.
Here, I must introduce to you the laterite. In a tropical climate, the joint action of the rain and the sun provoke the formation, in the soil, of a layer of red infertile land: it is the laterite. The extended drought hardens it until it forms an impenetrable crust for the roots, practically sterile. When the savage rain of the tornadoes has carried away the thin layer of the good vegetable earth, there only remains that red shell, like the laughter of a dragon. That is what happens when the cultivations and farming are badly conducted: great stretches of laterique desert are formed.
Ah well, even the laterite serves for something: one uses it to cover the streets. Some big holes are formed principally when the rain has rendered them fragile. During the dry season, the cars and the lorries move their trail of red dust, comparable to the trail of a comet.
Another phenomenon assaults the vehicles, their passengers and their freight: it is the plate of corrugated steel. In the scorching sun, the l ateritique lining is dilated and forms thick transversal streaks so well that the way seems a strip of reddish corrugated iron. This phenomenon is mitigated during the season of the rains, but persists nevertheless.
“- On the corrugated iron, our conductor announced, that it was necessary to drive either slowly, or at a minimum of 80. Between the two, the car falls in pieces and you will find yourself sitting on the road.”
While proceeding in this alarming manner, Deudeuch took up its momentum to cling to the speed of survival. We had to travel about fifteen kilometres before reaching Kardougou, the village where our school was built. We had just left the city to enter the territory of the peasants, and so, we were not in the countryside.
“- Here, the peasants do not live in the countryside: they live in “undergrowth”.
On that route, the undergrowth” had a particular character owing to the influence of the nearest city: nearly all the lands were cultivated. Under the striking blue of the sky, the two colours dominated the landscape: the red of the route and some plaques of the bare laterite, the greenery of the cultivations.
In the middle of all the plants that were strange to me, I recognised a familiar cultivation just the same: mais. There was also a plant which seemed similar and whose stem was taller still; in fact the director told us, that what I was seeing there was not always the same cereal but two similar species: sorghum or big millet, and another species called “little millet”. However, since their grains had approximately the same flavours and above all the same function, that of basic food, the Africans had combined these two species in one single category: it was the millet, the nourishing cereal in tropical Africa. It made up nearly entirely the only daily meal of the Burkinabés peasants.
Moreover, I was surprised when the director informed me that the average produce was inferior to 300 kilos/ha. , twenty times less than that of blessed France!...
In spite of the unbelievable deprivals, on seeing the green stretch of the cultivations, I kept on the impression of certain opulence. I did not know yet that in the dry season, the same landscape did not evoke any longer the prosperity, but rather the three fourths missing fur of a sick and hungry beast. In any case, on that day, I was keen on keeping my false impression, consequence of the illusions which I had with me and of which the greater part would not take long to dissolve because of the brutal reality.
For a mondial economy is a state-world necessary?
And now? Now that my hair is white and that I have come back to my old self completely, I believe again that that country can become a splendid garden. Now, men should not take long to take that revolutionary decision: cease behaving like fools. I know: you have heard that a thousand times and it is always the announcing sign of a woolly utopia. Allow me just the same to introduce what Mômmanh has inspired me.
See the entire humanity like a colony of living beings particularly intelligent and performing. The planet earth is their domain. They have the possibility of developing there the way and of producing there enough riches so that human existence commits itself resolutely on the ways of cosmos, towards the two infinities of time and space. Instead of that, what does one see?... Some idiots who strike each other and kill each other.
“- What are we to do? ... - It is up to you to find it. It is up to you and all the others. I will give you a lead just the same.”
Globalisation with the service of the man. World economy with the service of the man.
The liberal economy, in the developing countries, produces enormous riches which are increasing. One knows how to regulate that system from the internal side of a state, in a way to avoid the serious crisis. Like this, our French government imposes to the economy actors the respect of a plethora of rules which guarantee the quality of the products, the salaries, the stability of the currency, the conditions of work, the protection of the unemployed... For example, it is nearly impossible in France to cultivate poppy or to sell arms to anyone just like one sells butter.
But market has become worldwide whereas at such a level, one still does not manage to direct it.
The forbidden ways to earn money in a country, are practised in another, the cultivation of coca, poppies, cannabis, trafficking of arms, of organs, of children, of perverse sex,... tax evasion, plundering of natural resources, degradation of the biosphere, child exploitation, exploitation of salaries, slavery, mafia practices, strangulation of the human future... Must one continue the list which will cover doubtlessly the whole volume?
Like this, when a state wants to regulate the economy in a way so that it gives work and riches to all and it serves for the better development of the existence, it finds often other countries to reduce to nothing its efforts only by rendering to an unfair competition. And moreover, because of that worldwide competition, all the countries live under the permanent threat of recession and unemployment, a threat which will end up by materialising itself.
