denial

29 Mar

It finally hit me when, of all things, I reached the last piece of the three-pack Trident cinnamon gum I brought from home and my state of denial was shattered… I’ve been in Turkey for over a month. How did the time pass so quickly? Six weeks ago, my plane touched down in a cold, foggy Istanbul, and the following days were a continuous experience of déjà vu, a strange feeling of familiarity in an unfamiliar place, despite the fact that I had once called Istanbul home. Not much had changed, yet everything had changed.

I was caught off guard by the small things, things I had become so accustomed to during my past trip that I stopped noticing them. The rediscovery of these things caused countless memories to come flooding back, like the giant close-up of Jessica Simpson’s face plastered on the building across from my favorite restaurant. Or one of the many campus dogs that had politely walked me home at night, the funny-looking one with a body and head the size of a Labrador, but stumpy little sausage legs. And the old man selling fruit in the little grocery store near campus, who always smiles and answers “şöyle böyle” (“so-so”) when I ask him how he’s doing. Jessica Simpson, the sausage dog, and the fruit guy were not the highlights of my last trip, but seeing them again brought me back to a past life, different than the one I went back to in Texas and different from the one I am living now.

Fishermen on the bridge between Karaköy and Eminönü

Fishermen on the bridge between Karaköy and Eminönü

My first week in Istanbul was completely perfect. I was reunited with many of my Turkish friends from last semester, eating all the delicious Turkish foods I had missed last year, dove back into another semester of interesting classes at Bogazici, and had new fun experiences with new fun friends. Then the reality/panic that I had only a few months left to complete my thesis sunk in, and I retreated into hermit mode in my apartment. I have since found somewhat of a balance between having a social life and “thesis-ing”, but in general it’s just been very hard to concentrate on writing. I am doing my best to finish before the weather gets nice next month and staying indoors with my computer becomes even more tortuous than it already is.

In addition to my thesis, I am working on an independent study with one of my professors at Baylor, in which I analyze the language use of the vendors in the Grand Bazaar. They all speak multiple language and can guess the native language of potential customers passing by with surprising accuracy. I will probably write a whole post about this soon because it is fascinating and very entertaining (the vendors can get extremely creative with their comments to passing shoppers). “Excuse me, miss, you dropped something…” I turned around in case he was actually telling the truth. The vendor smiled, winked, and said, “It’s my heart, can you give it back?” Sneaky, sneaky.

One other really significant thing has happened while I’ve been here—other than the fact that I went to a DJ set by Elijah Wood (more commonly known as Frodo) a few weeks ago, and that is my upcoming trip to Sweden. A joke from a professor in class about recording languages in the jungle sparked a conversation with a classmate, which in turn sparked my interest and registration for the 2014 Summer School in Language Documentation and Linguistic Diversity in Stockholm for two weeks this June. I had never planned on going to expensive Scandinavia before being a real adult with real money, but this summer school focuses on exactly what I want to do in my life and was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

Now for the elephant in the room (or the elephant in the country, I suppose). You may have heard about all the crazy things going on in Turkey right now. This whole political unrest thing has been new to me, since the Gezi Park protests of 2013 began seven or eight months after I returned to the US. But a few weeks ago, Berkin Elvan, an innocent teenage boy who was not involved in protests but had been a victim of police brutality and spent most of the year in a coma, died in the hospital, provoking major  demonstrations against the government. Coming from a country where political activism means sharing a link on Facebook or getting in a heated virtual debate in the comments of someone’s post, I initially felt very on edge seeing large crowds of people marching and yelling in the streets. I’ve come around however, and agree that action must be taken since the government has overstepped its boundaries and begun blocking social media sites (as of now, both Twitter and YouTube are blocked in Turkey).

I urge everyone back home to follow Turkey in the news. The biggest realization I have had within the past few weeks is that we cannot solve all our problems on the Internet, and that if our basic human rights are ever infringed upon, complaining about the problem via social media is not going to change anything. Especially if the government has blocked said social media. I am not a political activist. I hate confrontation to the point that if someone is blocking an aisle in the grocery store, I will go to the next aisle and walk all the way around rather than asking them to move. However, the events of this month have forced me to examine myself and brought me closer to the obvious but easier-said-than-done conclusion that if something is wrong, I should DO something about it.

