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Hannah Cumming 200853

Discuss the traumas and anxieties experienced by the characters in Dambudzo Marechera's 'The House of Hunger' in relation to Zimbabwe and Africa's colonial history. Zimbabwe was relatively late to gain majority rule, Ian Smith initially de lared !hodesia inde"endent #rom $ritain, #or ing Z%&' and Z%(' guerillas, in a limate o# in reasingly radi alised nationalist resistan e, to ta)e to the bush and #ight to overthrow the !hodesian state, whi h had subjugated the bla ) "o"ulation #or the last two hundred years* +his was the onte,t in whi h -ambud.o /are hera, albeit in e,ile in 0ngland, wrote The House of Hunger, whi h was #irst "ublished two years be#ore the end o# the Se ond Chimurenga in 12801* 3iterature had been heavily mobilised in the nationalist struggle and en ouraged to "romote dis ourses o# the nation, trium"h, ultural revival and a uni#i ation o# bla ) "eo"le in the new Zimbabwe, an identity #irmly rooted in the land and in the struggle against the white oloniser* -es"ite these sentiments, /are hera4s widely a laimed and hugely su ess#ul novel, "resents a blea) outloo) #or the new nation, "lagued by violen e, "overty, trauma and the gradual erosion o# both the #amily and the sel#* 5ith the histori al advantage o# seeing the e,"erien e o# many other %#ri an nations gaining inde"enden e /are hera realised that a majority ruled state would be most li)ely to re"eat the regime o# violen e em"loyed by olonial "owers, rather than a t as a #or e #or true e6uality and liberation* 7$oehmer, 2005* "*2589 %long with other Zimbabwean writers at the time, su h as :vonne ;era and +sitsi -angarembga, his writing aimed to integrate violen e and su##ering into the olle tive ons iousness o# the new Zimbabwe* /are hera riti6ues stati views o# identity, "resenting a haoti "i ture o# the modern mind, and highlighting the #a t that de olonisation is not om"lete with the removal o# the o u"ying "ower, rather, it begins and ends in the minds o# the olonised* /are hera was essentially an anar hist and strove to move beyond any sense o# national identity in his wor), whi h is in essen e #o used on the universal de ay o# the modern human ondition * He
1 %ll "age numbers re#er to the 2005 edition

Hannah Cumming 200853

was #amously 6uoted as saying, <I# you are a writer #or a s"e i#i nation or a s"e i#i ra e, then #u ) you*= 7Habila9 +his boo) an be read as an a t o# rebellion against the "atriar hal nationalist narrative that sought to dominate the "ro ess o# 4re>imagining4 the new ommunity* +he traumas and an,ieties o# the hara ters are indi ative o# the olonial lega y o# alienation, both #rom ones own ulture and subje tion to alien ultures, and the di##i ulties and ne essities o# the sear h #or authenti #orms o# e,"ression* The House of Hunger draws the reader inside the mind o# an anonymous narrator, whose e,"erien es and o"inions losely mirror those o# /are hera* +he root ause o# a lot o# an,ieties in his li#e is his olonial edu ation, whi h has le#t him well>versed in an alien ulture, but has led to #eelings o# alienation #rom his own* His su ess in edu ation is seen to be the ause o# his ongoing malaise, as (eter remar)s, <Smith made sure that the )ind o# edu ation he got was e,a tly what has made him li)e this*= 7"*209 +he narrator is made to #eel sel#> ons ious and nervous by his own #amily and res"onds to this omment by whistling 4little ja ) horner4, highlighting that even in a hildish a t o# de#ian e he must still turn to #oreign ultural traits* His mental s"a e and develo"ment has been invaded and olonised* %t the age o# nine he is beaten #or a identally s"ea)ing to his mother in 0nglish and destroys his 0nglish boo)s in an a t o# de#ian e, but he is #or ed to borrow new boo)s and ontinue as this is the only ourse o# 4advan ement4 available* 7"*259 3ater in li#e he is mo )ed by his girl#riend ?ulia #or his use o# 0nglish idioms, <How an a bla ) "erson be beaten bla ) and blue@=7"*589 She also a uses him o# hating his bla )ness to whi h he res"onds, <&o I don4t hate being bla )* I4m just tired o# saying its beauti#ul*=7"*A09 +he narrator is learly weary o# being judged against a so ially onstru ted measure o# 4bla )ness4 that tra"s him in the on#ines o# ra e* +he e,"e tations o# so iety only serve to dee"en the divide that he is already "ain#ully aware o# within himsel#B <I was, I )new, a dead tree, dry o# bran h and de ayed in the roots* % tree however that was still u"right in the sullen s"leen o# the wind* %nd aught among the gnarled bran hes were a "age #rom 2

