A Beautiful World: Viewing Life As A Traveller Passing Through

I learned very early that the world was a colorful, wonderful, curious place.

A World of Beautiful Things

Growing up as the daughter of trade confectioners (among my parents’ MANY skills and careers over the years), it was exciting enough that ice cream was a part of the family business.

Now picture my whole family going to county fairs in city after city over the summer, selling gourmet ice cream and other special treats. Hot summer days, ferris wheels, selling ice cream, riding elephants, and parking our trailer in a different city every two weeks over the summer. It was an exciting and vibrant childhood.

My family had a beautiful trailer for life on the road. Very often, the ferris wheel wherever we were was my nightlight as I drifted off to sleep.

The County Fair of My Childhood

In those days, the fair was SO MUCH DIFFERENT than it is now.

Now it’s seedy, commercialized, and cheap. In those days, it was different. It was a place for families.
It was perfectly respectable, for example, to find your teacher at the fair selling ice cream or fresh local-made pie as a summer job.
All your neighbors had pigs, chickens, or livestock competing for a blue ribbon at the county fair.
Clowns were the good guys (and on occasion, some of the more fun babysitters I ever had).
Travelling acts came through each city with their caravan of trailers and buses and paparazzi, and some of them launched huge musical careers this way. Others stayed in the circuit, with their trick divers, zydeco bands, exotic bird expositions, magic shows, pan flutes, acrobatics, elephant training, and fire-breathing.

If you’ve never heard of zydeco, this song from Buckwheat Zydeco provides a great example of this dance-inducing Louisiana style of music.

All these people were friends of our family. All these people were my neighbors. The carnival was my neighborhood. And I was so very free.

What kid wouldn’t want one of these in her back yard?!

I learned lots of life skills–to this day, I can sense a fight in a crowd before it happens. I can walk through a sea of people and they’ll hardly notice I was there because I won’t bump into anybody. I can sell a bridge to a bridge-builder. I am unafraid to look people in the eye, even when (and especially when) they are trying to be aggressive. I learned what it looks like to be targeted and followed by strange men (very important to know, especially as a little girl). These were things I learned from the general public. Most people trust the public, and look down on the fair folk, but let me tell you: in regards to quality, the truth is actually reversed. I was always in more danger from the general public.

The fair folk were my extended family.

Some real Roma folks were always around ready to read our fortunes, but as our families saw each other multiple times a year, my parents and they became familiar and always had a kind and neighborly word for each other. We girls sat while the grownups drank coffee and chatted.

But I also learned a ton from the other families like mine–the ones who travelled, who belonged to this circus-ish world, who saw each other in every city at every fair, and others only once a year at a particular show. My parents were friends with the elephant trainers, who let my sisters and I feed the elephants oatmeal raisin cookies every morning, and ride the elephants any and every time we liked. We knew the people who operated the rides. We sold ice cream to Robin Williams, MC Hammer, and other big celebrities. We knew people who got their start at the fairs, like the makers of those Dippin’ Dots.

Some kids have their height measured on a doorframe. We also had caricatures done every year for fun, and to commemorate our growth from summer to summer.

And clowns? Again: they were the good guys. And at the fair, they were everywhere. If I needed to get to safety or report some creep-o scaring me, or get a message to anyone, anywhere, I’d go find a clown. They’d help me. Suddenly, there’d be a whole network of people making sure I got safely to where I needed to be. They’d look out for and protect me. You certainly wouldn’t find that now, but let me tell you–back then, they were a network of good guys who did what they did because they cherished the innocent. They were performers who devoted their lives to joy, and protection of the innocence in all of us. And you know what? Most of them had regular day jobs, some of which where pretty prestigious. I think my parents knew of a physician and several of his doctor friends who did moonlighting as clowns at the fair. What, you think Patch Adams started that? No way! He may have been the most famous doctor to don a red nose, but he certainly wasn’t the first.

Stupid Stephen King ruined everything, but that’s another post.

Clowns and other street performers provided a guardian angel network of information and safety for all of us “fair kids.”

