Thursday, March 03, 2011

(Im)migration and Lip Balms for Social Justice?!

No More Deaths/No Más Muertes banner. Lip Balms for Social Justice workshop - with a 
popular education (im)migration activity mapping the journeys of our ancestors across 
oceans and borders and the journey our lip balms will take from Vermont, US to the 
Mexican-US border where they'll be distributed by No More Deaths/No Más Muertes.

So what does Lip Balm have to do with Social Justice? Well, it all began when I first heard of the work of No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, a humanitarian aid organization that provides water and first aid care to those crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona. But the story reaches back further and deeper...

To be honest, I'm not quite sure how to approach the topic of (im)migration to truly do this complicated issue justice. The word immigration is often followed by inflammatory terms such as illegal alien, "those people", etc. etc. etc. So, I'm going to implement one of my favorite tools of good communication. The "I statement," where one speaks from their own personal experience. Less preaching, more heart.

My ancestors are boatpeople. Some came on the Mayflower. Some came later from the islands of Scotland. Some are said to have been sent here as criminals for poaching the King's deer instead of guarding the forest, while others fled an Gorta Mór ("the great hunger") aka the Great Famine in Ireland which was not a famine at all but genocide.

The term "American" makes me cringe. To me, this term and the very foundation of this nation is built upon racism, genocide, theft, and imperialism. Claiming this non-specific term also erases our neighbors both to the North and South of us. It reminds me of loud tourists taking up a lot of space. Hours upon hours, years upon years of history classes filled with misinformation, silenced voices, invisible masses, and atrocities re-written into feel-good stories appropriate for middle school plays. There is so much history that I don't know (that I would like to know), but what I am sure about is that in the big scheme of things, a couple hundred years, or even 390 years, is not long at all. I don't feel entitled to this country because some of my ancestors may have came over on the "right" boat, at the "right" time, or for the "right" purposes.

People who claim lineage to the so-called great beginnings of this nation often don't want to talk about slavery past or present, genocide past or present. The Pilgrims that I am descended from enslaved indigenous people. I don't feel a sense of pride that I am able to be a member of the Mayflower society, nor do I believe that it's honest to claim to be seeking freedom - religious or otherwise - while shackling others. I also get wicked fired up when people make jokes about the Famine - or the Starvation - in Ireland. Like the famine in Ethiopia that took place during my youth, this was not an agricultural issue. Both nations were exporting food while the people starved.  To read about the harsh reality in Ireland during the Starvation/Eviction, see Gerard Keegan's book the Famine Diary.

Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) in Dublin, Ireland was completely maxed out from jailing all the
people who "stole" food in order to survive, while the English evicted people from their
homes and exported food from Ireland. This chart shows the rates of prisoners held at
Kilmainham. That dramatic spike is during the starvation/genocide of the Irish people.

The US is a nation made up almost entirely of immigrants who've quickly forgotten the history of our own ancestors. Claiming a land that was stolen from the people who were here first, now we have Minutemen that arm the Mexican border on the US-side of Southwestern states that were part of Mexico long before the US took them over. For those who would like to learn more of the stories of the people crossing the border, I recommend the book Crossing with the Virgin written by Kathryn Ferguson, Norma A. Price, and Ted Parks, volunteers with humanitarian aid organizations in Arizona along the US-Mexican border.

The organization No More Deaths/No Más Muertes not only provides people coming North across the border with vital first aid supplies and water, they also take action against racist anti-immigration policies such as SB1070. While I wholehearted support the actions and beliefs of No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, I didn't feel that I could up and go there to volunteer. I wanted to find a way that I could support their efforts from afar, here in my local community. I looked over their wishlist and saw that they needed Antibiotic ointment and Lip balms, so I contacted them to see if they would like homemade herbal salve and lip balm. They did! So I re-named my salve and lip balm-making workshops "Lip Balms (or Herbal Salves) for Social Justice," and in these workshops participants learned how to make their own herb-infused oils, lip balms, and salves, and we made enough for everyone to bring some home, and to send to No More Deaths. Directions for making herbal salves and lip balms are included below.

