Someone to Watch Over Me

African Adventure

Smile. Your’e in Kenya

The next thing you see when you get off the plane at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport after the “Welcome to Kenya” sign is the sign which says, “DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS.” There were other signs I saw along the way during my two weeks stay in Nairobi but I chose to ignore them. In Uhuru Park there was a sign that read, “Beware of Human Beasts, Don’t Be the Next Rape Victim, Every 30 Minutes a Woman is Raped in Kenya.”

Beware of Human Beasts

At the Nairobi Serena Hotel, before we were allowed to drive onto the property, a uniformed armed guard probed the underside of our car with a long-handled mirror. Once inside and checked into our room I looked out the window and saw a uniformed guard standing watch. At a restaurant we went to called The Carnivore, we passed through a security fence which was manned by security guards carrying automatic assault rifles and flanked by large German Shepard dogs straining at their leashes. Yes, I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.

Nairobi Serena Hotel
Someone to Watch Over Me
Benn and Mary at the Carnivore

I had gone to Kenya on a business trip. Actually, I was traveling with a companion who was there on business attending a worldwide meeting of company officials who were stationed around the globe. While Mary was going to meetings, I was on my own.

Hotel Pool

On the first day I hung out at the Hotel. The Serena is a Five Star Hotel and very nice. I had breakfast with Mary in the dining room and later I had lunch out by the pool by myself. I had a cheeseburger with fries and a Tusker beer. Delicious! After lunch I had a dip in the pool and sat in the sun reading as the water slowly evaporated off my body.

Exit Ghost

After a couple of days of this I got bored and decided to venture out on my own. I am an adventurous sort and had walked the mean streets of some of the toughest cities of America, so I wasn’t too worried.

I struck out midmorning on a beautiful sun-drenched day. The skies were azure blue with cotton candy clouds. Nairobi is a mile high so the atmosphere was crystal clear and every object stood out in vivid colored relief.

Uhuru Highway

I walked the half mile stretch along Uhuru Highway to downtown Nairobi. It was as crowded as any major city might be and traffic was going about in a chaotic fashion. I walked to the corner of a busy intersection crowded with people. I was approached on all sides by people who wanted to sell me things like trinkets or cheap jewelry. A rather large and burley individual who was head taller than me and wearing a tight red T-shirt walked up to me and pounded his chest. “Promote me! Promote me!” He said over and over again, striking his chest for emphasis.

Downtown Nairobi
Nairobi

I just walked away. Soon others were following me and asking me questions. They all wanted to know if I was from the States? Did I know Obama? One fellow dressed in raggedy clothes stopped me and asked for money to buy some rice. I wasn’t inclined to give him any, especially in front of the crowd and all, but I did say to him, “I’m not going to give you any money, but if you will meet me here in one hour I will buy you some rice and give it to you.” He looked a little disappointed but reluctantly agreed.

Accidental Meeting

I continued to walk along the street deeper and deeper into the heart of the city. As I walked along, I noticed another fellow tracking me and falling into step beside me. He was wearing a dark brown suit, but it looked like it had seen its better days. A little shabby with frayed cuffs. He had on a soiled white dress shirt and a thin black tie loosened at the throat. He was wearing black dress shoes that were run over at the heels and in bad need of a shine. “Hello!” He said, flashing me a big smile. “Can we have a conversation?”

“Sure,” I answered. “What did you want to talk about?”

“I like to talk to Americans about politics and history.”

“Ok. What did you want to know?”

“Can we go somewhere and sit down at a table to talk?”

“Where did you want to go?”

“I know a Tea Room not far from here. We could go there.”

I’m starting to get a little suspicious now and I’m not in any big hurry to go anywhere with this stranger.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“Sudan,” he answered. “I am staying at a refugee camp near the border.”

“I’ll tell you what. I am going to walk around a little bit, you want to meet me here in an hour, we can talk then. How’s that?”

He hesitated a little bit but finally agreed. So, I had the same arrangement with two strangers I had met in Nairobi and I had only been in town 15 minutes! I thought chances are either one or the other or both wouldn’t show up, and I had bought myself a little time.

So, I spent the next hour exploring the city. I went to gift shops, hotels, and had lunch in an outdoor café. I checked my watch and saw it was time to head back to meet my new friends.

