Goan Monsoon Wedding

Goan Monsoon Wedding

The owner of the SRI restaurant in Vagator, Goa is named Richard.  He is a very nice man with a kind smile and meditative nature. He practices Mysore with us every morning and he is very dedicated and persistent. Last week he gave us an invitation to an Indian wedding.  We felt honored.  I had never seen one before but have been fascinated by the many films that are available documenting the intricate nature of these events.

It was a rainy Saturday and we could not rally Ethan to come to the ceremony.  Tam stayed home with him as I made the taxi drive from Candolim and arrived at the Shri Swami Siddheshwar Mandap in Anjuna, Goa. There were cars and busses parked all along the roadway as we approached. Once we arrived I could hear the sound of loud percussion and amplified keyboard playing traditional music being blazed through the air.  Immediately my senses heightened and there was a palpable excitement amongst those entering the temple.  

I walked up to the entrance of the temple to find it completely filled with chairs facing a stage where the bride and groom were seated.  As I walked closer I soon realized that “I am the only tourist here” and I felt the looks of the locals…I had been discovered! I quickly looked to see if people were wearing shoes to know if I should wear mine in or not.  I took a couple of steps back and assessed the situation.  I made my plan and casually made my way through the crowd as I found my seat.  As I approached a man smiled and extended his hand to welcome me.  A young girl had a plate of sugar and she extended it toward me to enjoy and I put into my mouth.   The colorful music was cranked loud and this was a great enhancement to the mood in the room. I loved it.  The colors popped and were so vivid and sparkling that it was mesmerizing. The women were dressed so meticulously with adornments of every type, I found it quite easy as an onlooker to sit back and absorb the steady stream of stimulus. The men were more simply dressed,  all in slacks and collared shirts neatly tucked and sandals.  The men in the wedding party went a bit above the rest wore traditional dhotis which are long shirts and pants tapered at the ankle underneath.

The ceremony itself seemed to consist of several different formalities that left me wondering what was happening. There were no words spoken that I could tell. I imagined it was going to be like a western wedding in the sense that there would be a celebrant who would offer some words to officiate. It is quite possible that there were other segments of the ceremony that I had missed. Each of the attending family members went up to the the bride and groom and offered presents and good wishes.

As the ceremony was close to ending I sat and watched the caterers set up the food table and some women heated oil for cooking chapatis. I saw Richard from afar and also Dani whom is from Spain and also here practicing, which made me feel a bit more at ease to see friendly familiar faces. After the ceremony each attendee got in line and took pictures with the bride and groom.  He asked me to join them and I was able to present a simple present to the bride.  

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After some pictures began the feast.  They had the most delicious vegetarian Indian food on offer and I quickly made an ample plate full.  The food here is certainly spicy.  I do love spicy food and in my opinion this meal took the cake.  I had so much sweat pouring off my upper lip and my whole body heated up instantly. My one mistake… I didn’t bring my own water and I am not daring enough to drink the tap water here! 

The entire experience was rich in color, sound, aroma and flavor. I often wonder, “do I find this culture so interesting simply because it is different from my own?” Often when things become familiar the excitement of newness wears thin and it is easy to lose interest. Yet here I am so enthralled with the celebration, music and the attire.  The energy seems to be amplified times 100.  Yet perhaps for the local this is “just another wedding I have to attend.”  I suppose this all comes down to how we choose to embrace the moment. Being in India helps me to embrace and celebrate the moment!

How a Snake becomes a Crocodile

How a Snake becomes a Crocodile

We awoke this morning to the sound of heavy rain. It is Wednesday and were definitely moving a bit slow this morning. All packed up for practice we put on our rain coats and got out our umbrellas and began the walk uphill through the muddy alleyway between the houses. The hard rain coming down forms a little river that flows through the alley and we are careful to navigate around the cow patties and rocks. And so todays’ adventure begins… A man named Ulhas has been driving us each day to the shala. Ulhas is a very helpful and friendly Indian man and most importantly he is quite a punctual driver! He shows up promptly at 6:30am and awaits our arrival with open doors and a large smile. There are so few tourists here during this time of year that he seems very happy to have the regular fare. He takes us along the road from Candolim up toward Anjuna and then just a bit further up to Vagator. It takes approximately 20 minutes every day which is actually a great ride because it gives a chance to see the locals engaging in their morning rituals.

