Tuesday, August 7, 2018

PINOYAPACHE GOES TO HOMONHON ISLAND

RADIO COMMUNICATIONS ARE an essential means by which coastal and island communities communicate with each other and to government centers where aid most likely would come when in times of weather disturbances and calamities. Regular cellular phone signals are simply unreliable during such times. It only improved a little of their lives and most of that are where communications infrastructures are present like urban centers.

Let me remind you that these same communities have had bad memories of strong typhoons, like the recent Tropical Cyclone Haiyan (Yolanda), which caused so much grief and destruction; and that they have lived everyday with the unpredictable whims of the Pacific Ocean. Radio communications empowers these communities to experience at least a good control of safety and security of their own lives.

 
Travel to and from coasts to islands and vice versa would benefit so much from radio communications due to the favorable presence of a wide body of water that necessitates a good propagation of radio signals. A base radio station on simplex, with antenna properly placed, preferably on a high ground, covers so much area in relaying and receiving messages. While it may have its advantages, its main disadvantage is that it is stationary.

A stationary base radio station, unlike hand-held portables, operates on a system consisting of an antenna, lengths of cable wires, a power source and a power regulator. It only becomes mobile when it is installed in sea vessels, airborne crafts and land vehicles. While it may be effective there, the problem is you cannot operate on a continuous and uninterrupted power supply that a stationary land-based radio station offered.

Let us talk about the post-Haiyan rehabilitation efforts. The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON) partnered with Caritas Germany, the Archdiocese of Borongan, CordAid Netherlands and the Philippine Misereor Partnership in improving the communications capability of the affected areas by installing several base radio station systems along Eastern Samar and off the islands of Sulangan, Homonhon, Manicani and Suloan.

Pecojon contracted C5 Electronics of Mandaue City for radio equipment and services; and, likewise, tapped a Cebu-based amateur radio club, Ham Radio Cebu, for manpower, training and technical support. The first recipient of this grant from Misereor was the Municipality of Guiuan and the aforestated islands in 2015. This author belonged to Ham Radio Cebu and possesses an amateur radio station license, DW7EUV.

 
Ham Radio Cebu is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and given a license by the National Telecommunications Commission to operate and exist as an Amateur Radio Club in District 7 last February 2015. It is a member of the Philippine Amateur Radio Association and legally operates a repeater station. Through the leadership of Jet Manuel 4F7MHZ, Ham Radio Cebu grew by bounds and leaps for just a few years and we now are the most dynamic and most active club in Cebu and District 7.

This association encourages its new members to aspire for an amateur radio station license which could be acquired after passing the NTC examination. It also inspires its current license holders to upgrade to the next level. Aside that, this club is into antenna making done on weekends; participate in DX contests; volunteer as communicators in civic and religious activities; support PARA and DRRM events; and mentor fledgling civic and amateur clubs.

In May 2016, this author was part of the second wave of volunteers from Ham Radio Cebu requested to conduct training, helped C5 Electronics personnel install the antennas, and propagated signals for testing and fine tuning. The recipient was the Archdiocese of Borongan and base radio systems were installed at the parishes located in Borongan City, Lawaan, Hernani, San Julian and Oras from the donor, Caritas.

 
On this same trip, Ham Radio Cebu went back to Guiuan to train fish wardens and coastal management volunteers in the operation and maintenance of radio equipment; taught them phonetics and reporting protocol; and practiced them radio net call. C5 Electronics brought them three base radios, a mobile base, portable units, antennas and their cables, batteries, power regulators and other accessories provided from a grant by CordAid.

Recently, Ham Radio Cebu and this author went back for another mission to Eastern Samar, particularly in Guiuan, last September 1, 2017. We were again requested by Misereor, through Pecojon, to conduct an emergency communications operation based on a scenario of a Signal No. 5 typhoon. We would focus more on the islands of Homonhon and Manicani and mobilize existing village DRRM units and NGO volunteers.

We arrived at the Port of Ormoc early in the morning and travelled overland to Tacloban City where we took our breakfast. Misereor provided the vehicle for the twelve of us while Pecojon accommodated two more on its staff veicle. The scars of Haiyan are still there and it cuts deep into the memories of the people of Tacloban. I could understand their sufferings as I have been here a few months before that storm with its killer waves, called the storm surge, flattened everything in its wake.