As for the other vendors, we had the same kind of rows of trailers selling stuff that you see at fairs today. But it was different then. The folks who sold Chinese food were actually from China. The folks who sold Native American jewelry belonged to those cultures–and had tons of their lessons, legends, and folklore to share. The folks who sold Mexican food were from Mexico. The folks who sold grandfather clocks were actually from Germany. Then you had families who had trades and skills passed down from generation to generation. Real leatherwork from families with generations of tanners. Photographers from families who had literally every iteration of the camera in their attic since the invention of the camera. Blacksmiths. Engine builders. Inventors–real ones, with their wildest new robotics and ideas that no one else in the world had heard or seen yet.

Demonstrations like these at the fair always followed with actually getting to meet the performers, who told me all about their families and culture. I soaked it up like a sponge.

And dumb jacuzzi salesmen and ridiculous seen-on-tv guys that the rest of us really didn’t pay much attention to. I wish I had known then that it would have been those cheap commercial guys who were going to take over everything.

My point is, walking from one side of the grounds to the other was like entering dozens of different worlds, different countries. Talking to people was amazing–they’d tell me these stories of how they came to America, what they were doing, how they did what they did. Everywhere you look was a human being of a different color, shape, and size. Each one–no matter where they were from–would tell me how glad they were to be in the United States, because they were free to be who they were. This freedom allowed everyone to live peacefully together, even though we were all different–and we were ALL different, with different skills, religions, cultures, folklore, languages….it was SO wonderful. Everywhere you look, someone was doing something different, had a different skill, and it was all interesting.

I imagine heaven looks something like that.

Diversity is Proof that God Loves Us

That’s how I know what I know about diversity. It was woven into the fabric of my understanding of the world, and of God. You see, diversity is God’s way of showing all the multitude of ways that God loves us. That’s why it’s so wonderful that we are all different.

The Changing Tide

Like I said, things changed. The cost of doing business in this way became higher. Soon it was only the commercial guys who could afford to do business, that and the old-fashioned folk who became crooked and lied and cheated their wealth in order to stay in business. You know how in The Hobbit movie when Radagast notices the beautiful forest becoming corrupted by a spreading evil? That’s what it felt like to see my childhood world becoming darker, greedier, needier. My parents always ran a clean business, so in this new market they very soon were losing profits. More and more, the community turned sour and seedy, since only the more money-mongering, villainous characters were able to afford to stay. There were a couple times when it felt like my family was on an island, and things were green and good and safe where we were, but my beautiful childhood was becoming a dangerous place around me. Twice, I saw one man pull a gun on another man and shoot him. I would have been less than ten years old. A couple times, the crowd became so dangerous that my sister and I had to hide under our ice cream counter until my father came to get us–a couple hours of fearful waiting.

At long last, my family had to throw in the towel, sell the business, and return home. We weren’t the only ones. All my wonderful, colorful, beautiful neighbors in all their shapes and sizes, languages, flavors, smells, countries, all had to return home too, one by one, then handful by handful. Back to our drab tiny little towns, where everyone was the same color and the same religion, and didn’t believe my sisters and I when we said we personally knew the elephant in “Operation Dumbo Drop.”

No one in town understood the beautiful thing we had, the beautiful thing we lost, and the process of that, of what we went through. It was hard.

We still knew a good family in the business, and I worked for them every summer in high school selling corn dogs to earn money for the school year.

To them, we were abnormal. To them, we had returned home and that finally made sense, we would finally be respectable and fit into the boxes that they had always known for themselves.

I Felt Like We Were A Disney Version of The Addams Family

But we never would really fit in. My dad knew way too much about the wonderful diversity of people, and it made him an amazing teacher to hundreds of students young and old. He had seen and met too many people, had too much of a wide perspective to waste his time being pretentious or snobby like so many of his colleagues, even though he was way way wayyyyy more educated than they. My mom knew way too much about global business from, well, being in the globe and from running a business. She kicked you-know-what and became a global credit expert, one of less than 100 in the whole United States. She was simply too exotic and interesting to fit our town’s assigned role of happy pill-popping waspish cheerleader-uniform-still-drycleaned-in-the-front-of-the-closet Christian housewife. Even some of our distant metropolitan relatives clicked right into the mindset of us being back in the sticks, and for the longest time I wondered if they thought we sat around barefoot on the back porch with banjoes.