Hannah Cumming 200853

Sha)es"eare4s Othello and "age one o# the Rhodesia Herald with a "i ture o# me glaring angrily at the amera lens*= 7"*319 +his is a star) and lonely image o# an alienated sel# that slowly rots whilst a"turing #ragments #rom two di##erent worlds* He is rooted, as a tree and annot es a"e or hide #rom the barren lands a"e that me must endure alone* /are hera ma)es a lot o# use o# "ower#ul organi and elemental imagery throughout the novel, <I was by this reating #or mysel# a labyrinthine "ersonal world whi h would merely enmesh me with its rude mythology* +hat I ould not bear a star, a stone, a #lame, a river, or a u"#ul o# air was be ause they all seemed to have a signi#i an e irrevo ably not my own*= 7"*1C9 He is alluding to the hija )ing o# meaning as a result o# mental olonisation and the ne essity o# the sear h #or authenti meaning* +he language o# the elements "rodu es a sense o# non being, a "rominent an,iety that is lin)ed to the modern ondition* However, "erha"s the re"eated use o# organi images is an a""eal to use nature, the land, and asso iated s"irituality, as a starting "oint #or "eo"le attem"ting to "la e themselves as o""osed to "oliti al rhetori * +he traumas asso iated with his divided identity in rease throughout the boo), <5hen I tal)ed it was in the #orm o# an interminable argument, one side o# whi h was always e,"ressed in 0nglish and the other side always in Shona* %t the same time I would be aware o# mysel# as something indistin t but se"arate #rom both ultures*= 7"*839 His mind is a haoti "la e seemingly at war with itsel#, and he is struggling to #ind a way to re on ile the ru"tures aused by olonialism, whi h have le#t him sear hing #or himsel#* 0ventually, his inability to #ind meaning in li#e that he an onsider truly his own leads to mental brea)down, <It seemed to me that something was ta)ing over my bodyD the images and symbols I had #or so long ta)en #or granted had ta)en u"on themselves a strange hueD and I was losing my gras" o# sim"le s"ee h*=7"*839 In real li#e /are hera #elt endlessly "erse uted and was said to be "aranoid and de"ressive* +he narrator e,"erien es "sy hosis and is #ollowed and taunted by visions o# the 4bla ) heroes4, <three men in

Hannah Cumming 200853

#aded lothes and the woman o# the #aded shawl*=7"*819 0ven a#ter these s"irit>li)e beings, the embodiment o# the an estors, disa""ear the narrator remains obsessed with the 6uestion o# 4where are the bla ) heroes@4 In a so iety where the "resen e and in#luen e o# an estral s"irits is "art o# daily reality the ru"tures in the onne tions "eo"le have to the land and ea h other aused by olonialism are symbolised by these wandering, dis"ossessed s"irits* He sear hes #or the bla ) heroes o# his own time but #inds his ulture has been olonised by western onsumerism and #eels alien to himB <+he walls were all "lastered with advertisements #or s)in>lightening reams, %#ro wigs, ;aseline, $enson and Hedges* +here was a s)in>lightened %#ro>girl who was nu..ling u" to her oal>bla ) boy#riend and re ommending the Castle lager* %s the musi boomed against the advertisements and the arse olours and lights #li )ered on and o## I lost ount o# the time and sim"ly soa)ed mysel# in the stu##* I was no nearer to dis overing the authenti bla ) heroes who haunted my dreams in a #ar> o## golden age o# $la ) %r adia*=7"*3A9 He "ortrays the night lub as a si )ening, on#using mangle o# advertising #or "rodu ts mar)eted by e,"loiting the inse urities in "eo"le4s "er e"tion o# themselves* In heavily ironi tones /are hera is 6uestioning whether the heroes o# the "ast would a""rove o# the mindless onsum"tion and sel#> de"re ating #ashions o# the day* (eo"le are being de eived by a #alse onsumerist #reedom, whi h ontinues to enslave them and degrade their ulture by en ouraging them to hate what they areD this is a a result o# neo>im"erialism all around the world* -uring a number o# visionary narratives and altered states o# reality there is a blurring o# the boundaries between the House o# Hunger and the narrator4s mind, <trying not to thin) about the the house o# hunger where the a ids o# gut>rot had eaten into the base metal o# my brains* +he house has now be ome my mindD and I do not li)e the way the roo# is rattling= 7"*289 +he idea that the state o# a "erson4s house re#le ts their mental state is an image that I have noti ed re urring a lot in wor)s by Zimbabwean authors* +he disarray o# the 4house4 o# Zimbabwe is indi ative o# the mental disarray o# it4s inhabitants and this in turn breeds #urther haos and orrosion* Images o# stains and erosion are to be #ound on almost every "age, <+he barman, im"ressed by her massive breasts, was 8

