Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Alain Mabanckou

Part 3. An excursion with French-speaking African authors (Francophone authors)

Is the African Francophone literature considered an integral part of French literature?  Many French authors disagree that African and former colonial country authors can be considered as forming the characteristics of French mentality or philosophy… Most famous African authors are generally twined to other French authors, like “The African Voltaire”, “The African Victor Hugo, Proust…”

Alain Mabanckou, an author from the Congo Brazzaville or (Rep. of Congo), and who published “Writers and birds of migration” claims that Francophone literature are encouraged for its “utilitarian angle” to counter the current pervasive English domination, and is denied esthetic autonomy… As a kid, Arthur Rimbaud must have been a black author to Alain:  his father read only Rimbaud. One of Rimbaud’s poems “Bad Blood” reads:

Yes, my eyes are shut to your light.  I am a beast and a nigger. But I can be saved.  You are (the colonial Europeans) false niggers. You are maniacal, ferocious, and stingy niggers. Merchant, you are a nigger.  Judge, you are a nigger. Military officer, an old itching wound, you are a nigger.  You all have drunk from a non-taxed liquor, manufactured by Satan…”

Alain described his meeting with many African Francophone authors.  In the two previous posts, I related the meetings with

1. Ahmadou Kourouna (Ivory Coast): “Les soleils des independance” (Suns of Independence), “En attendant le vote des betes sauvage” (Waiting for the vote of the beasts), and “Allah n’est pas oblige” (Allah has no obligation),

2. Sony Labou Tansi (Congo Brazzaville or Rep.of Congo): “La vie et demi” (The life and a half),

3. Sami Tchak from Togo: “Place des fetes” (Festivities square), “Hermina, daughter of Mexico”, “Infidel woman”, and ”The Malian Al Capone”

4. Laye Camara (1928-80) from Guinea:  “L’ Enfant Noir” (The Black kid).

This post recounts the meetings of Alain Mabanckou with late author Jean-Marie Adiaffi (Ivory Coast).

“I met Adiaffi in the 90’s at the University Paris 12.  Two comedians were to recite a few pf my poems.  Adiaffi took to the podium and said: “I hate microphone” and set it aside and delivered his talk.  At the refectory, I told Adiaffi if he would consider writing a preface for my new book of poems “The Legend of errance”.

Adiaffi almost choked on the chicken leg he was eating and replied in anger: “Prefaces are serious matters and written to acclaimed and recognized author. Beside that, you have got to know that get paid for prefaces…It is not because I had a couple of glasses of wine that you think you can abuse of me…” I was very upset with this highly arrogant African author and left the room without turning back.

A year later, we met again at Ivry-sur Seine at the residence of my friend author Paul Dakeyo. Adiaffi looked me up and said: “Another author from the Congo…I consider there are too many of them in this field.  Possibly it is because the authors from the Congo have the River and the Sea…” and he laughed.  Adiaffi discovered my newly published collection of poems on the table and turned red with anger. He said: “You asked Pius Ngandu Nkashama to preface your book, when it was I who was to do it?  Where is my copy?” I gave him the one on the table and he demanded: “Erase Dakeyo and sign my name instead…”

Adiaffi asked me to accompany him to Paris. As we stepped out of the metro, Adiaffi saw a tall black young girl in tight jeans and loudly said to me: “Have you noticed her behind? She must be from Ivory Coast”.  The girl turned around and said: “I don’t know you. How did you guess that I am from Ivory Coast?”

Adiaffi was besides himself and the girl insisted: “The only book of an African author that I have read was “The Little Prince of Belleville” by Calix of Beyala…” Adiaffi cut her off: “Are you sure you are from Ivory Coast…?”  The girl said: “My mother is French…”  Adiaffi said: “Surely your father must have read my books…” The girl was smiling and leaving.  Adiaffi ran after her and commanded her to follow him.

