Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Acomplished Woman

The Accomplished Woman The train ride into London from Cambridge, England on that pleasant spring day was quiet. I don’t recall speaking to anyone when boarding, nor do I recall becoming engaged in conversation with others during the hour-long trip. Although not giving at least casual acknowledgements to others as I journeyed through a day was unusual for me, in the context of my personal reality, on that day, there was really nothing usual…except the routine habit of purchasing a daily newspaper. I had phoned ahead to the Iranian embassy prior to taking a major advancement forward where reclaiming my life was concerned. Understandably, I felt the need to somehow feel out the atmosphere I was about to enter. Of course, the thought passed through my mind: this would all be so much easier if only my uncle were still alive. It was difficult to process the fact that I was planning to walk into a foreign embassy and declare openly—to total strangers—the bold assertion that I was the niece of Iran’s most historically prominent cleric, the Late Ayatollah Khomeini. A week or so passed before I finally mustered the courage to pick up the telephone and set the appointment for my first visit to the Iranian embassy. During that week, I could be seen pacing the interior of the small suite I had rented. After conducting an intense internal survey, I found myself experiencing self-doubt, self-incrimination, fear, apprehension, and confusion. At the same time, I began to question my own self-worth and motives. Some of the reasonable and understandable questions manifested: Why are you subjecting yourself to what will probably been a humiliating experience? What are you expecting to accomplish from this action? Should you be doing this? The people at the embassy will probably think you are either opportunistic or unstable. After all these years, you intend to just walk into a foreign embassy proclaiming a consanguinity relationship with the Late Imam Khomeini? You don’t even know how many years it has been since you were forced from your home. Come on! A struggling rationale flowed: In all actuality is there anyone left in Iran—or the world—who truly cares? You will probably be walking into a closed door, an indifferent bureaucracy. Why on earth should the people in the embassy care? Then, again, the question arose: Why are you doing this?! My enormous apprehensions were quickly put to ease when I was respectfully greeted on my first visit to the embassy. I did not adhere to the tradition that a woman covers her head with a scarf on my first visit to the embassy—which, in hindsight, wasn’t the most prudent thing to do. In not knowing what to expect from the visit, I wanted to see what type of reaction I would receive at the embassy when I arrived void of Hijab (the Islamic head covering worn by women). When I entered the embassy’s reception area, I was greeted with politeness and directed to take a seat. After a few minutes, the young woman at the reception desk smiled and made a slight gesture, indicating with her right hand over her head, that I had not covered my head. I responded by acting as though I was surprised or confused. As I vaguely recall, I shrugged my shoulders and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.” After thirty minutes or so, the very lovely and gracious receptionist offered me a beautiful headscarf. While she presented the Hijab, she stated that the scarf was available to me, but only if I wanted to wear it. I smiled and thanked the receptionist, placed the Hijab on my head, and was about to be reseated when an interior door leading from the reception area opened. A diplomat named Mr. Shahid stepped forward and introduced himself. Once seated inside of Mr. Shahid’s office, I apologized for not having been covered when I entered the embassy. He assured me that that was an inconsequential matter, offered me tea, and made me feel comfortable and welcome. For the next six to eight weeks, I visited the embassy once a week and spent at least one hour in discussion with Mr. Shahid, exclusively on the subject of Islam. The conversations between this diplomat and myself were confined to Islam for the first several weeks. The courage to bring up my being the niece of the founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran did not immediately flow from my lips, not even after a number visits. As I mentioned earlier, I was apprehensive, uncertain, and concerned as to how my admission would be received. Initially, when I phoned the embassy in my enquiry, I asked about Islam. I told the person I spoke with that I had recently converted to Islam and wanted to learn more about the religion. It may have seemed that my enquiry was a ruse since my major objective in making this connection was to unite with my past; but actually, there was no ruse, since learning more about Islam was a genuine secondary motive for visiting the embassy. After a number of visits and discussions, I finally braved the question regarding the separation between the Sunni and Shi’a perceptions of Islam. When answering, Mr. Shahid alluded to the political expediency for the separation; since the answer appeared to satisfy me, that subject was never broached again. ͠ I had originally made the trip to London, England at the suggestion of a doctor who was treating me for what he