I’m proud that my parents had such integrity to run a good and honest business, teaching my sisters and I how to work. They also hired a staff every summer, and I never knew anyone who worked for my folks who didn’t come away much better, as they always took them under their wings and taught them life skills, loaned them money, listened when no one else would, fed them hot meals. Even when we returned back to town for good, my parents turned their attentions to the house and garden. They’ve made it a haven, as gorgeous as anything you’d find in a home magazine. Even so, I bet they wished there was someone close by who could have understood everything they had been through.

And my sisters and I? Well we were always seen as odd. For my sisters, they were frequently seen as exotic, popular, desirable. I wasn’t so lucky. Other kids didn’t understand or trust that I would be open-minded because of the color of my skin, and treated me accordingly. My sisters and I were independent, could run businesses of our own. When I grew up and had my turn for management experience, it was almost as though the other folks thought I was too young to be qualified…little did they know I had been wearing an apron and managing money since before I was in kindergarten. While they were on summer vacation, I was working. I was working in heaven, but hey, it was still hard work.

Our elephant friends, Tai and Dixie, had coloring much like this. We were probably the only kids who returned to school saying things like “Our friend is an elephant and she’s moving to Hollywood,” and have it actually be true. Tai has been in tons of things, and features with Reese Witherspoon in “Water For Elephants.”

A Whole New World

Enter the digital age, and PRAISE GOD, too. For the first time since my childhood, I FINALLY had access to the world again beyond my tiny town. Everything changed for me with my first smartphone. I was able to go to school online and compete with people all around the country instead of the little college in my town, and these people really challenged me and helped me grow.

Even my love life was made possible thanks to the access provided by the digital age. In a chat forum, I could talk with people from other countries. How I had missed getting to talk to people from different countries! I chatted with a lady my age in China who told me about university there. I learned about life in Copenhagen from a man who had just moved to the city. Finally, one day I started up a conversation with a man from Argentina.

Eugene, aka the man of my dreams.

(C) 2019 Margaret Nelson. Do not use without permission.

It was Eugene. I finally met a man who understood what it was like to have a concept of home that travels with you, a man who had a global perspective, who knew how to work hard, who had family values, and knew what it was like to have to leave home and start from scratch. Self-made, could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, could make something from seemingly nothing, who knew the same secrets of this wonderful, colorful world like no one in my town ever could. Plus, he’s also a person who made the best and did his best with everything around him, his entire life. Let me tell you–I knew right away that this was a real man! We started just having friendly conversation, and were very fast very dear friends. But even then, I knew Eugene was someone who would be important to my life.

There are two men in a girl’s life who make all the difference. There’s her father, and there’s The Guy. I knew Eugene was The Guy–the only guy that could possibly have been just right for me in the whole world.

And, I get to be his partner! How amazing is that? I get to add to his life as much as he adds to mine…..*mind blown*….

United as Travelers of Exceptional Variety

Now that I’m grown, and the world is so accessible, I find myself actively seeking out new friends and adventures all the time. I’ve met some truly special people who embody my sense of home–you know, there are just some folks who stay with you through your life, no matter where you wind up going. Experiences are that way, too. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I can’t remember the last person I met who didn’t have something interesting about him or her. I love people. I love places. I love different cultures. I love being in a country where we get to all be/do/think different things and still come together to stand in favor of the ideas behind one flag, and have a say in developing those ideas, too!

The Obelisk in Buenos Aires.

Don’t Worry, There’s a Happy Ending

My town in the valley has gotten a ton better too. Sure, in with the angels come some unsavory types. But all in all, it’s a wonderland. I could walk down the street and hear English, Spanish, Portugese, Tagalog, Mandarin, Assyrian, Hindi, Korean, and more, all in the same afternoon. There are people of all colors, shapes, and sizes in my town. Churches of all shapes and sizes. Cultures of all these different wonderful varieties.

The world is a bright and beautiful place that always, always rewards the curious.

I remember turning 18 and absolutely praying for a way to get out of my valley. I had become so bitter about being treated as odd for so very long. But the world changed. Technology changed. We are all now in a digital age, and the world is so very accessible to anyone who may have an inclination to be curious about how other folks live and think. I grew up during the birth of the internet, and there were lots of bugs to work out with it, let me tell you. Kids today have inherited a world that is so much more accessible. I want younger generations to celebrate! Where I was limited, nowadays kids are so free! I want to show them this great access they have been born with. I’m happy for them-joyful for them, even! I want them to feel good about themselves, and to understand how joyous and wonderful it is that they have these technological gifts!

