Day 9 – The Return Journey

up to this moment my interaction with Panafest has mostly been through visits to Adisadel village at nite (for performances of local musicians ) and conversationa with the Panafest staff as to what exactly is going to happen and what will NOT happen…i finally got my Panafest t-shirt and a schedule of events …however these events may be subject to shift in time or space, if in fact, they aren’t cancelled.

i release this frustration and make plans for the ‘Return Journey’ – a ceremonial boat ride from Cape Coast Castle to El Mina Castle…it is scheduled to begin at 9am – which i told really means 10 am…i decide to head to Cape Coast at 9am anyway as i want to take another moment to walk through the dungeon grounds…

the morning as i prepare to head off to the Castle, i find out that there is no running water at the hotel and resign to using the bottle watered i had bought to drink, to wash myself with…this action transforms to a ‘baptism’ of a sort as i ponder on this boat ride- having never been out in the ocean on a boat ever! my fears do not keep me from taking the steps to the taxi awaiting me …

by 9:15 i am at the Castle…no one, not even the castle workers are there…about 30 minutes later, castle staff arrive…another 15 minutes later a couple from Barbados come sit next to me…i find out they too are waiting for this Boat Ride….another 40 minutes and someone from Panafest arrives .. we are told that the water is rough and we may not be able to go on this water excursion….another 30 minutes pass and they check in with the Chief fisherman of this area and finally are cleared to head out….the ceremony begins (impromptu) in another 45 minutes…we gather in a circle (by now about another 25 participants have shown up) and are lead through the castle grounds by an elder who has been involved in guiding people for over twenty years…


Hearing this guide’s words awakens me to a deeper connection to these surroundings – a feeling that brings me to thinking about my ancestors being here…this guide provides a fuller picture of what transpired in the specfic areas ….i become aware of the ground beneath me at the male dungeons – that i am standing on hundreds of years old feces, piss, blood, sweat, skin and bones from my ancestors….thousands of African’s bodies piled ontop of each other as they screamed, sought comfort in each other, tried to communicate and fought to survive…

inside the holding area – directly adjacent to the door of no return – another elder (a women from USA) talks about how this space was where the first time the men and women would be together prior to being ‘escorted’ through the door to the ship…she further went into an in-depth diatribe about the women’s breast being a gateway to not only fertility but power…not at all about being sexualized but honored and respected…that in their own dungeons, the women would be violated by the European men and forced to have sex..giving birth to multiracial generations of New Africans…. though they may have been violated by these men, the breasts of our [African ancestral] woman are INDEED sacred…

my whole being is so open and alive now…sensitive to the air and smells of the ocean so close by…aware of the opening of the door of no return …now i look through the door and see the fishermen and women and children doing their daily activites – preparing nets, cleaning fish, voyaging out on the small boats to capture more fish….i recall a brief history lesson i received earlier in my journey from my ‘son’…he tells me of how this was a fishing kingdom – the Fanti – prior to the arrival of the Europeans…as they go through their daily routine, i wonder of how greatly their rituals have been impacted/interrupted by the arrival of colonialization, slavery and NOW me and other people of the Diaspora wishing to have a water experience on their ocean coast…

i recall how i do not know how to swim as i reach for a life preserver and then strapped into it by one of the Panafest volunteers – no actually it is the Chief Fisherman who is assisting me…i am hearing the sounds of the fisherpeople and the ocean….i go back to an earlier memory of seeing children taken through the Castle foreground and on their own guided tour..i think about the many children in the states who need to be here….i am brought back to the present with the sight of the boat that will supposedly take us over to El Mina…it more resembles a large canoe! there are young men swimming around it who guide it close to the coast and dock it near us….i then see some other young men[fishermen] lifting the participants on their shoulders and carrying them over to the boat; men in the boat lift them onto the wooden boards that also serve as sitting spots for the water ride…it seems as if this carrying and lifting is part of some great initiation that i need to do in order to go on this journey and i take a deep breath as i am lifted onto the shoulders of a young man who is probably half my age….the feeling of bouyancy overtakes me as i then lifted by two other gentlemen onto the boat…this happens to about another 15 people before we are ready to embark….