called “intermittent amnesia”, an euphemistic term used regarding a person who has been brutally tormented though medical torture and mind control. How ironic that in that moment, on that day, the term had placed a smile on my face and brought a bit of relief to my heart? After all, a two-word combination, a title, a definition…had been given to the uncertainty, which surrounded my life at that time. I felt that this intellect, this edifice, and this entity, which had been suspended and separated from its innate core, now had a definition, an explanation, and then prayerfully, a path for healing and memory return. The fact that a clinical association had been given to the state of my inner bewilderment, my memory loss, energized vital deeply buried ambers that were in fact, a forgotten self. During my first visits to the embassy, I did not realize, had not fully acknowledged, nor had not remembered or accepted the fact that I was a survivor of a United States Government Human Experimentation Program. I knew that something was wrong, something that I could not quite put a finger on; but I knew that whatever it was, that something could no longer be ignored. After all, there were large periods of times in my life that I could not remember or grasp. Still, somehow, within this devastating reality, some very minute yet significant kernels of recollection inside me would occasionally stir, peak, and attempt to reconnect to what had been intentionally severed memories. As a survivor, to this date, I critically wonder how many medically unnecessary electroshock treatments were administrated that could have caused a devoted mother to forget ever having given birth? What was the hypnotic method implanted that blocked talents, instincts, drives, and spiritual acumen? Where is, or what has happened, to the brilliant mind that had once been extended an invitation to become a MENSA member? How is such inhumane brutality still possible? Perhaps it was the third or fourth visit to Mr. Shahid;s office, on a Monday afternoon, when, after a prolonged deep breath, I was able to state, “Mr. Shahid, there’s something I need to discuss with you. Although, three weeks is not a lengthy amount of time for trust to develop between two strangers, I have been treated with respect from the moment I first entered the embassy’s door. For this reason, some of my apprehension has subsided, and my courage has begun to peak.” I explained that the constant cordiality and warm atmosphere at the embassy loosened some of my fears. As a result, I realized that by delaying the presentation of the primary purpose for my visits to the embassy, I was postponing what I so desperately wanted to do: regain control of my own life. I further acknowledged that the longer I waited to tell my truth, the more difficult it would become. On that beautiful sunlit day in London, England, after accepting a second cup of offered tea in Mr. Shahid’s windowless office of mahogany wood wall panels and furnishings, I looked Mr. Shahid directly in his eyes and managed, “Mr. Shahid, let me preface what I am about to tell you by stating how much I sincerely appreciate the time you have allotted to me these past few weeks. Furthermore, you have been more than gracious while I have been treated with such respect and have felt so welcomed.” I smiled the words, “…and the exceptional tea served to me during these visits should be a strong enough catalyst to help ease my hesitations in what I need to discuss with you.” After a deep breath, and with an ingrained composure not totally understood, the phrase, “I have reason to believe that I am the niece of the Late Ayatollah Khomeini,” seeped from my lips. Upon hearing my statement, Mr. Shahid did not flinch. He did not change the position of his posture, nor did he stand in the gesture of having me ejected from the embassy. Instead, he calmly asked, “Would you be willing to take a DNA test to that effect?” I immediately responded, “Of course I would. Can this be done today?” With a kind and cordial smile, he stated, “We don’t exactly keep DNA test kits here in the embassy, but before we advance to that stage, I need to ask what you think we can do for you here at the embassy.” “You can help me get custody of my minor daughter and help me to return to Iran.” “Where your daughter is concerned, we can look into helping you; but regarding your returning to Iran, I will start the paperwork for your visa right away.” “I’ll need a visa to return to Iran?” I naively questioned with a look of surprise on my face. “Your relationship to Iran is through a maternal lineage. It would be only through a paternal lineage that you would have a right to citizenship. But let’s not get into such matters now. What is important to know, though, is how long you plan to stay on this visit.” “At least six months. I can’t imagine any time less being beneficial.” “Would the requirement of wearing a Hijab be a problem for you?” “Not at all,” I assured the diplomat. “I am accustomed to wearing a Hijab when I leave the house. I think that my illogical reasoning for not wearing a scarf on the first visit was due to the fact that I did not know what to expect. I was unsure of how I would be received, and I wanted to get a better feel of what I was getting myself into.” With a teasing smile on his handsome face, the diplomat sat with his back flushed against the back of the chair, crossed