I got back to the corner at the appointed time and guy #1 wasn’t there yet. I looked around and noticed a market about a half a block away. I walked over to it and went in. After my eyes adjusted to the low-level light, I saw baskets of various products including rice. The pungent smell of spices hung in the air. I secured a bag of rice and walked out returning to the corner. My new friend showed up with a big smile on his face.

“Jambo!” he said

“Jambo!” I returned.

I handed him the rice. We had a moment then he left.

Now the second guy, the guy with the suit. I thought was going to be a no show. I waited about 15 minutes and was about to leave when he rounded the corner. He greeted me warmly and pointed his hand out in front of him and said, “The Tea Room is down this way.”

We walked about six blocks and I was beginning to wonder where he was taking me.

“Say, where are you taking me?”

“It’s just a little further.”

We walked on another two blocks and my friend became a little more excited as we stopped in front of rather impressive looking two-story structure in the middle of the block with a wide set of steps leading up to the front door.

“Ah, here we are,” my companion spoke to me as he swept his arm up the stairway in the direction of entrance. We had arrived at the Jade Tea House.

We mounted the steps and went inside. Once inside I had the distinct feeling, I had stepped into a time portal. The interior of the Tea Room was dark and the blades of the overhead fans were whirring about pushing the hot air around the room. I felt a little uneasy as I looked around the room. Others were seated around at various tables deep in what seemed like conspiratorial conversation as if they were plotting some crime against humanity or an act of terror. We went upstairs to another level where it was a little brighter and sat down at a table. Soon a waiter come over and we placed our order. We each ordered a cup of tea.

Asim and I started having our conversation about what was going on in America. We worked it around to politics in Africa. There was a presidential election going on in Kenya and we talked about that. Then he reminded me that he was Sudanese and was living in a refugee camp. Oh, boy I thought, here it comes. I had been waiting for this and wondered just how and when he would work it. I figured he’d put the bite on me before it was over with. Of course, I was reluctant to play along. I didn’t like getting played. As we were sitting there, I noticed a lone individual sidle up to the table next to ours and had a seat. It seemed like he was listening to our conversation. He didn’t order anything, he just sat there on the edge of his seat. I didn’t pay much attention to him as I was focused on Asim and how I was going to handle his request. I decided I would excuse myself to the bathroom to buy some time.

When I got back to the table, I decided I would pay our tab and leave. Whatever change I had coming I would let Asim have and that would be it. I called the waiter over and asked for the check. When he got back, I handed him a 50 Shilling note and he brought back my change which I pushed over in front of Asim.

Just as soon as I pushed the money over the guy at the other table jumped up and four other guys, all wearing suits, came out of the shadows and surrounded the table. Two of the men led Asim away, one on each side of him. Two others stood guard and the ring leader came over and sat directly in front of me. His eyes were shot with blood and his breath stank with alcohol. He flashed an ID at me and said he was a police officer with the Nairobi Police Department. I didn’t get a good look at the ID but it looked like an ordinary driver’s license. 

“Why were you talking to that man?” He wanted to know.

“I don’t know. We just met on the street and he wanted to talk.”

“We have been looking for that man. Did you know he was a drug dealer?”

Uh oh! I thought to myself. Here it comes. First the hook then ….

“He’s also a counterfeiter. I see you gave him some money. Why did you give him money?”

“I was just leaving him the change because I thought he might need it.”

“How much Kenyan money do you have?”

“About 20,000 Shillings.”

“Let me see it.” He reached out his hand.

I slowly reached into my pocket and retrieved my Kenyan money. He reached out his hand further and I reluctantly handed it over. He grunted his approval and stared to count it.

“Do you have any American money?”

“Yeah. I guess you are going to take that too?”

He didn’t’ like that. He scowled.

“If you are not going to cooperate, we can take you down to the station with us and make you cooperate.”

I didn’t like that idea. So, l reached back into my pocket and got the rest of my money out and handed it over to him which he promptly proceeded to count. He took out a small notebook and wrote some figures down in it and tore it out. He handed it to me with the amount of money he had taken as a receipt.

“We have a machine at headquarters that can tell if this money is counterfeit.  We will run your money through the machine and if it is real, we will return it to you. Where are you staying?”

I didn’t want to tell him. If I ever got out of this alive, I never wanted to see them again. But I felt like I had to play along so I told them I was staying at the Serena Hotel but I gave them a false room number. Like that would do a lot of good.

After that he stood up and motioned for me to get up. They escorted me out of the building down the front steps to the curb where a car was waiting. They got into the car and sped away leaving me standing on the side walk in a total state of bewilderment. It was only then that the full force of the experience hit me.