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Exiting the vehicle upon arrival the blue Shiva statue greets us on our way into the shala. We promptly take off all of our rain gear and step up the 3 steps to the raised practice space. Rolf and Marci arrive at 7:00am. Right now there are about 10-14 students practicing each day. During the busy dry season it is said that Rolf and Marci have about 130 people practicing Mysore in four shifts of about 35 each shift running for about 5-6 hours daily! I say all of this for one, to point out how remarkable it is that they have this many students who travel from all around the globe to study with them and second that there are so few students with him during monsoon. We feel quite lucky to be getting so much personal attention! All of this special help is extending our practice time to between 2 1/2 to 3 hours each day. Both challenging and amazing. Some of the more difficult postures that we will normally gloss over a bit when practicing on our own have now become intense explorations of discovery. Discovery of how we tend to compensate by using areas which are strong to mask and avoid areas which are untapped and weak. Much to our delight (I think) Rolf and Marci have this knack for seeing this right away from anywhere in the room and immediately get us to target the areas we are avoiding and then persist with this development to the point of shear exhaustion. And just when you think you have made your way through the posture thoroughly they will say,”O.K. let’s try that again… O.K. you practice this one or two more times by yourself and then I will come over and help you once more!” Oh Joy!!

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Today, Tamara went into Bhekasana(Frog pose) for the 3rd try and right when she came out of it I heard Rolf say, “Tamara, you do again, I come and help you.” I started to laugh and she looked to me laughing as well as if to say, you laugh now, it is your turn next! In second series, Karandavasana is Duck posture, this pose in my opinion is the nemesis pose to all Ashtangi’s. You go up into a forearm balance of Feather of a Peacock. Then fold your legs into lotus pose while balancing. Then slowly round your spine while gently landing your shins onto the upper arm bones. From there you hold for 5 breaths. Next is the clincher… lift the lotus above the hips and unfold the lotus back into forearm balance. Only to gracefully land into chaturanga. I imagine this to be like climbing the Himalayas just within these few vinyasas. I have been working on this pose for several years now and am feeling slow progress but still much exploration is needed! Fortunately for me Rolf is gifted in adjusting this pose. I worked with this pose for a while and soon my arms felt like noodles cooked in hot sauce… burning and limp. The next pose is Nakrasana (Crocodile pose) and as I am giving it my best Rolf yelled out, “it is crocodile pose not SNAKE pose!!” This got the whole room to chuckle a bit. Add to this that there are numerous baby kittens moving about the room and they love to climb on top of you while you are in postures, this also adds a little bit of humor to it all. These animals I do not mind, however the many ants and mosquitos swarming I could do without! Great opportunity to exercise inner focus and mind over matter. With the rain there is much humidity and so much sweat that there is literally more water dripping off of our bodies than there is landing on the floor from the leaky roof. After all is done for today. We roll up our mats with a sense of amazement. Mysore practice is truly amazing as it allows us to work individually yet within a framework that is so solid and sound. This practice comes from a tradition of excellence and this is yoga as practiced in India! There is much to be said for Tradition!!!

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Monsoon Surfing

Monsoon Surfing

The ocean is taboo during monsoon season. The fisherman are not allowed to go out and fish for two months during the monsoon. This allows for the fisheries to replenish and also because the seas are very rough compared to other months. It is said many tourists drown here each year and hence this perpetuates the myth. I wonder if it is that many of the tourists that visit here may not be strong swimmers to begin with or perhaps they indulge in a few too many Kingfishers?