i tried to write as i wait but the shifts of the boat do not allow for it and one of the young men overseeing the boat laughs at me….

the water passage begins…not until i am on board is it confirmed that it will take 1 – 1 1/2 hours to get to the other castle…this is BY FAR the deepest experience of my travels so far!
at first i am able to snap a photo of the fading image of Cape Coast Castle; but minutes later it is like i am seized by ancestors coming up from the ocean waves and on board…i feel the density of that salt-tinged ancestrals bodies on top of me….i cannot open my eyes and i am getting heavier and heavier as i sense more and more ancestral bodies piling on top of me til the weight is almost unbearable and i can barely breathe….

i stay like this for the rest of the water voyage – unable to move and having only quick bursts of eyeing El mina…the only comfort is the sounds of the waves and the sensation that this will end….i wonder how my ancestors must have endured this journey NOT knowing will or if it will end…going on for months in cramped spaces, chained, ensconsed in darkness…

for what seemed like a day later, i hear the sounds of men’s voices and the yelps of people above…i am able to open my eyes and see people of El mina on an overpass ‘welcoming’ the boat in…i am so relieved but STILL unable to move….we first try to dock at a spot where we would have to be carried AGAIN across water to land….a woman in front of me is carried from the boat to the land and falls into the water as she is almost about to take her first step on land…in some ways it seems appropriate that she should touch water before land, but this causes commotion among the welcomers and the rest of us aboard are taken to a new port to dismount….i am the first to be lifted and land on this new site…a band of revelers and welcomers try to hug and cheer and salute me but i am not able to speak and distance myself from them….

the welcoming band and revelers proceed to hug and greet the others, but for me this is anticlimatic…particular the post-welcoming ceremony and joyous march through the castle grounds…i am spent and heavy and full of thoughts…it takes me another 1 hour before i am able to say anything…i head back to the hotel to relax before going AGAIN to adisadel for performances..

even the wuza wuza dance group from accra – with it’s exciting contemporary interpretive dance – is not able to phase me as i long for a bed to rest and cogitate …

later that day into the night the hotel and surrounding are experiences blackout number 12 & 13, but i am still too deep in thought about my water passage to be distracted by the lack of light…

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Day 8 – time for Church


Having seen so many impressive and inventive church structures while walking throughout Cape Coast, i am glad to be able to have a moment to experience being part of a congregation…J (waitstaff at Cape Coast) invites me to his church (Christian Life Cathedral) for Thursday healing service…G and J happen to know each other and so G accompanies me to pick up J from his place and head over to the Church…

it is raining and seems to be very fitting to be part of a healing service…
the church is packed! the service begins at 9:30am and ends when the last person in need of healing is attended to…i am told that the pastor used to end at 12:30pm, but due to the increasing need for healing has extended the service to accomodate…
unlike the Catholic, Anglican and Mormon churches with their impressive stature, Christian Life Cathedral is not Cathedral-like at all….the growing number of attendees has called for extensions to be created on either side of the structure and tarps to cover/protect the guests from rain or sun or other weather elements…

though this ‘church’ is not as grand as the others, it is spiritually one of the most impressive spaces i have experienced….everyone is tuned into the pastors words as he flows from English to one of the many local languages…sometimes translated by another member of his pastoral team, sometimes only translated through a ‘feeling’ or sensation….the music is a mixture of gospel like rhythms and gregorian chanting…i am spellbound…and swayed by the depth of emotion and community inside this moment…the pastor calls on those in need of healing and first, in groups, they come to a semicircle around the pastor’s stand…the ‘pastoral team’ positions themselves behind the members as the pastors calls out the pain or anguish of the inflicted souls…some fall out while others simply bow their heads and take in the Pastor’s chanting….those that get the ‘spirit’ and attended to by one of team, while others who have sought healing but have stayed grounded, return to their seat and pray…..at one point each one of us goes up to be anointed by the pastor and i wonder if i would be sent into a ‘spiritual’ possession as one of the many members whom has sought healing is going through….i too sense my own need to heal but restrain from falling under and hold onto G’s hand for support and grounding…

