Today I mourn you

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Sunday, I received a phone call at 9.30 pm from my friend Oguedhi. It was a surprise call. Sylvia Oguedhi has never called me this late.

“Your friend has slept”, those words stung terribly.

Sylvia’s brother, whom I have never met, was an accidental friend. Sometime two years ago, I was a church administrator. I used to make the weekly church bulletin. I would call the people leading worship that Sunday, to ask for the songs they would like me to include in the bulletin.

About three times when she was leading worship, I happened to call her number and her brother picked. Her brother was also a worship leader at his church, so he was wondering who was asking him for songs.

Our friendship started from there. He would call just to check on his friend. Occasionally, he would goodwill texts.

Last year, Sylvia told me that her brother was diagnosed with cancer of the gum. His gums were swollen. It was really sad. I promised Sylvia to go visit her brother.

Then I had a lot of things going on, school, internship, Workstudy, problems with my landlord. I was overwhelmed. My will and heart were willing to visit, yet my circumstances were restrictive. Maybe I should have tried harder.

Two Sundays ago, I met Sylvia in church. She reminded me that my friend waited for my visit until he went. The thought that rushed through my mind was that he had died.

Before my explanations of why I did not honor my promise, she clarified that he went up-country and was recuperating well. His gums were back to normal. It was then that I said I was just overwhelmed during the time.

A week later, I was in bed, still recovering from a book hangover. I had just finished reading an interesting book. My phone rang and I looked at the caller Id. I usually don’t receive late phone calls. It was Oguedhi-Blessed one.

“I just called to tell you that your friend slept at 8.30 pm,” she said.

I woke up from the book hangover, and went to mourning a friend I had never met. My friend will be laid to rest on Tuesday next week.

Just as sad as this story is, what have you been putting off? Is it that walk in the park, or reaching out to someone. Please do it before it’s too late.

With love from,

Juls

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Beat me to death and beat me to die

super-glue and broken heart copy

You beat me up, as if I was down,
Slapped sense into my mind,
Disregarded your seed I had inside,
A stomach so ripe with child,
You had to prove your worth,

To slap some sense into my mind,
You beat me to death,
Tearing my heart to pieces,
Slowly I picked up scraps of my heart,
Glued them back together as good as new,
The glue called grace did wonders,

This plastic smile a constant practice,
No one could tell my once,
Shattered heart was made, whole,
By the glue of grace,
so perfect in place,

You beat me to death in your thought,
Attended my burial yet,
Refused to bury your flesh and blood,
Thought you beat me to death,
Yet you beat me to dying,

You beat me to death, and beat me to dying,
Even in your death, you still beat my mind,
Are you worth the pain?
Who will slap some sense,
Into my mind?

Juliet Awuor © 2016

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In all things, give thanks- Autism notwithstanding

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I got an invite to a thanksgiving church service. One I would never miss. Who would miss Ryan’s thanks giving service?

Well, maybe you don’t know Ryan, so let me give you a picture. Ryan is the person who makes you feel at home in their house. I sometimes stay for years without visiting them, which of course is reason enough to develop that stranger feeling.

Not with Ryan. He will talk to you about football, food, School. Anything. He is entertaining too and processes a photographic memory. The last time I went to visit, he asked me about things I got from China. I had even forgotten the details of the 2008 trip to Nanjing. This was seven years later. Yet he still remembered.

Ryan is the 20 year old son to the Obutus. He has been autistic since he was a toddler. His family has gone through a lot in the process of raising him. From rejection by schools to having to look for him on several occasions when he got lost. In all these, his mother says, “God kept him safe”.

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I lived with the family when I was doing my high school exams. Ryan’s mom happened to be my Home science teacher. Then, I didn’t understand why a seven year old could not talk coherently. I still remember the song he used to sing me though.

I later came to learn that he was autistic. In fact, his mother has a passion for raising awareness on children with special needs.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

Here was a family thanking God for giving them the grace to raise a child with special needs. Not complaining, but giving thanks.

