MarocMama

eat well, travel often, dream big!

This Week In Marrakech : What I’ve Been Doing

Maybe you noticed my posts were light this week.  It’s been all kinds of crazy. So crazy I haven’t taken a single picture with my camera – only Instagram!

The week started with a trip to Casablanca to pick up our boxes from the US that had finally arrived – several weeks late.  (If you didn’t catch it, I shared a post with my 8 Tips for Making an Interntional Move with Kids on ChicagoNow a few weeks ago). We took the very early train from Marrakech to Casablanca at 4:30 am.  It should have arrived shortly after 8am, perfect to make our 9:30am appointment.  Except the train didn’t pull in until 9:45am.  It was a great start to the day.

The way it works here is that most shipments coming in you have to pay an import tax. We went to the American consulate in Casablanca before picking up our shipment and got a document that verified we changed our residency to Morocco. Now, I’m not sure if this paper alone is what allowed us to avoid import taxes, or if my husband’s citizenship + this paper allowed it but either way this paper ($50) unlocked some key to get our things here without having to pay import taxes. But we still had to pay fees to the handling company in Morocco and pay someone to bring our large boxes to Marrakech.

On the bright side, I got to meet up with a wonderful lady from an English Speakers in Morocco group I’m a part of on Facebook and she took us to a convent in Casablanca of Mexican nuns that make real Mexican food.  This sounds unimpressive if you’re reading from North America where tacos are a dime a dozen but here, it’s impossible to find Mexican food.  We grabbed tortillas, flautas, and tortilla chips and can’t wait for the next time we’re back to buy more!

 

If the Mexican food wasn’t enough, she also took us to a cupcake shop in the Casablanca Twin Center. I think this picture speaks for itself. So so good!

Eid is just around the corner (inshAllah) we’ll be celebrating next Wednesday.  The shepherds and sheep are making their way into the city and it’s become commonplace to see sheep taking rides home in all sorts of ways.  In the back of trucks, on motorcycles, even on top of vehicles.  I’ve yet to see someone walking their sheep home on a lead, though that’s what I would do!  Yesterday we saw people had started to sell small bundles of bedding greens for the sheep. Our roof and upstairs rooftop room were cleaned out last week to get ready for their (brief) animal inhabitants.

 

Thursday I had a “girls” date with Mandy of Why Morocco.  She’s a Canadian expat here in the city and is much more well versed in what’s what than I am yet. I finally was able to get a pedicure, and enjoy an easy conversation!  It’s pretty stressful trying to speak and understand a foreign (or two foreign) languages at all times.  Very nice to relax and have a fluid conversation.  We went to lunch at 16 Cafe on the Marrakech Plaza.  It was a really welcome reprieve from the often limited choices.  I had this really delicious salad of greens, endive, raisins, walnuts, and fried chevre on toast points with a honey dressing .  Believe it or not – this is the small size!

 

Friday I was able to meet up with the Journey Beyond Travel team to have some in person conversations and eat some great food.  We went out for dinner to Bistro Thai, a great Thai restaurant in Gueliz.  Honestly, I was skeptical – Thai food in Marrakech?  It was absolutely wonderful! I am planning to take some friends there next week again. We’ve been told they have live music (jazz) some evenings and it really fills up.  So if you’re visiting, give them a call for reservations but I promise you a great environment. delicious food, and reasonable prices.


Finally, I’ve been sick for several weeks now, which is one of the reasons there have been fewer updates.  At first I thought it was just the water or something I ate and fought through waiting to feel better. But I didn’t feel better, not even a little bit. MarocBaba finally convinced me to go to the doctor, and I felt awful enough to give in and go. I had lost almost 20 pounds since we moved here and the doctor told me my gallbladder was full of small gallstones. That was why I was so sick. There are some very good doctors and clinics here and we both spent a lot of time talking and considering what we should do.  Having had a gastric sleeve just a little more than a year ago and knowing there aren’t a lot of surgeons here who are well versed in the procedure we hesitated to have just any surgeon perform this fairly routine procedure. We also realized it would cost about the same to have it done here, as it would for me to fly back to the US and have it done. Ultimately, we decided I would return to the US for the operation.