we leave before the service is over – as J has to go to work ( at the hotel they work 7 days a week – no time off allotted- but alternate between working the day shift (7am – 4) or nite (2 – 10)…as i head out i am called on by one of the pastoral team to state my purpose of the visit…i tell them i was invited by a member and was inspired by what i witness and experienced…they said the pastor would wish for me to come back and meet with him ….i agree that i would try…

the spirit of Cathedral Life Cathedral still resounds within me as i continue throughout the day… i begin to appreciate and acknowledge the goodness i see in my new friends… J and V from the hotel wait staff [as well as A and J who work the front desk] G particularly has been so good to me…he has shown me around, guided me to Assin Manso; when i want to buy a particular top as this “closed” shop, he finds out where the owner lives, takes me there and has the owner open the shop for me…G even clipped my finger and toenails and washed my clothes! “he is going to make a good husband to some woman some day” are his own words… indeed G will!

i also become conscious of my connection to the men in this area and lack of interaction with the women…the few Ghanaian women i have been in much contact with work at the Hotel and it has not been that pleasant….while i was at the service i saw mostly women there and ONLY women who came up for healing….is this intimacy that i was having with the men something i lacked in the states? in America i have very strong powerful women in my life as friends and mother figures and associates, but i questioned the relations i have had with men? these reflections i continue to ponder over as i continued along this journey…i came here to immerse myself in memories of the slave castles and neighboring areas and it has awakened deeper thoughts of connections and relations to people of the African diaspora in my own life…

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Day 7 – exploring the forts and koool-aid

TD (traveler’s diarrhea) has officially arrived…

G takes me to the forts that are located in the center of town…i am sporting my new sandals that i bargained for at the Adisadel market place the night before… it is not the wisest decision to walk up the hill in them and i am cursing myself…

we first venture up Fort Victoria which is the smaller of the Cape Coast forts….the forts were created to oversee the town and protect the castle from intruders – a lookout..unlike the Castles, the forts do not offer tours or guides but most likely have overseers which live in and around the area… we make it up to the top of the hill, but in order to actually go inside the fort we must climb over the wall… a frail looking ladder is our other option but i dismiss either option and simply take in the view of a lovely mango tree nearby… G decides to relieve himself by the tree – a common occurrence for men in Ghana to simply relieve themselves wherever they pretty much please…


we then head over to the larger Fort Williams which is much easier to ascend to….we are also able to head inside the fort and up to the top …there i am able to take in an incredible view of the town and bask in its serenity and beauty….G points out all the distinct areas of the town (which i cannot remember their specific names)…i feel like i could be there for a whole day, but the forthcoming rain imposes a shorter timeframe….

we head back down and go back to the hotel for banku and fish and kool-aid – i accidentally brought a pack with me (i had leftovers from my koool-aid performance piece in my suitcase) and stir up a batch for G….he doesn’t like it too sweet so i dont add much sugar…he savors its tanginess as he surmises that ‘ kool-aid is from Babylon, so it will not make you mighty!”

the afternoon is chill…watching Ghanain tv where the latest news tell of somewhere in Africa a woman’s house is torched and she is harassed for wearing trousers…

at night we are back at Adisadel where G and a Rasta brother get in a heated conversation …G translates what the brother says in Fanti ” he told me he would end my happiness’ is what G says the Rasta brother yells at him…i try to dissuade them from continuing this heated arguement and we move on to another area to clear our heads…. i also hear about the vendors’ frustration with the frequent blackouts and lack of sales….in particular two Rasta brothers who speak in Fanti about how they are tired of seeing me but i am not buying anything from them… i later speak to them about their frustration and ask them why they couldn’t simply talk to me instead of speaking in Fanti ‘behind my back’…they are apologetic and i STILL dont buy anything from them…i continue on with G throughout the village and meet R and B two hip Ghanaian vendors creating fusion design and later have a more in-depth conversation with R…seeing that G is tired i tell him that R can escort me back to the hotel, so he can go home if he wishes…i agree to meet G tomorrow morning so we go to Church…R and i continue our dialogue for another hour and then he escorts me back to the hotel…

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Day 6 – Assin Manso and the Return of my son

My newest friend G agrees to meet at my hotel in the morning and accompany me to Assin Manso via local transit…it will take almost 2 hours to get there…we take a taxi to the center of the town’s market known as Kotokoraba…from there we get in a van that will take us to Assin Manso..the fare is crazy cheap – 2 dollars for the both of us combined…