We stopped at a bookstore and Adiaffi bought the girl two of his books “Identity card” and Silence, we are developing”.  Adiaffi said: “Read them and write to me at this address…I know you are from the Agni tribe and you will learn some of the Agni culture when you visit Abidjean…You should visit my museum…”

Adiaffi turned to me and resumed: “See? This girl has never been comfortable with her African roots…”

Alain Mabanckou mentioned many African and “colored” Francophone authors such as the authors in north Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tuninis): Yahyia Belaski, Anouar Benmalek, Kateb Yacine, Mahmoud Mammeri, Rachid Mimouni, Mohammed Dib, Kebir Amin, Salim Bachi, Asia Djebbar, Edouard Glissant, Maryse Conde, Emmanuel Dongala…

Like Yambo Ouologuen “Le Livre de violence (The book of violence)”, Ahmadou Kourouma ”Les soleils des independance” (Suns of Independence), “En attendant le vote des betes sauvage” (Waiting for the vote of the beasts), and “Allah n’est pas oblige” (Allah has no obligation).

The authors who emulated the novel of “The black kids” are: “Climbie” by Bernard Dadie, “Kocumbo, the black student” by Ake Loba, and “Ambiguous adventure” by Cheikh Hamidou Kane, and the contemporary “All this blue, Ma” by Gaston Paul Effa.

Like Sony Labou Tansi (Cameroun) “La vie et demi” (The life and a half), Arenas Reinaldo (Cuba): “Trois tristes ” (Three sad tigers), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Cuba) ” Pere tranquille” (Father Cool), Sami Tchak (Togo) “Place des fetes” (Festivities square), “Hermina, daughter of Mexico”, “Infidel woman”, and ”The Malian Al Capone”

Like James Baldwin (USA) “The room of Giovanni”, Gary Victor (Haiti) “13 vaudou novellas”,  “At the angel of parallel streets”

Note: Alain Mabanckou is born in the Rep. of Congo (a Francophone State) in 1966.  He is professor of Francophone literature in UCLA.  He published “Broken Glass”, “Black Bazar”, letter to Jimmy (James Baldwin)”, and “Tomorrow I’ll be 20″…

Part 2. An excursion with French-speaking African authors

(Francophone authors)

Alain Mabanckou, an author from the Congo Brazzaville or (Rep. of Congo), published “Writers and birds of migration”.  Alain described his meeting with many African Francophone authors.  In the previous I related the meetings with Ahmadou Kourouna (Ivory Coast) and Sony Labou Tansi (Congo Brazzaville or Rep.of Congo).

Here are another set of samples of the stories:

On Sami Tchak from Togo. “I discuss literature mostly with Sami Tchak from Togo. Sami is not prone to any consensus and I can always count on Sami to let me discover unknown authors. We are in constant connection and we spend time discussing the many dimensions of the imaginary: Bringing in fresh air.

Sami would grab any book left on a bench in any public park, read it all, for the entire day, sitting on the bench: Tchak reads everything!

Sami published “Place des fetes” (Fiesta square, 2001), a iconoclastic work of contemporary Sub-Sahara literature. Sami says: “A writer is above all a reader. We have too many half-cooked literate intellectuals

Tchak has spent long periods in Latin America and evoked themes of sexuality, prostitution…themes not usually covered in African literatures.  For example, Sami’s book “The Malian Al Capone” is about little people, tormented in their customs and traditions, these mobile Africans, mobile in their heart, faith, lightness of being, happiness, exaggeration, clownish behaviors…How colonial Europe is coming to term in viewing Africa and Africans, this resisting Black continent, this ancient breath of traditional waves.

Time for Europe to comprehend this “Black Soul” through a trip to the “heart of darkness”, undertaken by the main character, a magazine white reporter, Rene. Rene’s weight of errance and the stubbornness for an illicit desire.

Tchak make it his responsibility to first visit the locations of his novel, and study the social structure so to present slices of the society.  Tchak is subjugated by the novels “The man without qualities” by Robert Musil (Austria), “Three sad tigers”, and “Father Tranquille”

On Laye Camara (1928-80) from Guinea. Laye was sent to exile by dictator Sekou Toure. The first book of Camara “The Black kid” was published in 1953 and became an instant cult book, and Laye was considered the most independent minded author, and perpetually felt the “freshest” to all African generations.

It is an “initiating book”, and later, many African authors wrote their versions of the Black kid in recounting their early years. For example,  “Climbie” by Bernard Dadie, “Kocumbo, the black student” by Ake Loba, and “Ambiguous adventure” by Cheikh Hamidou Kane.  The contemporary African authors who emulated the Black kid are: “All this blue, Ma” by Gaston Paul Effa.

