peace corps, Uncategorized

Leaky Ceiling

It’s true! As rainy season rages (hopefully to a halt soon) on my bedroom ceiling continues its incessant drip-drip-drip into the bucket in my room. In a way, the leaky ceiling is one of the few constants in an ever-changing ebb and flow of work, socialization, and just general existence. October and November flew by like some crazed jet planes on a high-speed chase. Let’s have a little recap of what happened:

October

  • The annual sombrero pinta’o festival
  • PML Workshop
  • Ecuador

November

  • So many patronales
  • Pool day with the friends
  • Two separate thanksgiving celebrations
  • Ya girl ran a 5k!

This year I had no plans to walk in the carretera for sombrero pinta’o so naturally I ended up walking in the carretera. As always, the celebration was an exciting time! This year it was a bigger party and I even ended up going to the discoteca with some PCV’s, embassy folk, and Panamanians from my community. We threw down and danced until about 1 am.  I was also invited to participate in a 2-day Project Management and Leadership workshop because the office is hoping to improve the current training program. Odiris, one of my best friends from my community, went with me. We learned a lot together and are hoping to implement a 3-day leadership seminar in La Pintada in January.

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At the end of October, I took a well-deserved break and went to visit Aliza who was living in Ecuador! It was an incredible trip and I was pretty much going non-stop until day 5 of my trip when my body basically shut down on me. I think it was miffed that I fit in so much fun in such a short time. But, I saw the middle of the world, I did a walking tour of Quito, I went up to the tower of the basilica, and I took some cable cars up to the top of a dormant volcano. I also at a lot of chocolate, drank a lot of coffee, and ate roughly 8,000 berries. I’ll definitely be going back to Ecuador in the future—gotta see Galapagos one day!

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November is the mes of festivales patrias—there are 2 independence days, flag day, Colón day, and el primer grito de independencia. Try saying those 3 times fast. I stayed in my house for a lot of them this year however I did make time to go walk in the parade with my school on November 4th. It was lovely and we somehow managed to not get rained on!

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Then, a little later that month Odiris invited me to go out to the pool with her and her family. It was so nice to just float around and hang out with people without worrying about work or school. Plus, Odiris has the cutest nieces and we had a great time splashing around with them.

Thanksgiving this year meant two celebrations—one with friends and one with the ministry of education. Both were nice in their own ways. I made apple galette for our volunteer thanksgiving on the 18th and it was a huge hit. Plus, the ever-incredible Gina set up a scavenger hunt for all of us which was a fun way to start the afternoon. The food was great, the company was better, and at the end of the night we went to a casino where I sang karaoke! Thanksgiving with MEDUCA was nice because we had to do 0 prep work and got fed an amazing meal of pork with pineapple, endless fruit, and the best bollos de coco I’ve ever had.

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And, finally, I ran a 5k! I’ve been preparing for a few months but hadn’t even ran more than 1.76 miles until Friday (where I ran 2.52). I was feeling apprehensive about the run—3.1 miles is a lot and I am by no means a runner. We had a group of over 20 volunteers and Peace Corps staff running on behalf of Cody Oser, a volunteer who we unfortunately lost a few months ago. The energy at the marathon was high and we had some great support from the office on getting us to our relay spots for the 5k’s. Gina was the MVP again and, after running her 5k, she ran mine with me. I’m not sure I could’ve finished it without her—the route was all hills and sun which I had not prepared for. I finished in about 37 minutes which isn’t too far off from my usual time running in site. Afterwards I felt pretty good, but my right knee swelled up to about the size of a grapefruit, so I took some ibuprofen, got an ace wrap, and went to meet Katie at Starbucks. To cap race day off all of us went out for sushi afterwards where Ben, Francie, and I split an actual boatful of sushi.  I’ve never felt so glad to see raw fish in my entire life.

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And now I’m off to a friend’s site for 7 days to give some English charlas at the school and give some swing dance lessons! It’ll be a nice break because there’s no signal in their site, so I can kick back, ice my knee, and enjoy the cellphone-less life for a bit. Plus, my parents will be here in 31 days! I can’t wait to show them all around the country I now call home.

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peace corps, Uncategorized

Running

Wow! September flew by and with it the realization that yet again, I have bombed on my culture blogging. I’m starting to see why Peace Corps blogs take a nose-dive. So, what exactly has been occupying my time for the past month? As always, the answer is so much! I feel like I’ve been running all over this country (spoiler alert: I have).
My English course ended on the 5th and I had 17 graduates! The last day was lovely; we had snacks, presentations, and English conversations. Based on my post-test I can confidently say that everyone in the course has a better understanding of English than they did previously. They’re already asking about a follow-up course! They’ll have to wait for that though—this volunteer needs a break from lesson planning.