Flags for one of the campaigning parties (CHP) in front of the Galata Tower

Flags for one of the campaigning parties (CHP) in front of the Galata Tower

Local elections will take place tomorrow and will be the climax of the action of the past few weeks since they will determine which political party holds power. Someone isn’t going to be happy with the results, and we’ll see what exactly that means within the next few days… Keep Turkey in your thoughts, please, because things are once again about to get interesting over here.

skool

14 Feb

I don’t know how to feel.

I’ve known this was coming for a while now… Ever since I left Bogazici last January I’ve been planning my trip back. And I am so excited for the upcoming semester and all the adventures I know I will have. What I didn’t plan, however, was to cry like a baby when it was time to leave Waco, Baylor, and my friends with no idea if/when I’ll be back.

These past few months at college have been some of the best so far, and I realized that I need to write at least one post in praise of Baylor and my time here, regardless of the fact that I have traveled so far away from it so many times. I’m also feeling sentimental at the moment because I am sitting here on my couch in Shreveport, packed and as ready to go as I’ll ever be.

Here are a few reasons why this year was one of the best:

1) Friends. I basically had to start from scratch on the friend-making front after I came back from Turkey last year, since many of my friends from the year before had graduated, transferred, or just moved on. Starting over in junior year of college is a pretty daunting task, and I’m not sure where I would be without the exchange students. Last fall and this spring, I got the chance to meet and become very close with groups of incoming exchange and international students as they came to study at Baylor. These are some of the coolest people I have ever met, and leaving them a month into the semester was surprisingly difficult (I somehow turned into an emotional wreck there at the end).

exchange group pic

2) My job. Working in the study abroad office at Baylor has been one of the best experiences I could have had during college. My boss(es) and coworkers have been awesome, and I consider myself the luckiest college student ever to have been able to spend over a year there. My emotional wrecked-ness stayed with me as I said goodbye to the office and everyone in it.

3) Opportunities. Last semester, although it was so challenging with 18 hours and a part-time job, allowed me to do a few really cool things. One of these was a phone interview with Dr. Greg Anderson, one of the professors from the video in my last post… He’s kind of a big deal. One of my assignments for my interviewing class was an informational interview with someone in a field I wanted to learn more about, so I took a chance and emailed him, and to my surprise he said yes. We set up a half-hour phone interview that turned into a full hour of travel stories and life advice. That conversation with him got me really interested in grad school, and a few months later I was sitting on a plane to Hawaii to visit their program. Sometimes life is cool like that.

I could say so much more about Baylor and the great things that have come from going there, but I’m leaving for the airport in about five hours and I guess it’s probably time to sleep. So to finish up, here’s a link to my traditional pre-trip song. I chose the version of “Space Oddity” from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty because a) that was a beautiful movie, and b) I kind of feel like Major Tom right now, blasting off from home into the great unknown. Although Istanbul isn’t outer space and I already somewhat know what I’m getting into, life as I know it will never be the same.

aloha, aloha (hello, goodbye)

1 Feb

The past few months have been busy ones, and almost all of my time has been filled with work, school, and writing my honors thesis. My days in India last summer seem faraway and dreamlike. As of late, my feet have been less itchy than usual—I’ve been happy to be in Waco these past few weeks, spending time with the delightful new crew of exchange students, working in the office, and making slow but steady progress on my thesis (forty pages down, about forty more to go). I’ve also been continuing research I started last semester on different graduate programs that offer the very specialized degree I wish to pursue, language documentation. What is language documentation, you ask? Watch this trailer for the documentary The Linguists and find out:

Basically it’s the linguistics version of wanting to be an astronaut when you grow up… I have come to terms with the fact that I am not going to grow out of my desire to explore the world and see all the colors and learn the languages (although the adventures I would have are significantly less life-threatening than the ones in the documentary). I would be trying to save undocumented languages that are facing extinction by recording them (which often involves travel to remote and awesome places), conducting research on the languages, and working towards their conservation through education of the community and construction of dictionaries and databases. This field of study is still relatively small and is only offered by a few graduate programs in the country. The schools I’m looking into now are the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Oregon, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Oh yeah, and the University of Hawaii. Which is where I just spent the last few days. 