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Originally when we had planned to travel to Goa it was purely to practice the yoga with Rolf and Marci and have the chance to explore India again. I had always seen photos of Goan beaches and the water has always been flat as a pancake. I thought I would look into it and low and behold I was finding that there is surf in Goa! Just my luck this only happens during monsoon season and guess what, Virgin Atlantic allows you to bring a surfboard for free(completely unheard of)!?! So of course now I am traveling to India with a surfboard!

When we arrived my board got left behind in London and at that point I thought my chances of seeing it again were pretty slim. We are staying about 500 meters from the beach and as soon as we got settled we went down to the beach and it was a solid 4-5 foot and offshore winds and I thought I had stumbled upon a hidden gem.

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To my amazement the next day my board arrived, but so did the rains and onshore winds. Each day for the past week I have been checking the waves religiously and it has been one big washing machine, close out, mush ball, onshore surf session after another. To add to it, upon arrival I have had so many people tell me that the ocean is so dangerous and don’t go out in the waves. All I have heard is this person has drown and that person never came back and and watching this big soupy mess made me think there might be sea dragons living out there! To me the waves look just like at home with a solid swell and to be honest not that big of a deal. The stories however just never let up.

One morning when I was feeling very hopeful I walked down with my board under arm and when I saw the conditions I was completely uninspired. Again, big, messy surf and to add to it I am the only lonely surfer on this entire stretch. All the locals hang out on the beach but no one ever goes swimming. So I decided well at least if I am going to go out it needs to be decent. When I was walking back an Indian woman said “did you go out in the water?” I replied “no” and once again came another story! The only catch here is I have felt this before. When I was in Indonesia on a surf trip to Bali and surfing waves of so much more extreme consequence I was told to never wear green in the water! If you wear green it is very bad luck and to ocean gods will do you in. There is also this thing called superstition. I am not one to give in to superstition. Yet when a whole culture believes it to be true it really gets you thinking. There is also the opposing side that says live in the moment and experience this reality. Tourists here come to party and end up being completely disrespectful to the local community. What it boils down to is this is not a surfing culture! So here comes American guy with surfboard under arm and heading down to go “monsoon surfing”!

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The last three days the sun has come out and the weather has been spectacular. What a difference. I have never seen rain like this in my life and then to have it turn back around to beautiful sunny skies…there is hope!

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After practice with Rolf in the morning I went down to the beach again and I knew that today was going to be the day I was going to go for it. The waves were still mushy from the onshore wind and they were only about head high out the back so it seemed reasonable. Tam and Ethan followed me down there and we walked past another heard of cows hanging out under the coconut palm trees on the way. The life guard shack was open about 800 meters down the beach and they had the red flags up along the beach so I knew I better get in quick before someone came up to me and said I wasn’t allowed in the water. I jumped in and began to paddle out. The set up is a classic victory at sea beach break, wave after wave of whitewater, duck dive after duck dive to try to make it out. I seemed to be paddling in place and in no time at all I heard the whistle blow and and turned to see the lifeguard waving me in. I took my moment and turned, caught a wave and rode it up onto the shore. I ran up to him and to my surprise he changed his mind and said all was o.k. for me to continue. I must have passed the test and went back out!

Finally, I had my first surf session in India! Sloppy and messy yes, but so much fun. It felt so good to be in the warm water and I feel I was probably the only one surfing for miles! To me, yoga is surfing and surfing is yoga. Merging these two wonderful arts into this travel experience makes me so thankful to be alive!!

Jai Hanuman

Jai Hanuman!