The preface of the Black kid contained a poem “To my mother” that is memorized and recited by almost all school children, a vibrant homage to African women, and sang by African musicians.

Laye said: “I was thinking of myself, and as I wrote the book, I realized that I was painting a portion of my High-Guinea birthplace.”  There is a serenity in Laye as he considers the Future of Africa, the book decodes a society, we enter the universe of the humble person, culture of courtesy, exchange, and dignity: Feeling happy to be African, and celebrating life… 

Alain Mabanckou mentioned many African and “colored” Francophone authors such as the authors in north Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tuninis): Yahyia Belaski, Anouar Benmalek, Kateb Yacine, Mahmoud Mammeri, Rachid Mimouni, Mohammed Dib, Kebir Amin, Salim Bachi, Asia Djebbar, Edouard Glissant, Maryse Conde, Emmanuel Dongala…

Like Yambo Ouologuen “Le Livre de violence (The book of violence)“, Ahmadou Kourouma “Les soleils des independance” (Suns of Independence), “En attendant le vote des betes sauvage” (Waiting for the vote of the beasts), and “Allah n’est pas oblige” (Allah has no obligation).

Like Sony Labou Tansi (Cameroun) “La vie et demi” (The life and a half), Arenas Reinaldo (Cuba): Trois tristes tigres (Three sad tigers), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Cuba) ” Pere tranquille” (Father Cool), Sami Tchak (Togo) “Place des fetes” (Festivities square), “Hermina, daughter of Mexico”, “Infidel woman“, and “The Malian Al Capone”

Like James Baldwin (USA) “The room of Giovanni”, Gary Victor (Haiti) “13 vaudou novellas”,  “At the angel of parallel streets”

Note: Alain Mabanckou is born in the Rep. of Congo (a Francophone State) in 1966.  He is professor of Francophone literature in UCLA.  He published “Broken Glass”, “Black Bazar”, letter to Jimmy (James Baldwin)”, and “Tomorrow I’ll be 20″…

Danes writing in French? Forget it: You cannot be invited as a Francophone author

Alain Mabanckou, French-speaking African author from Congo Brazzaville, recounts this story of Pia Petersen. The Danish Pia landed in France and she was over 20 year-old. She could not even speak French but decided to resume her studies in philosophy in French.

Pia decided to follow the French thinking by reading the original work and learning the French language: She didn’t trust translated works, and a language merit to learn it with patience. Pia purchased a bookshop so she may learn to write in French.

Twenty years later, she published a book written in French.

Fifty editors turned her down before editor Hubert Nyssen of Actes Sud decided to take the plunge and published Pia’s first “Occasionally, they discussed of God” (2004). The next was “A window at random” 2005.

The year 2006 was dedicated to all Francophone authors in Paris. I pleaded the organizers to invite Pia to the Salon of the Book. The invitation was declined on the ground that Denmark was never a French colony.

Pia is small, blonde with eyes of different colors. She was attending the Salon of the Book in Toulouse, and waiting for anyone to purchase her new book “The game of the facile” and to autograph it.

Since the book was “not translated” from the Danish language, Pia had no luck for the day.  She said to Alain Mabanckou: “Things would have been much simpler if I were from the Congo. French editors are suspicious of me, though they readily welcome to translate Danish books”

I lived in Los Angeles, and Pia used to call me every couple of days for my input: She was intent for the first sentence in the book to be perfect.

A few years later, I assured Pia that the next Salon will invite her. Again Pia was refused an invitation on the ground that Pia writes in French but is not a Francophone author!

To France, Pia is a writer with no fixed residence. I adopted Pia as a Congo citizen of Danish origin.

Part 1. An excursion with French-speaking African authors (Francophone authors)

Alain Mabanckou, an author from the Congo Brazzaville called Rep. of Congo, published “writers and birds of migration“.  Alain described his meeting with many African Francophone authors.  Here are samples of the stories.

On Ahmadou Kourouma (The African Voltaire?) from Ivory Coast: In early 1990’s, Ahmadou visited Paris for the Salon of book. He was a tall old man, wearing dark suit and thick eye glasses and moving swiftly amid the crowd. Ahmadou seemed kind of disoriented and approached my stand to buy my book of poems. I refused to take the money on account that he is a Classic African author. Ahmadou laughed and said: “The youth are constantly “mommifying” the elder authors” and he quickly left the salon.