More than anything, I want to encourage them and others to utilize the gifts they have been given–to be curious, to see the wonder and magic in the world. It’s there!

I’m so excited to be a teacher and work with the students from all of these communities. I hope I can open a door to the same wonderful world of my childhood, where life seems so vibrant, and the world just endlessly full of new faces and friends to meet, places to explore, and interesting things to do! I hope to show them that we’re all journeying, we are all moving around, discovering, being human. I hope to show them that being diverse makes it MORE possible to come together under one set of ideals in a Constitution, not less–MORE possible to have respect for each other, not less–MORE possible to enjoy peace and community in a beautiful country, not less.

It’s a wonderful world. It really is. Not an easy world, not a perfect world. But it is beautiful.

This song should be way more popular than it is…it’s definitely one of the anthems of my life.
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Long Flight? Here’s How to Cope

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Don’t let anxiety stop you from chasing your dreams–all around the world, if necessary. Here is my method for making it through a long flight, even with my extra baggage (metaphorically and literally).

Cabin Pressures

For some folks, the idea of being in a long flight can totally break their dreams for seeing the world or traveling far away. I get it. It’s a scary prospect, if you feel you might be overcome with nerves, feel trapped inside the plane, feel restless and insecure about sitting that long.

I’m a big believer in that old Biblical advice of “overcoming evil by doing good.” I see my anxieties as things that detract from the quality of my life, inside or out of an airplane. For travel, I apply the same mentality. I can overcome my travel fears by replacing them with good things instead, which gives me a ton of ideas to share with you.

My Hope For You

If you are an anxious person like me, the world can sometimes seem to be an impossibly scary place. I hope you read this and know that you aren’t alone. I hope you feel validated in regards to any fears or nervousness you may have had regarding travel to faraway places, or even travel to the grocery store.

My hope for you is that you’ll read this post and think “hey, I can do this!” I hope the world becomes more accessible for you after reading this. I hope you feel that it really truly is possible for you to get out there and grant a few secret wishes for yourself. Trust me, if I can do this, so can you.

Here are all my tricks for making it through daunting long flights.

Commandments for Spending Flight Time

If you’re on a long flight, here are some rules to keep for yourself to spend the time:

