My current podcast obsessions

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A few months ago, I was whining to my Facebook friends about not having  time to read.  “Why don’t you listen to podcasts when you can’t hold a book to read?” someone suggested helpfully.  At the time I hadn’t embraced the podcast lifestyle but as soon I downloaded Stitcher on my Android phone, I was hooked. When I’m at work, on the train, or at home doing my chores, I put on my earphones and listen to some of the most interesting shows I’ve ever heard. It’s like reading a good book or having a lively discussion with your bff. Here are 3 of the top podcasts on my playlist…

School of Greatness

Best for: Motivating you to live to your full potential

Why you’ll probably love it too: If you want to hear about people who have done great things with their lives, go ahead and put a star on this podcast in your playlist; I promise that you’ll be coming back for more and more doses of motivation. Lewis Howes delivers top notch interviews with contemporary greats from all professions. He is passionate, curious, and energetic; each interview is unique but all of them are equally informative and engaging.

My best episode so farTracy McMillan on Why Relationships Are Meant to Trigger Us

Invisibilia

Best for: Answering questions about human behaviour

Why you’ll probably love it too: I love learning about what makes us behave the way we do and if you read my blog regularly, you most likely do too. This podcast examines the underlying forces of human psychology (ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions) that create our individual and collective realities. There are several behaviours that may come across to others as ‘odd’; Invisibalia attempts to explain these oddities through real-life stories and scientific evidence. My favorite thing about this podcast is its exploration of outliers- the people who do not fall under the ‘normal’ categories of society. The podcast content may be nerdy but it’s anything but boring. It’s like watching a thrilling documentary inside the theater of your mind.

My best episode so farHow to Become Batman

Modern Love

Best for: Exploring the millions of ways love affects us

Why you’ll probably love it too: These are short essays read out by notable celebrities and it explores all the joys and tribulations that come with love.  What is most striking about this series to me is that there are no complicated plots of Shakespearean proportions-just regular people like you and me whose lives were changed forever because of this powerful emotion. Whether you are newly in-love, a veteran lover, divorced, widowed; whether you are a close range parent or a distant parent; or whether you are celebrating love or grieving loss, this podcast makes you realise that you are not alone in trying to make it through life with your heart intact.

My best episode so far:  In Darkness And In Light

How about you-do you have any podcasts that you enjoy listening to?

Cameras,coastal humans, and chicken: The Making of Ahmed Juma Bhalo

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Ahmed Juma Bhalo is a Kiswahili anchor and reporter at K24 TV in Kenya.  A rising star in the Kenya news business and highly regarded as the next Ahmed Darwesh (deceased), Ahmed reveals that his success didn’t come to him overnight. Here is his story.

 

 

You are a natural in front of the camera and it almost seems that you were born to be an anchor.  How did you get started in broadcasting and what influenced your love for media?

Throughout school, my teachers and classmates would always compliment me on my reading. I was that kid who was chosen every day to read the set books in front of the class while my classmates and teachers listened on.  I remember when I was in Form 2 in Khamis High School (Mombasa), I got a bit too confident and volunteered to present the sports news in front of the entire school.  It was a tormenting experience for me.

That’s a scary experience for most kids.  You must have been shaking quite badly.

Yes, I thought I wouldn’t make it through the presentation.

How long did you do that for? How long did you present sports to the school?

Fortunately, I did it only once. I transferred to Rasul High School a year later.  At Rasul, my schoolmates used to report incidents to me,  and I would record myself reporting the incidents on my camera.  I think that’s when my love of journalism developed.  After I graduated from high school, I used to wear a borrowed suit from my neighbour, hold a pretend microphone against my chest and imitate newscasters.  I really did it for the laughs. The people in my neighbourhood loved my performances.  I also had a Youtube Channel where I uploaded my “anchoring” videos purely for entertainment’s sake.

Your first stint as a professional anchorman was at K24 TV.

Yes. I also did field reporting.

How was your first job like?