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We had the chance to visit the Maruti Temple in the city of Panaji here in Goa. It is a beautiful temple located on top of the Altinho hillock overlooking the Fontainhas district on Panaji which is the capital of Goa. Upon entering we had the opportunity to purchase some flowers (pujas) from the local vendors. One of the ways that we can express devotion is to place an offering or pujas before the object of devotion. Quite simply it is a gift given with good intentions and given selflessly to express gratitude and appreciation. While in one of the smaller temples a tiny sweet Indian woman entered and smiled very graciously. She seemed happy to see us and although there was a language barrier we attempted to communicate. The Hanuman Chalisa was written in Hindi on the wall of the temple and she chanted it for us. So much joy can be found in attempting to understand others’ culture and beliefs. All too often it is easy to see something different from what we know and criticize it or just shy away. By simply opening up to the differences we can begin to see that really there is no difference. This is one reason I love the Hanuman Chalisa. Many thanks to our teacher Tim Miller for opening our eyes to the practice of singing the Hanuman Chalisa.

The Hanuman Chalisa is a devotional song sung in the Awadhi language, composed by Tulasidas, a Hindu poet-saint who lived between 1532-1623 CE. The Hanuman Chalisa is inspired by one of the great epic stories originating in India called the Ramayana. It was composed sometime between the 4th to 5th century B.C. It is a beautiful tale primarily of devotional characteristic. Rama, Sita and Hanuman are three of the main characters in the story. Rama is portrayed as the epitome of virtue. Sita, his wife, is portrayed as the epitome of female purity and virtue. Hanuman is the half man, half monkey character who is portrayed as the pinnacle of devotion and selfless service. He has immeasurable strength and is the ultimate devotee of Rama.


The ancient mystics of India have long recognized the benefit of cultivating intense love and devotion to aid in the process of realizing unity with the Divine. We are often very self centered and lack a sense of caring and compassion for others. When we live like this we diminish our capacity to feel and experience a sense of harmony with our selves and our environment at large. The yoga practice aids us in cultivating a personal aspect of greater evolution and helps to shift the emphasis of being alone in a world of many to being a part of many that are all a world of one.

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If we are to make a cake, several ingredients go into the recipe. When we combine the ingredients together and add heat we are left with a delicious treat. Each ingredient needs the other to complete the qualities that make up “cake.” Yoga is made the same way. When we are to enter into the practice of yoga there are several ingredients that create a rich and rewarding experience. We have posture, breath, devotion, love, wisdom and selfless action. We can derive great benefit from cultivating just one of these qualities or practices. However when we begin to incorporate a multitude of these qualities into our lives, we begin to weave a seamless tapestry of moment to moment awareness that is unparalleled to what we think we already know.

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In other words, yoga practice is much more than practicing asana or posture. It is possible to realize that by extending compassion to others in our speech, thought and deed we are really just enhancing our own relationship with ourselves. When we practice “actionless action,” or karma yoga, we perform action without any attachment to the result of our action. Through this simultaneous merging of qualities our yoga practice becomes what many of us were originally attracted to in the first place. Peace, tranquility, equanimity and transcendence.

Monsoon Yoga

Monsoon Yoga

The jet lag has been really strong this trip.  Our sleep patterns are radically off but it feels like we are getting toward normal. Rain and thunder is the soundtrack in the background. Today is the new moon so we don’t have practice. We are free to explore the surrounds at our leisure.

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Yesterday I was awake at 2:45am. I figured this to be the perfect time to practice some meditation and was able to sit for an hour and then Ethan came in and joined me.  We were all awake by 4:00am and so we took our time getting ready for practice with Rolf at 7:00am.  We made the drive at 6:30am to Vagator from Candolim.  It was a very easy trip and the rain wasn’t too heavy for the beginning of the drive.  The early morning in Goa is a really nice calm time. People tend to sleep in a bit more here in Goa so the roads are quiet in morning with only some cows walking around enjoying the relaxed environment. Traveling by car is the mode of choice with family through the rain! Most tourists here rent motorbikes, especially during the dry season. The rule of thumb when driving in India is don’t stop.  If you stop you have been defeated. Luckily our driver is a sweet man who is not in a hurry.  This is a godsend in India!!