Two years later, I met Ahmadou in Abidjan and handed him my latest “Blue White and Red” and he sent me a letter that I kept as a trophy. For many years it was complete silence: I was under the impression that Ahmadou will be known for his only two books: “The suns of independence” and “Money, outrage and defiance“. As Cheikh Hamidou Khane is known for his “Ambiguous Adventure“, or Yambo Ouologuen for his “The duty of violence”…

By the end of the 90’s, I met Ahmadou in another salon of the book in Charente-Maritime: He was the main invitee. We were lodged in a medieval house along with my friend Pius Ngandu Nkashama. Kourouma would have loved to be assigned in the main floor: He had difficulty climbing the stairs. Kourouma was writing a new novel and he told us at breakfast: “I am a dying volcano: I may eject the remaining of my lava in my new book…It might be titled “Waiting for the vote of the wild beasts”.

This book would launch Kourouma as a successful author, and the next book “Allah is not obligated” will consecrate him in the  summit of the Francophone authors and received the Renaudot Prize.

On Sony Labou Tansi (The equivalent to the French Rabelais) from Congo Brazzaville:  Sony published his first book “The life and a half” in 1979 and it became a cult book and Sony was compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I waited two years before I made the short journey to his hometown of Makelekele. I was attending Law School and I had no difficulty locating his residence: Everybody in town knew him. Sony was engaged in a game of volley ball in the wild field by his house.

At the first break, Sony invited me to his run-down wood house: I had to part wild branches in this small tropical forest. The door was never locked. Two huge posters of Che Guevara and Bob Marley were hung.  There was no typewriter, and no bibliotheque. Two candles illuminated a page that Sony was handwriting. He said: “I am trying to finish “The seven solitudes of Lorsa Lopez“.

I discovered just two books: The Illuminations by Rimbaud and “Chronicle of an announced death”by Marquez. Sony sat on the ground and I said:

Frankly, I write occasionally, but it is not real literature. I write poems…” Sony replied: “It is not easy to publish books of poetry. I also wrote poems in the beginning and they were refused, although I wrote prefaces to famous poets.  It is as if there could be no valid poets in Africa after Senghor and Cesaire. You have to keep trying: You might be luckier than me.  Do not limit your reading to French and African poets.  Open up to Neruda, Octavio Paz, Giacomo Leopardi, Pouchkine…You’ll find copies in the French Cultural Center.  Read a lot before trying to write. This is the only secret to writing well. For the time being, give priority to novels.”

Sony retrieved a dusty manuscript of his “The life and a half” and handed it to me. And he returned to his volleyball game saying: “Consider this house as yours”. I kept the manuscript for an entire year before leaving to France: The handwriting was straight, willing, and very few corrections…

Two years later, Sony was invited at a TV show of Cavada “The March of the century“. I retrieved Sony’s manuscript to return as I see him. Sony was surprised to see me before the show and said: “Let’s meet after the show”. He asked me: “What have you published since then?” I replied: “No editor would publish me…”  Sony said: “Proust also was refused…”  I gave him his manuscript and he exclaimed: “I have been calling all my friends to return it, and searched the house as I never did before…” (To be continued)

Alain Mabanckou revealed that the ten books he would take to an isolated island would be:

1.  Le Livre de ma mere (The book of mother) by the Swiss Albert Cohen

2.  L’Enfant Noir(The black kid): Camara Laye from Guinea

3.  L’Ivrogne dans la brousse (The drunk in the bushland): Amos Tutuola

4.  Le Tunnel (The Tunnel): Late Ernesto Sabato (Argentina)

5.  Le Tambour (The drum):  Gunter Grass

6.  Pays sans chapeau ( Countries without hat): Dany Laferriere (Haiti)

7.  Of mice and man: John Steinbeck

8.  The music: Yukio Mishima

9. The contemplations: The French Victor Hugo

10.  Death on credit: The French Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Note: Alain Mabanckou is born in the Rep. of Congo (a Francophone State) in 1966.  He is professor of Francophone literature in UCLA.  He published “Broken Glass”, “Black Bazar”, letter to Jimmy (James Baldwin)”, and “Tomorrow I’ll be 20″…

Elegant Niggers in white masks Society? Who are these SAPE members?