K24 actually hired me as a trainee when I was still a student at the University of Nairobi. That was on December 22, 2011.  One week later, I anchoring live on air.  It was excited but I was also very nervous.

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Ahmed in his early anchoring days

 

How long did you do this for?

I worked at K24 for two years before being laid off during a mass retrenchment on August 8th,  2013.

That must have been devastating.  How did the redundancy affect you?

It affected me both financially and psychologically.  My faith, however, helped tremendously during this difficult time; I was always taught to be grateful for all circumstances, both good and bad. Everything happens according to God’s will and my redundancy was what was fated for me.  Deep in my heart, I knew that losing my job was not the end of the world. Nikajiamsha, nikapangusa magoti (I got up and dusted my knees).  I knew that this was all part of a journey and that  being jobless wasn’t my final destination.

That’s an amazing attitude.

Alhamdulillah (Thanks be to God)

During this difficult time of uncertainty, did you reach out to any support system? What were your coping strategies?

I just shook off that feeling of despair and refused to let my employment status define me.  I was young and I wanted to earn a halal living.  When I relocated back to Mombasa, I became a small business owner selling and delivering chicken to local residents.  Those were my Kuku Pap days.

 

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Delivering chicken to a customer

 

That’s one thing I admire about you. You didn’t think that selling chicken was beneath you.  You made a living selling chicken and you did it with a smile on your face.  I saw your Facebook adverts.  Your work ethic earned you many supporters and admirers along the way.

Yes, I did get a lot of support from a lot of people. Some of them would come from as far away as Nyali to come buy chicken from me in town.  That’s almost a 45-minute commute.  There were many butcheries along the way but what they wanted was to support me and my business. I felt appreciated.  I will never forget that feeling.

I sold chicken but I kept my passions alive through citizen journalism.

Are you referring to your wildly popular Kiswahili Facebook series, Viumbe vya Mombasa?

Yes. A lot of people followed it. It was similar to the ‘Humans of New York’ blog, but I interviewed the people on the streets of Mombasa.

 

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During a ‘Viumbe vya Mombasa’ interview

 

Who was your most memorable kiumbe (human)?

I’ll never forget Mzee Abdallah Alwy Al Ahdaly.    He was a 68 year old man who used to sell labania, a local sweet.  Many men of his age in Mombasa are usually self-retired. They sit at home all day and get taken care of their children.  Mzee rejected this lifestyle- he chose to keep on working. He was proud of himself.  There are thousands of young men and women in Mombasa who are jobless but they are extremely picky with their jobs.  They’d rather waste their lives idling at home all day than sell on the streets.  Mzee al Ahdaly’s personal philosophy was to always earn his own money using his own labour. He insisted that the youth need to develop a less picky mentality towards work.

Did you sell chicken for a long time?

No.  A few months after my relocation to Mombasa, I was offered a job at KBC as a Kiswahili reporter. I did that for a year and then moved back to K24 to serve as a Kiswahili news anchor.

 You are persistent with your dreams.  What does persistence mean to you?

It’s about being focused and knowing what you want.

I love this.

 Tell me more about your family dynamic.  You come from a family of cultural and academic giants. How did your family’s fame affect you?

I come from an interesting family.  Some of my uncles were journalists, ambassadors, and historians.  My father, Juma Bhalo, was a taarab musician who was world famous for his singing.  My love for KiSwahili was greatly influenced by him. When I first started my TV job, I used to call myself Ahmed Bhalo. Before long I changed it to Ahmed Juma Bhalo, it was an issue of reclaiming my father-son identity.  I wanted to be known as the son of THE Juma Bhalo.

I was also greatly inspired by my uncle, the great poet Ustadh Ahmad Nassir Juma Bhalo.  He was the composer for most of my father’s songs; his command of the Kiswahili language is profound.

In what way did your parents inspire you? What’s the most important thing that they have contributed to your success?

My mom is, and will always be my number one fan. She has always been supportive of my career choice. Initially, my dad was against me pursuing journalism.  He wanted me to be an advocate for reasons I have never understood. However I stood my ground and insisted on journalism, and he eventually supported my career dreams.  He supported me financially and paid for my university education. I am where I am today because of what he sacrificed for me.   Alhamdulillah, I am a proud son of two beautiful souls.