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The drive takes 25 minutes and we arrive to the shala where Rolf is set to teach and it is a thatched roof hut with a concrete floor. There is a concrete wall on one side with tarps strung about around the outside. There is a big blue Shiva statue greeting you as you walk into the courtyard and the area we are practicing in normally serves as a chill out pad during the dry season next to an attached restaurant or cooking area. By the time we had arrived the rain was coming down so hard that it managed to seep through the sides and flow like the Ganges river across the floor.  We found a dry patch and set up slightly up stream with Ethan’s mat unrolled in between ours. We sat and patiently awaited Rolf’s arrival. When he showed up he had the warmest smile and said, “so you decided to come during monsoon?!” He gave us both big hugs and it truly was so great to see him.  His presence is so incredible and he still looks amazing.  Rolf is a genuine yogi. There is nothing commercial about this man. He has been practicing yoga so intently for so long, just to see him you can feel the sublime quality of a life of dedicated practice. What a rare treat. So while mother nature was delivering a challenging array of elements the practice brings us a familiar calm and serenity.

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Today we were instructed to practice Primary Series. This was great to ease in as our bodies are feeling a bit stiff and lethargic.  We brought coloring books for Ethan which he very patiently worked on while we practiced. About mid way through he decided to jump in and he did some jump backs and up dog and down dogs and into poses following Tamara.  He worked through a couple of vinyasas and my heart completely melted. At 5 years old, he took his first practice in India with Rolf and I could hardly believe it! As always we leave it up to him if he would like to practice or not. He has been around the yoga since he was born, but this was the first time I saw him move like this. I am left speechless and very proud.  Rolf also took notice and commented how special our son is.

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We finished practice and it was still pouring down rain and so we suited up (full rain gear, crocs and umbrellas) and travelled back home. We had time to eat something and take a short rest. After we met with Savita of Children Walking Tall, the non profit organization in Mapusa (pronounced Mop-sa) which is about a 30 minute drive away. 

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We thank everyone back home who brought in clothes and donations for this organization.   We were overwhelmed with the generosity and goodwill that you all have expressed in helping us to raise some awareness toward those in need in this region.  We were able to tour the school and its facilities.  They do really good work here and help to brighten the lives of these small children.  They work with approximately 130 students with help of the staff and many volunteers.  The first time you see the slum in India it changes you.  We take so much for granted and I personally can’t imagine what it would be like living in these conditions… especially during monsoon!  It is our hope that if we work together like this then even the smallest gestures of kindness can amount to big change! They were so thankful! Children Walking Tall

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Just when you think it is raining so hard it starts to rain even harder. There is so much storm activity across this part of India right now. We had a bit of a laugh yesterday as we realized we may be just a little crazy!

Bussing through Goa

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Monsoon season here is so peaceful. Today there has been constant rain all day but still light enough that one can walk around comfortably with a rain coat and umbrella. We were joking wondering when is the last time you put on a rain coat at home and just went for a walk around town while it is raining? Usually when it rains at home I never think to do this. Here we are so intrigued by the scenery that it is quite fun to get out and walk around. As we have many rainy days ahead we will continue to explore rain or shine!

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Yesterday was our first full day here. We figured out that it is not a good idea to leave the house without an umbrella and rain coat. The previous day we tried to walk to the beach and as soon as we got close a thick cloud of rain started to come and everyone on the beach was running the other way. We did the same. So Saturday we tried again a little better prepared. We got down to the ocean and the waves were breaking really nice. It was an offshore wind and the swell was about 4-5ft. There were only a few locals on the beach and a couple of men were fishing from the shore.

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We decided to travel into town and we got on the local bus and headed to Panaji which is the capital city of Goa and it means “Land that never floods.” This is a good thing because it rains pretty serious here. There are many hills along the banks of the Mandovi River lined with classic red tiled roof houses that are reminiscent of Europe. Goa’s history dates back to 20,000 – 30,000 years with rock art engravings that show some of the earliest proof of human life in India. In more recent times Goa was ruled by the Portuguese from 1510-1961. Goa exhibits an interesting blend of Indian vibrancy with European fortitude.