The worldwide market is a gigantic enterprise capable of satisfying the needs of the whole humanity. The direction of that precious ensemble is trusted to nearly two hundred states of which each takes care first of all of its own interests. Man, the only conscious being of the planet, he to whom Mômmanh has entrusted her destiny, is he mad? When is he going to decide to give the world market an only direction, with means of action at least also efficient like those of a modern state?
And shall we see man, his intelligence at last freed, managing better his planet, like a good farmer?
Humanity possesses the natural resources, the scientific knowledge, the know-how, the machines to produce what gives comfort and freedom to all men. Perhaps he must watch over irrespective of the risks of overpopulation.
Since the Earth is a village, when will it have its mayor?
So? “When will it be?”
The theory of the “Struggle for Existence” permits one to approach that problem under a wider angle. The territory and the men with whom we can act to realise our existence, I call it existential field of action, that is to say accessible to our will. At daybreak of humanity, that field was limited to the clan and to the territory which he can cover to find his subsistence. After the discovery of America, it stretched to the whole world but it was still possible, for a good number of peoples, to withdraw within their frontiers like Japan and China did. And in all ways, nearly all the activities of the existence develop within the states.
Now, the part of the existence affected by globalisation is bigger without being able to reverse the tendency. “The earth is a village”. Well, but then, where is its municipal council? Who is its mayor?
Our existential field of action is the earth. When shall we have a planetarian government to rule the planetarian existence for the better?
All the wounds which ravage the world's economy, a state which will live in anarchy will know how to get to the bottom of it. If a world authority disposes, to the planetarian scale, the same powers as that state, even it can render healthy the economy of our existential space of action: it would rule the world market.
At a great speed on the corrugated steel sheets -80 km/h. for our brave Deudeuch-, in resentment of trepidations and clouds of red dust which were accompanying us like a witch's train, we had the impression of sliding on the route. We had to learn later on, at our expense, how much that impression was right: some nervous handling of the steering wheel was enough to lose control of the vehicle which went across the road and in a frolic anywhere as far as a tree wrongly placed puts an end to its vague desires of independence. That sort of slip on the road lasted a good ten kilometres and our driver decreased the speed to engage himself slowly on a new apron trickling with water. We had arrived at the dam which nourishes the village of Kardougou. All of a sudden, we turned to the right to take a laterite road, bordered with greenery: we were on the school territory.
The colleague director was taking us directly to our house.
“- This is what the administration calls “villa” and we familiarly call a “small house”. It is yours.”
It was a modest “F3”, nearly new, flanked by a terrace in cement sheltered under the porch roof with corrugated transparent plastic, an addition which we had to call “véranda”, to speak the same language as the autochthonous. Our small house had the electricity, two air conditioners without which the moments of great heat would have been borne with difficulty, and the running water; in brief, in that country of extreme poverty, the function of that lodging had the effect of a residence of great luxury which one would be happy to call “villa”, since its small size forbid it from reaching the level of a castle. But, we had to discover the different aspects of our lodging later.
For the time being, we felt a delicious tickle of happiness at the sight of our house. A vigorous creeper with big leaves sheltered the veranda; its numerous branches resembling ropes intertwining themselves into a sort of net which enclosed the transparent porch. That plant down there, was the creeper of Madagascar, our director told us. Was it truly the time for blooming? Were its flowers really like this: big and gracious, fleshy, crammed with vigour, sensual which encouraged the caress of the look, to the colours now striking, playing boldly their devilish serenade, presently discrete, inviting timidly to discover in their peaceful contemplation their delicate intimacy? No, they are only like this in my memory. What does it matter, that a beautiful stranger of the tropics symbolises the new delights which our accommodation invited to discover, in that hot country populated by Blacks.
Yes, our lodging pleased us right away. Behind, closed by a hedge of acacia, was a big plot of land of which I was going to make our garden. If there were, amongst the small grass, some bougainvilleas, some pride of China, red jasmine, ornamental manioc, a banana tree... There still, our horizon opened itself on the promises of unknown pleasure.
That F3 planted in the laterite of a village of the African savannah, was an element of our daily life transplanted in that strange universe. At first, he played the same role as the colleague director and his Deudeuch: avoiding us preventing us from being too much out of our own element, deprived brutally of our existential foods tested without having the time to experiment others.
Afterwards, little by little, we discovered that we should not have adapted ourselves there, neither even survive, without some elements of our western comfort: in the first place, hospital and all its doctors, then an air conditioner, the refrigerator, electricity... which seemed to us as important as acquaintances of the French or the Western ones, be they Americans.
But I cannot all the same relate everything to you. Allow yourself the voyage, if you can. With only as much imagination, of hope, of faith, in the man which we shall have then, you cannot be deceived. And you will not be the only hare-brained Westerner immersed in a black population, because hundreds of NGOs lead some actions down here.
The time of the meal did not delay itself; for that first meal in that distant “down there”, we were invited to the table of Mr. Lajoie, at the time, director, compatriot, colleague, and already nearly a friend.