Assin Manso is the site where the slave remains of Samuel Carver (found in Jamaica) and Crystal (found in New York – wall street area) were brought to rest – these were the slave remains that i had read about a decade ago in the Mn Insight….and on 31st of July, 1998 they were laid here and this set forth the following day (August 1st) as Emancipation day …this is also where slaves from Salaga market up north were taken and had their ‘last bath’…though Salaga was known as the marketplace where slaves from Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali came enroute to Cape Coast and Elmina, Assin Manso (at least from what the Guide says) is the largest slave market place where they were auctioned off…hence the need for the last bath – no one wanted a ‘dirty’ slave and since they would have walked the many miles to get here (from up north at Salaga towards Tamale, it is a 5-6 hour CAR ride…so imagine WALKING, chained together at the feet, hands and neck, for that far)…

We are taken deeper into the site, through trees and forest, to where the sacred Ndonkoso(?) waters flowed…sacred because the ancestral bodies last cleansed themselves…these waters flow to the Oci river…it is a moment for stillness and DEEP reflection…i notice the texture of the trees located next to the bath area, the color of the water, the sounds of the river, the quiet …

i head back to the original site we began the tour and take in the memorial wall of return – where people for all over the diaspora can pay to have their names or their departed’s names commemorated ….also along the inside wall of the entrance gate are the pictures of certain celebrated “Emancipators”:
Freed Slave Gordon of Louisiana (1863)
Martin Luther King
W.E.B. Dubois (his name was mispelt at the site “Du-dois)
Sojourner Truth
Booker T. Washington
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Harriet Tubman
Benjamin Singleton – “walk and never tire”
Cinque
Ouladah Equiano
Frederick Douglas
George Ekem Ferguson – Cape Coast local politician and explorer
Marcus Garvey – father of black consciousness

G makes a very insightful clarification when discussing Europeans taking Africans as slaves…he refers to them as OPPRESSORS and not MASTERS because “no man is the master of another!”

this marks a significant internal consciousness awakened surrounding the legacy of slavery and i am silent for the return trip back to Cape Coast….

G heads off after i make it back to the hotel and promises to meet me at Adisadel later…

in the late afternoon my son returns and we further discuss his goal of continuing his studies…i am not moved by his outline or impressed with his excuses for not having a job…we distance from each other for the next couple of days…

that nite at Adisadel (which became my nitely hangout for the rest of this journey) a BLACKOUT occurred…. this marks the 7th blackout i have experienced since arriving in Accra – ghana has a energy shortage issue i am told…but my spirit is not disturbed by that – i am still full from what i witness and heard while at Assin Manso….

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Day 5 – Plantains and Red Red and Kenkey — oh my!


i decide to journey to El Mina solo as i had a deep discussion with my son last nite about learning to understand the value of money and the woes of hustling ….he professes that he is truly in need of assistance to go to school to continue his studies and that i as his new american dad should help…i counter with asking him to map out very specifically his goals and plans to look for a job to assist his finances…i give him a couple of days to finish this and then i will consider his wish for me to help…he is not happy with my challenge, truly wants to go to El Mina and be my guide….i tell him i will be ‘boko’ and he needs to have his outline ready on our agreed date to meet…he obliges.


i set off to El Mina in the morning with my driver Amank- …taxis are easy to come by and you can negotiate with them to pay by the trip, hour or day…El Mina is about 30 minutes from Cape Coast and it costs me 40,000 cedis or 4 new ghanaian dollars ( about 5 us dollars) each way…he will take me back as well…


El Mina’s St George Castle seems larger than Cape Coast and has a moat surrounding the castle…in the distance i can see Fort Jago – walking distance away, but i decide to focus on the Castle….unlike Cape Coast i immediately decide to enter into the depths of the castle and can feel the ancestral sensations the moment i step inside the female dungeon…it is a feeling so palpable and strong …it’s like one can still smell the stench from the centuries of spilt blood and piss of those African females ( i say females and not womyn because young girls were there as well) that were held here…on the ground i see markings that seem to resemble some adinkra symbols or other symbolic language….along another corridor i go inside a dark cavernous area and am engulfed by bats….i am haunted by each of these spaces i move through…

by the time i have surveyed the castle i am so aware of the residual sensations each area has left on me and take a moment to be still and reflect…i head back to Cape Coast with a heaviness in my heart and longing for further reflection.