his legs, and stated, “I cannot say that I exactly follow that logic.” “Neither did I at that time, nor do I at this time.” I honestly confessed while observing the mental wheels turning as Mr. Shahid attempted to process the Hijab tale. A moment later, with a smile still visible, Mr. Shahid stood and excused himself for a few minutes. Upon his return, he confided: “I don’t know if this information will come as a surprise to you, but you probably have no idea how many women have come through these doors over the years claiming to be you. An amazing number!” emphasized the diplomat. “Each person who has presented herself to this embassy had a great deal of information regarding you and your situation. There was one young woman who was so convincing that we actually believed her. We were about to send her to Iran. Of course, this incident happened before the current DNA test was developed. We were so sure of the woman’s identity that we sent for Imam Khomeini. When Imam Khomeini arrived, he took one look at the woman and stated, ‘I don’t know who this imposter is, but she is not my niece.’ He did not ask the woman any questions. He did not take one step toward her; yet he somehow immediately knew that the woman wasn’t you.” Since the diplomat was so comfortable with sharing this story with me and had asked about a DNA test, I surmised that perhaps the test had already been taken. The cups of tea previously offered and accepted could have been the vehicle whereby the test was processed. I, of course, did not mind that this test had probably been administered. After all, the results of the test would be the proof of my exceptional assertion. The direction of our conversation lead me to inquire, “Mr.Shahid, did you know that Imam Khomeini came to the United States before returning to Iran after the success of the revolution, and he wanted to take me back to Iran with him?” After I posed the question, the young male attendant who served tea during my weekly visits entered the room, refreshing my tea. I smiled toward him gratefully, not only for the refreshed tea, but also for the moment needed to further contain my composure. I looked directly into Mr. Shahid’s eyes and felt a little stunned by the memory. “How astonishing! How amazing! How is it even possible that I had not thought about that excruciating night until now? Wow! One of the most important people in my life suddenly reappeared into my life, and I totally forgot about that night.” Silence instantly took over the room. It was a necessary silence for me since in that moment, I attempted to process the reality of my uncle’s death, the years of being forced from my own life, and my debilitating memory loss. The scent of a perfectly brewed and exceptional tasting cup of tea, placed on an end table next to me, grabbed the attention of my olfactory senses. Once I had taken several sips of tea, I was able to continue. “It was Christmas Eve. I was living in St. Louis, Missouri, which is in the United States. Like many Christmas Eves before, I was planning to attend Midnight Mass with the individuals I had been led to believe were my biological family. On that bitterly cold winter night, I had no idea that once I entered the vestibule of the Catholic Church I would suddenly be faced with such a viable element of myself and of my past. Upon entering the church, I overheard a male voice stating in a firm voice of authority, ‘I do not believe what you are telling me, and I will never believe what you are saying unless I hear the words directly from her mouth!’ He continued, ‘If what you are stating is true then why don’t you bring my niece to me and let her tell me for herself that she wants nothing to do with me, her faith, or her past.’ After hearing these heated words, since I did not recognize the voice of the man speaking, I had no way of knowing that the person being discussed was me. When the other person in the conversation spoke, I recognized the voice and was very surprised to find that person engaged in such a combative verbal exchange at church, especially on Christmas Eve. ‘I have gained her trust,’ was the next string of words I heard from the male voice I recognized. ‘You must understand that it’s because of that trust that she confided to me that she had rejected Islam, had accepted Christianity, and that she had no desire or intentions of returning to Iran.’ I knew that the voice I had recognized was a member of local law enforcement, so I quickened my pace to enter the church wanting to respect whatever was occurring in the vestibule. As I reached for an interior door that led to the body of the church, I was surprised when the individual whose voice I knew stepped forward from a dimly lit corner of the vestibule, blocking my entrance into the church. In accordance with family tradition, the people that I unknowingly viewed as my biological family spent Christmas Eve at the house of the eldest sister. Additionally, everyone dressed up for Midnight Mass. A week or so before Christmas, the family stated that the decision to dress casually for Midnight Mass had been made for the purpose of giving acknowledgement to the less fortunate. When I exerted the fact that I had not voted on that decision, I was told that they all knew that I would not have voted to dress down and that they did not need my vote since I had been outvoted. So it was in the appearance of everyday, casual