There was this trend in the 80’s in Congo Brazzaville, a former French colony, when the expatriates from the Congo to France would return for the Summer vacation season.  These fresh comers would be dressed in the latest European fashion such as made by Cerruti, Gian Franco Ferre, Gianni Versace, Enrico Coveri,  Francesco Smalty, Yves St. Laurent, Armani, Guy Laroche…Weston and Church…

(I wonder, how they managed to earn enough to bring so many fashionable dresses and shoes… in order to “save face” toward their countrymen who didn’t get the opportunity to leave yet?)

Tchicaya U Tamsi from Togo wrote:

“One day, we have got to walk

With the high winds,

A wandering tree leave landing

On a heap of dung, a bonfire…

I inhabited a country of music

Inaccessible to the ear,

What went wrong in my life

Blame it on my legs, never on my heart… 

The general idea of this “Clothing religion” (Ya kitendi religion) was that “No matter how elegantly the European try to dress, if the Africans didn’t try on the latest fashion designed by Europeans, it will never look elegant on the White people...”

The ideology of “authenticity of the African Black customs and the rest…” was not in the program: What counted was: “Have you been away from your home State, have you visited part of the world, the triumphal return to the homeland, transformed in a white mask…

Looking elegant is an entire program of initiation, learning, practising, and keeping at it all the way.  For example, the black skin had to vanish in thin air, to be replaced by the color of yellow banana (the best that “skin de-blacking” products could reach)…

For that end, the young “Ambiance elegant persons society” SAPE members had to descend to the economic Capital of Point Noire in Congo and purchase the color “de-niggering” chemical products such as Green and Red Ambi, Diprosone, Dop, Venus…

What was the process?

The member of SAPE was not to take any shower or wash for an entire month, and he had to wear two to three layers of clothes in order to sweat profusely, and experience the skin breaking down, and wait for the lesions to heal slowly… Plenty of suffering and patience before the skin turns banana yellow…

Most of theses individuals in older age witnessed skin cancer and saw black blotches disfiguring their faces and skin: Once used, you had got to continue using the dangerous products if you wanted to maintain the yellowish skin color…

It was a must for the SAPE addicts to converge to a place called “Total Market” to exhibit their elegance: The King of the SAPE was elected there. Who the French magazines (Paris-Match, Le nouvel Observateur…) elected didn’t count: The real election test had to take place at Bacongo (the birth place of SAPE movement). For example, Djo Balard (in the movie Black micmac), had to face-off with Pechard (wearing Scots tunic),  Guy Freddy, Thomas Mbongoque…

It was no longer “Black is beautiful”, but rather how elegantly Blacks of Africa carry their stature, move, walk, talk… A SAPE famous member would shave on the front porch, in front of his admirers (ngembo), and relatives would be shining his shoes, and suggesting the “must locations” to visit in order to show-off their illustrious relative coming from France…

The famous singers in Congo relayed and disseminated the SAPE “ideology”. Papa Wemba (Viva la Musica), Emeneya Kester (Victoria Eleison), Koffi Olomide (Quatier Latin)…spread the culture of the SAPE proclamation…

Who emulated who? The SAPE or the drug leaders and rich rap musicians in the USA?  

It is to be noted that the Rep. of the Congo at the time was a communist State and the SAPE trend degenerated into mafia groups dealing in almost everything and terrorizing the citizens in the major cities of Congo Brazzaville.

Elegance has nothing to do with wealth discrimination: The wealthiest White American Anglo-Protestants didn’t display their arrogance and racism through ostentatious attires, but rather wearing cloths a little nicer than the  common people…The worst kind of devilish smokescreen display of commonality…Until liberal capitalism of the 90’s broke down all the red lines in decency…

Note 1: Topic extracted from a chapter in “Writers and migrating bird” by Alain Mabanckou from the Rep.of the Congo

Note 2: During the long reign of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko over Zaire (The Belgium former Congo colony), he coined the useless currency Zaire. The people flocked to communist Congo Brazzaville, just to be paid in real money, the French CFA.  

Do Currency rules over political systems? Is that how the former colonial powers maintained their positions in the newly independent African States?