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My friend Vannessa invited me out to participate in a speed conversation event at a University near her and it was a lot of fun. We talked with 7 different college students about topics ranging from food, to movies, to healthcare in Panama and the US. Following that event, I was off to IST to facilitate a “Camps & Clubs” training for the most recent TELLS group in Panama. They’re an excellent group and they’re participatory which is nice when you’re up at the front trying to talk as little as possible! Kudos to you G80!

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To follow-up on my giant ultimate frisbee camp (y’all remember that?) I took two girls from my community to participate in a frisbee tournament out in the province of Chiriqui! This was probably the most fun I’ve had facilitating in a while. It’s hard to not have a good time when you’re playing frisbee! My friend Cherisse and I pooled our kids together to form a Coclé team and we ended up winning 2 out of the 3 games we played! Those kids are really great at frisbee and they somehow seem to never get tired.

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After all this you’d think I’d want a break from facilitation; I did I didn’t! I went to Panama City to present “One Game to Rule Them All” at the annual Panama TESOL Conference. This event is massive. Over 200 people come from all around the world (one of the women that attended my session was from Russia!) to learn about new methodologies, classroom management strategies, and ways to incorporate new techniques into their classrooms. My session focused on using games to enhance classroom management and increase teaching time. I was also lucky to stay with someone who is a fellow working with the embassy—it was cool to hear about her life and what she was doing! Plus, she has the cutest little kitten.

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Next, I was off to another community in Panama—one with only 50 houses (only about 45 of which are inhabited). I stayed with another volunteer and presented English activities for his entire school. In a stroke of blatant self-confidence, I wanted to try to do all the activities completely in English. Ni una palabra en español. This drive was furthered by the fact that my friend didn’t think this would work at his school. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one to back down from a challenge (and I like being proved right) so I was set on it. And you know what? The students delivered! Using lots of modeling and TPR to demonstrate what I wanted them to do we went through all the activities completely in English! To be honest, I was a little surprised.  There were lots of nice little moments there—his community has no access to cell phone signal and I couldn’t connect to the school Wi-Fi so I was off the grid for a few days. As the students were leaving school after the activities one shouted goodbye to my friend and then to me saying “Ciao gringa!” in perhaps the sunniest tone I have ever heard a child use. My heart promptly melted into a puddle.

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Visiting wasn’t all fun and games though—I was supposed to really get my hands dirty and kill a chicken. Let me give you a glimpse into my thought process beforehand:

I can do this.

 I eat chicken.

 I’ll probably just freak out a little bit.

Now let’s examine my thought process during:

NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE

*cries a lot*

Ohmygod this chicken is so WARM

Now when I say during that’s giving me a lot of credit. I didn’t even touch the thing until I had been staring at it and crying for at least 5 minutes and then I immediately stepped back and decided I couldn’t do it. I did watch my friend take care of it and then butcher and clean it afterwards (I did all of this while cuddling puppies which helped). I’m a little disappointed in myself and I would like to try again at some point. This is the first time something has ever died in front of me so I wasn’t super prepared. And by the way, when someone kills a chicken something about it doesn’t even look real. Wish I could explain it better but I can’t. If you’ve seen it maybe you get what I’m saying.

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Finally, at the end of the month, I returned home and we had our first annual Reader’s Theater competition in Coclé. My students and I had been prepping for months and I’m so proud of all the work they put into it! They did really well and I got several compliments from other volunteers. Unfortunately, we didn’t take home a prize but así es la vida. Maybe next year!

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(ps: the song is from Hot Mess in Manhattan)

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peace corps

How to learn a language in 6 easy(ish) steps

I’m currently in the throes of my penultimate English Course and I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways we learn language. For the sake of this I’m talking mostly about spoken language—not written. For me, learning to speak a language was different than learning to write it. Messing up the grammar doesn’t matter as much in a conversation as it does in a paragraph. So, I wanted to share some tips and tricks I’ve learned with all of you.