By now i have become immersed in the savory world of Ghanaian cuisine and order Redred with Plantains for lunch… Redred is a stew based dish with beans that is usually served with some sort of meat, but i am keen on maintaining a vegetarian based-diet and can no longer look at the beady eyes of the fish (tilapia) that they often serve…i can also choose fufu (ground casava), kenkey (ground and fired maize) or bankra/bankuy( cassava/maize mix) with a soup (what the fufu or kenkey would be dipped or sitting in) a or stew (more like a sauce or paste to accompany rice and meat)…almost everything i eat has palm oil and pepper in it and my stomach is beginning to challenge these local substances… i also learn about ‘gari’, kokoutey but am not able to figure out what they are exactly…

i continue the day preparing to go to Adisadel for Panafest performances of Hip-life and Reggae artists as well as learn more fanti — ‘hey’ in fanti means umm ‘hey’; ‘nde’ (today); ahbahzee (what?)…i am told that the hat i bought in new york was originally worn by soldiers in northern ghana or at least that of a soldier-like quality named nsodafo….on the radio i hear about Panafest and its origin 15 years ago and am reminded of my first memories of hearing about Panafest in America – while i was living in MN….when i picked up an Insight newspaper and read about the remains of slaves found in New York and Jamaica…how they were going to be brought back to Ghana and taken through the ‘Door of No Return’ at Cape Coast…i had a feeling then that i would be going to Ghana and having a chance myself to experience walking throught the infamous portal of so many Africans to America….

in the evening i do make it Adisadel Village (Park) which is a 10 minute walk from my hotel and enjoy the marketplace and music – i learn about hip-life artist Kaye and first hear the electric Coite-de-voire music that taunts me for my entire journey…. it is also at Adisadel that i notice the holding of hands of men, interlocking of ‘pinkies’ and other intimate ways men are physical with each other…with no regards to sexuality but simply friendship…it is truly a beautiful thing to witness brothers being close and not afraid to be connected…it was during this moment of witness that i meet G whom becomes a close friend for the next couple of days…he is volunteering for the Panafest and is more than glad to walk me around the marketplace, dialogue, escort me back to my hotel and hold hands….

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Day 4 – seeking ‘redemption’ inside Cape Coast Castle

last nite i had a in depth conversation with my son and another brother about their life in Cape Coast as well as larger issues…


i ask them if it was the other way around, if Africans enslaved Europeans, would we (they) treat them any better? YES without a doubt is their response…i am intrigued…

this day i decide to return to Cape Coast Castle and go inside the spaces of my ancestors…
‘you came here for redemption’ is what i am told by the first staff member i speak to at the entrance….i wonder how many others can ‘read’ this on my face or inside my heart….


i take many pictures but am unable to say or write about the experience of being inside the male and female slave dungeons, cells, and spaces where they were held prior to going through the infamous ‘door of no return’…

outside the castle i walk around the area and see a slavery foundation site… on a white placard lists the address of the foundation and a quote by Marcus Garvey:
“No one knows when the hour of Africa’s redemption cometh. It is in the wind, it is coming. One day like a storm, it will be here. When that day comes, all of African will stand together.”

as i continue along a path that leads me to a historic part of Cape Coast, i catch an incidental march signalling the beginning of Panafest….tonite the grounds of Adisadel park will open with a marketplace and performances..

i stop by Adisadel en route to the hotel and meet C – the Panafest assistant who oversees the Festival…he and i talk about the disorganization of the festival and what may or may not be happening tonite as far as performances are concerned….

back at the hotel i have lunch and chat with V & J who begin to teach me Fanti – one of the local languages spoken:
wohotadin – ‘hello
boko – (i am) good
madamfo – my friend
may-do – i love you
may- bo seturik – i will slap you
(these are not a true spelling of the words, but as close as i could phonetically understand); besides Fanti i hear about Ewe and Ga (both the name of the other major ethnic groups and their respective languages) which neither V or J speak..