So in about 10 days I’ll fly back to the US and spend 3 weeks having the surgery and recovering. I probably won’t be cooking up a storm but have plenty of things I’ve yet to share with you! My kids have already started to make a list of the things they wish they would have brought with when we first came. As for me, I’ll just take a bowl of my mom’s chicken soup.

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{Guest Post} Visit Morocco Through Kids Yoga

Today I’m welcoming Giselle Shardlow the author of Kids Yoga Stories. Her yoga-inspired children’s books get children moving, learning, and having fun. Giselle draws from her experiences as a teacher, traveler, yogi, and mom to write her stories found at www.kidsyogastories.com or on Amazon worldwide.  My kids and I love yoga – they’ve been practicing since their pre-K days in a Montessori school and I love how it is one of the only things that make my back feel good! Enjoy this guest post inspired by Morocco!morocco camel

“Morocco is THE destination for all lovers of flora and fauna.” (VisitMorocco.com)

Whether you are sipping Moroccan tea, hiking through farming villages, watching snake charmers in the main square, or surfing the Atlantic Coast, Morocco is sure to exceed your expectations. When I first heard about MarocMama, I was super excited to meet an expat mama living in this intriguing place in North Africa. I haven’t been to Morocco (yet), but I have friends and family who’ve been there. And they raved about it.
Kids yoga is a great way to visit a place on the other side of the world without ever leaving home. Yoga for children is all about exploring new places through movement, embracing our creativity, and having fun with loved ones. Join me as we learn more about the extraordinary country of Morocco through children’s yoga. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t tried yoga before, just jump in and give it a try! Below, you will find yoga sequences with keywords, corresponding yoga poses, and descriptions.

Kids yoga poses inspired by the activities in Morocco:

Morocco is an adventurer’s paradise with loads of outdoor activities, including rock climbing, skiing, kayaking, kitesurfing, windsurfing, canoeing, golfing, and camel trekking. Who knew?! If you have only a few minutes for your pretend journey to Morocco, here is a “5 for 5: Five kids yoga poses in 5 minutes” inspired by five activities that you can do in this beautiful country:

Trekking through the old cities, gorges, or volcanic pinnacles – Walking on the Spot
(Pretend to go for a hike, and walk on the spot.)

Surfing the Atlantic Ocean waves – Warrior 2 Pose
(From standing position, step one foot back, placing the foot so that it is facing slightly outwards. Take your arms up in parallel to the ground, bend your front knee, and look forward.)

Horseback Riding along the sandy beach – Chair Pose
(Pretend to ride on the back of a horse and giddyup.)

White-Water Rafting down rivers winding through the mountains – Staff Pose
(Sit down on your buttocks with a tall spine with your legs straight out in front of you, then pretend to row with your arms.)

Mountain Biking on dirt tracks in the foothills – Knees to Chest
(Come to lying on your back and make circles with your bent legs as if you are pedaling a bike.)

morocco shop

Kids yoga poses inspired by the animals of Morocco:
Morocco boasts a diverse landscape, with stunning coastlines, rugged mountains, and breathtaking deserts. Twelve animals that live in these various locations inspired these yoga poses:

Bald Ibis – Dancer’s Pose
(Stand on one leg, take the other leg in your hand behind you, and balance like an Ibis.)

Eleonora’s Falcon – Warrior 3 Pose
(Stand on one leg, with the other leg extended straight behind you. Bend your torso forward, then flap your wings like a falcon flying through the sky.)

Greater Flamingoes – Tree Pose
(Stand on one leg, bend your knee, place the sole of your foot on your inner thigh, and balance like a flamingo.)

Golden Eagle – Eagle Pose
(Stand on one leg, wrap the other leg around the standing leg, bend your knees slightly, bring your arms out in front of you, and wrap them together. Then pretend to perch in a tree like an eagle.)

Barbary Ape – Squat Pose
(Come down to a squat, rest on your buttocks, and pretend to groom yourself like an ape.)

Donkey – Handstand Prep
(Place the palms of your hands flat on the ground in front of you, step back, bring your buttocks high, and kick like a donkey.)