I looked up at the sky and the tops of the building were literally swirling around in the blue canopy overhead. Or was it just in my head? I didn’t know.  I became momentarily quite dizzy and thought I would pass out. I had to find my way back to the hotel but I was disoriented and actually quite lost. Calm down, I told myself. At least you are still alive and free at last. Now just assess your situation and you will be fine.

I looked around again and saw in the distance the top of a building I recognized that was in the direction of the hotel. I started walking in the direction of the familiar landmark, navigating by dead reckoning. The closer I got to the building the more familiar were my surroundings. Soon I found myself back on Uhuru Highway and almost home.

When I made it back to the hotel I went right to the room and collapsed on the bed. Mary wasn’t back yet and I feared telling her what happened. I knew she would be furious with me for putting us both in danger. When she finally got back, I told her the story and she was sympathetic but I could tell she was not happy with me. Hell, I wasn’t happy with me either. We spent the rest of the trip looking over our shoulders as we never knew if the rough and rowdy crew would show back up again and cause more trouble.

We got out of the country with no further incidents but I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t talk to strangers.

THE BRIDGES OF JEFFERSON COUNTY

Photo Essay

In the days of Coronavirus, during the lock down, my travel, like everyone else, was restricted. So, I stayed within the environs of my hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is a pretty little town located along the banks of the Ohio River. It has been described by some as the gateway to the south. Mainly known for Churchill Downs and bourbon it has more than its fair share of pretty women and all the children are above average. In the mornings I would sometimes go down to the river and walk across the Big 4 Bridge and take pictures. This is what I saw.

Fall Guy

Cumberland Falls

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On the last day of my hiking trip, I tripped over some vines and fell to the ground. I had been hiking in the Cumberland Falls area for a few days taking pictures. When I fell, I had a tripod in one hand and a camera in the other.  Trying to protect the camera I fell hard on my left side jamming my left hand into the dirt as I let the tripod go flying. On my drive home my hand and wrist grew more painful and swelled. I thought I’d better see a doctor. I called my private doctor on my cell phone and made an emergency appointment.

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I arrived at his office about an hour later. After a thorough examination he said he didn’t think it was broken, but badly sprained and that it would heal up on its own.  Not so lucky with the camera. I had to take it to the shop to be repaired, set me back $200.

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 This is where I tripped

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Wild River (Cumberland River)

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Cumberland River

Cumberland Falls is located on the Cumberland River in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Southeastern Kentucky.

 

It Was a Very Good Year

When I was 17

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This is Cox’s park down on the Ohio River. I used to come here as a teenager in a battered old 1959 Chevy Bel Air. I had installed a radio I got from a junk yard and put in speakers in the rear window. We would open up the trunk turn the radio on and dance to the music in the parking lot. Later we would watch the submarine races.

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Ohio River from Cox’s Park

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Old Man River

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Keeps Rolling Along

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In the Autumn of my years

Anna

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On a recent trip to Mexico I had occasion to visit the sleepy little town of Ajijic located in the state of Jalisco. Ajijic is nestled between the Sierra Madre Mountains on one side and Lake Chapala on the other. It is a sad little town that lends itself to cobblestone streets, broken sidewalks, and broken dreams. I was staying at an Airbnb owned by an American ex-pat by the name of Luis. He ran the place with his partner Norma. Norma was a native and spoke only Spanish. I spent three weeks in Ajijic over the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays and got to know Luis and Norma pretty well.

I spent most of my time exploring this colorful little town which was full of shops, bars, and restaurants. One day as I was walking back from the Malecon I stopped in a little bar called La Tia. It had red and white walls on the outside with an American flag hung on one side of the entrance and a Mexican flag hung over the other. Music was pouring out the front entrance from a sound system hidden somewhere in the recess of the tiny bar. It looked rather inviting and I was thirsty, so I stumbled there inside.

There was a gentleman sitting on a bar stool in the middle of the bar. A couple was sitting at a table towards the back. I went in and sat a couple stools down from the guy at the bar.

A cute little Mexican bartender flashed her pearly whites. She had long black hair past her shoulder and was wearing a green plaid shirt with several of the top buttons undone. “What would you like to drink?” She asked in perfect English.

“I’ll have a Corona.”

She got my beer and set it down in front of me and went back to her perch. She was talking to the other guy but he turned to me and included me in the conversation.

“Where are you from,” he asked.