Ryan sat for his GCSE last year and performed well enough to be awarded a certificate. Now he is in college studying hospitality. He also has a unique gift of mental calculations, he doesn’t need a calculator.

One thing that came out clearly through the whole service, was that everyone was praising Ryan. From his neighbor who has developed friendship with him due to his routine of paying them a visit daily at 2-4pm, to his cousins who said that he is the most honest individual they have ever met.

What touched me was his parents saying that Ryan has been a blessing to their family. And thanking his younger brother Nicky for missing out on a huge part of growing up, while ensuring that Ryan coped with his environment.

I greeted Ryan on this thanks giving day. Ryan, how are you? “I am blessed”, he answered with the familiar smile that he wears.

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Thank you my dear ‘Almost’ valentine

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Thank you for reminding me of my musical side. I even had a dream that you were teaching me the guitar. How we would be the perfect match, you know, the type that’s only read in mills and boon? I had to jolt myself awake from that stupid dream, you know. Thank you!

Thank you for making me dream of the possibility of a relationship with a guy I could have intelligent conversations with. Sing along to his guitar skills on our dates at the park. Maybe read a book together. Side by side, me and you, the perfect couple.

Thank you for making me draw near to God. I thought God must be really merciful. He sent a brother my way, despite my silence toward Him.  And to crown it, he sent a worshiper, a man after His own heart. Who is part of the worship team in church. A man of God!

Thank you for your proposal that clearly, should have left me melting like Ooh! Someone finally asked me to marry them. I am sorry if my response sounded harsh, but it was sincere. WhatsApp proposals are not just my thing.

Thank you for finally gathering courage and meeting me. For the hug, for that short ride in your car. For opening your car like a gentleman and dropping me on the bus stop. I must say you looked sharp in that black suit and red tie.  Prospects to whet a girl’s appetite. Thank you.

Thank you because I now know you are a family man. I remembered congratulating you on your wedding photos, and in person. But then again, many things could have happened after all these years. I was waiting for your explanation. It just didn’t come from you, but thank you, now I know better.

Thank you for the good mornings and good night chats. I must say they boosted my self esteem. You know ‘being alone‘ as your proposal said, sometimes is a curse that single ladies need to be rescued from. Thank you for your efforts.

Thank you, but the messages have to stop. Direct them to the right person. Your wife will really appreciate some goodnight kisses and good morning dear messages on her phone, don’t you think?  I feel complete as a single lady in waiting. But sincerely,  I thank you.

Thank you because I know we will still be good friends, just like old times. Do you remember? We were barely in our 20s, and treated each other with respect. Old friends are good to keep, you know. Thank you for remembering this old friend.

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Random date on a Nairobi roundabout

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Cupid must be knocking her door, and violently. Just in one week, she has gotten three guys no, make that six, text her, whatsapp, even call her. All with suggestive messages. At this rate, she will  be going, going, gone by end of year.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Let’s take it slow, shall we? Good!

Moses stranger is one of the guys who have been calling, texting, you know? On Friday he called her and they agreed to meet the next day (Saturday) for an in-depth insight into one another’s world. The first time they met, they just exchanged phone numbers. A girl doesn’t have to be rude, you never know where your prospects for a good relationship might be. She handed him her card because she was also getting late for work.

Now, she just wanted to play the nice girl she has always been. So she leaves her house to go meet the gentle man. At least he is gentle because he waits for her at a petrol station, standing all through while she is late.

She walks past him, having a feint recollection of his appearance since they only had a short encounter before. She looks back to see a slight man smiling at her. It’s 4 pm, an hour late, and she smiles apologetically. Who can get mad at that smile? Only a fool would.

They walk through the petrol station park, look for a spot to sit. It’s full. They cross the road to the roundabout. By this time the guy is telling her how they have not been paid at work, but the important thing was to see her. “Have you been paid”, he asks her.

Really? she thinks to herself. You called this date, do you expect me to foot the bill? She thinks again and smiles.

They get to the roundabout and look around. It looks like the sewer burst and dried on the grass. People are sitting willing off the time, others are sleeping.