I have added an activity to the workshop, a popular education exercise that maps the journeys of our ancestors across oceans and land borders. Popular Education is a form of learning rooted in social justice and is itself a tool for social change. Pop Ed is participatory, knowing that education is meant to be empowering for individuals and communities. Rather than mainstream methods of teaching that impose hierarchies, where the teacher holds the knowledge that the students need, popular education knows that the people have the knowledge and power to determine what’s best for ourselves and our communities. Based on reciprocity and liberation, popular education puts education back in the hands of the people, where it belongs.

(Im)migration: A movement exercise
The purpose of this activity is to explore how groups of people have moved across the globe, most often for economic reasons, and to inspire more heart- and justice-centered conversations about immigration. Supplies needed include: a ball of string or yarn for each participant, more balls of string or yarn for the map (preferably darker colors so that the participants' stand out more) or a large laminated world map, a large space – in a gym/rec center/outdoors, and tape (or another way to secure the yarn/string).

Please give a disclaimer: Some participants may not know the answers to some of these questions about their ancestry, due to adoption, slavery, internment, genocide, or other potentially painful topics. Or people may be indigenous and not move far or at all across the map. Allow people the option to pass and create space for them to speak up in discussion, if they are comfortable sharing. I also like to pass around Heart Elixir (along with an alcohol-free Rose petal-Hawthorn berry glycerite) as part of acknowledging that we're exploring topics that may be difficult to discuss.

Have participants create a map of the globe by placing string on the ground in the shape of the world’s continents and larger islands.   Or you can use a large laminated global map.

1. Give each participant a ball of string or yarn and then give them the following instructions:
2. "Let's find this location (where the activity is taking place) and, keeping hold of our own ball of string, place the end of the string here and tape it down."
3. “Leaving a trail behind you with your string, go to your place of your birth.”
4. “Now go to where your grandparents were born, again leaving a trail of string to trace the journey.” (Some people may have grandparents from very different areas on the globe, let participants voice this, or you can voice it, and participants can go to the various countries, leaving a trail of string behind them.)
5. “Leaving a path, go to the place where your ancestors/your people are from, if this is different from where your grandparents were born.”
6. “Why did your family move all this distance?” Answers may include: I-don’t-know, looking for work, deportation, seeking economic opportunity, theft of land, fleeing war or starvation, slavery, natural disaster. If the group does not voice this, note that often, even with so-called natural disasters such as famine or hurricanes, these situations are, if not orchestrated, then often exploited by powers-that-be. Example, both Ireland and Ethiopia, during their famines were exporting food to other countries that dominated them. And corporations and government descended upon New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Tsunami to rebuild it in their own interests - pushing out working-class people of color to ‘develop’ whiter, more privatized areas. Likewise, the earthquake in Haiti was made much worse by the poverty and deforestation caused by racist imperialism.

(Optional)  7. “Look at the web we’ve created just with our small group.” (Give them a moment to look around to see the big picture.) “Now look on the tag to see where your shirt was made. What country was your clothing made in? Now carry your string to where it was made.” (People may not know where the countries listed on their tags are. If participants don’t make note of it, do voice that it’s amazing that often the people who make our clothes live in countries very far away, probably working in a sweatshop, and then the clothes travel all the way to us. Why is this? Depending on the group and their ancestry, this last step can potential lead the string to areas of the map that had previously been unvisited.)

Now sit down for a quieter conversation. Going around in a circle, ask the following questions. (You can remind people that they can pass if there’s information that they don’t know about their family, or that they don’t feel like sharing.) If the group answers more popcorn-style rather than going around in a circle, make sure that you allow space for everyone to speak, not just a vocal few.

1. “In general, what were the reasons for people leaving their homelands or migrating?” (Most or all are economically-based)
2. “How did they get here?” Answers may include: don’t know, Ellis Island, “illegally” crossing the border – if there seems to be some anti-immigrant sentiment in the air, you can take this opportunity to remind or inform people that much of what is now considered the southwestern US used to be part of Mexico. Or that Puerto Rico is considered a territory of the US, so people moving to the mainland of the US from there aren’t immigrants. Or that the term “America” doesn’t exclusively mean the US, but that Canada and Mexico are included in North America, that the Americas span two continents.  And in conversations about the US and who belongs here, indigenous people are often completely excluded from the conversation. 
(If the term "illegal" is used to refer to people, you could let them know about the Drop the I-Word campaign.)
3. “Why are we taught to hate immigrants? Why does the US condone people on the Northern side of the Mexican/US border shooting-to-kill people that are traveling North? Why are immigrants used as scapegoats for a wide variety of social problems? How is tracing the journeys of our ancestors connected with where our clothes come from today?” (Capitalism moves goods and people.)