I navigated through my mind the memories of houses and buildings and people that used to exist on the very places and streets where the vehicle passed along on its destination to the San Juanico Strait and its famous bridge. There are a lot of blank spaces in between which I barely noticed in my last visit there. I closed my eyes as I controlled my emotions. I peered at the back mirror and each one was in their own deep thoughts, staring at something faraway.

Our convoy parked at the side of the middlemost part of the bridge and it broke the spell. Everyone streamed out from their seats and posed for a group picture with part of the bridge and strait as the background. Then we continued, the highway goes south of Western Samar, passing by thick mangroves and rugged mountains. It passed the coastlines with many bridges and what I liked most was the one where there were karst formations by a river mouth.

We arrived in Guiuan at 12:00 and took lunch at a popular restaurant there. Afterwards, we were toured around the general locations of Guiuan going to Sulangan and back passing by a beach that is a surfer’s paradise and an abandoned American base which, at its point of history, received and hosted White Russians during the Russian Revolution of 1918 and, later, European Jews during the prelude to World War II.

In that old American base, there is still an existing landing strip and around it are spaces that may have housed the asylum seekers before their transfer to countries of their own choice. What struck me odd is the presence of the flag of mainland China. It was mixed with the flags of countries that fought Japan in the Pacific like the US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands and ours. What would be more appropriate there instead is the flag of Taiwan, a remnant of that original nation usurped by the communists.

We visited the office of Misereor and got to know the staff. Our convoy proceeded to the East Visayas State University and we had an audience with the university president. When it was over, eight of ours, the ones assigned to Manicani Island, stayed at its campus hotel while the rest of us went to check in at a local hotel. This blogger would lead the group that would be assigned at Homonhon Island which were composed of Nick Manuel, Nonoi Ibañez, Honey Alquisola, Loisa Roa, John Sala and Misereor representative, Wilson Catalan.

Second day, September 2, we woke up at 04:00. A van would pick us up at 04:30 so we could meet with the guys staying at the EVSU Hotel, get our equipment and take a hasty morning coffee. My group left the mainland for Homonhon at 05:30 over a very rough sea. We were prepared for that with our equipment and gear sealed inside waterproofed bags. The rest would start to cross to the smaller Manicani Island but much near to the mainland.

Homonhon Island is south of Manicani and Sulangan Island and is between 10 to 15 kilometers from the latter. Sulangan is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Homonhon is about 20 kilometers in length with about 3 kilometers at its widest which is found on the north and about 1.5 kilometers at its narrowest found at the middle where the village of Casugoran is located. We will be staying there in the staff house of Misereor.

This island is mined for chromite deposits by locals and, for that, the southern part is barren, except for a thin layer of vegetation growing along the coastlines. Its northern part is where the original forests are located. The highlands rise majestically about 400 meters from the shores and are very rugged. It is said that it is still a habitat for deer, wild boars, tarsiers, macaques, big pythons and lizards, and rare plant species. Interesting!

Aside from Casugoran, other villages are scattered all around the coastlines of Homonhon like Bitaugan, Habag, Inapulangan, Kanawayon, Culasi, Pagbabangnan and Cagusoan. There is an islet off Inapulangan called Mantukanon. Farther south of us is the island of Suloan. Casugoran is the main village and it is where the St. John the Baptist Parish and the Homonhon Community Hospital are located.

We arrived at Casugoran at 07:35 and took breakfast. We started our Emergency Radio Communications seminar at 09:00 to the village officials and peacekeepers of the mentioned villages. Misereor requested for this activity since they will be turning over the radio equipment to them as their timetable for rehabilitation work was approaching its end. With the approval of the parish priest, we used the church as our classroom.

After an orientation by a Misereor staff, I talked about Introduction to Radio Basics which include radio anatomy, battery, chargers, propagation, etiquette, protocol guidelines, restrictions and priorities. I was assisted by Loisa DW7FFB and Honey DY7FAR. Nonoi DV7FAQ discussed about Basic Radio Troubleshooting and the topic covered general problem areas, emergency communication, vital resources, power sources and deployment procedures. 