You obviously enjoy doing your current job.  Where would you want to be in 5 years time?

I am going back to school for my Masters, InshaAllah. There are other plans in the works but wouldn’t want to reveal them now. Tukutane (let’s meet) in 5 years.

 I can’t wait.

What advice would you give to youngsters wanting to do what you do?

Journalism is a passion and a calling. If you have the passion for it, just soldier on. It is a great profession, I am living my dream.

Journalism is self-made. Would you agree with that statement? You have to go after the stories and create your own brand…isn’t it?

You are what you mould yourself to be.  Your brand is in your hands.

Absolutely. Here’s one last question to conclude this interview: What is your definition of success?

Success to me is about having three things: peace of mind, a family that supports each other; and a good relationship with your Creator.

 

THANK YOU, AHMED!

 

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With co-host, Mwanaisha Chidzuga

 

You can find Ahmed on TV every weekend hosting the Kiswahili news at K24 or follow him on Facebook.

(All photos were used by permission from Ahmed’s Facebook page)

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Reflections on passion

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“The word ‘passion’ is often tossed around casually as something necessary for great work. What’s ignored is that the root of passion means ‘to suffer.’ When you are passionate about something, it means you are willing if necessary- to suffer a bit on behalf of it, because you care so deeply. Great contributors have discovered a productive passion, or an outcome that they are so committed to that it fuels and animates their work.”

Todd Henry

The Accidental Creative

Guest post: Today is good

​A few years back, I was sitting in the car with my wife at a car park talking.  We were puzzled and confused, excited and bewildered, and desperately trying to make sense of a certain event that left us questioning what life was all about.

In the midst of all our intense discussion, I suddenly felt a presence of someone outside the car window. As I turned to face the window, an old Sikh gentleman wearing a big turban and long white beard stood there staring at me with a big smile on his face. He had appeared out of nowhere.

I was surprised at this intruder but I smiled back at him anyway; I was keen to know what he was upto.  In my city,  you hardly see a Sikh out and about begging, so I couldn’t help but wonder what this old man was up to.

“Hello Sir. How are you?” I said. “Hello” he replied back. He continued to stand and he continued to smile. He lowered his face and looked into my window.

 ” Sir !” he said. “Today is good”

He stopped talking and started smiling again. “Today is good, Today is good” he kept repeating the words. Before I could say anything back, he walked off.

I turned to my left to face my wife and all I could see was her big green eyes glowing back at me with disbelief. She had the most excited face I have ever seen.

 ” Whaaaaaat?! Whaat was all that about?” I asked.

 “Signs ! Signs ! Signs!” She answered excitedly back.

“What signs?” I asked.

“That old man right there –  who is now walking away- that is all signs. Did you hear what he said to you? Out of nowhere, he came to you. He left all he was doing, and left all the other people in this car park, and came straight to you and to you alone  just to tell you “TODAY IS GOOD”. Look at him, he isn’t approaching anyone else.  He is  walking away into oblivion.If that is not a sign, then I dont know what is. What that man is trying to  you is that there is no better day than today, meaning you have to  live in the present. What else is there to be said?”
After that we looked at each other with big smiles on our faces, sighing with relief and gratitude.

A few years down the line as I sit on my desk remembering that event, I can’t help but to smile and agree with what the old Sikh man told me: TODAY IS GOOD. 
His message was short, but it was loud and clear. If you want to do something with your life, do not wait for tomorrow. Do you know why? Because TODAY IS GOOD.

Fall in love, get a new job, move to another city, conceive, get a hair cut, go for Hajj, travel the world; do whatever that is good for you and for humanity. Do it, do it today. 
If you are not willing to do it today, then you are not going to do it  tomorrow, because whatever excuse you have today, you’ll still have tomorrow. 

Maybe you’ll have the same excuse 20 years from now, you may even leave this life holding on to the same excuse. 