He suddenly gets an idea. “Let’s go get something to drink”, he says. They walk back to the fruit vendors who are too eager to make a sale. She chooses to sit where there are no people so they may talk. “I’m glad you came, I almost thought you stood me up”, he says placing a hand on her knee.

“I told  you I was coming didn’t I? Had to keep my word”, she says removing his hand from her knee. The stall owner, a fat lady doesn’t look amused. She comes to take the seats without talking to them. They take the cue and move to  the other stalls, where he buys fruit juice and  they walk back to the roundabout.

They look for a spot to sit in. “The grass seems to be dusty”, he says. “You didn’t carry a lesso for us to sit on?” he asks her.

Rolls her eyes, “I don’t walk with lessos”, she replies. And I didn’t expect to come sit in a dusty roundabout. She thinks to herself. They get a spot to sit, and he goes first. “Sit here”, he motions in front of him, between his legs.

“Nope, I am good here”, she says and sits beside him. “OK! Drink up”, he tells her, motioning to the juice. “This Juice is tasteless, maybe because of being exposed to the sunlight all day”, she says. “Just drink it to fill up your stomach with water”, he tells her as he downs his bit.

“So, do you have a child”, he asks her. “No, no children yet”, she answers. “God will give you a very cute baby”, he tells her. “Thank you. How do you know?” she asks. “Because I will be the father to your baby”, he answers her. Don’t flatter yourself. She thinks.

“You told me you don’t have a baby and you’re single, why don’t you ask about me?”, he enquirers of her. “Oh, tell me about yourself”, she feigns interest.

“Well, I have a wife and two children, but I just liked you at first sight”, he says. Silence. “Not that I usually like women randomly, it’s just that my blood was attracted by you”, he explains. Silence. “Why are you quiet? I feel you are mad at me. At least I told you the truth, other people lie to get into a relationship”, he continues.

“First, there’s no relationship you are referring to. This cannot happen”, she answers. “What made you marry your wife?” she asks him. “I will not tell you today, maybe later”, he says. “OK! Whatever it is, just go, remember it and stay with your wife”, she tells him.

“How old  are your children?” she asks. “Six years and nine months”, he answers. “How long have you been married?” she asks. “Seven years”, he answers. “Wow! I’d rather stay single for the rest of my life than take another woman’s husband. I don’t do married men!” she exclaims.

“Escort me to the bus stop, I think my work here is done”, she tells him, getting up to go. She leaves her half full glass of tasteless fruit juice propped on the grass. He follows her. “Next weekend I shall take you to Ngong Hills for an outing”, he tells her. “Make sure you invite your wife”, she answers.

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Talking hair- I am not my hair

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Let’s talk hair. Lately I’ve been feeling so free and comfortable in my own hair, it actually scares me sometimes.

Few months ago I wouldn’t be caught dead walking in my natural hair (not blow dried or relaxed straight). It just didn’t feel tidy enough. Come to think of it, that thought must have come from a desire I had as a school girl- to have lovely hair. I even used to dream of myself in flawless weaves. (Experiments which I have tried out and looked good.)

You see, going to school, we had no choice of plaiting our hair. It was either books, or hair. Full stop. (Not a rule in our school, rather a rule at home.)  My father was a disciplinarian who did not like it when we spent a lot of time on our hair rather than concentrating on school.

Up to form four, I rocked a short Afro, which was easy to handle. Just comb-and-get-on-with-your-day kind of hair. Which explains my ID photo, the one they refused to let me change even after three replacements. I wanted them to change it to something better, like the awesome braids I usually rock. Plus I looked like a child on that photo, 18, and in school uniform.

(Back to talking hair). January this year, I had an overwhelming desire to cut my hair. I was just tired of going to the salon every month and constantly worrying about my unkempt hair. Now this had nothing to do with the “My unkempt hair debate“. I told a friend in the office of my plan and she quoted Coco Chanel:

“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”- Coco Chanel. I don’t know the change I’m about to make, but I’m flirting with the possibility that the scissors might bring. Should I or should I not?