As part of that discussion, Nick DV7FCC lent them his know-how in the construction of the Quarter Wave Antenna. The participants were provided the materials and the tools to construct their own after a demonstration was done before them. After this activity focused on antenna making, each was able to make and proudly hold their antennas. A SWR meter provided by Nick measured the nearest possible ratio which required a good propagation.

After lunch, at 13:00, all returned to the church to listen to Nonoi explain the Incident Command System to them. The ICS is the standard protocol adopted by our country to address casualties and damage reports during calamities induced by natural hazards or of a consequence made by humans or just the effect of climate change. For two hours the participants listened intently about this topic.

 
The seminar ended at 15:00 but they would have to perform a simulation of emergency communications operation using their present portable radios issued to them and pairing it with the quarter wave antenna which they constructed for, at 16:00, a general net call would be propagated from the mainland targeting Homonhon and Manicani. Everyone returned to their villages.

Nick, John 7HAJS and Wilson would be stationed overnight at Inapulangan to assist the neighboring villages of Bitaugan, Kanawayon and Habag and Nick has a personal mission for himself later – a DX Contest. Nonoi and Honey would be based in Culasi to link up with Inapulangan, Casugoran and Pagbabangnan. Meanwhile, Loisa and I would stay at Casugoran Base. We heard Manicani performed well since it is near to the mainland.

In Homonhon, only Casugoran, Cagusoan and Inapulangan were able to successfully link up with Guiuan. Casugoran was able to relay the message of Culasi. Pagbabangnan was unheard of. We went to investigate what went wrong. We found out that Pagbabangnan was able to hear Inapulangan talk with Culasi and Guiuan but cannot propagate to same. We also found that Pagbabangnan is surrounded by mountains since it is at the backmost.

There is an existing antenna erected by Misereor on a hill in the middle of the island but it was not high enough to be effective. It has limited coverage which only benefit Culasi and Casugoran. If this antenna could only be transferred to the highlands north of the island, powered by solar energy, it could propagate better to as far as Borongan City on a good day and south to Suloan Island. We have to work with less, compounded by instructions that changed at the last minute. Someone at base control could not handle pressure.

We could do nothing about the problem in Pagbabangnan and we have to return to Casugoran at dusk. Along the way, I saw a forest fire raging in one of the last forested enclaves of the mined area. That is why I saw a few hours ago ashes falling down at Casugoran. Probably, the thick smoke from the fire might have to do with our failure to have Pagbabangnan join the circuit of communications, since it was above it.

When I arrived, I set up my hammock between two trees to include the taffeta shelter. I would sleep outside at the back of the staff house to give more room and privacy to the occupants. Dinner came at 06:30 under a bulb powered by solar energy. Outside of us – the main plaza – it was dark. If that fire would rage towards Casugoran, I would have the advantage of knowing it since I am outdoors. Thank God, it did not come.

The next day, September 3, my last day at Homonhon Island, we ate a very nice breakfast. We left at 07:45 for the mainland. The sea this time was very calm but treacherous since sandbars I saw the last time were missing. Passing by the last coastlines of Homonhon, I saw a very beautiful secluded beach but scraped on a limestone wall are the words “Habag Beach” and other vandalism which destroyed the aesthetics of the place. Further on among bare rocks, I see many carved with “No to Mining”, a wrong means to what could be a good end.

We arrived at Guiuan at 09:15 and proceed to EVSU after our service arrived. We stayed for a while to rest and to wash. Our equipment and bags were loaded to the vehicles. From there, we proceed to a local restaurant for a sendoff lunch. The staff from Misereor were there and we had a grand time of the delicious food. After the meal, we passed by the office of Misereor before proceeding back to the San Juanico Strait and into Leyte.

We arrived at Tacloban City but stopped to stare in awe of a relic of a boat stranded inland for more than a kilometer from its moorings after it was carried by storm surge caused by Typhoon Haiyan. The van made its way to downtown and dropped Wilson, himself a survivor of that sad chapter. I knew Wilson’s story but it would be appropriate that I do not mention that. My heart pains whenever I see him staring faraway.