Hannah Cumming 200853

thought#ully redu ing her to a stain on a sheet* % true hero o# our time* !edu ing everything to shit*=7"*559 /are hera is insistent that both the sel# and so iety have been redu ed, orroded and blemished* He re#ers to himsel# and his om"atriots as having gut>rot, and his writing is #ull o# re"ulsive and e,"li it images o# disease and in#e tion, symbolising the "hysi al and mental lega y o# olonialism as internalised* Colonial "owers brought te hnology, <+he old man died beneath the wheels o# the twentieth entury* +here was nothing le#t but stains, bloodstains and #ragments o# #lesh, when the whole length o# it was through with him* %nd the same thing is ha""ening to my generation*=7"*A09 Colonialism is synonymous with the rushing #or es o# modernity re"resented by the train, also a symbol o# migran y, and /are hera shows is res"onsible #or the redu tion o# generations o# Zimbabweans to mere stains* +he old man ould not es a"e #rom the train and there is no es a"e #rom the need to #ind meaning and relo ate the sel# in the stained modern world* -es"ite Zimbabwe not having even been #ully #ormed until two years a#ter this boo) was #irst "ublished /are hera is dire t in his o"inion o# the hara ter o# the new nationB <I #ound a seed, a little seed, the smallest in the world* %nd its name was Hate* I buried it in my mind and watered it with tears* &o seed ever had a better gardener* %s it swelled and ra )ed into green li#e I #elt my nation tremble, tremble in the throes o# birth E and burst out bloom and bran h*= 7"*229 %gain he ma)es use o# "ower#ul organi imagery to give #or e to his message, trans#orming it into an image that lingers in the mind* He is lear that the mental #oundations o# the new nation lie in hate, as a result o# the olonial state but no di##erent to it* +he image o# the Zimbabwean nation #re6uently a""ears in relation to blood and violen e, as a riti6ue o# the brutality that /are hera saw at the heart o# militant nationalism* He was riti al o# all hierar hi al "oliti al systems, but he was "arti ularly a#raid o# the la ) o# diverse "oliti al a##iliation in the nationalist movement and its aggressive but shallow a""ro"riation o# ulture, <I am a#raid o# one>"arty states, es"e ially where you have more slogans than ontent in terms o# "oli y and its im"lementation*= 7/are hera, 1288* "*89 3i)e many writers o# the time, he was "arti ularly riti al o# 4big man4 "oliti s, <It4s just ti )ets 5