Herbivorous Lizard – Plank Pose
(Come down to a plank on your hands and toes like a lizard.)

Horned Viper – Cobra Pose
(Lie on your tummy and lift your head and shoulders off ground. Place your palms flat next to your shoulders, then hiss like a snake.)

Golden Jackal – Cat Pose
(On your hands and knees, look around like a jackal.)

Camel – Camel Pose
(Come back to kneeling, lift your chest, look up, and gently lean back reaching your hands to your heels)

Dorcas Gazelle – Seated Twist
(Sit down on your heels, twist to one side, and look over your shoulder like a gazelle.)

Desert Hedgehog – Child’s Pose
(From sitting from your heels, bend your upper body, place your forehead in front of your knees, and rest your arms alongside your body.)

Click here for pictures of some of the kids yoga poses. For printables of the yoga sequences, click here.

Ways to have a successful Morocco Yoga experience:

There is no “right” way to practice yoga with your family, but there are a few things to consider. Wear comfortable clothing and practice barefoot. Practice the poses on both sides/legs. Focus on having fun and don’t worry about doing perfectly aligned poses. Kids yoga is more creative and spontaneous than an adult yoga class. Your children will feed off your energy, so enjoy yourself. Listen to your body, and don’t overdo it. Think of yoga as a way of life, not just the physical postures. Bring their attention to their inhalation and exhalation in a light-hearted way. Always finish your yoga experience in a resting pose, lying on your back with your arms and legs stretched out, taking a few deep breaths. Research Morocco further and share your findings with your family. Take the opportunity to be in the present moment and connect with the little people in your life.

Thank you for reading this article and learning about Morocco through yoga. Thank you to Amanda for the opportunity to learn more about her adopted home – it’s now high on my list of places to visit with my family!

Have you been to Morocco? What were your favorite places to visit? We would love to hear about your experience!

Watch for the next Kids Yoga Stories book, a bedtime kids yoga book featuring animals from around the world including two from Africa. Get details and free kids yoga resources in your inbox by signing up for Giselle’s weekly Kids Yoga Stories Newsletter on her website, or check her out on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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When you marry someone from another culture you expect there to be bumps along the way.  There will be language barriers and challenges with finding employment.  You might have different ideas about how to raise children or what to eat for dinner. I never expected there to be issues in the bathroom.  Never.  I promise I’m not going to go TMI on you here but I think this is such an important topic.  I’ve even devoted a whole section in my upcoming book just the bathroom. (Want to be the first to know about the book launch? Sign up for my newsletter now!)

I should have known the first time I stared down a Turkish toilet.  Oh you say you don’t know what that is….let me show you.

What do you do with that?

More importantly what girl is going to ask their boyfriend how to use it?  I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t!  It was a really long week let’s just say that.

I thought once MarocBaba came to the US we would have no  more issues, well because we were on my home turf with “real” toilets.  Then he started asking for a bidet.  A bi-what?  Those French drinking fountain things in the bathroom?  I never could figure them out.  No way. Not in my house.  Disgusting.

He kept at it and this year I finally caved in.  We got a bidet that attaches to the back of the toilet.

You know what guys.

I love it.

I do!

I love that thing!

Oh the shame!

When we went on our cruise last month I was really wondering how we’d deal with toilet issues when there’s no bidet. What to do? Two words.

Portable Bidet.

Hygienna Solo (teal)

Just hear me out on this one.  This is so darn clever.  You just put the rubber end of this on a water bottle.  Any plastic water bottle, filled with water works.

Hygienna Solo (teal)

That’s it.  You can take it anywhere, put it in your pocket and never be without a bidet again!

So why am I telling you this?  Two reasons.  First it’s so much cleaner to use a bidet.  Secondly, if you’ve married an Arab man, don’t underestimate the importance of the bidet.  It’s really important in issues of cleanliness.  Toilet paper just won’t cut it.  If you’re not ready to invest in a bidet then seriously consider getting one or a few of these to have on hand.  They are really affordable and I swear you’ll be a bidet convert.

Have you faced any other cultural issues that you changed your opinion about over time? 