TODAY IS GOOD. 
Post written by my husband, Anwar Bhalo. You can find him on Facebook (Anwar Juma Bhalo, he accepts all requests) or find him writing Swahili poetry on his blog: http://www.mashairiyakijanachabhalo.wordpress.com

Texting with my sister

Sister: Why can’t I find myself an author husband?
Sister: I’d be happy
Sister: He’d tell me stories, and tell our children stories
Sister: And I’d watch him on his typewriter, tapping away
Sister: I want him to use a typewriter
Sister: Not a laptop
Sister: Then we’d sit on the porch drinking virgin cocktails and listening to Astor Piazolla

Me: Why can’t you be the husband that you seek?

She:

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When life gives you lemons…

When life gives you lemons, turn that shizz upside down and go make something fabulous for yourself. Bake a cake topped with fresh flowers and rainbow sprinkles, learn a new language (Italian/Arabic/HTML, whatever), volunteer, write, travel, reacquaint yourself with The Higher Power, turn your balcony into a botanical garden, start a bookclub, sign up for a dance class, listen to amazing podcasts while you work out/cook/commute  (I highly recommend ‘The School of Greatness’), immerse yourself in an adult coloring book, meet people- HUG LIFE.

The whole point is not to lose momentum when the going gets tough. Move-physically, mentally, spiritually, socially- constantly. Grow. Don’t sweep sadness under a rug and pretend that it’s not there-ignoring it will only make it bigger.  Take it into your arms and whisper love and hope into its ears:
“We will get through this together”

Then take Inspiration to the side and politely request it to lead the way out of this tunnel of darkness. Create something beautiful from your struggles and  never, ever, let a crisis go to waste.

No one deserves more love from you than yourself.

Do you have an un-bucket list?

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Have you ever seen the movie, The Bucket list, in which the characters played by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson make a list of all the things they want to do before they die? I watched it a few years back and was hugely inspired by it.  I made my own bucket list- a very long list of fantastically adventurous things to do, places to visit, new things to try – until reality hit me on the head and I realised that I didn’t have nearly enough money, time, or energy to do half the things on that list. This is my problem with bucket lists: more often than not, they focus on the failure of the things that I haven’t done and often leave me with a sense of anxiety for the future.

Instead of sharing with you a list of the things that I haven’t done, I’ll share with you a list of the things that I have accomplished in the last year or so. Welcome to my un-bucket list:

  1. Quit drinking soda-I challenged myself to quit soda right before I started fasting for Ramadhan last year.  I’ve been drinking water and very occasionally, fruit juice. These days, I won’t drink soda even if it comes free with a meal.  My clothes fit better and my skin feels more hydrated.
  2. Turned my wardrobe into a ‘joy’ only zone-I went through an intense purging period where I got rid of clothes that didn’t fit well, didn’t look good on me, or that I just flat-out didn’t like. I read about Marie Kondo‘s philosophy on surrounding yourself with only things that ‘spark’ joy, and I have slowly started cutting out the joyless stuff out of my life. Which brings me to….
  3. Picked my battles-This is another big un-bucket item. I try very hard to allocate my time and focus on people that fill my life with beauty and laughter, and really, really try to stay away from anything that will make me angry or sad. There are always the inevitable sad/angry situations of course, but I intentionally keep these to a necessary minimum. When confronted with a conflict, I tend to ask myself “will this matter in 5 years time?” and proceed accordingly.
  4. Explored my city-Remember how I mentioned that bucket lists often involve significant chunks of money, time, and energy? This specifically relates to travel. As a working mother with two active toddlers,  I have little of those three resources to spare. I haven’t been travelling to many new countries, but I have been a very busy local tourist.  I make a point of visiting a local attraction at least once every week. London has many fantastic free attractions like museums, parks, gardens, and events. I pack a lunch and snacks for the road, load up the kids in the stroller, and off we go to explore the city. It’s so much fun!
  5. Started a library-This is probably the biggest un-bucket item on my list. Since childhood, I’ve always enjoyed reading immensely (I talked about it in this blog post). One of my dreams was to start a library in the coastal region of Kenya, where literacy rates are so low compared to the rest of the country. In late 2014, this dream came true. The library started out with a collection of a few donated books and now has grown so big that we are running out of space! You can read more about the library here.