Questions can be changed according to the participants, focus of conversation, etc.

Now back to the herbals salves and lip balms...
The night after leading the first workshop I thought to myself that I now needed to find someone that speaks Mexican Spanish, willing to help me translate the ingredient list. That very night I met Cynthia, a Volunteer for Peace from Mexico. That night we went through my apothecary, smelling chamomile flowers and lavender essential oil, navigating in both Spanish and English to translate the list. I also include images of the plants on the labels, so that even if people don't read Spanish (as some folks maybe not be literate in Spanish and/or may speak indigenous languages) or knew the plants by different common names, they could still maybe recognize the plants. I also makes for more beautiful labels and I believe this is part of the medicine as well. I heard back from someone that works with No More Deaths that there was a young indigenous woman who was in shock from the entire experience of migrating and was comforted to receive a remedy that she was familiar with. 

These kind of report-backs from No More Deaths make all the time and energy poured into the workshops and remedies well worth it.  And my community is hopefully benefiting by co-creating a space where we can openly discuss topics of immigration, ancestry, and racism- topics that are sometimes taboo, volatile, or ignored. It's my hope that having these conversations in the context of herbs, solidarity, and community health, can help move the conversation from political arguments and create space for personal stories, understanding, and facilitate community and ancestral healing.

While deciding on ingredients for the salves and lip balms I sent an herbal call-out, to draw upon the creativity and experience of friends, teachers, and acquaintances. I inquired about the best herbs and oils to use for extreme desert conditions, taking into considerations what also grows locally where I live, and what grows abundantly, rather than using at-risk or endangered herbs. Thank you to all who shared their thoughts!

For the salve:
Though it's soothing and incredibly healing, I didn't want to use Comfrey leaf or root. It's so good at cell regeneration that it can actually seal over a wound and cause an abscess. Definitely not good for folks in dire circumstances with open blisters and other wounds! I decided on Calendula and Yarrow. Calendula was the first plant I choose when I reclaimed Mom's garden from the groundhogs when I was in high school. I didn't even know that it was medicinal, I was just drawn to it. Turns out it was one of my grandmother's favorites and in the years since her passing my mom has found little packets of Calendula seeds my grandmother had gathered. I love that it is simultaneously powerfully anti-bacterial and healing, while also being gentle enough for babies and elders. I love Yarrow for its protective qualities, both physically and energetically. The plant's botanical names is Achillea millefolium. Achillea refers to Achilles and there are many stories about how the Greek hero is associated with this plant. Some say he used
Yarrow on the battlefield to heal the wounds of his soldiers. Another tale is that his mother made a bath of Yarrow for him when he was a baby and dipped him into the bath. She held him by his heel, the one place that was not bathed by the protective qualities of Yarrow, and the site of his fatal wound. It's a powerful warrior plant, and like Calendula, cleans wounds from the inside out. You can chew on the fresh or dried flower and leaf and place it right into even a deep, deep wound to stop the bleeding. You can leave the plant material in your wound for its anti-bacterial properties and just cover it with a bandage. (And you can bathe/clean it later.) I love the combination of the Calendula from my garden and the Yarrow from the wild, and my hope is that Yarrow gives people protection on their journey across the border and beyond. I infuse the herbs in fair-trade Palestinian olive oil for a month, melt local Beeswax into it, and add a few drops of Self-heal flower essence for a simple and strong all-purpose antibacterial salve. I named this creation Global Citizen Salve and offer it on my product list.

For the lip balm: I chose fresh St. Johnswort buds and flowers infused in Sesame oil, melted with fair-trade Shea Butter from a women's collective in Burkina Faso, West Africa and local Beeswax, due to the mild sunscreen properties of the St.Johnswort, Sesame oil, and Shea butter, as well as the anti-bacterial, soothing, and healing action of the St. Johnswort. (Sometimes I add Lavender and Tea tree essential oils to the lip balms or salves to add even more anti-bacterial and wound-healing properties.)