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post and I am being compensated.  However, as always, my opinion is my own and I truly do love this product!
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Medicinal Uses of Moroccan Spices
Medicinal Uses of Spices

Attribution: Flickr user chericbaker

I’m kicking off a week of posts focusing on natural ideas and recipes.  I have been wanting to do these posts for a while. I was a total skeptic about traditional/natural medicine before I went to Morocco. I was a skeptic up until the day I had gotten a serious bout of digestive issues and couldn’t keep anything down.  My mother in law shoved a spoonful of cumin in my mouth and all of the nastiness stopped. Just like that.  Moroccan food is full of different spices and traditional medicine shops can be found everywhere in Morocco. Moroccan spices really are used for more than just flavoring food. Here’s a little rundown and history of some of the most common spices used in Morocco (note the Darija word in brackets) and their medicinal uses.

Cumin {Kamoon}

cumin powder

Cumin has been used as a flavoring and medicinal herb since ancient times.  Seeds have been found at archaeological digs dating to the 2nd millennium BC!  Ancient Greeks, like Moroccans of today kept cumin on their table much as other cultures do with salt and pepper.  The plants are grown and harvested during the hot summer months in Morocco. The seeds can be used whole or ground to powder to use.  This spice is heavily used in Moroccan cuisine.   It is supposed to increase lactation and reduce nausea in pregnancy. It also has been shown to be effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as diarrhea, indigestion, and morning sickness. Cumin tea is also brewed.  A teaspoon of cumin seeds steeped in a cup of hot water for 5 minutes releases the healing properties. For indigestion problems a teaspoon of cumin powder swallowed directly aids in the reduction of symptoms.  While not always a pleasant taste in such high quantities, it does work!

Cinnamon {Karcoum}

cinnamon Cinnamon is another ancient spice. It is grown in Eastern Asia, primarily Sri Lanka, India and the West Indies but also in Egypt. Its use in Moroccan food is most likely attributed to Arab traders who brought it back from journeys to this region of the world. Medicinally cinnamon has a lot of good qualities.  It has been shown to help with the treatment of diabetes, and has properties that help with blood clotting and reducing cholesterol rates.  Perhaps the most important use in Moroccan cooking is that cinnamon helps with digestion.

 

 

  Fenugreek {L’halba}

Fenugreek This spice has three different culinary uses; as an herb (the leaves are dried or fresh), as a spice in seed form and as a vegetable (the fresh leaves, sprouts and microgreens). Traditionally fenugreek is found on the Indian subcontinent but is common in Persian, Ethiopian and Eritraean cuisine.  Fenugreek is used in Morocco as a spice and brewed into tea.  The most common use is as an aid to lactation for new moms. Fenugreek is also used to treat heartburn and stomach problems. The most famous use in Moroccan cooking is Rfisa is a common dish served to new moms.

 

 

Ginger {skinjbir}

ginger Ginger has been praised throughout the world for its medicinal properties.  Most people are aware of the Chinese reverence and use of ginger as a medicinal spice. It is common in Middle Eastern, and specifically North African cooking. Moroccan cooking would suffer immensely without the use of ginger. Some of the issues that ginger can help with include digestion, constipation and colic in babies.  It has been shown to help with morning sickness and other forms of nausea.  Although inconclusive scientifically ginger is used to help with joint problems and muscle injuries.  Used as a medicine ginger should be taken in small amounts as it can have bloating and heartburn as a side effect.  Like fenugreek and cumin it also can be boiled into a tea.

Nigella Seeds {Sanouj}

Nigella Seeds

Credit: Flickr User zoyachubby

Nigella seeds also were brought to Morocco from the Indian subcontinent.  They are now domestically grown and harvested for use in traditional medicine and with some dishes. Nigella seeds are found in the hadith and heralded as a cure for everything except death. The seeds are used extensively to cure simple things such as a rash or cold or to use as an anti-inflamatory for joint pain. The seeds are often found in breads or cheeses in the Middle East, but it also can be made into a tea and drank as an elixir.