attire that entered the vestibule of the church that evening. Naturally, I believed that my being blocked from entering the interior of the church was merely an action to give me the opportunity to speak, so I smiled and said hello to the person preventing my entrance. When my smile was not returned but instead was met with a stern, unfriendly face, I became perplexed and immediately questioned why any type of altercation would be occurring in the church on one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar. I also wondered how I could possibly be involved. Because of the member of law enforcement who blocked me, I feared that something dangerous might be happening. I was somewhat panicked when I looked at him and he gestured with his head for me to look to the other end of the vestibule. Shockingly, there stood my uncle, the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Ayatollah was dressed traditionally, but somehow, I instantly recognized him. The sudden and jolting reconnection with my authentic past caused me to rapidly advance toward my uncle. As I approached this cleric, I saw that a wide, caring, smile graced his face. The next words I heard came from Imam Khomeini. He stated, ‘I thought you said that she had rejected Islam and wanted nothing to do with her past?’” As I began telling Mr. Shahid this story, I was not aware of how long I had been in his office. Had I been in his office fifteen minutes or fifty minutes? That notion of time never entered my mind, and he never looked at this watch. I continued on with my story. “‘They said that you would not remember me,’ Imam Khomeini said, as I attempted to further advance. The sight of his wide, radiant smile and glistening eyes let me know how relieved and pleased my uncle was to see me. That night, as I continued to approach Imam Khomeini, the law enforcement officer, whom I had so fully respected and trusted to this point and time, placed one of his arms out, firmly stopping me from being able to advance. ‘Well…’ he said with a smirk, ‘we thought that she didn’t remember anything regarding her past. When we dangled you around her geographic space these past few days, she did not intuitively pick up on the fact that you were near. That’s at least something regarding the effectiveness of the electroshock and other methods we used on her. I briefly surmise that damage has been done to her perceptional instincts. The fact that she did not know you were around these few days means that we have dismantled some, if not all, of her propensities toward clairvoyance and spiritual acumen. Whatever damage we’ve done, she has little or nothing left of her brilliance or talents to contribute to those nations who reside outside our alliances.’ At this time, the mood in the church became very somber and intense. The law enforcement officer’s indifferent and arrogant attitude and behavior continued once he stated, ‘I must admit that I was totally surprised by the fact that she seems to remember you at all. We were under the impression that her mind was completely amnesic where her past was concerned. What a revelation!’ he added sarcastically. ‘I guess we just might have to start the electroshock treatments again. We nearly lost her a few times with that technique, but since she obviously remembers something, more electroshock should reset the amnesia.’ When I heard this callus statement presented with such malice, I looked again at my uncle and saw that his smile had been replaced with a stern posture. ‘I had no idea that my niece had been caused to suffer so, nor did I know that she was being held in such low regard,’ he stated empathically. A thought zipped through my mind so rapidly that it almost went unnoticed and unrecorded…that thought being: You should have known! As we stood in the vestibule, the physical distance between my uncle and myself was less than twenty feet, although the footage seemed monumental to me. As my uncle stepped forward, lessening the distance, he stated, ‘I see no reason why any of this torment and insensitive treatment toward my niece should continue. We might as well leave now,’ he said, as he extended his right hand to me. At that moment, on that night, it was not humanly possible for me to process the reality of all the things that had happened to me in my life to that point and time. I only knew that instinctually, innately, every cell of my body had the strongest propensity to be as close to my uncle as possible. My body, mind, and spirit longed to reconnect with a sense of being loved, valued, cherished, respected, and appreciated. Next, I heard his firmly placed words, ‘I truly do not want my niece to be subjected to further violations or denigration; so, since I have agreed to all of your unreasonable demands, there stands no mediating reason why we shouldn’t just leave now.’ The negotiating member of law enforcement who stood in the vestibule like a diabolical rodent with a satisfying grin on his face grabbed my right arm firmly and said, ‘There is one thing on the agreement that you seem to have overlooked.’ The government spokesman then waved a piece of paper toward the Imam. The young man who had accompanied the Imam stepped forward, reached for the paper, and gave it to the Imam. After carefully reading the contents of the paper, the Imam shook his head and stated with noticeable vocal anger, ‘What is this! We scrutinized the document given to us earlier thoroughly. This is not the same document, nor are terms previously presented. Something has been added to the original agreement, and I can’t go along with the addition. This addition was not a part of the original negotiations.’ The government spokesman had a sinister look on his face and tightened his grip on my arm, causing me discomfort. He stated, ‘Did you know that your beloved uncle played a role in your first kidnapping?’ At that moment, hearing those words, I instantly felt a deep concern for my uncle. Whatever was left of Khomeini’s niece…whatever was left of my parents’ daughter…whatever was left of the woman who had the right to be…somehow, I knew without a doubt that whatever my uncle had done—and for whatever reason—he never meant for any harm to come to me. For a few minutes, I cautiously stared at my uncle. I did not want to accelerate the uncertain situation, so I slowly lowered my gaze. The swirling sense of betrayal I experienced in hearing one of the few people I had trusted in this forced makeshift life, so coldly blurt out this possibly debilitating phrase caused me to once again feel paralyzed emotions. The next words I heard were from Imam Khomeini. ‘Did she possibly have that volatile information before now? How could you? I never authorized such treatment. Did you give any consideration as to how such information could affect her?’ With indifference, the spokesmen replied, ‘Instead of acting outraged, just sign the papers. That is all you have to do, and she will be able to leave with you.’ ‘I can’t do that,’ emitted the Imam with grave sadness in his voice. ‘The addition is the one thing that I cannot put my signature on.’ After hearing those devastating words, like a dream trapped in a shrinking bottle, I realized that I would not be able to leave with my uncle, and I shut down. There were no feelings of disappointment, fear, or dread, even though I did momentarily wonder: Will they kill me now? Do they have any further reason to keeping me alive? These questions flowed through me with no more emotion than a person questioning what he would have for dinner that evening. Once the questions regarding my safety subsided, I felt claustrophobic. A sudden sensation of being enclosed within an extremely narrow funnel hindered my ability to breath. Like an embryo subjected to a physical lockdown, at that moment, I did not completely exist. The next very vague awareness for me in that church was hearing the Ayatollah instruct the young companion standing next to him to accompany me into the interior of the building so that I would not be able to see them leave. As the reticent and humble young man began to walk toward me, he was stopped. The large Catholic Church had two sections of double doors which led to the interior of the church. I attempted to enter through the doors closest to where my uncle was standing. I wanted to be able to simply brush up against him, but was prohibited from doing so. Instead, I was led away like a wounded animal into a selected pew of the church where the law enforcement officer’s family members were seated. After all, he was now a member of the family I had been caused to believe was my biological family. After being seated for a while, the spokesman sat down next to me. In the pew in front of where we sat, I heard his six-year-old daughter softly and kindly state, ‘That’s not fair. They should not keep Aunt Madaline away from her real family. Why are they doing that to her? She should be able to leave with her uncle.’ Her words soon faded away just as the prior activities did. The cruel actions made against me that evening caused my uncle’s next concern: ‘I sincerely pray that one day, she can understand that I absolutely had no choice.’” As I mentally transported myself back to the embassy, I could hear myself say, “I don’t remember the exactness of what happened next, Mr. Shahid. I only know that, to this day, I don’t understand how I survived that experience. I don’t understand how, when my uncle was caused to leave me behind in that church that night, I did not completely crumble, experience a total mental breakdown, or dissipate.” Mr. Shahid then leaned forward, securing my attention, and confirmed, “Not only did you survive that encounter while remaining mentally stable, but look how far you’ve come. Look how far you have come,” he repeated. “And with the magnitude of all you have endured, you accomplished coming here all on your own. No one helped you get here, yet here you sit. It’s more than remarkable that you survived.” “Have I truly survived, Mr. Shahid?” I confided. “From where I sit, you have done so with much grace and dignity.” Mr. Shahid then stood and apologetically stated, “Please forgive me. I am so sorry, but I have someone waiting outside that has been here for nearly thirty minutes. Unfortunately, it’s not convenient for him to reschedule at this time.” He opened his office door for me then said, “Before you leave, allow me to mention how pleased your uncle would have been to know that you understood the impossible position in which he had been placed.” “Mr. Shahid, I understand that you have someone waiting outside, but do you happen to know what it was that Imam Khomeini could not put his signature on? While I was still in the vestibule, the Imam stated that he had made some exceptional concession…but there was a specific