How about you? What’s in your un-bucket list?

This quote took my breath away

“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.”

The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice, by Parker Palmer

Source: http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-the-gift-of-presence-the-perils-of-advice/8628

 

Fadumo Dayib: The Legitimacy of Muslim Female Leaders

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Fadumo Dayib is making rounds in international news for all the right reasons. She is the first female presidential candidate for Somalia, a country known for its long civil war and patriarchy. Her daring ambition has earned her both widespread admiration and hate. She has even received death threats, but the accomplished mother of four says that she is not deterred.  When I read about her in a Marie Claire article about a year ago, I was immediately inspired by her bravery and vision. She was a modern-day role model that I could look up to.

Last year, I was honoured to co-interview her in a Facebook Q&A session hosted by Mombasa-Toa Donge Lako group. We fielded many questions ranging from feminism to Somali culture to East African geo-politics.  All the questions were fascinating and her responses were always direct, concise, and educated.

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One question, in particular, stands out in my memory as it had been one that I had been wondering about myself for quite a while. It is in regards to the legitimacy of Muslim female leaders:

Question: We often hear that Islam forbids women from assuming leadership positions, how have you overcome that?

Answer:  Islam does not forbid women from assuming leadership positions. If that were the case, all mothers would go to hell as childbearing and rearing is the most difficult leadership position ever assigned to any human being.

To make it short, the Hadith cited was interpreted by the scholars to refer to the position of ruling over all Muslims under a single ruler. This is what was previously called a “caliphate”. Even then, there’s actually a lengthy discussion and debate about whether this Hadith is giving a general ruling or was specific to the Persian Empire at the time, which is when the Prophet PBUH said, “A people will no succeed if they surrender their affairs to a woman.” As for ruling a country, it’s not really an issue because I would be governing a specific location for a segment of the Muslim population. In this case Somalia. An example that can be cited here is when Umar ibn al-Khattab RA put a woman to be responsible for the market in Madina, which meant she’d ruling over men in that capacity.
One issue with Muslims today is the attachment to terms without understanding the concepts underlying them. This has caused a great deal of confusion, especially with regards to politics. A president of a country is not technically supposed to rule in the same capacity as medieval ruler did. In a functioning democracy, there’s a parliament or a senate or a congress as bodies which are supposed to counterbalance the executive branch of government. Technically speaking, the president is not really the “ruler”. They’re the head of a group of people that form a party which is in power, who are in turn checked by other branches of government. This is a simplification, but I say it to illustrate a point: the governmental systems in place today are not the same as those the scholars were living under and interpreting the Quran and Hadith in light of. Hence, it is a mistake to quote a single verse or Hadith and cite what past scholars have said about them without taking into account other plausible interpretations that could run contrary to what they said. This is not to mention Balqees, the Queen of Sheba, mentioned in Surah An’Naml in the Quran who Prophet Suleiman called to Islam. Balqees was mentioned in a way of praise in the Quran for having led her people to success with her wisdom and consultation with them. Stories like hers are what the Quran calls “lessons for those with intellect” and “lessons for those who ponder and reflect”. The Prophet PBUH Sunnah is supposed to be an explanation of the Quran, not a contradiction against it. Unfortunately, we live in a time where many Muslims have rejected traditional scholarship and methodology and have resorted to nihilistic approaches where they think quoting a single verse or Hadith can be authoritative to make something permissible or impermissible. May Allah guide us all.

I overcome this challenge by highlighting that our religion gave us rights long before others caught on. Islam is peace, it brings mercy and enlightenment. Anyone distorting its beautiful teachings and tarnishing its image needs to be checked. It is our obligation to do so. We need to learn our religion instead of parroting what certain sheikhs have said. The first verse was Iqra. And read we must. We also need to understand what we read in order to apply in our daily lives.