 

 

Turmeric {Quekoum}

turmeric Native to South Asia turmeric is a member of the ginger family.  To make the yellow powder the root or rhizome of the plant is harvested and dried.  It is then ground to the fine yellow-gold powder known as turmeric. In Moroccan cooking turmeric is often used simply for it’s yellow color.  The distinctive hue is common in chicken tajines. Turmeric is also used as a substitute for the more expensive saffron which might also be used to achieve the color and taste of a great tajine.  One of the most unique uses I have seen for turmeric is its ability to stop bleeding. When the spice is placed over a cut the bleeding will stop almost immediately.  Currently medical trials are being conducted to investigate turmerics’ benefits for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, arthritis, and other clinical disorders.

These are just some of the spices used in Moroccan food to help with ailments. Walking into a herboisterie one will be confronted with hundreds of jars of ingredients, all that have some medicinal property.  Next time you’re out of your favorite over the counter medication, maybe you’ll want to give one of these natural remedies a try!

 

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As much as I love cooking, eating, and writing about Moroccan food I love reading about other peoples’ experience with Moroccan food too.  I’ve always been a fan of Global Table Adventure and have been waiting for Sasha to get to Morocco. Her series just finished and her final post gave me a good idea for a post.  Her last post was a summary of their Moroccan meal week. One of the issues that she raised was that of using hands to eat versus using silverware.  Sasha decided to serve their Moroccan meal on individual plates with silverware. I had never really thought it might be confusing our children by eating with their hands one night and with silverware another.  So this post was born!

When raising children in a bicultural home I have always felt it is imperative to respect and impart both cultures no matter where the family is living. To me this means every part of life; language, religion, eating habits, foods, holidays, and appropriate behaviors.  When your partner is from a different culture including this in the general upbringing of children is easy -if you let it be. It’s easy to allow our own cultural bias to creep in but it’s so important to give enough space to allow the other culture room to live as well.

But back to eating with our hands.  

When I was a teenager I remember a conversation at a family dinner. I had failed miserably at learning to operate a fork and knife in tandem to cut meat.  My family were quick to laugh at me and point out how awkward it would be to ask a date to cut my meat. Ironically, I just went ahead and married a man who ate 95% of his meals with his hands! When it came time that our boys were feeding themselves I don’t think we ever thought twice about using silverware or not using silverware.

Some meals simply require a fork.

K and Saffron Road

Other meals, like a tagine, call for a good piece of bread and agile fingers. 

Eating Tajine with Bread

We can’t very well eat hot dogs with a fork!

Camping and Eating

American Grandpa makes his debut!

We never made a fuss about which utensil; hands, silverware, or bread the boys chose.

Hands or Silverware for eating

In Morocco there’s a closeness to food that I’ve rarely found in the US.  People are very conscious of having clean hands but they’re not afraid of using them.  It might be the shelling of almonds, the fluffing of couscous or the practice of eating a tagine – hands are the tool of choice.

Boys helping grandma shell almonds

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve invited Americans (and even other people from the Middle East) for a Moroccan dinner and served it Moroccan style. They look puzzled, searching for the utensils and plates.  I don’t produce them. Instead I pass out bread and instruct them on how to eat Moroccan style.  Somehow we’ve (Americans) seen using our hands as low class.  When in fact there are many unwritten rules to eating in this manner. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Always wash your hands before eating.
  • Eat in the section of the communal dish that is directly in front of you.  Do not venture away from this space.  The hostess may push food into your section but don’t venture away on your own.
  • Break off a piece of bread that is bite sized and hold between your thumb and first two fingers of your right hand. Use the bread to break off the piece of meat or vegetable you would like and scoop it up with the bread.
  • Do not re-use the same piece of bread.  For each dip into the dish take a new piece of bread.
  • Avoid using your left hand during the meal.
  • Wash your hands again immediately after finishing the meal.

We have always switched between using a fork and spoon to eat and using our hands, and my boys understand the etiquette of eating both ways. It’s comforting to know that whether confronted with a formal dinner or sharing a communal dish they will be ready and prepared to adapt to that culture.

I hope you’ll visit Sasha’s post that inspired this topic and her others posts on Moroccan food.  I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic as well – leave me a comment and let’s keep the conversation going!