We arrived at Ormoc City just before dusk and we dined at a very popular public eatery. Serving us food is a beautiful lass who was the winner of the Miss Ormoc City beauty apgeant. I saw Nick behaving this time. We made a beeline for the gangplank into our boat. There were many passengers but we had our cots. At 21:00, our boat left for Cebu. Ham Radio Cebu added another accomplishment to their warm antenna. Did they not say that “HAM is not processed food but a happy person with a warm antenna”?  
 
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

BEBUT’S TRAIL XIX: Taro Tendrils

WHEN YOU ARE KEEN on exposing people to creative cooking using unfamiliar ingredients in an outdoors setting, it is just second nature for you to rise up from your comfort zone and heft a bag for the woods. Today, August 20, 2017, I would walk with seven others on the same route I walked last week - “Heartbreak Ridge”. Our destination would still be that shed in Sibalas. It is now a spot well-loved by the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.

One of those who would hike up the infamous hill is the not-so-little Titay anymore. She will be with his dad Aljew. Titay have grown into a beautiful dalaguita - an adolescent lady – and how time flies. Also braving the bare hill are Bonna, Jhurds, Theresa, Jingaling and Glyn. We left the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at 08:30 after acquiring the ingredients for our noontime meal from its side market.

It is now 09:00 and it is very warm here as was last week. I am worried about Titay so I gave her my elastic headwear to shield her head, face and nape from direct sunlight. She begins to tire when she reached the steel tower and her dad has to goad her gently so she would overcome the last hump. Beyond there are bush and woodland and a shaded trail where many birds found refuge.

 
I bought this time two bundles of jute leaves (Local name: saluyot) which I preserved upside down and covered in loose layers of parasol tree leaves (binunga). I also acquired several pieces of okra, a few green pepper, onions, garlic and two bundles of vine-like taro root tendrils (takway). The main ingredient would be the young taro sprouts which I plan to cook in two different dishes.

If you have 230 grams of taro sprouts, if boiled, it provides you 3.22 g protein, 165.6 mg calcium, 0.92 mg iron, 1534 µg vitamin A, 0.05 mg thiamin, 0.18 mg riboflavin, 1.45 mg niacin and 48.30 vitamin C. It provides you energy with 110.40 kcal. (Source: Cooking Smart by Blecenda Miranda-Varona and David Arsulo Varona, Philippine Publishing House, 2005.) We have about 1,200 grams of that.

It can reduce high blood pressure, controls blood sugar levels, protects the skin, prevents different types of cancer, enhances digestion, increase circulation, prevents heart diseases, improves vision, boosts immune system, strengthens muscle and nerves. It also contains dietary fiber, which plays a very important role in the digestive system. Consumption of this can increase our gastrointestinal health. It also prevents diarrhea, cramps, constipation, bloating, excess gas, and improves the overall health of the body.

We arrive at the shed in Sibalas at 10:15. This wooden structure is built at the instance of Jhurds, currently Camp Red’s head shed, and with the assent of Luceno Labrador, the lot owner. Camp Red helped in reforesting the place with fruit, hardwood and indigenous species. The shed would host outdoors seminar someday but, for the moment, it sufficed as a place where we do “dirt times”.

As on previous occasions, the shed becomes the center of a few hours of camp life. The split log seats are there to give spartan comfort and respite to the tired limbs while the wide center table gives convenience to those who would prepare the food prior to cooking. The table is now accommodating the food ingredients and the tools for cooking. The men among us proceed to forage dry twigs and firewood. The ladies stayed to process meat and slice the vegetables.

Fire begins to blaze by the time Aljew’s firebox and my Swiss Army wood burner were set up. A pot of water is boiled first for that beautiful thought of a coffee drink. I took care of another pot for rice. One of the ladies, Bonna, watched the cooking on my behalf while I busy myself with the taro sprouts. You have to peel the outer layers first as it would cause itchiness on your tongue, gums and throat. It has a substance that is common among taro species.

It would be painstaking work. You have to use the edge of a blade lightly so skin will be stripped away and there are around twenty of these long stalks, which measure around two feet each. As you work on these taro part, you would notice that the color of dark purple adhere to your thumbs and fingers caused by the natural dye that is found on the insides of the skin. When done skinning, you chop the stalks about 2 inches long each.