 

A full recording of the interview can be found on Donge’s Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/168336429956770/search/?query=fadumo%20dayib

Ms. Dayib’s official website is https://fqdayib.com/

(Photo from Ms. Dayib’s Facebook page)
 

Why I read

When I was in about 8 or 9 years old, I distinctly remember reading while eating. At the dinner table.

My mother would complain that I wasn’t participating in dinner, and I would block her out and continue peeking at my book under the table while everyone else talked over the food. I wasn’t being anti-social; I was just having so much fun living between the pages of my books.

I was a voracious reader from a young age. I don’t remember exactly when I could start reading on my own but I do know that books inspired me from a very young age. At ten, I thought that if Robinson Crusoe could create his own colony on a desert Island I could damn well create my own language. And I did. I made a pocket sized dictionary sewn together from torn-out notebook pages and filled it with gibberish words that sounded perfectly reasonable to me. Next to each new word I created was its English equivalent; a new red word against the old in blue.  A few of my friends caught on to my language and we quickly became ‘the group that speaks the strange language’. When speaking strange became too much of a hassle, we abandoned that hobby and took up detective work inspired by the works of ‘The Secret Seven’ and ‘The Hardy Brothers’. We never really uncovered anything spectacular but the idea of replicating adventures as exciting as our beloved fictional characters made us feel bold and brave. As long as we had a steady supply of books, our minds stayed curious. In the days before handheld devices and social media, books kept my friends and I endlessly entertained.

As I grew older, my questions grew more complicated.

Where do babies come from?

What is beyond the sky?

What is ‘politics’?

Why do people die?

Where is God?

Why do we suffer?

Why do we love the people that we love?

Who am I?

I turned to books to find the answers.

In my late teens, a certain book on my father’s bookshelf caught my eye. Narrated in the third person, it spun a fascinating tapestry of life in neo-colonial Cairo. It spoke of love, betrayal, poverty, and fate. Its heroin, Hamida, was a character I both admired and loathed. Once I picked up the book, I devoured it greedily.  Midaq Alley was the beginning of my lifelong affair with African and Islamic literature.

When I was in my late twenties, I was in the middle of a messy divorce and life, as I had known it for the past two decades, no longer made sense. I was almost newly single and separated from my children, and this new identity shook me to my core. If marriage was such a messy institution, why do we have it in the first place? Why not just cohabitate and say ‘adios!’ when the union no longer serves our mutual interests?  Torn by anger at myself, my ex, and the administrators of marriages and divorces, I reached for Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Committed’ and read it in the back seat of my brother’s SUV as my brother, sister-in-law, and I cruised down Colorado’s majestic country roads. The entire trip was a salve to my broken soul. We hiked up a small hill and took pictures under a gentle waterfall near the peak. We had the best seafood soup I’ve ever had in my life at a little Mexican restaurant in the middle of nowhere. We laughed. We allowed each other silence, each person meditating in their own sacred silences. By the end of the day, the pink sunset sky was on my left and a few stars were beginning to twinkle through the top of the sunroof. I was nearing the end of the book and I was in tears, hugging the paperback the same way I would hug my mother.

I know that this is the worst experience of your life, but I also know that someday you’ll move past it and you’ll be fine.”
― Elizabeth GilbertCommitted: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

Hope was still alive.

Ms. Gilbert was right- I did move past that ordeal and I did turn out fine.

I’m in my thirties now and I am more enthusiastic about books than I have ever been in my life. Even with the demands of raising small children, working, and running a very active charity, I still make time to read. I mostly read on the train, that self-indulgent one hour between home and work, or at night, when the rest of the family is asleep.  I love reading to my children at bedtime and I get as much pleasure from reading to them as they do from listening to me read.  Occasionally, I also read to my husband to help him fall asleep. I don’t have to read, I choose to read. Or better yet, I want to read.  The truth is, reading is as natural to me as breathing.  Books are my faithful companions. They help explain the world to me. They offer a different opinion from my own. They challenge me and nourish me.  Books are my home.

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