Note 3:  In the 80’s, Zaire tried an incursion into Congo Brazzaville and the troops were repulsed.  It was not easy to round up the remaining troops since the citizens in both States speak the same language, look the same, and are from the same tribe.  

The pronunciation of a stupid vowel “u” uncovered the people from Zaire who pronounced the French vowels “u” as “i”:  For example saying “sicre” instead of  sucre (sugar).  The same would happen during Lebanon long civil war: To differentiate between the Lebanese Moslems and the Palestinian Moslems, you had to say “banadoura” (tomato) instead of “bandoura”, for example.

On the road to discovering the living: Who is Alain Mabanckou?

There are many on the road, these migrating birds, in search of human diversities, of connecting and communicating emotions…A few become authors, of words or audio-visual narrators, they collect and recollect from their memories, diaries, and personal archieves, people they met, friends they entertained, books they loved reading, movies that touched them, experiences that marked thir life, music that haunted them…Things and people that constitute our life, the sustenance of the living…

Having these sorts of recollections into “prints” open-up wide doors into internal kingdoms, kingdom we never suspected existed, kingdom rich with experiences, emotions, feeling…the fabric of true living. The French publishing house “Chemin faisant” (on the road) specialized in these types of books. Author Alain Mabanckou is one of the authors (see note), and here are a few excerpts in his French book “Writer and migrating birds”:

“I had a tiny span view of the ocean, and I used to watch migrating birds.  A few birds were still in a hurry, many more had the flight heavy under their wings.  Migrating birds passed over me, very high-up, and a few would rest on a branch, eyes riveted to the far horizon over the ocean. The kid in me wanted so badly to join these birds: I ended-up a writer, a puny compensation, but my multitude of trips overseas were opportunities to meet and link-up with people of all kinds, and I read books of the local authors wherever I settled for a while.  Countries I visited were not for touring stones and historical monuments…I was mainly interested in talking with the local people and learning their literature and their languages… ”

“I was the unique kid of my parents, and my four aunts assumed that I was a fragile-type of kids.  My aunts felt they had to protect me and took me with them on their frequent outing to shopping…I could hear their heated and animated conversation, trailing behind them, forgotten. I was capturing and inhaling  the meaning of life, through my aunts adult chatting and their frank laughter…

Aunts are the pillars of every extended family: They are the mothers when they feel the mother is overwhelmed and subjugated to care for the kids…Aunts accord us wonderful days, with full attention that mother frequently refuses us…Aunts are supposed not to show their anger against us or harass us…Once aunts start imitating mothers, shouting at us and working on changing our behaviour…there is no ways of distinguishing who is the real biological mother…”

“I visited New Orleans.  Under a building on Carondelet Street, an Afro-American homeless is covered under a blanket on the side-street.  I didn’t even speak and the homeless pretended I have an accent. “Are you from this neighborhood?” the homeless asked me. I said: “I am from the Congo”.  He jumped up like a kangaroo and said: “I am not stupid. I know there is the French Congo and the Belgian one.  You speak French!”

This homeless person claimed that he is a direct descendant from Haitian families and delivered the complete speech of Toussaint Louverure who harangued his troops in 1800 saying: “Join my revolution and let us uproot the tree of slavery…”  He insisted that his dad made him memorize the speech, as did his father, and so on since 1800. He asked for change and I had only Euros.  The homeless would not accept Euro on account that only the currency with George Washington’s picture on is the only true money…

I told him that I’ll be away for 5 minutes and will come back with US currency. The homeless treated for liar, as all the people who promised him to come back and never did…I tuned my back and strolled away, followed by curses…As I walked, I remembered my best friend Bertin Miyalou, who resembled physically the homeless person and who hanged himself two days after I left the Congo…I got the US changes on Canal Street and returned to give the change to the homeless saying: “Take, it is for you Bertin…”

The homeless cried and thanked me.  As I was leaving, I overheard the homeless shouting: “Who is this fucking Bertin…?”

Note: Alain Mabanckou is born in the Rep. of Congo (a Francophone State) in 1966.  He is professor of Francophone literature in UCLA.  He published “Broken Glass”, “Black Bazar”, letter to Jimmy (James Baldwin)”, and “Tomorrow I’ll be 20″…


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