On the other front, an earthen hearth is prepared for cooking the marinated meat on glowing coals. Aljew and Jhurds help each other that there is sufficient firewood to make this possible. Titay watched all these and sometimes would sidle by her dad and asked a few questions. Aljew taught her how to safely use a knife, chop firewood and feed wood on fire. This is another aspect of Titay’s ongoing education into a better adult that his dad envisioned of her. He is training her in this unconventional setting.

Half of the processed taro stalks, I would cook as a soup. I would not use any meat ingredient (subak) to achieve taste. The taro is the main ingredient and it has its own special taste, which is enhanced by the addition of jute leaves, sliced onions, salt and black pepper. It is a traditional Cebuano fare called bas-oy (vegetable soup) minus the meat.

Sliced okra is mixed with the other half of the taro tendrils. Garlic, sliced onions and green pepper are sauteed first before the taro is dropped into the strong-smelling oil that is simmered a bit. Care is observed not to stir the tendrils while it is cooked for a few minutes so it would not release a substance that causes itchiness. When the texture becomes brown, the okra is mixed to the fare and stirred while soy sauce is added.

On the other hand, the marinated meat took time to cook. Everybody waited. At 13:30, we got our meal. For the rest, it is their first time to taste young taro tendrils. I am used to its slimy appearance but, once you get to like its taste, you forgot about it and you crave for more. The taro adobo is the easiest to cook but it can also be cooked with coconut-based soup, simply fried in a pan, or rolled in rice-paper wrappers.

Plant identification is very important in bushcraft and survival. Today’s session educated the people from Camp Red the appearance of jute leaves and young taro tendrils. They were also exposed to the methods of cooking these. Sharing what I know and showing them how. The pots, plates and spoons are washed in a nearby well. In an hour we would be moving out but, for the meantime, we engage in small talks.

Aljew foraged a green coconut from a short tree and opened it. Titay watched how his dad did it. She drank the natural water straight from the small hole. The coconut was split in half by his dad while Titay scraped the meat with an improvised spoon made from the green husk. It might be ordinary for you readers but bonding with a daughter or son and exposing them to the outdoors is something you would crave for if you have the time.

By 14:00, our things are slowly returned to our bag. We took another trail that led to Baksan. We reach a road and it is a long way back to Guadalupe. We will pass by the Sapangdaku Spillway and going there would all be downhill by a concrete road. We crossed a bridge and walked the rest of the way to the church. Titay felt the fatigue and the pain but her dad never left her side. She reached our destination and she got her fish balls.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

BEBUT’S TRAIL XVIII: Jute Leaves

IT IS ALWAYS A GOOD THING to go out of your comfort zone, hike outdoors and do dirt time. Yeah, dirt time. That is what we called our activity in the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. We stay in one place and make wonders. Dirty your hands, do manly work, use a blade or cook something unfamiliar using indigenous material.

After meeting up with the guys at the parking lot of Our Lady Guadalupe Parish today, August 13, 2017, and buying the ingredients we need for our cooking session, we hiked towards that hill which I liked to call as “Heartbreak Ridge”. It is not heartbreaking when you are hiking down it in the afternoon. Just do not do that uphill starting 07:30 and upwards.

 
At 08:30, the hill was very warm. The rising sun is at its most intense here because it is bare. The secret to surviving “heartbreak” is to take it slow. Do not mind the heat and ignore it. It is at your back anyway. Just do not hurry. It would help you much if you travel light. Bring just a day pack. If you heft a big one, make sure you start early.  

The hike on a very warm day on a very bare hill, gave me the opportunity to test my theory on food preservation, especially of leafy vegetables. I bought a bundle of jute leaves (Local name: saluyot). For those who do not know about this plant, jute leaves has antibacterial property. It is also anti-convulsant, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammation, antipyretic, anti-obesity, anti-fungal and anti-microbial. (Source: StuartXchange)

A hundred grams of jute leaves yield 43-58 calories; 80.4-84.1 g H2O; 4.5-5.6 g protein; 0.3 g fat; 7.6-12.4 g total carbohydrate; 1.7-2.0 g fiber; 2.4 g ash; 266-366 mg calcium; 97-122 mg phosphorous; 7.2-7.7 mg iron; 12 mg sodium; 444 mg potassium; 6,410-7,850 µg beta-carotene; 0.13-0.15 mg thiamine; 0.26-0.53 mg riboflavin; 1.1-1.2 mg niacin; and 53-80 mg ascorbic acid. Leaves yield a significant amount of mucilaginous polysaccharide, therefore, a source of energy.