St. Johnswort buds and blossoms, Herb-infused oil for 
Salve-making, and Yarrow in bloom.

How to Make Herbal Salves and Lip Balms

Making your own herb infused oils is simple and inexpensive~ all you need is herbs, oil, and a glass jar. The process is similar to making tea, but instead of extracting the herb’s medicine into water, you’re using oil. The oil may not necessarily take the scent of the herb you’re using, but will draw out certain healing properties. Whether you’re making a medicinal oil to heal wounds, a massage oil to soothe sore muscles, or an oil to anoint yourself with before or after bathing, the process is all the same.

Making herb infused oils from fresh plants:
●Find the herb in a place that feels good, away from busy roads and pesticide-sprayed lawns. Harvest only what you need and give thanks to the plants, however you wish.
●Place the fresh herbs in a dry, clean glass jar, filling it about ½ full. You can put your plant material in whole or tear it up into smaller bits; I prefer doing some of both. You can let the herbs wilt in a basket for a few hours or overnight first, so that some of its moisture can evaporate and it will be less likely to grow bacteria in your oil.
●Cover your herbs with oil and use a clean knife or chopstick to release all the little air bubbles and to completely surround the herb with the oil.
●Screw on the lid and place the jar in a warm space under 100° F and let infuse for an entire moon cycle (if not possible, then for at least 2 weeks). In the summer, you can keep your oil in a sunny windowsill or out in the sunshine. In the winter, you can keep your oil near the stove or heating vents. You can also leave the lid off and cover the jar with a piece of cheesecloth – this way moisture can rise out and bugs and other things won’t fly or fall in. The warmth and time draws certain properties from the herb, infusing your oil with medicine. You may want to put a rag underneath the jar, as some of the oil may seep out and make a mess.
●Keep an eye on the oil. If at any point moisture appears on the exposed edges of the jar, wipe it out with a piece of cloth or paper towel. Mold may begin to grow if there is too much moisture, either from the fresh plant or if your container is not fully dry. Even if mold appears, don’t throw your oil out! Just spoon off the mold and keep an eye on the oil, in case more appears. 
●Strain the oil through a metal strainer or cloth (I find muslin works better than cheesecloth), squeezing it to get the full amount of medicine out.
●Compost the herb and bottle the oil in a widemouth jar. Water and gunk may settle on the bottom of the jar after a day or two. If this happens, siphon/pour the good oil on the top into another dry, clean jar. You may have to do this a couple of times, but it’s important. If you leave the gunk, the oil may quickly go bad.
●Label your oil, including the name of the herb, the date, and any other details you wish to add (moon phase, where you harvested the herb, your intention for the oil), and store in a cool, dark place. Most oils keep for many months, up to a year. Some, like St. Johnswort bud oil, can last much longer. You can add vitamin E or essential oils such as lavender or rosemary to lengthen the oil’s shelf life – this is an especially good idea if you’re giving oil as a gift and the person may not use it right away.
A note on fresh herbs: certain herbs have properties that inhibit the growth of bacteria, while others don’t. For this reason, some people only use dried herbs when making infused oils. But the sight of sunlight streaming in through a jar of fresh herbs infusing in oil on the windowsill is worth the trouble of keeping a closer eye on it. Feel free to experiment with different herbs you’re drawn to. Keep an eye on them and if they smell rancid, give them back to the earth and try again, or try the dried herb or another herb altogether. You can add a bit of grain alcohol to your oil as the herbs are infusing to help preserve the oil. I usually add just a teaspoon of oil per quart of oil.
Making herb infused oils from dry plants:
●Choose the dry herb you’d like to use. You can use herbs that you dried yourself, or buy them at a co-op, natural food store, or by mail order. When buying herbs, crush the herb between your fingers and smell it, and notice the color and appearance. Every herb is different, but in general, it should maintain its scent and have some of its color left. If you are unsure if it still possesses its vital energy, move on and find another herb that clearly does.
●Place the dried herbs in a dry, clean glass jar. When using dried plants, you only need to fill the jar 1/3 – ½ full, as the medicinal properties of the plant are more concentrate once the water has evaporated out.
●Follow the instructions above. As long as you make sure your jar is dry, you should have no trouble with mold growing.
Using the double boiler method:
If you don’t have the time to let the oil draw out the herb’s medicine slowly, you can use this method:
●Place the herbs and oil together in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can rig one up by resting a metal bowl over a pot of water. You can also use a crock pot.
●Slowly warm the herbs at the lowest temperature for at least 30-60 minutes. Some people infuse their oil for multiple days this way. Check often to make sure that the oil is not too hot; you don’t want to cook your herbs in the oil, just warm them. The longer you’re able to warm the oil at a low temperature, the stronger medicine your oil will be.
●Let the oil cool and then strain it through a cloth and label, as described above.