  1. Listen to the language—Watch tv, listen to music, listen to podcasts. Anything that you enjoy listening to can be found in another language. Here’s the important part: you don’t need to understand it. This isn’t an exercise to practice knowing what they’re saying. It’s a way to accustom your ear to the way that language sounds and its incredibly helpful.
  2. Use subtitles—This is another way to help accustom your ear if the first method isn’t totally working for you. Watch a movie or tv show with the subtitles on in the language that you’re trying to learn. This can help you make connections between the words and how they sound that you might not make as easily by just listening.
  3. Talk to yourself—I know it sounds crazy but while you’re walking around your house by yourself just have a one-sided conversation in the language you’re learning. If that feels weird then talk to your cat, dog, or plants! This will get you accustomed to forming the language.
  4. Talk to people who speak the language—Maybe you have friends who know this language or maybe there’s a church group or community group that you can join. Speaking the language with a native speaker will help you improve by leaps and bounds. Bonus points if you ask the people you’re chatting with to correct you if you make major mistakes in what you’re saying!
  5. Use an app or an online service to help you—I’m personally a major fan of Duolingo because it’s free and makes you practice listening and speaking. Plus, it now has a bot program for some of the languages so you can practice having conversations!
  6. Travel—Obviously this isn’t feasible for everyone but, if you’re able to go to an area where the language you’re learning is the native language then do it! Being there will completely immerse you in the language and force you to learn more.

The biggest thing that you can do when learning a new language is to practice as much as possible. If you want a good resource for listening check out this site for slow news broadcasts in other languages.  An excellent choice for Spanish learners is Radio Ambulante, an NPR podcast in spanish that talks about under-reported stories in Latin America. I hope some of these tips are helpful to you! If you’re ever stressed while learning another language remember: ¡Si se puede!

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peace corps

My Favorite Moment of the Bee

Hello everyone! It finally happened—my first month not posting my monthly update. I also missed my bi-weekly culture posting. Whomp. I wish I could say that I had a good excuse but, even though I have been busy it really comes down to time management and motivation. I’ve definitely let this blog fall to the wayside a bit as I focus on other projects. I’ll do better ya’ll.tumblr_lwxebvIh1D1r4kfic

July happened! I started it off on an incredible note by attending Pride in Panama City on the first. Around 50 volunteers were there alongside people from the US Embassy. The US ambassador to Panama was there! The parade traveled down the street of Panama City that borders the cinta costera and, if I had to guess, it was probably about a 3 mile stretch. This was my first ever Pride and I didn’t know what to expect—gay marriage is still illegal in Panama and I wasn’t sure if there would be people protesting the parade. However, any fears or doubts I had were completely unfounded. The parade was incredible and unifying. There was dancing, music, and lots of glitter. Some Panamanians in drag rode on the floats as Queens—a role traditionally reserved for only women during celebrations. My host family saw me on TV and when I got home my host mom and I talked about how we wished we could do our makeup half as well as the drag queens in the parade. I’m consistently grateful for my host family’s openness and acceptance of the gay community and their willingness to talk about it. Recently there have been lots of “pro-family” marches in the country protesting the gay-marriage vote (which is happening soon, I believe) so Pride feels more relevant than ever.

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After all that wonderful celebrating, I got very sick. I’m talking sitting on the toilet and throwing up into a bucket simultaneously at 4 am sick. It’s a pretty picture, right? After calling the med office I finally dragged myself to the clinic at 8 am when it opened and thanked my lucky stars that there’s a peace-corps approved clinic in my site. After determining that I had some sort of virus and was very dehydrated I got hooked up to an IV and fed fluids and some medication to help with nausea and vomiting. I slept on the table in the clinic for about an hour and a half before being released with a series of medications and 3 bottles of Pedialyte. I was sick for about 4 days though luckily without the severity of gastrointestinal distress of the first day.

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Valentine did not help with my illness

I had my first completely failed project this month! For a while I had been planning to start a reading hour for children because I had accrued a lot of children’s English books. Plus, parents were stopping me on the street to ask when I was going to do an English course with the kids (That was over the summer parents!). I decided that, rather than host a full course for kids, a reading hour would be a fantastic way to work with the youngest age group and start getting them accustomed to English. To start I decided to go through and label all the books based on their English level—no small task since I had at least 50. Then I started really getting into things. I talked to the librarian about using the library once a week after school, I talked to my principle about the idea, I papered the town with flyers advertising it two weeks in advance, and on the day of I made an announcement to the padres de familia at the school telling them that it was starting that day. I went to the library and waited, no one showed up. Maybe that day wasn’t good, no use getting discouraged. I went the next week and again, no one came. Being angry, confused, or embarrassed would’ve been easy—I could tell the librarian felt bad that no one was coming. Plus, parents kept asking me to work with their kids so why didn’t they bring them? However, it was easier to just accept it. However, that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop trying. I plan to attend a reading hour that the librarian hosts on Friday evenings and talk to the parents that attend. I want to see if maybe the time I chose was bad, and when a better one would be. I want to see if this is a project they’re even interested in for their children. If not, the library will just get a large donation of English books!