 
Forgive me for speaking Russian but jute leaves are my favorite and I will be cooking this later when we reach Sibalas. Meantime, I have to protect it from the wilting power of the sun on vegetation that is cut from its main stem. What I did was sprinkle water on the leaves and wrapped it with leaves from a parasol tree (binunga). Then I turn it upside down and place it inside a plastic bag that I hand-carried.

When we reached the safety of the woods, the pace of our walk began to slack a bit. We simply enjoyed the cooler ambiance that a shaded trail offered to superheated homo erectus. We do not have a timetable for this day hike. We just have a destination and that is it. We sit there, stay for two or three hours, prepare our food, cook it and eat it. In between will be the tales about the recent activities and of future projects.

The woods would also lessen exposure of the jute leaves against the heat. That also goes with the other vegetables, sold and already sliced in bite sizes, like red squash, string beans, okra, white squash and shreds of cabbage leaves, ingredients for a soon-to-be Cebuano culinary called sinagol-sagol (English: mixed vegetable soup). Once we get to Sibalas, I would personally supervise the cooking.

We arrive at 09:50. A shed welcomed us and we rest for a while on its split log seats. A center table accommodated the things from our bags that we unloaded. Blades are normal sight for us and they are handled with so much care, not for its sharp edge but because these are special properties which tell so much about the owners. These are extensions to our personality.

I set up my Swiss Army Wood Burner and went on the process of collecting as many dry twigs as I could for fuel. Boiling of water for coffee came first and is mandatory. Coffee, whatever its form be, and whatever weather, is always perfect outdoors. Then rice was next.

My companions prepared a hearth on the ground and started a roaring fire with firewood. Stones are placed along each side and an iron grill is laid across the fire. While waiting for the coals to glow hotter, the meat are immersed in a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, crushed garlic and sliced onions. Once the coals would be ready, marinated meat would be grilled over it.

The jute leaves remained fresh although the moisture I provided has already evaporated. Its being loosely encased in a layer of bigger leaves from the parasol tree helped its preservation. The same with placing it upside down as all the water it preserved went to the extremities of the leaf capillaries.     

I picked the leaves one by one from the stems and it should be about 75 grams in weight. When the rice got cooked, I replaced it with a small pot containing water and the raw vegetable mix, with a piece of ginger and slices of onions, green pepper and tomatoes. I let boil for eight minutes before I placed salt and black pepper.

When I got the taste right, I add the jute leaves and leave it simmered for just a minute before I remove it from the burner. The soup and the rice are now ready for the eating. The grilled meat is now almost at its last pieces and, probably, we would have our lunch at 13:00, which is just about fine. By now, everyone should be hungry.

After the meal, we washed our pots, spoons and plates from a nearby well. For the rest of the day we just talked and enjoyed the wonders of the outdoors. The shifting shadows under a forest are so strange to watch. Sometimes, you get small doses of filtered sunshine and it does not hurt you. The forest heals your body, mind and your spirit.

Sitting for most of the time, feeling and examining the edges of your blades, is a relaxing moment for me. Perhaps, for the others too as I see one of them finishing a chunk of wood into slender pieces and another one having a grand time shaving feathersticks. What would be your afternoon be like in the outdoors?

When 15:30 came, we packed our things and walked a different trail going to Baksan. We reach a road and followed it for 45 minutes until we arrive at the Sapangdaku Spillway. A small Suzuki Scrum is parked in the middle of stream while children are around it, splashing water into the tires, underchassis, hood and everywhere. An adult seemed nonchalant of the turbid color of the water.

Fortunately, there is a new pedestrian bridge constructed and we walked it instead of crossing the stream on the spillway which we did in the old days. In another 45 minutes we arrived at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. We called it a day and that is the trademark by which I and the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild spent our weekends.    

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