Choosing your oil:
For medicinal oils, the most commonly used oil is Olive oil. Extra virgin cold pressed is best. Olive oil lasts longer and is less expensive than most other oils. Grapeseed oil is also commonly used and is more lightweight than olive oil. Sesame oil is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, for its warming and medicinal properties, both on the hair and skin. Jojoba oil is the closest to our body’s own natural oil, so you can use it on your face without clogging your pores. Almond oil is good for dry, mature, and sensitive skin. You can also experiment with apricot kernel, avocado, and other oils.

Some possibilities for infused oils:
Wound-Healing Oil with herbs such as Calendula blossoms, Yarrow leaf and flower, St. Johnswort blossom, and Plantain leaf. ). Note: Comfrey encourages cell regeneration so well that it can actually seal in an infection, so be sure the wound is clean before applying. If your woundis difficult to clean, Yarrow or Calendula would be a better choice. Sore Muscle Soothing Oil with St. Johnswort and Ginger oils, and a touch of Cayenne to increase circulation. Breast/Chest Massage Oil safe enough to use regularly and for your monthly self-exam with Calendula, Dandelion blossom, Evergreen needles, Plantain leaf, and Red clover blossom. And remember, we all need to be doing breast/chest massage/self-exams – not only cisgender (non-transgender) women! But all of us – to promote circulation and lymph movement, release held emotions, connect with and better know our own bodies, and to be aware of any changes that may occur so that we can get them checked out by a healthcare provider. Energetic Protection/Anointing Oil with Yarrow leaf and flower or St. Johnswort blossom. Dreamtime Oil for restful sleep with Lavender and Chamomile.
You can massage in your oil before or after bathing, or add a bit directly to the bathwater. Applying your oil before bathing is not commonly practiced in this country, but the warmth of the bath or shower helps the oil to penetrate deeper into our bodies and the massage promotes circulation, which is very welcomed during our cold winter months! Remember to take care when your bath is finished, as the floor may be slippery. Just squirt a bit of castile soap on the bathtub/shower floor, rub it down, and rinse.
Herbal Salves and Balms
A salve is a blend of oil, herbs, and wax, used externally to soothe and heal the skin, and sometimes muscles, joints, and other structures. Depending on the herbs you choose, you can make a heal-all salve for cuts, dry skin, burns, stings, and scrapes, or you can make ones for specific ailments such as bites, diaper rash, and fungus. There are many methods for making herbal salves. Here is one way:
Warm 1 cup of herb-infused oil in a double boiler or a pan over very low heat. Add 4 tablespoons of grated or chopped beeswax, stir, and let the wax slowly melt into the oil. This proportion should make a loose, soft salve. Dip a spoon into the mixture and blow on it until it’s solid or put in the freezer for a few minutes to cool quicker. If the salve is too hard, add more oil. If it’s too soft, add more beeswax. Once you get it to the consistency you’re seeking, remove from heat and pour the salve into dry, clean containers right away. If you wait too long, the salve will begin to harden in the pot. Either just before or just after you pour the salve into containers, you can mix in extra ingredients such as vitamin E oil or essential oils. Each essential oil (e.o.) is different, and each person is more or less sensitive to them than the next, but in general you can add 1-2 drops of e.o. per lip balm tube and 2 or 3 drops e.o. per ounce. If you choose to add them before pouring, give the liquid a stir so that it all blends together. Give the salve or balm some time to sit so that it can solidify. Salve making can be messy, so leave yourself some time for clean up and some bare skin to rub your extra/spilt oils into! Also, be sure to have plenty of extra jars because when the oil and wax warm and blend all together a magic alchemical reaction always seems to happen, somehow making more salve appear.
Most salves keep for about a year. They last longer if kept in a cool, dark place, rather than letting them melt and remelt in a hot car, for example. You can use an array of herbs, oils, waxes, and other ingredients. Lip balms are made as above, but usually with more beeswax, for a harder consistency. Body butters are usually softer, with less beeswax, and often include coconut oil and/or cocoa butter, both of which melt at body temperature.
Some possibilities for salves and balms:
Heal-All Salve with Calendula blossoms, Plantain leaf, Comfrey leaf, and St. Johnswort flowers. Belly Balm with cocoa butter for pregnant-belly stretch marks. Anti-Fungal Salve with calendula blossoms and black walnut hull oils, and tea tree essential oil. Decongestant Salve with essential oils of peppermint, eucalyptus, thyme, rosemary, pine. Mint Chocolate Lip Balm with cocoa butter and essential oil of peppermint. Valentine Lip Gloss with alkanet root-infused oil (gives a red color). Note: These oils are not latex friendly.
Lip Balm
A general lip balm recipe to begin with, and deviate from.
½ cup Oil of choice (preferably infused with herbs)
3 tablespoons total of Cocoa butter, Shea butter, and/or Coconut oil
¼ cup Beeswax
Essential oil (optional)