 

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If anyone follows Twitter Tuesday’s popular hashtag is #traveltuesday.  I decided to incorporate this into my posting schedule and dedicate Tuesday’s to all about Morocco day.  I’m going to start the ball rolling today with a post about henna.  From my first visit having henna done was something that I began to associate with Morocco.  Usually visits coincided with a celebration (the normal reason for having henna done) but even if there was no celebration I always had it done before coming back to the States.  It’s really very relaxing and I’m stuck waiting for it to dry sitting down – no getting up or wiggling fingers.  (Like a mini vacation for me!)

So here I am with my hands done.  This was for my husband and my wedding party in Morocco.  This time there was a lot more henna in a very intricate design.  Different designs have different meanings and different regions have different designs.  There are also three colors of henna, a black version, a dark brown version and a red version.  I’ve been told there is an additive of some sort mixed into henna sometimes to make the color last longer.  Word to my light skinned friends who might have this done in Morocco- make sure there’s no additive.  It really penetrates into light skin and can take much much longer to wear off. 

Here you can see on my right hand some henna that I had done on my first visit to Morocco.  (ps that’s the husband next to me ;)).  Not a great pic but it’s all I’ve got!  This was done by a local woman in djem al fna for about $10 USD (in 2004).  





Did I mention it’s usually both hands and feet that are decorated.  This time it was for my engagement party.  A very nice floral and leaves pattern.  This up close photo makes it easier to see.  The paste is green when it goes on and a thick paste.  You have to sit still and let it dry – usually about 2 hours but the longer you can leave it the better.  This night my feet and hands were wrapped and in the morning, the dry part of the paste was scraped off.  The longer you leave the paste on the darker the design will be and the longer it will stay.  


This design was VERY elaborate and took a long time to put on and to try.  But it was beautiful!  As you can see it went all the way up to the middle of my calves!  

If you’re headed to Morocco and want to get henna here are some tips:
  • Locals know best – seriously.  There are women in the community who families hire to do henna for their parties.  That’s who you want to do your henna.  They know what they are doing and are good and fast!  If you’re staying in a riad ask the owners if they can get someone to do the henna for you.  If you’re staying in a hotel ask the concierge.  
  • If you feel like you paid a good price you did.  Just like with any purchase in a bargaining economy, don’t feel cheated if you find out someone had henna done cheaper than you.  If you feel you paid a fair price for the work – you did. 
  • If you don’t have any connections to have henna done, ask at an herbalist in the markets.  Herbalists sell traditional medicine and can help find you someone to do henna for you. 
Have you ever had henna done?  Do you have other tips to share?  I would love to hear about it!!



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One of the very first gifts that my husband gave me was a gold khamis or hand much like the picture here.  I understood that it was a sign to ward off bad spirits but as I learned more I understood that the symbol and sentiment that goes with it is very deeply-rooted in Moroccan culture. As we welcomed our child into the world, cheerful American’s would proudly proclaim how adorable our son was.  To which my husband would mutter under his breath (in disgruntled Arabic) “may you go blind”.  I didn’t get it, surely they meant no ill will towards us.  

I know it’s not something all Moroccans believe in but it’s surely a part of the culture.  Ever wonder why a Muslim friend proclaims “mashallah” (meaning whatever Allah wishes takes place) or Barakallah (may Allah bless you) instead of cooing over your bundle of joy – it’s rooted in the notion of the evil eye.  Someone who says how lucky you are, or how beautiful your children are is welcoming bad things to come your way, or at least that’s the belief.  

It is reported that Prophet Muhammad (phuh) said: Upon beholding something attractive, try to recount Allah’s glorification by saying, “Allah is Blessed!” or “May Allah bless you!”etc. (Mashallah).  Ultimately no ill will can come however Allah wishes it.  People try to avoid the implications of the evil eye by: 
1) seeking protection from Allah 
2)observing piety and forsaking evil acts and 
3)demonstrating patience and perseverance (i.e. not showing the effects of being affected by envy or being overwhelmed with thoughts of it).  
4) Putting trust in Allah
5)Turning the other cheek – the idea of being good to those who offer the evil eye
6) Repentance to Allah
7) Washing off the effects of envy
There is a strong belief in both religion and culture in Morocco that the evil eye is alive and well and is something that should be watched out for.  

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