by nite i am too spent to go to Adisadel; having had deep conversations with the staff, my son and learning fanti …so instead i relax and prepare for a day in El Mina – neighboring town that hosts another major Slave Castle – St George

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Day 3 – ‘the hands are not equal’

today i plan to visit the panafest office so that i can register and check in on the panafest activities coming up…my ‘son’ tells me that the office has moved to heritage house in the center of town…

i begin the day with breakfast at the hotel and take in the banter between the staff waiters and the current guests….having met the waiters last nite (“V” and “J”) i chat with them about the way the guests treat them…when one of these guests (whom i believe are not Ghanaian but definitely West African) wants something they ‘hiss’ or snap intently towards the staff…
i find this very disrespectful but find out that this way is often used to get people, taxis’ attention.

i refuse to engage in this’ hissing- snapping’ and rather just say their names…in the midst of this breakfast event ‘we shall overcome’ is sung by these same guests…i wonder if the staff should be singing it…

this interaction between the West African guests (all of whom are male) and the staff (also alll male) intrigues me as i muse over:

–African slavery historically and African entitlement currently; if Europeans enslaved based on economics and fear, then can it be thought that Africans would enslave and have enslaved based on status and power? this way in which i witnessed this interaction stimulated such a hypothesis….i also imagine that there were Africans whom might have been driven by greed as well, but i doubt that fear played into their connection to enslavement of other Africans..who knows?

by midday i am heading to the panafest office at heritage house and am ‘schooled’ by an elder who lives at the site…i accidently come into his ‘living’ area and assuming i knew better (ie thinks i am Ghanaian) he speaks harshly to me about not knocking and respecting someone’s place…i apologize and say that i thought this was an office space and pull out my ‘i am American’ card on him (i would use this a couple more times during my journey)….he looks at me intently and says ‘ no excuses!’ and directs me to the office in the basement…there i meet some of the staff and finally register and get some insight into the locals and line-up for the Panafestival.

i meet up with the visual artist from the previous day and have a deep discussion about his lack of knowledge surrounding his artistry…” do art that speaks from your heart and not just sells coins to feed’ is my response to him when i look at what he tells me is his art….i find out that it is not that easy to dismiss the fact that selling for food is a necessity and speaking from your heart is always connected to artistry…however this art that he was selling for food was not his own! i think about the European/American art dealers and challenge my own assumption that Africans have too much integrity to be selling SOMEBODY ELSE’s art OR they SHOULD be sharing ONLY what comes from their experience…well whom am i to suppose this art that this brother is selling is NOT connected to his own personal experience?

anyway…

by evening i have been introduced to hip-life music which is a rich fusion of high-life music of ghana with hip-hop culture…producing a mix that honors the old school with the new school…though i don’t think my Ghanaian brothers whom i meet would feel that high life is old by any means….here the contemporary and the traditional or past are married in such a way that it is not thought of as old or new.

Oasis Beach Resort
i end the day at a spot called Oasis – actually not too far from the Cape Coast Castle and the spot where i met the ‘conscious’ brothers the other day….my son takes me there and meets up with a friend of his who tries to hit me up to ‘sponsor’ his football team…i suspect this is a hustle but stay kool with him….later we check out a dance and music performance of a local group and i have my first interaction with Ghanaian police!

it seems that the owner of Oasis (Turkish gentleman who acts like he was living in South African apartheid) calls the police on my son’s friend….there apparently had been a mugging at this spot a week ago and so the locals at the spot are suspected….i am standing next to my ‘son’ and his friend and the police reach for me and the others…i pull out the ‘i am AMERICAN’ card again and am immediately released…they reach for my son whom i state is with me ….the owner then goes for the friend and says ‘ he needs to go’ …the police proceed to pull, then push, then shove, show off their rifles and ‘escort’ the friend off the premises…


i am reminded of a saying that i heard earlier that day ….’the hands are not equal’…interestingly enough from the “visual artist” G …one hand may offer you LESS than the other hand…one brother may give you a GOOD DEAL and another may try to WRING YOU DRY…
but i discovered another understanding by the end of the nite…here in Ghana brothers are dealt ‘not-so-equal-hands’ similar to brothers in America… a thought but not a conclusion…

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