“- It is quite a completely ordinary meal, he warned us. This evening, you will be better received, in the presence of all the colleagues and friends of Kardougou. Work starts again at three in the afternoon which, after eating, gives us a more sufficient time for a good little siesta, a refreshing shower, and even for some inside activities, while, outside, the sunlight shoots down its rays on whatever moves. Of course, you will take up your work only tomorrow.”
On the inside of the “lodging” just a little bit bigger than ours, well closed to prevent the heat from coming in, Madame Lajoie was waiting for us in the shade deliciously fresh, in the company of their two children, two boys nearly adolescents. We took place in the corner of the lounge. The malicious eye, sure of its little effect, Madame Lajoie rang a little bronze bell. A big Black arrived soon: immaculate white shirt, each of his cheeks marked with two or three parallel scars, signs which showed the adults of his race; he displayed a good will, which seemed even more naïve because it was accompanied by a big smile.
During the meal, nobody had the need to rise up for the service.
After one of us let his wish be guessed as “I could still do with a piece of lamb leg and some flageolets”, the lady of the house, very attentive, rang the bell, and the wish was granted.
The perspective of employing a native servant embarrassed me. We, the comrades who came to help the Blacks to break the last chains of colonialism, we who wanted the natural equality of men to express itself concretely in all the world, we all the same, slaves of our selfishness, were not going to betray the best element in communism!...
But, living without a servant, meant depriving a young villager from a better way of life for him, his wife and children; it was taking away the happiness of possessing a moped. In the situation of that time, perhaps the walk towards freedom of the Blacks passed through the employment of the servant. I found that I had reasoned out things well and I informed the entire table. As usual Jeanne had concluded well ahead of me. Why look for noon at two in the afternoon? She wanted a boy like everybody even so because her pregnancy became evident.
At the end of the meal, while the boy was serving the coffees, Monsieur Lajoie said: “It is pleasant all the same not to have neither the table to clear nor the crockery to wash. The children take a bad habit here. They believe that it is normal to be served like lords and, on the return to France; they suffer in returning to ordinary citizens. While waiting, let us benefit from our temporary privileges and we shall have a little nap. Here, everybody takes a siesta. It is doubtlessly the great heat which creates this need. So, put into it as much as you can as from today. Be careful, one must not sleep for too long, not more than half an hour; otherwise, after awakening, you will have headaches and your mind will be confused. There you are: have a good siesta, my friends.”
It is like this that we discovered the pleasure of the tropical siesta in a well-closed bedroom where, thanks to the air conditioner, the temperature was sufficiently fresh so that one could rest serenely. The siesta gives you again the energy during which, outside, the sun perseveres in vain on desert spaces. When you awake, you are in good shape for the second stage of the day which contains a lot of time for free activities.
When evening came, all the “Europeans” of Kardougou met at Rémi, a colleague, and his wife Laure. In fact all those people were French like us. While waiting to be able to realise the universal fraternity, we, the comrades discoverers and liberators of the whole humanity, were quite happy to find ourselves among Frenchmen. We let ourselves be guided with instinct like some newly-born in that rather strange besides foreign world. Those new companions, seemed perfectly similar to us, like members of the family, they knew what was good for us. We were all dumbfounded, happy to discover to which point, in the land of exile, a portion of France can have the same taste like a glass of water for a thirsty person.
The evening started with a game of bowling and an informal meal, like all the rest. The atmosphere was nearly familiar. Although it was for us a discovery, we were suddenly seduced with that game in open air accessible to all. Boy or girl, from 7 to 97 years. I did not know anything better to favour the friendship of the neighbourhood.
The game of bowling was followed by an aperitif with a great variety of good things, some goody-goodies or throat delights, kebabs, fries, cheeses and some fruits: it was what our hosts called dinner “aperitif”. The evening ended gaily.
Nested like this in our little French bubble, we went to sleep without fear of the black, so deep in the heart of Black Africa. We were hasty to be on the following day, and not only to see the new colours of daybreak: we were impatient to start for our good new existence, myself in my class with my black African students, Jeanne with the management of our house and the initiation of our native servant.
The African episode started well. Who could warn us that our love was going to ruin itself till it became a daily punishment, and even! A tragic disaster. Would you believe it? I said a punishment. It is still a part of my Christian education: that religion doesn't explain that such mishaps of man can't be willed by God who is all goodness, they are necessarily punishments earned by our big sins.
We were not at all guilty.
Some strength that we were incapable of understanding, and much less to control, swept us away, like in the era of the Hundred Years War, the unhappy inhabitants of the kingdom of France were struck from all sides by the three inexplicable scourges of the war, of the plague and of famine. Our love had been a marvellous gift and we had arrived to a point to consider it like the air which we breathed, evident and indispensable. But it was little by little transforming itself into a nightmare.
To those who, amongst you, have entered in that history and sympathise with his heroes, I say in a brotherly way “Hang on: it is going to spin very strongly.”
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