point that had been added to the negotiations that was impossible for him to sign.” “No, I don’t know the specifics, but I will attempt to locate that information since it seems important to you. And if permitted, I will share it with you at the next visit.” Before escorting me from his office, the diplomat asked if I was alright and in need of a car to take me to the train. I assured this obviously concerned man that what I needed was a little time alone, adding that I might take a walk in a nearby park. As I got closer to the front lobby door, when Mr. Shahid stated that he would see me the following week; however, there appeared to be a tone of questioning in his statement. ͠ It is strange that of all the things forgotten or remembered in my life, one of the incidents that I most vividly recall is a bee sting I received around the age of seven. The intense, almost paralyzing and numbing pain inflicted by that unexpected painful encounter with the angered insect, was somehow in a parallel sphere with my emotional state as I exited the embassy that day. Ironically, on that day, instead of submitting to the propensity to take a healing walk through plush foliage, instead of merging my spirit with the regenerative scents of freshly bloomed nature, instead of caressing the sights, sounds and the majestic hues, I acquiesced to the damaged ethos of an Mk-Ultra survivor. In bypassing the enticement of nature, I sat on the local bus that took me to the train, I stared out of the window and noticed the botanical magnificence passing before my eyes. I instantly wondered why I had not taken the walk. Moments later, I sat in wonder of whatever had happened to the spirit of the person who, as a child, collected ladybugs on an index card then watched as the insect walked from the card to her arm, just so she could feel the minute sensation of the tiny creature’s legs crawl up her arm. I sat puzzled, wondering where the mimicking and playful follower of grasshoppers, the chaser of butterflies, the taster of sunrise now resided. ͠ At my next visit to the embassy, Mr. Shahid greeted me not only with his usual charm and warmth, but also with a glint in his caramel colored eyes. He wore the type of mischievous smile one might see on the face of a child about to reveal a secret. Once I was comfortably seated in his office, he hurriedly stated, “After your last visit, I suppose due to the weight of our conversation, I forgot to inform you that your uncle left you an inheritance, adding that the sum was quite substantial under any monetary consideration.” The enthusiasm and excitement expected after hearing that a large sum of money had been willed to me was not there. The stoic demeanor received by Mr. Shahid after his announcement of the monetary benevolence seemed at first to confuse him, until I softly seeped, “I would much rather that my uncle were still alive.” Nodding in an empathic gesture, he concurred, “I can understand your sentiment.” For a moment, after that exchange between the diplomat and myself, neither of us spoke. We sat in silence, both mentally and emotionally. I recognized, and then inwardly acknowledged, an inherent need to reconnect with my linage. I felt astonished at the fact that I had not remembered—nor thought about— the event that had taken place in that church on that bitterly cold winter night in December since its occurrence. This fact alone caused nausea. How long the silence between the diplomat and myself continued that day, I cannot say. But I do vividly remember what his next words to me were. He sat more relaxed than either one of us had been up until that point. “You do realize that you have gotten to this point all on your own. Amazingly, no one has helped you, and with all you have endured, here you sit.” After hearing his words, I honestly felt no sense of accomplishment at that time. There was no sense of achievement in having had endured physical and mental torture, emotional and sexual assaults, mind boggling taunts, humiliation, and probably the most painful experience of having been separated from my son. What I felt or experienced was a state of being partially anesthetized. There were no feelings of joy or hopeful anticipation. The continuation of my staid demeanor did alert Mr. Shahid to my dilemma; he, in acknowledgement of that fact stated, “You have been separated from your family, and as far as that is concerned—from yourself—off and on, for over twenty years now. Naturally, it will take a while for all of this to settle; but in the meantime, by your next visit—or most certainly the one following—I will have all the paperwork completed for your return to Iran. ͠ During my weekly visits to the embassy, this diplomat never once looked at a watch while I was seated in his office. He never demonstrated boredom or impatience. He never caused me to feel that his status was above mine. This reality contributed much to the strength that I finally mustered up…enough to revisit my past. However, I should also give credit to the exceptional-tasting tea served. While seated in this office, for the first time in years, I did not feel a sense of not belonging. And by being treated with such kindness and respect, I indicated, “Mr. Shahid, before we go too much further, let me state how much I appreciate the time you have allotted me during my weekly visit…”

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