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Practicing places and prepositions in my English Course

I’ve had successful projects as well—the third part of my English course is in full swing and I have about 20 participants! I also helped to facilitate activities for the After School English Program in Penonome. I’ve started running and will be participating in the relay portion of a marathon in November; I’ll be running 3.1 miles. This month is bringing on a lot of activities. The number one thing on my agenda is a frisbee club! I want to get one off the ground and start practicing once a week. I’ll be facilitating at two separate peace corps training events as well and then heading to the Comarca again! And, finally for the title of the post, I’ll be hosting the Spelling Bee on Friday! A few kids from my school are competing and we’ve been practicing a lot so I hope they do well. Maybe we’ll bring home the gold!

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A tourist trap worth seeing

There are some touristy parts of Panama that I avoid. The canal never really interested me much though I’ve been twice now. But there is a hidden gem in Panama City that had gotten rave reviews so I had to check it out. That hidden gem is the BioMuseo!img_2863.jpg

The BioMuseo, or Bio-Museum, was architecturally designed by Frank Gehry who is known for his innovative and often grandiose designs. It is all about the biodiversity of Panama; el Puente del mundo (the bridge of the world). If you’re ever in Panama I highly recommend coughing up the $18 non-resident price (or $10 if you’re a resident aka a PCV) and visiting the museum. From albrook mall it’s just a $4 taxi! Okay, now that we’re through the actual costs, what is there to see? When you enter the museum, you’re greeted by exhibits explaining what biodiversity is and denoting species that have been discovered in Panama. Then there’s a wall of all the species that exist in Panama. The ones in red are in danger of extinction while the ones in black have already gone extinct. The plaques in gray are the things that contribute to species extinction. The biggest threat? Humans.IMG_2870 (2)

From there you move into a movie theater where screens cover the walls, ceiling, and even floor! Here you’ll watch a short film about the biodiversity of Panama and, if you’re lucky, there will be a school group there so you can hear the guide explaining things and watch kids flap their arms like birds when cued. After the film, you step out into rocks and fossils! This was by far one of my favorite parts because I really enjoy geology AND I solved a mystery that’s been bugging me for a while! Backstory: wayyyyy back in the beginning of my service I hiked out to some petroglyphs near my site (you can read the blog post about them here) and I was really confused by this carving of what appeared to be an elephant. Now flash forward to me wandering around looking at fossils and pre-historic animals of Panama. Suddenly, I see it! Cuvier’s Mastodon—a giant species that was related to elephants and lived in the Americas until roughly 11,000 years ago. The carving must not have been an elephant, but a mastodon! Which also means that those petroglyphs are crazy old.

From there you learn about animals that roamed Panama and then move forward into learning about the history of Panama—the people and cultures that pre-date us and helped to form what we have here today. But I don’t want to spoil it all for you; you’ve got to see it for yourself! And if you come after December of 2019 you’ll be able to check out a new exhibit—the aquarium!

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Uncategorized

Astonishing

on the crest

There are a lot of similarities between Peace Corps service and mountain climbing. Here are just a few of them:

  • There are easy paths and difficult ones
  • It’s way better to have a team with you
  • There are lots of bugs involved
  • It’s probably helpful to have a machete

I’m the small brown speck in the picture above. You can’t see my face but at this point in the hike I was debating if I really had to go all the way to the top crest of this mountain. From below it looked crazy steep and it definitely seemed like there would be some mild rock climbing involved. I was tired and pretty gross and some people had already decided to hang back so it would’ve been so easy to not do it. I decided to go up just a little further and see what it looked like up close. The rocks that had to be climbed ended up being a lot bigger than they had looked from my brown-speck-spot; easier to imagine as stairs that required both your hands and feet. So rock by rock I made my way up to the 670 meters that the mountain Orarí  stands at and once I got to the top I shouted into the valley below because I couldn’t believe I had done it!

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I can see my house from here! 

Orarí wasn’t the only mountain I overcame this month. I also saw the culmination of over 6 months worth of work in my Ultimate Frisbee and Leadership Camp! With a grant amount of just over $2,000, 48 amazing youth from all over Panama, around 15 different facilitators, and the overwhelming support of my high school, we were able to create an experience that I know I will never forget. Kids that had never played frisbee before were throwing discs like it was second nature and everyone was having fun. Throughout the course of the week I saw indigenous girls that barely spoke to anyone they didn’t know starting to cheer on their teammates and help people with their throws. Boys who were used to the highly competitive nature of soccer started congratulating their opponents on games well-played. Friendships were made, culture was shared, and we learned about how the skills that Ultimate Frisbee teaches us can apply to our daily lives by using socio-dramas to demonstrate things like, supporting one another, pivoting and thinking before making decisions, and always remembering the spirit of the game. Since the camp ended I keep hearing from volunteers about frisbee clubs that are now forming in their communities and I’ve started to see a group slowly form here as well. Not only that but Dionara, the winner of the spirit award, went back to her family in the indigenous Comarca Nägbe-Bugle and taught her mom to throw a frisbee!