“Kentucky.”

He nodded his head. “I’m from Oregon. Been down here about a week. Waiting for my girlfriend and her daughter to show up. You been here before?”

“No. This is my first time. How about you?”

“Oh, we come down here pretty regular.”

“You must like it.”

“Oh, yeah! We love it! The weather is good, food is great, and the price is right. Most of the locals speak English.”

“Yeah, I heard the natives call it, “Gringo Land.’”

He laughed. He had a bottle of beer sitting in front of him and a shot of tequila. He downed the tequila and chased it with a slug of beer.

We all got acquainted and had a nice conversation. The girl’s name was Anna and I was becoming quite taken with her. I snapped a few surreptitious pictures of her.

“Do you want to play a game, Phil?” she asked.

“Sure. What is it?”

“It’s called 21. You roll the dice. There are three winners. One who calls the shot. One who pays, and one who drinks the shot. Do you want to play?”

“Sure, let’s play.”

So, we each took a turn in rolling six or seven dice out onto the bar from a leather cup. Each time Anna counted the tops of the dice. I won the first roll so I called the shot.

“What shot do you want?” she asked pointing to the bottles of tequila behind the bar.

“What are you drinking?”

She pointed to a bottle.

“OK. That’s the one I want.”

She poured out a shot and set it on the bar in front of us. We rolled some more. First the guy from Oregon, then Anna. At the end of the game the Oregon guy drank and paid for the shot I called. We all laughed and he left. So now I had Anna all to myself.

“So, there this New Year’s Eve Party at Perry’s Pizza I am planning on going to. Do you know it?”

“Si. I have been there before. They have good food.”

“Do you have any plans for New Year’s Eve?”

“No.”

“Would you like to come with me as my guest?”

“Si. I would. That would be nice.”

“Do you like to dance?”

“No, I have two left feet.” She laughed.

Which wasn’t true. We exchanged telephone numbers and became friends on Facebook so we could use messenger to coordinate our rendezvous and sure enough when she showed up at the party and we had a great time and danced all night!

She was a beautiful girl and I went back to bar several more times while I was in Ajijic to see her.

 

 

 

Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico

Photo Essay Chapala

Chapala, Jalisco is eleven kilometers (7 miles) from Ajijic, an easy taxi ride or bus trip. To take a taxi it was 50 pesos, to take the bus it was 10. I usually took whatever came first. But the bus rides could be quite an adventure. They were always crowded and some times if you got a local they got off into the neighborhoods and the traversed the narrow cobblestone streets.

Chapala is a pretty little town a little larger than Ajijic and is a bit nicer. A lot of of tourists come down to visit from Guadalajara which is about 50 KM away. It is nestled between the mountains on one side and Lake Chapala on the other.

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The Fishermen of Chapala

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On the Malecon

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Parish of San Francisco

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Parish of San Francisco Interior

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The Fisherman of Chapala

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I am the way and the light

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Meat Market

 

Travel Light, Move Fast

This is the title of Alexandra Fuller’s latest book and my new motto.

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I just received this book in the mail after a long waiting period. It didn’t come from the Amazon Warehouse right around the corner where most books come from. Oh, no, no, no. This book came from a book depository in Jolly Olde England and it took it’s sweet time about arriving here. Some weeks in fact. Well, it was much anticipated and I am sure it will be much loved. I had pre-ordered it as soon as it was available. Not to worry, I am sure I will enjoy it all the more .

This will be the fourth book I have read by Fuller. The first three: Cocktail Hour Under Tree of Forgetfulness, Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight, and Leaving Before the Rains Come. She is a terrific writer and I can’t wait to get started on this book.

Alexandra was born in England and raised in Africa where she lived until she was in her twenties. She then moved to Wyoming. Her stories of growing up in Africa with her eccentric family are fascinating and endlessly entertaining told by a gifted story teller.

Review to follow.

Day 16 – Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

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The last full day I was in Ajijic I climbed this mountain

Jan. 4, 2020. Last full day in Ajijic. My plan was to tackle the mountain and climb up to the shrine. But first breakfast at Scallions with Buddha and the boys.

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As I made my way up Calle J. Encarnacion Rosas on the way to the trail head I stopped at a little shop to pick up a liter of water. It was chilly that morning so I wore a jacket and a sweat shirt. But soon as the day wore on it got warmer and I had to peel some of those layers off. Of course I wore a hat to protect myself from the glare of the sun.