Hannah Cumming 200853

to nowhere, everything is* +here4s big men now* +here4ll be big men always to dig "it>latrines #or you and your hildren to #all in*=7"*C59 He believed that revolution and demo ra y would not bring greater e6uality just a hange in the #a es o# the big men, and ontinuing "overty and su##ering #or the "eo"le* +he hara ter o# Ste"hen is a "ortrayal o# su h 4big man4, a loud mouthed bully* He is ontrasted with the ourageous and loyal 0dmund to highlight the distin tion between bloodthirsty, egotisti al a#ri anism and true ourage and loyalty* 7Fagiano, "*839 Ste"hen bullies 0dmund and taunts him about the #a t that his mother was a "rostitute so 0dmund, des"ite being "hysi ally disadvantaged, hallenges him to a #ight and is le#t lying in the mud severely beaten and re"eating the words, <I4m a mon)ey* I4m a baboon*=7"*839* Colonial ra ists used to om"are %#ri ans to mon)eys, Ste"hen4s ruelty also redu es 0dmund to this state* &onetheless, later in li#e it is 0dmund who a""ears on the #ront "age o# the "a"er as the sole survivor o# a massa re o# guerilla #ighters* 0dmund had ourage while Ste"hen remains lo )ed in a divisive belie# system, <Ste"hen was an avid reader o# the Heinemann %#ri an writers series* He #irmly believed that there was something "e uliarly %#ri an about anything written by and %#ri an and said that there#ore 0uro"ean tools o# riti ism should not be used in an analysis o# 4%#ri an literature4=7"*809 Here we see /are hera almost mo )ing himsel# but also e,"ressing his #rustration with literary ty"ologies, and the on#ines o# ra ially based thin)ing* He was himsel# a shar" ultural riti , who o#ten revealed the humorous reality o# the "ast in a down>to>earth manner, <G# ourse the understatement o# the year ame #rom 3obengula, who said o# white menD <:ou "eo"le must want something #rom me*=7"*5C9 3obengula was the hero o# the Hirst Chimurenga and has been lauded sin e inde"enden e with street names and statues, he was also the leader who was tri )ed into signing the ountry away to !hodes* +he one>"arty state sought to on#er legitima y on itsel# by aligning itsel# with histori al #igures o# resistan e su h as

Hannah Cumming 200853

these* Z%&'>(H en ouraged the "rodu tion o# literature that elebrated the heroism o# resistan e, and reated a version o# history that was in line with its belie#s and in whi h it4s leaders "lay a entral role* /are hera was riti al o# this, <5hat I mean isD is this all there is to our history@ +here is a stin)ing de eit at the heart o# it*=7"*5C9 +he hara ter o# (hili" shows the most sus"i ion towards the la ) o# authenti ity in history and ulture, <+here4s white shit in our leaders and white shit in our dreams and white shit in our history and white shit on our hands in anything we build or "ray #or*=7"*C59 +o try to es a"e #rom this (hili" writes "oetry, whi h the narrators des ribes in an almost mo )ing tone, <Floomy nights stit hed by needles o# e,istentialism* $la ) des"air lit u" by sui idal vision* +he #alse dawn, har oal bla ), trembling in the a#ter>throes o# "assion* %nd songs o# a golden age o# bla ) heroesD o# myths and legends and s"rites*=7"*C89 /are hera highlights the tenden y to rea t to ultural im"erialism by romanti ising ones own ulture, he wants to sear h #or the authenti ity and humour behind the rhetori * It was in this onte,t o# the olonisation o# the mind and resulting alienation on one hand, and the emerging unitary, sel#>serving nationalist a""ro"riation o# history on the other that /are hera ondu ted a sear h #or authenti #orms o# e,"ression and a new sour e o# meaning* In "art, he a hieved this through his "ortrayal o# marginalised e,"erien es and a "lurality o# view"oints* He tells the story o# the harsh reality o# the "rostitutes who ta)e their lients to the bush, <we ould see on the gravel road s"lot hes and stains o# semen that were dri""ing down her as she wal)ed* :ears later I was to write a story using her as a symbol o# !hodesia*=7"*A89 He is ons ious o# his "osition as a writer turning su##ering into symbolism, but nonetheless "ortrays a gruesome image o# something that is normally taboo* He "resents a gruesome and detailed atalogue o# the many instan es and motivations #or violen e su h as ra ial, "oliti al, e onomi and domesti , <+he older generation too was learning* It still believed that i# one did not beat u" one4s wi#e it meant that one did not love her at all*=7"*A89 He brings out the brutality and su##ering