The decision to come to Hawaii was kind of a last minute one. I recently realized that I should start getting serious about my search for graduate programs, starting by visiting as many of the schools as I can. Since the University of Hawaii was the least geographically accessible of the schools I’m considering, I figured that I should take advantage of my ability to fly standby on American Airlines while I can (these benefits will end for me in the not-too-distant future, when I turn 23). The Sunday morning flight from Dallas to Honolulu was green (i.e. not close to being full), as was the Tuesday evening return flight. I emailed about twenty people on Thursday night in the university’s linguistics department and on Friday ended up with many emails addressed “Aloha, Audrey” and enough offers of activities to keep me busy for the two days I could stay there. There was no good reason to say no, so I didn’t. On Saturday, I listed myself for the flight, and on Sunday I drove to Dallas and hopped on an airplane. Nine hours later I found myself on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Although I walked by the ocean for a few minutes one morning, my Hawaiian experience (all forty-eight hours of it) wasn’t all sun and sandcastles, which I guess is probably a good thing since the beach could have clouded my judgment about the school. The weather was bad (for Hawaii) during my entire stay, with on-and-off rain showers, cloudy skies, and strong winds– the Hawaiian winter storm. The temperature was in the 70’s the whole time though, so no complaints from me. The university was beautiful and they have a whole five-story building devoted to language and linguistics—-basically, heaven. I also received two free curry shots (tiny plastic cups of curry) on campus, which was enough to sell me on the school. Just kidding. Kind of. And the people there are so nice… “Texas nice,” even. I got the chance to meet with a few of the grad students there, two of whom are from cities less than an hour away from my hometown, once again demonstrating the smallness of the world. They all call the professors by their first names and have traveled to crazy places to conduct summer research (like East Timor, I’m not even sure where exactly that is) and have the kinds of debates I want to be knowledgeable enough to have in a few years. Plus, they are living and studying in such an incredible, culturally diverse place and have access to all the delicious Asian food one’s heart could desire. And, from what I hear, nice beaches.

Cloudy day at the beach

Cloudy day at the beach


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Part of the UH campus

Part of the UH campus

Art on one of the construction sites on campus

Art on one of the construction sites on campus

Mini-adventure within my mini-adventure: the search for Spam. I didn’t learn this until recently, but apparently Hawaii is a huge consumer of Spam. The idea of Spam has never particularly appealed to me, so I had never tried it before, but one of the grad students I talked to told me that the one thing I had to eat in Hawaii was “Spam musubi” from a 7/11 gas station. “A college diet staple,” she called it. So one morning, I set out from my hostel in search of a 7/11. After about half an hour of walking, I finally laid eyes on my destination in all its gas station-y glory. Inside, where you usually find the random hot dogs or burritos, was the Spam. On top of a little brick of rice was a big piece of Spam, and it was all wrapped up in seaweed, like Spam sushi. I bought one and took it to a bench outside, where I hesitantly took the first bite of what I soon realized was Hawaiian Spam deliciousness. The fact that one of my best stories from my trip is about food from a gas station in Honolulu is kind of pathetic, but while it was happening I felt really cool striking out on this culinary quest. It’s the little things, right?