Posted by Juliet Hephzibah on Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I did not cut my hair. Instead, I decided to walk with washed combed, oiled hair. Just not straightened. (Maybe my mom could have cut part of it because she helped me cut my braids before undoing them.)

I seem to like what I see on the mirror, and I wonder what happened to this girl. Perhaps it’s just freeing to try out something out of your own will. True beauty comes from within I must say. Though enhancements have their place, they cannot change your identity. What do you think?

This may be just a phase. I might go back to the salon anytime. For now, let’s just enjoy the freedom.

Raising a disabled child in Maasai land

By: Rading Biko Gerro.

Yiamata Lootasati in her compound in Elangata Wuas, Kajiado county
Yiamata Lootasati in her compound in Elangata Wuas, Kajiado county

She wakes up at 5 a.m. to cook breakfast to send the other children to school on time. She then proceeds to care for the cattle by taking them to the water shed then rushes back to care for her disabled daughter. At around midday she has to walk distance to fetch water for her family and she has to rush back to care for her disabled child. This is the daily life of Yiamata Lootasati, the 35-year mother of 9 who has a disabled child.

Once in her home one cannot miss the sight of Yiamata either at work, tending animals, carrying a baby, breast feeding, fetching fuel wood from the surrounding thicket, carrying water containers, or building and repairing a manyatta. The classic multitasking of the female species.

In between her burdensome chores of the day the Maasai woman is also a beader with such intangible high skills built into her cultural knowledge and practices.

Most of her struggles are shaped by circumstances and the challenges of her time including deep seated patriarchal attitude. The woman is simply faced by the “triple burden”: to reproduce, to produce and to bear all the other social roles.

The 2009 Kenyan census estimated that there were 1.3 million disabled people in the country, only three percent of the population. Though the numbers are hard to verify because some children with disabilities are kept hidden and out of family counts.

Stigma plays a role in the discrepancy and adds to the problem. Families will keep children born with disabilities out of sight from their neighbors.

Mengea Lootasati is aged 15 years but she does not look her age due to her disability situation, she was born normally like any other healthy baby, but her parents realized she was disabled five months later. Yiamata described her daughter as being healthy when she bore her and it was very hard for them to realize she was disabled.

Yiamata caring for Mengea at their Homestead
Yiamata caring for Mengea at their Homestead : Photos- Biko Rading

“Mengea was overweight when I gave birth to her and we thought she was just  overweight. She would take long to move her arms, but later we realized she was disabled,” laments Yiamata.

In Maasai land myths about the causes of disability persist and in one case, neighbors blamed the disability on bad spirits. They claimed that a murder committed by a previous generation was being punished through the disability of Yiamata’s daughter.

The family did not seek out modern medicine until traditional methods were exhausted. That’s when Action Aid Kenya and Loodikilani women network stepped in 2013 and sensitized her concerning disability. Apart from education, Action Aid Kenya catered for the daughter’s therapy, which she has been undertaking for one year.

Doctors says that Mengea’s case is a special one since her parents did not realize her situation early. “Doctors says her left side is entirely paralyzed and she will only be able to use her right side in her entire life,” narrates Yiamata, a tear flowing down her cheek.

Most parents with disabled children do not even consider the option of educating them. Some are kept tied up and even caged. Yiamata plans to enroll Mengea to a special school.

“Action Aid have trained me on the right for girl child education and that why we have decided that we shall enroll her in a special school. She would meet other children with her special needs, and would not be discriminated,” Yiamata says smiling.

According to Kenyatta National Hospital staff disabled children who get care at health centers are often unsupported when they return home. For children like Mengea, the cost of traveling to the nearest clinic is too great even when care is free.

Though raising a physically challenged child, Yiamata is an enthusiastic woman. She has challenged many to fight stigma and discrimination faced by People Living with Disability across Maasai-land. Through the training, vows to educate other women in Elanga Wuas on the need to care and love children with special needs because they too are children.