Place oil into a heat-proof glass measuring cup and place cup in a hot-water bath. When the oil has warmed, add the rest of the ingredients (besides the essential oil). Stir until ingredients are thoroughly melted. Check the consistency of the balm by dipping a spoon into the warm liquid, waiting for it to cool, and then testing it out (you can quicken this process by using a cold spoon or placing the lip balm-y spoon into the fridge or freezer). Once you’ve reached your preferred consistence, making sure that it’s solid enough not to melt in your pocket, pour into lip balm containers or small tins or glass jars. Just after pouring the still-warm liquid, add 1-2 drops of essential oil per lip balm tube. Add 3-6 drops per ounce into larger containers. Cap the container right away to prevent the essential oil from evaporating and label. Let your balm harden, label, and voila! – your own homemade lip balm! For lip balm being sent to No More Deaths, I add more beeswax to be sure it stays solid in the heat of the day in the desert.
If you don’t use your oils or balms all up before they go off, or you’re not sure of their quality, you can use them for conditioning leather and lubricating squeaky hinges and dried-out wooden tool handles. I keep a little salve container in my toolbox for such purposes.

Projects-In-The-Works: A couple friends and I are creating an Herbal Prison Support project, and I also just recently connected with some migrant farmworkers from Mexico. I love sending salves and lip balms to the border, and it also feels good to be able to meet folks here face to face and work more locally. Due to racism, classism, and fear tactics by the media and government, both prisoners and migrant farmworkers are cut off from our communities and have their freedoms extremely limited. I'm excited to think and work creatively with others to get folks who are locked up in "correctional" facilities or isolated on farms in rural areas the plant remedies, information, support, and health care that they need. Any inquiries, ideas, connections with other projects like these, etc. are most welcome!
Note: The Herbal Prisoner Support project has not come into being, but the Remedios project has, a solidarity-not-charity project getting medicinal herb seedlings and herbal remedies to members of the migrant farm worker community in VT!

I hope that this post encourages self- and community-sufficiency with the instructions for infused oil, salve, and lip balm making; That the (im)migration exercise can be adapted into an activity that can be used in various groups in the classroom and at community events to encourage heart-centered, transformative, and action-inciting dialogue about (im)migration - both stories and US policy - and racism; And that the concept of community health is sparking ideas in your mind about collaboration with community health projects near and far. Please leave questions, comments, and stories of successes and challenges in the comment area below or send me an email at dandelion778 (at) yahoo (dot) com Thank you!

Questions for Community Health Collaborations:
What grassroots community projects do you respect and want to support? What skills do you feel good about sharing? What supplies or knowledge do you have access to and would like to share? Who in your community may be seeking herbal remedies or holistic healthcare, but lacks access? Who may want to team up with you to support community health efforts?

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." ~ Lila Watson, Indigenous Australian visual artist, activist, and academic

Upcoming Herbal First Aid Salves for (Im)migrant Justice workshop, and other workshop and event listings here.

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