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Spirit Circle post-game

After the camp I had about a week to relax before heading to the city for my Mid-service training. My entire group was together for the first time since last year! MST is basically a lot of medical appointments and a little bit of training. I’m happy (and surprised) to report that I have no cavities! In our two days of training we were given lots of time to reflect on our service so far. Looking back, I’ve done quite a bit! I’ve had two adult English courses, one kid’s English course, and a national camp in my community. I’ve gone to medical gira’s, youth leadership and sexual health seminars, and youth camp’s in my friends’ communities. I’ve given TESOL presentations in Panama City and led teacher seminars in my local capital. As time goes by it’s easy to forget all of those things and feel like I’ve done nothing so I was glad to sit back and ruminate a little on how far I’ve come. We were also given the opportunity to start thinking about our future’s. Will we be going to graduate school or looking for jobs? Will we be trying to extend our service in Panama? Or, will we maybe decide to ship off for Peace Corps Response in another country? Maybe we won’t do any of that and we’ll take some time to travel. There are a lot of options on the horizon.

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all of G78 TELLS celebrated Bianca’s birthday

So after my frisbee camp and MST I think Jo’s song “Astonishing” from Little Women is very fitting. As she sings:

Here I go
And there’s no turning back
My great adventure has begun
I may be small
But I’ve got giant plans
To shine as brightly as the sun
I will blaze until I find my time and place
I will be fearless,
Surrendering modesty and grace
I will not disappear without a trace
So, as I sat at the top of Orarí, the mountain I have called mine since day 1, I thought about all of the days that brought me there. They weren’t all easy and often it was really hard to see my progress—Mountains have a funny way of making you forget how far you’ve climbed right until you reach the top. So, ultimately, I’m glad I climbed all the way up to that peak and shouted out into the sky. Peace Corps may not be easy, but its sure as hell worth it.IMG_3270IMG_3287

 

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Moving too fast

These posts seem to get later and later the busier I get! One more month has basically lapped me on the race track and I’m trying to catch up. In just barely more than 1 week my frisbee camp will be starting and I couldn’t be more excited/nervous/stressed. First I want to take a moment to thank everyone who made a contribution to my grant. We received the full amount ($2,087.40 but who’s counting?) and because of that we can bring 48 kids from all over Panama together to learn about leadership, sexual health, and of course, Ultimate Frisbee. I quite literally could not have made that happen without support from all of you.

angelSo what did I do for the month of May? I went home! For 11 days! As always, going home is a magical experience that never seems to last long enough. Two of my best friends got married while I was home and I was honored to be a bridesmaid. Never in my life have I met two people so in love and it was a true joy to witness them read their vows to one another and be the beautiful amazing people they are. I was asked by the brides to give a speech at the wedding and I hope that they liked it! The reception was fantastic, filled with dancing, vegetarian food, and instax cameras flashing all over the place. I think one of my favorite moments of the night was then “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show played and everyone made a FULL COMMITMENT by collapsing onto the floor at the end of the evening.  18582294_10209690623731458_1577306562575694276_n

The work never stops though! While at home I went to my old high school and talked to the Teacher Academy students about what it’s like to teach abroad. They were all bright and energetic and asked a lot of really great questions! Hopefully one or two of them are considering teaching abroad in the future whether they do it with Peace Corps or another agency. I managed to make it all the way from my house in the US to my house in Panama in one day with a combined total of 14 hours of travel including a car, a plane, a taxi, and a bus! Needless to say I spent hours cuddling the kittens once I got back and just finished completely unpacking yesterday. Ever since then my life has been camp planning, letter writing (technically part of the camp planning), buying hundreds of pounds of food (also for the camp), and watching Gilmore Girls (for my sanity). The new 3rd year extension TELLS coordinator came to my site to do my one year visit and basically just check in with me. During her visit she also bought a sombrero! Maybe I should direct her to my other post on how to wear it? Finally, I was able to help another volunteer throw together a seminar on customer service skills for a group of university students! They all did amazingly well and I have no doubt they’ll excel in their field. We gave them 5 important customer service skills and had them present about them in groups. Some chose to do skits, some did drawings, all were fantastic. To show them some different customer service skills we used the following scene from The Office: 

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If you want to watch the scene do it here

So that’s my life right now! Lots of camp things going on but they’ll be over and worth it soon. Stay tuned to hear all about how it goes!

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