Book Review: We Need New Names- Noviolet Bulawayo

We need need new names

Paradise is a shanty where men’s eyes never lift from their draughts, under the jacaranda trees and women are busy with hair and talk, children on the other hand have no choice but to go steal guavas in Budapest due to their hunger.

People in Paradise once had real houses that were demolished by bulldozers, forcing them to come to shanties. The 10 year old Darling narrates how the demolishers even killed a baby in the debris.

Every chapter in Bulawayo’s book can stand as a short story, because she talks of different things related to  the desperate situation in their country- Zimbabwe.  I think the writer uses the voice of a child so as to lighten the issues she addresses.

Hunger and poverty

They live in tin houses and share the same room. Darling narrates how a strange man comes at night, sleeps with her mother and leaves while it’s still dark.

She describes the hunger they feel. It’s as if someone scooped the insides of their stomachs. They steal guavas because of the hunger, even though it makes them constipated.

Mother of Bones, Darling’s grandmother wears mismatched shoes, like a mad woman, yet she is not mad.  She has worthless money in her suitcase that she counts everyday and wonders why she cannot use it.

Children are no longer in school because the teachers left the country.

Dead foreign aid

The Chinese are building a big mall for them, yet they cannot afford to feed themselves.

The NGO people come with their lorries to give them rations of food, clothes and toys. The children as well as parents actually look forward to these moments. They pose for photos all the time, something they have rehearsed only too well.

Mass migration

People are fleeing the country to other countries where there are better prospects. They do not want to remain in  the “kaka” country.

Most men leave their wives and children behind to go work in the mines and forget them. They only come back home when they are sick and dying.

Some are fleeing from the government because they fear being killed. Governments are against democracy. It’s a form of Neocolonialism where the people of the land have turned into oppressors.

HIV/AIDS

This is refereed to as ‘the sickness’, and is something that is spoken of in whispers, showing the shame associated with it. Darling’s father returns home with the sickness and interrupts her life because she cannot play with her mates. She has to look after him and keep it a secret from everyone.

There’s a connection between Mother of bones and her referring to her ‘father’s bones’.

Religious fanaticism

Those who have sought refuge in religion are fanatics. Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro, is the religious authority who exorcises demons and extorts money from the already impoverished folk in exchange for prayers.

Darling thinks the god to whom they pray is a sadist who ignores their pleas. So the adults are just wasting their time. Only  when she gets to America, does she reach into the dustbin of her heart and retrieve God, because she has more than enough food.

Incest and abortion

Chipo is only 11, yet she is pregnant. Her grandfather raped her when her grandmother went to the market.

The girls plan to remove Chipo’s stomach, yet they are clueless. Only one of them, Forgiveness seems to have an idea. She is busy straightening a rusty clothes hunger for the task. This scene raises the hairs on my head because I am thinking what would happen if they succeed. Chipo could die because doctors are not in hospitals. They have all gone for ‘greener pastures’.

Identity crisis

Everyone wishes to go to America, yet after they stay there, they cannot return to their land due to lack of papers. Even when their parents die, they can not return to bury them and mourn behind closed doors, fearing to attract undue attention.

In America, they cannot raise their children the way they were raised because instilling discipline is considered child abuse.

Reliance on kin abroad

People back in the country rely too much on handouts from those ‘lucky enough’ to go to America. Those in America struggle to put up a show that they are prospering, working multiple jobs to send money back home. “Our parents have stopped being our providers, we are now their parents”.

The kin abroad have bought fancy houses for their folk back home, while they live in houses made of planks.

Get your copy and enjoy the humor, while you see the reality in some of our African countries.

Wedding committee invitation

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Marvin reached out to her, she was a good listener, he felt safe to pour his heart to her. He wanted it! Wanted it so bad but couldn’t face what he wanted.

All he could say to her was “Please pray with me, if God tells you anything, do tell me”. It was quite confusing because in some way, she thought it was not in her place to put words in his mouth. Her policy was,

If a man wants to marry you, it should come out clearly. Playing charades trying to guess what this brother wanted was just too much work.