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I found the trail head and headed up the mountain to the Shrine of La Crucita. On the way there are many smaller shrines bearing crosses which represent the 14 stations of the cross symbolizing Christ’s journey on the way to his crucifixion.

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There it is. The trail head.

I had to sit and rest several times on the way up. Coming down was much faster but not any easier. I had to pick my way in order not to fall and there was a lot of stress on my knees and hips. And hips don’t lie!

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I took a lot of pictures on the way up to the the shrine and once there there was quite a good view of the town and the lake from my vantage point.

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Once I got back down off the mountain I stopped at Min Wah’s for lunch. I had the Moo Goo Gai Pan,  hot and sour soup, and a Kirin beer. Very refreshing.

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Once I got back to my place, I was one tired unit, but better off for the experience.

 

 

 

All photos by me.

 

Comments welcome:

 

Top 10 Books Read 2019

I only read 17 books in 2019. Short of my goal, but most of what I read was challenging and on the longish side. I vow to read more this year. My goal is 36. I’ve already read four, so I am on track.

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Here are my top 10 books for 2019:

  1. Look Homeward Angel – Thomas Wolfe
  2. The Big Sleep (Annotated) – Raymond Chandler
  3. The Clown – Heinrich Boll
  4. Ulysses – James Joyce
  5. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez
  6. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  7. Cities of the Plain – Cormac McCarthy
  8. Dream of Fair to Middling Women – Samuel Beckett
  9. Quichotte – Salman Rushdie
  10. Will in the World – Stephen Greenblatt

Some of these books I have been wanting to read all my life but never got around to, like Look Homeward Angel, which inspired a trip to Aheville NC,and Ulysses which was I must say the most challenging of all. Love in Time of Cholera was a pure pleasure to read. Beloved was Toni Morrison’s masterpiece. So sad we lost her last year. Cities of the Plain completed the Border Trilogy. I try to read at least one Cormac McCarthy book each year. Terrific writer! Quichotte by Salman Rushdie was was a pleasant surprise. First one of his I’ve read in a while. I remember reading Satanic Verses when it first came out and created such a stir. The Big Sleep was pure pleasure. If you have never read anything  Heinrich  Boll, I highly recommend him to you. One of my favorites for a long time. The Clown is a good one! Dream of Fair to Middling Women was Samuel Beckett’s first novel and was not published during his lifetime. It is very instructive to read it and see some of the characters and themes introduced early on that we see later in more mature works.  Highly entertaining. And, finally, Will in the World. I learned so much about William Shakespeare and Elizabethan England reading this book. 

 

 

 

Ajijic Day 14 and 15

Jan 2, 2020 Thursday 10:05 am. Cold and rainy. Rained all night and into the morning. Sound of the rain like gravel on an old tin roof.  Had breakfast with Buddha at Gosha’s. Scrambled eggs, black beans, toast, fruit, and coffee.  Walked home in the rain. Went out later with Buddha to a bar near the Malecon called the Traditional. Had a Corona and listened to some music. Later we walked up to the square and sat on a bench and watched the people walk by. It was a little cold so we walked back home. I finished reading my Raymond Chandler book and watched a movie on my tablet. Went to bed at 11:00 pm and up at 6:00 am, dreams of Anna filling my head.

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January 3, 2020. Meeting Linda Schaefer in Chapala. Linda is a person who I have been Facebook friends with for over 10 years, but whom I’ve never met in person. By sheer coincidence I learned she was traveling to Mexico and staying with friends in Guadalajara. We decided to meet up in Chapala.

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Me and Linda Schaefer

There have been many coincidences surrounding my friendship with Linda. She is friends of friends on Facebook: Firoze Shakir of India, Anthony and Crystal Posey of New Orleans, who are originally from Kentucky. Linda lives in Ada, Oklahoma where I used to live at one time. Oh, the irony abounds.

Linda is a renowned photographer, a published author, and a subject matter expert on Mother Teresa, who she knew personally. I was excited to meet her for the first time in person for sure.

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I took the bus to Chapala and we met at a restaurant on the Malecon.

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Lake Chapala

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Tulasi Zimmer

 

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I had a wonderful afternoon with Linda and her friends. It was a beautiful day, lots of sunshine and warmth. I took a lot of pictures. I stayed until after nightfall, but hurried back to Ajijic because I wanted to say goodbye to Anna at La Tia and I knew she got off work at 8:00. This was the last chance I had to see her before I left town. I made it just in time.

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