  • Thou shalt get as much sleep as possible. Seriously. Besides, the more you sleep, the shorter your flight will seem, plus your brain will be nice and rested and your mood will be lifted. Wins all around, unless of course, you sleep through meals, which leads me to:
  • Thou shalt not sleep through in-flight services. My most recent flight to Buenos Aires served a light breakfast before attempting to land. We were unable to land in Buenos Aires due to heavy fog, and we got diverted to Montevideo, Uruguay. There we had to wait for the fog to lift, to be able to refuel, and then to head back to Buenos Aires. The whole process from landing took around five hours, and by the time I was able to get off the plane, I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in over 8 hours. That’s a long time in-between energy boosts. Just think how much longer it would have been if I had slept through breakfast! My point is, if you get an opportunity for fresh food while traveling, take it. You never know if it’ll take a little longer to get to your next meal, which again leads me to:
  • Thou shalt never miss an opportunity for fresh food, fresh water, or fresh bathrooms. Don’t ever wait until “later” to eat, drink clean water, or use a clean restroom. Even if you aren’t famished or doing a potty dance. Keep all your systems as fresh and updated as possible because while you’re traveling, you just never know what can happen.
  • Thou shalt use the airplane restroom every few hours. If it has gotten dirty, tell the flight attendants about it. They’ll clean it right up and restock everything, don’t worry. And don’t feel guilty, either–they’re the ones with the disposable gloves to keep everything nice. They have what they need to clean up and be protected, and you don’t, so it’s better to ask. Use the restroom every few hours, regardless of if you feel like it. Even if your bladder isn’t full, remember the plane has put your body through thousands of micromovements every hour. No doubt your bladder will have something to say about a-movin’ and a-shakin’ during flight. Plus, this is another opportunity to move and stretch, and while traveling you’ve got to take every one of those that you can.
  • Thou shalt stretch often. This comes in several ways. First, you can do breathing exercises softly, which won’t disturb your neighbors. This exercises your diaphragm, which counts as stretching! Plus getting plenty of air will prevent your brain from developing any sort of claustrophobic messages (aka the last thing you need in an airplane). Contract and release the muscles in your thighs. Do a sitting version of calf raises. Lift one foot at a time and make circles underneath the seat in front of you. Stretch your wrists and forearms by making circles with your hands. Do anything and everything to keep your circulation flowing while you are seated. Every so often, stretch and walk around the cabin.
  • Thou shalt tell your brain “everything is all good.” Do this by doing things that will tell your brain your day is normal, as much as possible. This means having a bedtime routine that you can do on the plane, such as washing your face (even if it is just with a face wipe) and brushing your teeth. Put on lotion, if you usually do before bed. When you wake up, wash face and brush your teeth again, just as you normally would. I bring a rosary with me on flights and say it while I am preparing my brain to go to sleep. I simply keep the beads under my blanket and say prayers mentally for an added sense of privacy, which I find calming. Say other prayers if/when you normally do.
  • Thou shalt be a good neighbor. Notice the ways in which your neighbor might be vulnerable. Got an aisle seat? That means you are on deck for making sure your neighbor is able to stand up and stretch/use the bathroom whenever they may want to. I have actually seen people get annoyed about this, and I thought they were acting like spoiled brats. We are all sharing the flight together and some of us get different “jobs” than others. That’s life. Deal with it. It’s also your job to be patient with parents of young children who are traveling. My last flight was the temporary home for a very wonderful toddler who only had one meltdown during the flight. Parents often take toddlers for a walk during the flight, stretching their legs down the aisles, and providing them some entertainment and stimulation looking at the plane. Smile, wave, coo at them. Flying can be scary–little ones need as many friendly faces and happy times as possible. Besides, smiling, giggling, happy toddlers are funny and adorable, and can even give you a mood boost during your flight. So if it helps them be calm and happy, it’s gonna help you have more peace to rest. Yeah, that means if they’re having a bad flight, it’s kinda partially your fault as a co-passenger. Again, life. Deal with it.
    SIDE NOTE: Usually individuals who are nervous on flights are actually the best people to share cabins with. Being sensitive, they are often more in tune with their senses of empathy and consideration. If you have a neighbor in flight that seems scared, comfort them and tell them your name! Say you’re around if they need anything, and let them know that you know how it feels to be nervous.

Use Media to Soothe and Distract

Many airlines offer streaming of newly released movies. This is great news for people like me who don’t often go to the cinema. I usually am able to catch up on movies that my friends have been talking about, which is a bonus for sure.

If you are prone to motion sickness, make sure you keep a steady stream of dramamine in your system, starting right before your flight. Trust me. Watching movies is a great idea during flight, but a bad idea if watching the screen makes you motion-sick.

Remember movies aren’t your only source of entertainment. Download podcasts or your favorite shows from your preferred streaming platform before your flight. I like dozing-off to the sounds of “Little House on the Prairie,” for example. Make sure your favorite music is already downloaded to your phone so you can listen to it without a wifi connection.

Set a Schedule

Ok! That was a ton of information. Here’s how your flight might look if you use every one of my tips.