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Traveling by local bus is a great way to see the culture of Goa. It is hot, sweaty, loud and colorful. The locals are friendly enough yet keep to themselves. Loud music plays to the liking of the driver ranging from Goan trance music to beautiful ballads sung in Hindi. The bus gets extremely overcrowded and it pulled over so many times and just sat still which we are still trying to figure out why. We later realized we were waiting for the possibility for more passengers! (not sure where they would fit) Traveling by bus is a great way to practice meditation. The intensity of it requires patience and the need to not focus on any one distraction too much. This experience is so much different from our local bus system at home…air conditioned and timely.

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While in Old Goa we visited the Se Cathedral of Santa Catarina. It is the largest church in India and probably the most celebrated religious buildings in Goa. It exhibits a Tuscan exterior and a Corinthian interior and reminds me so much of being in Florence. There are about 24 million Christians in India which constitutes 2.3 percent of the total population. Historically the Christians and Muslims have not practiced tolerance for other religions and culture. So with this said I wonder if all Indians were happy that the Portuguese got kicked out? Not so. The popular opinion seems to be that this region was much better off from the work the Portuguese Catholics have done here. They say the infrastructure was so much much stronger and that there was a lot less corruption then as there is now. I remember on our first trip to India I had the thought that Gandhi was a hero to all of India. Then I met some Indians that said Gandhi was not practicing for the best interest of the people. I was shocked. So once again, India turns all my misconceptions on their heads. Another reason why I love this country so much.

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Mumbai to Goa

Mumbai to Goa

We took the “easy” route! We chose to fly from Mumbai to Goa. One of our hopes in traveling to India with Ethan is to ease him in slowly to the joy and intensity of India. So rather than taking the 12 hour train from Mumbai to Goa which would undoubtedly put us in the heart and pulse of the country right away we flew above the clouds and back down through them into the rain of Goa.

We have chosen to travel to Goa to practice yoga with our teacher Rolf Naujokat and his wife Marci. Some 8 years ago Tam and I were traveling round the world from California toward India via Thailand. First studying Thai massage in Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand and after talking with new friends we mentioned that we were on our way to India to practice Ashtanga Yoga with Sri K Pattabhi Jois in Mysore. Being new to the  Ashtanga yoga method our friend had recommended us to go and practice Ashtanga with an accomplished yogi named Rolf in Kho Phangan a small island in South Thailand. We thought we could extend our trip slightly to visit Rolf and we were accepted warmly to practice with him. We planned on staying 1 week and stayed 3…

Our eyes were blown wide open! We will never forget walking up the hillside on a beaten path through the rainforest to the small bungalow on stilts perched perfectly on the Thai hillside. As we got closer we could hear the resonate sound of the deep breathing inherent to the Ashtanga practice. We could also hear the bass like thumps on the floor resulting from practitioners landing from their jumps and vinyasas. We were a bit nervous. We felt a long way from home and wondered if we were ready for practice on this level. We climbed up the stairs and saw all these advanced students whom have travelled from around the globe practicing postures we never imagined possible. We both looked at each other and without saying anything agreed we had made the right move. At that point Rolf greeted us and allowed us to practice side by side since we were still memorizing the routine of Primary Series. The three weeks that we had with Rolf were life changing. His kindness and patience just really stuck us for which we were always grateful . This was our first experience practicing Mysore method of Ashtanga and we became totally hooked. There is such a beautiful blend of discipline and personal attentiveness inherent in this method that we felt completely drawn to. Leaving Rolf in that idyllic setting was difficult yet it paved the way beautifully for our experience to come in Mysore.

The yoga practice itself engages the physical and yet enables us an opportunity to come into contact with our authentic nature. Sometimes people are curious as to why one would travel so far to practice yoga. There is so much more to the yoga practice and sometimes it requires being in the presence of an accomplished teacher to allow these shifts of awareness to take place.

India is that place…

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