Hannah Cumming 200853

aused by male domination and the marginalisation o# women* Indeed, the oloniser> olonised binary that has dominated the ountry #or so long is an all male idea, that leaves out women entirely* &estar is re"eatedly re#erred to as 4one o# the most #amous whores in the ountry4* +he narrator4s summary o# her origins reveals how she ame to be this wayB <+he married man who made her "regnant beat her u" when she went to him #or hel"* She was twelve then* She sle"t in waiting room and lavatories at the bus station and at the railway station* I don4t )now what she ate to )ee" hersel# going* 3ater when I as)ed her i# she had thought o# sui ide she almost bit my head o##*= 7"*AA9 (overty is "art o# the system o# "atriar hal violen e that is an im"ortant "ower dynami in Zimbabwe* 5e are invited to "i ture her su##ering and see it as uni6ue and real, although she does not want to be "ortrayed as a vi tim* Having survived e,treme "overty &estar believes money is "ower and she tal)s at length about the vulgar se, a ts she has "er#ormed in order to gain material wealth, a mar)ed ontrast to her origins, <%n elegant +; nestled in the orner, by a marble statue o# ;enus*=7"*AC9 It is interesting that /are hera hooses to give voi e to a su ess#ul "rostitute who has managed to drag hersel# out o# the tra" o# "overty* She is hard>hearted and on#ident in hersel#, she isn4t a#raid to s"ea) her mind or to assert hersel# to men* It is interesting to see her rea tion when her son, who is a ra"ist, is beaten* She initially remains alm, a e"ting the #a t o# violen e and the male need to see) revenge, but at the end she gives out a little justi e o# her own, <I had no sooner ta)en her hand than I somersaulted into the air and landed heavily at her #eet* I was too sur"rised #or words*=7"*C19 5e see a woman get a rare han e to join in the seemingly endless y le o# violen e, resulting #rom misogyny, hatred, revenge, that "lagues so iety* +he narrator "er eives an innate wisdom in women, <+hey seemed to )now that the u"raised bla ) #ist o# "ower would #ill u" more lunati asylums than it would swell the numbers o# our "oliti al martyrs*=7"*A59 +his is a dire t riti6ue o# the ma ho #a t that the voi es o# women are o#ten e, luded #rom nationalist dis ourse, and a su in t vision o# the "oliti al #uture o# the ountry* 'ltimately, des"ite his attem"ts to #ind meaning through the re"resentation o# marginalised 8

Hannah Cumming 200853

e,"erien es, I thin) /are hera was most su ess#ul in his "ortrayal o# the on#usion or la ) o# meaning that results #rom the modern ondition that e,ists a ross the world and was brought to Zimbabwe via the vehi le o# olonialism, <% loud o# #lies #rom the nearby "ubli toilet was humming Handel4s 4Hallelujah Chorus4* It was an almost "er#e t "hotogra"h o# the human ondition*=7"*219 +his image is re"eated throughout the boo), it brings together the lowest level o# e,isten e, #lies, with the re#ined image o# lassi al musi , a symbol o# 4high ulture4 and im"erialism* 5estern ulture has "ervaded all levels o# e,isten e to the e,tent that it de#ines the modern but it is also ombined with images o# re"ulsion and disease* It has been suggested that what distinguished olonialism #rom other #orms o# hierar hy was its insisten e that its subje ts a e"t its method o# viewing the world, ideas li)e 4logi 4, 4rationality4 and a linear view o# time and s"a e* 7$oehmer, 20059 +he very stru ture o# the boo) itsel# is an a t o# resistan e to this idea* % #ast "a ed stream>o#> ons iousness that em"loys #lashba )s, jum"s in time and "la e o#ten onne ted by #ragments o# "oetry, sounds and images* +here is a mar)ed ontrast to the so ialist> realist genre that "ervaded at the time* !ather than sim"ly relating events, /are hera in#used them with many di##erent levels o# symbolism, meaning and humanity* He sought a #usion o# literary styles and made deliberate riti ism o# riti ally de#ined literary ty"ologies* He "resents li#e as a #ra tured narrative , too diverse to be neatly ontained in a singular #ramewor) o# understandingD <+here were thousands o# windows out there and there were heads sti )ing out o# them* Heads bla ) li)e me*=7"*529 %t the end o# the boo) an old man a""ears who s"ea)s in a beauti#ul, ry"ti style o# #ragmented stories and #lashba )sB <I will live at the heart o# a grain o# sand= %nd he also saidD <I will light a mat hB when it #lares I will jum" straight into the dar) heart o# its #lame>seed*= $ut as he listened to himsel#, to the thirst and to the hunger, he suddenly said in words o# goldB <I will live at the the head o# the stream where all o# man4s 6uestions begin*=7"*289