Months would pass then he would reach out to her. They would meet and discuss the same thing. A wife. Who do you want to marry? Anyone who is mature and born again. “Just pray, the Lord will guide you to your wife. You must face the person you want and tell them you want to marry them”, she advised him, evidently tired from carrying on with the mind games.

Four months later she tried calling him, to catch up, but a different voice spoke on the other end. I’m looking for Marvin. “Marvin speaking”, said a deep strange voice on the other end. “I am at the barber, talk to you later”, the voice said.

Oh, maybe something happened to him. She sent him a text to ask if he was OK, because some strange person answered his phone. The text was never replied. She got the hint and stopped bothering him.

A year later, she gets a text inviting her to Marvin’s wedding committee. Now wedding committees are made of friends, people who are involved in your life. Not people you deliberately shut off from your life like you had a bad fight.

After fishing for words to reply the text, she typed her congratulatory message and how she was happy for him. And why had he not communicated for such a long time? Let it be known that she bore no hard feelings. The reply text read “Thank you, God bless you”.

Wedding committees are like fund raisers.  Maybe Marvin sat down and came up with a perfect strategy. Just fish all contacts on my phone and let them come help me marry my wife. Smart, isn’t it?

That evening, she was added to a WhatsApp group for the wedding committee. She wondered when they became so close to each other. What part would she play in the committee?

Here’s what Marvin could have done better. He could have called her to catch up. Maybe even explained the reason for his silence. Maybe come up with an excuse for that strange Nigerian deep voice that answered his phone. Anything. Then, tell her the good news of his upcoming wedding. Maybe then, Molly would feel a part of the close friend circle. “Oh! Wow! Congratulations! I am so happy for you”.  Molly would say.

Then Marvin would ask, “We are putting up a list of people to help us organize the wedding. Would you be part of our wedding committee?” Nicely, the way a civilized person would ask. All these scenarios kept running through Molly’s mind.  People do not think alike. Molly thought resignedly.

Then, she was just feeling ambushed and taken for granted. How would you react if you were in Molly’s shoes?

(This is an improvement to the previous story for readers who were left hanging. All characters are fictional, the story is partly real from a friend’s experience and just a portrayal of the reality in today’s society.)

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Nyamchom, bonfire and laughter for book lovers

Photo: Mike Kuria (Facebook)
Photo: Mike Kuria (Facebook)

This Saturday we had a book club meeting with the Daystar University Book Club. Prof. Mike Kuria of Daystar University offered to host us at his Matasya home for nyama choma- roast goat meat.

We were discussing NoViolet Bulawayo’s book, We need new names, and boy! did the book generate great discussions. And laughter too! I will post a review later. For now, I just want to recount the eating, laughter and bonfire experience we had. It reminded some of us of  the stories we were told by other people, of grandmothers telling them stories beside the fire. We used to listen to these stories with our mouths open wide with awe. We were fascinated perhaps because we grew in Nairobi and our grandmothers never told us fireside stories. You get the gist of my digression, do you?

It is a  unique book club, which was formed by the Daystar University department of Language and Performing Arts. The first time I attended it, I was surprised to sit with faculty members, at a coffee shop discussing a book. As a student, I thought this was an innovative  way to inculcate a reading culture in the university.

Daystar University book club is open to all book lovers, even outside Daystar University. As we speak, we have even more members who are not  affiliated to the university.

We ate roast meat until our stomachs could not take anymore. Then there was the roasting of maize, which Kairetu turned out to be good at. I’m telling you, this  girl might be wasting her talent. (Ever thought of starting a maize roasting business?) The rest (You know yourselves) seemed to be in a competition to make burnt offerings of the roast maize. Perhaps the burnt  offerings were to appease the spirits back in Bulawayo’s Paradise.

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As you can see, the discussions went on till darkness came to send us to our homes. We even left with cobs of maize to show that our intestines were full. Actually:

When we were full we carried our dense bodies with the dignity of elephants- if only our country could see us in America, see us eat like kings in a land that was not ours.– We Need New Names- How they lived.

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