Pre-Flight: Pop a dose of dramamine, drink a bottle of water.
Boarding: Settle in, get comfy, smile at neighbors, enjoy takeoff.
Media: Listen to music or start a movie.
In-flight service: Ask for a bottle of water to sip as well as your favorite beverage. (I never drink alcohol on flights, too dehydrating. I always get a ginger ale with ice.) Take time to enjoy every ice cube. Remember sucking on ice chips also keeps you hydrated.
Movie Time: It’s officially your job to watch and mentally critique a new release.
In-flight service: Even airline food is something to be grateful for if you decide to savor and slowly enjoy every bite. Remember to chew extra since you are stuck sitting down, and this will help your digestion. Finish your movie while eating, and look–you have dinner and a show! Look at you, living the good life. Way to go, jet-setter!
Post-meal Workout: Calf raises, circles of hands and feet, contracting muscles. Get up and use the restroom. Breathing exercises. Do this slowly–I’m talking at least 100 reps of each exercise. Don’t worry, you do have the time, after all. Plus, counting is a good meditative distraction for your brain.
“Nighttime” Routine: Get up and use the restroom again. Wash your face, and brush your teeth. Drink from your water bottle. Stretch. Breathing exercises. Say prayers. If your airline offers you a sleep mask, use it. Let your eyes get a break from lights and screens. If you can’t sleep, tell yourself you’re going to give yourself what feels like 15 minutes of dark time, just to let your brain get un-stimulated and your eyes get some good rest from light. You don’t absolutely have to sleep, just let yourself rest.
Wakefulness: If you do happen to be wakeful/unable to sleep, repeat everything on your schedule as many times as needed. Yes, you can brush your teeth 3 times over your flight, who would complain? No one is even going to know. A little activity, a little dark-time rest, it’s a good cadence to have, no matter how many times you repeat it.
Rest time over: It’s time for a “morning” routine. Wake up, stretch, wash face, brush teeth.
Movie Time Again: Enjoy another show! I love comedies on flights.
In-flight service: If your flight is long enough, you’ll have another service before landing. If food is offered, follow the same rule of slowly savoring everything, with extra chewing to get those digestive juices flowing more than usual.
Post-meal Workout again: Same as before. Do your mini flight “workout,” use the bathroom and prepare for landing.

Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Bird Now?

If you really imagine yourself completing each step, does it really feel so daunting to schedule a long flight anymore? It shouldn’t. You should feel like “hey, I have so much to do on this airplane, there’s no way I’m going to feel restless.”

When I finally got to arrive in Buenos Aires, Eugene even said to me “Hey: for being on a plane for 20 hours, you sure do look good!” He was amazed. He thought I was magic. I felt magical!

If you do these things, just think about it: You’ll be rested, hydrated, fueled, relaxed, hygienic, and refreshed. What better condition could you possibly be upon arrival? What more could you ask to help yourself face those times when things don’t go according to plan–which so often happens during travel? It’s a lot of work in a schedule. But it’s worth it–especially if you have a nervous disposition. You can overcome travel anxiety by doing good things.

That’s a good rule for life, too.

Resources

Some things to consider:

If you are traveling internationally, you’ll be at a really high altitude, which can make the cabin super chilly. Dress warm for your flight, and use the blanket they give you. You can also look for products like this:

Also, circulation is key. Lots of times people need a little extra support for their legs, but this can be a challenge with limited leg room. Products like this offer a way to convert your tray table into a footrest:

Finally, for travelers with children, an inflatable pillow can turn into a footrest, or a seat extender when it’s time to convert your little one’s seat into a bed for sleeping:

Fear of Flying? You Aren’t Alone

Here’s a great story about a retired Air Force pilot who became a therapist to help others address their fear of flying. Maybe you can relate to some of the things these folks are going through. You’ll be comforted to know that you aren’t stuck with this fear, and there are real actions you can take whenever you’re ready, at your own pace.
Mel Robbins is such a good voice of reason. Here she talks you through the whole flight process–while actually going through it herself. You’ll see exactly what she sees, and she’ll talk you through all the little steps along the way. Well…almost exactly what she sees. She clearly sits in first class, which isn’t anything I’ve ever seen, but whatever, it still counts as good advice.
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It’s a Big World, After All

And get ready to hit the road with me and Eugene!

Being in a multi-cultural, international relationship means really getting those airline miles, but we’ve also managed to find trains, boats, and taxicabs as well.

On deck soon: a road trip up the California coast (since the rest of the state has basically been on fire lately). After that, we’ll be heading down south…way, way south. I’m talking South America.

Did I mention being a digital teacher is kind of the best job ever?

God has blessed me with such an amazing man. Together we have opened each other’s worlds to so many new horizons and adventures! It seems so amazing to me when I realize the extremes: from back home in my little valley town to all over the globe…it’s a roller-coaster! But, I guess that’s life, yes?

Here are some photos from our first vacation together in Buenos Aires, back in 2017!

(C) 2019 Margaret Nelson

All photo images in this post are owned by me. Copying and/or use by persons other than myself or Eugene is strictly prohibited.

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