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%gain these symbols are re#eren es to the elements, as well as to the sear h #or a home and meaning* 0ven through his #ra tured style the old man seems to summarise "rominent themes and messages that have been di##used and #ragmented throughout the story* +he narrator is mesmerised by him and s"ends long hours sitting listening to his rambling s"ee h, he is also a re#le tion o# the narrator4s own mental s"a e* I thin) the old man is a deliberately ambiguous symbol im"li itly suggestive o# several meanings, it is not even ertain #rom the te,t i# he is real or another o# the narrator4s vision* He ould also be a genuine bla ) hero, s"ea)ing to the narrator in his #amiliarly #ra tured stream>o#> ons iousness, or he ould be the old man who was )illed by the +wentieth Century train oming ba ) to o##er #ragmented sni""ets o# myth and wisdom* /ost im"ortantly, the old man embodies resistan e to the olonial ordering o# the world as his wisdom is neither logi al nor linear, <?ust bits and "ie es I "i )ed u" and "o )eted*=7"*1009 I thin) The House of Hunger was written largely as a ons ious a t o# de#ian e by /are hera, a re#usal to be sti#led into a single literary or "hiloso"hi al "igeon>hole, and a dogged 6uest to "i ) meaning #rom a haoti and o""ressive world* /are hera uses an arsenal o# dense, #ast "a ed imagery to haoti ally de> onstru t and riti ise modern so iety and "resent the trauma o# a divided "ost> olonial identity* He at on e de"lores the misery o# violen e and "overty, and "ainsta)ingly "ortrays how these are mani#ested and e,a erbated in Zimbabwe* However, he is )een to situate this ondition as "art o# a universal e,"ression o# human e,"erien e rather than something that is uni6ue to Zimbabwe or bla ) "eo"le* He is des"erate to es a"e the on#ines o# ra e, lass, gender and nation and in a truly anar hi #ashion, he see)s an authenti way o# understanding himsel# and the world around him* +his boo) was written be#ore the horrors o# the emerging one "arty state, su h as Fu)urahundi, were #ully realised, but /are hera seemed to #oresee a ontinuation o# a regime o# violen e* Con#irming his blea) outloo) the Z%&'>(H regime also went on to "ursue an aggressive and unitary ultural,

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whi h sought to 4divide and rule4 and de#ine "eo"les "er e"tions o# themselves in the same way as the olonial state* It was this hija )ing o# meaning and la ) o# authenti ity in thought that /are hera ultimately sought to #ight against* He ho"ed that his e,"loration o# the meaning o# the new Zimbabwean identity and his voi ing o# a variety o# marginalised e,"erien es, against a ba )dro" o# alienation and de ay, would be his ontribution to the resistan e and the re>imagining o# his ommunity des"ite his ondition o# e,ile*

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Bibliography $oehmer, 0lle)e* Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors* G,#ordB G,#ord '(, 2005* (rint* Habila, Helon* IGn -ambud.o /are heraB +he 3i#e and +imes o# an %#ri an 5riter*I VQR Virginia Quarterly Revie * 200A* 5eb* 13 /ar* 2011* Jhtt"BKKwww*v6ronline*orgKarti lesK200AKwinterKhabila>on>dambud.o>mare heraKL* Fagiano, %nne* </are hera4s wordhorde and the s ra"iron o# war= in /u"onde, !obert, and !an)a (rimora * Versions of !i"#a# e: $e %pproaches to Literature and Culture* HarareB 5eaver, 2005* (rint* /are hera, -ambud.o, 1283* <%n Interview with himsel#= in The House of Hunger* HarlowB Heinemann, 2002* (rint* /are hera, -ambud.o* The House of Hunger* HarlowB Heinemann, 2002* (rint* /u"onde, !obert, and !an)a (rimora * Versions of !i"#a# e: $e %pproaches to Literature and Culture* HarareB 5eaver, 2005* (rint* ;eit5ild, Hlora* I5ords as $ulletsB +he 5ritings o# -ambud.o /are hera*I !a"#e&ia 18*2 7128C9B 113>22* 5eb*

5ord CountB 81A1 7with 6uotes9

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