Breakfast of champions (Spam on the right)

Breakfast of champions (Spam on the right)

I’m now back in Waco, two weeks away from my flight to Istanbul. Many alohas are coming up for me (in the Hawaiian language, “aloha” can be used both as a greeting and farewell). Some of them will be hello alohas, and some goodbye ones. I’m not particularly looking forward to the goodbye ones.

my family

24 Dec

I waited until two days before Christmas to start my Christmas shopping. Not one of the best ideas I’ve ever had, but I was waiting for my paycheck, taking finals and handling other miscellaneous end-of-the-semester problems, so there hadn’t been much time to hit the stores. Yesterday I finally climbed in my car and braved the traffic to World Market, where I planned on buying my sister a scarf I had seen last time I was in town (which I had deluded myself into thinking would still be there) and a set of Turkish coffee cups for my parents to go with the still-unused coffee I brought them last Christmas. Neither of those things were there– the store had basically been picked clean, and after wandering around for about fifteen minutes looking for something meaningful amidst the aisles of decorative statues, throw pillows, and coffee mugs, I realized that I wasn’t going to find “the perfect gift” for anyone in my family. So I decided to go with a modern-day take on the handmade gift and write a post about my family.

First is my dad. Despite the fact that he intimidates every guy I have ever brought to the house, my dad is a major goofball (sorry to blow your cover). He sings all the time, talks in funny voices, and is almost always making jokes, most of them groan-worthy. He taught my sister and I how to shoot guns, starting back from when we were really small and we stood on the porch and shot BBs at coke cans on the playground in our yard. Because of him, I am able to quote The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, and even a little bit of The Waltons (not my favorite). I always feel safe when my dad is around, and we have gotten a lot closer since I left for college. I call him pretty often from school, and we even hang out sometimes, like the other night when we got dinner and went to see the new Hobbit movie. He even has plans to come to India next year, and I am so excited to be able to show him around and introduce him to my friends over there.

Next is my mom. We have very different personalities, which sometimes creates misunderstandings, but I do know that she loves me and I hope she knows that I do love her too. She is one of the most self-sacrificing people I know, with one of the hardest work ethics. She is that person who will help do all the dishes after a meal when she is a guest at someone’s house. She puts a lot of work into cooking and cleaning at our house, which often goes unappreciated. Since I started living on my own, I have started to realize what a superwoman she is… I can barely even manage taking care of myself, but she cooks and cleans for four people in addition to her job as a flight attendant. Her job is another thing I am grateful for, because without it I would have been much less likely to travel to many of the places that have changed my life over the past few years. My mom has recently started flying internationally as well, and it is so cool to see the pictures she puts up from places like Paris, London, Tokyo, Lima, Madrid, and more.

Although there were many times throughout high school, and even sometimes now, that I don’t know how I ended up in this family, and sometimes I was jealous of my other friends who were more spoiled than my sister and me or had more freedom as teenagers, I am glad that this is the family I wound up in. Otherwise I could very well have been a self-entitled little brat with purple hair (I had a phase where I somehow thought that would look really cool). My parents, although they give me a lot of support (both emotionally and financially), have taught my sister and me the value of hard work and neither of us expect to just be able to do anything we want without putting in the effort. We have also gotten support to follow our dreams, and my life could have been very different if they had pushed me in a certain direction instead of letting me go through the trial-and-error process of figuring out what I want to do with my life. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but it’s been an amazing ride and I am really excited about the future. I know I owe all of this to my parents and I am so grateful to them for the opportunities they have allowed me to take advantage of.

Last comes my sister. I actually have a present for her, but it is kind of a big deal, not to mention highly classified, and will not be revealed until we do our present exchange after the candlelight service at church tonight. Anna and I fight more than any other siblings I know. Like epic battles over the remote and the most comfortable chair in the living room. She could tell you the story about how I gave her a black eye when we were kids and put socks on our hands so we could box. I would counter with the time she threw a tape measure at my head (for literally no reason). Most of our fights start out with us snuggling or doing something sisterly, but we quickly bounce to the other end of the spectrum and become mortal enemies. Bottom line though, we love each other, and anyone who messes with my sister better watch themselves… Because she might throw a tape measure at their heads.

Merry Christmas to my crazy family… Even though I may run away to the other side of the world sometimes, I love y’all and I’m glad I get to be here with you this Christmas.

city in the clouds

9 Sep

Now that I’m back in the swing of school in Texas, I feel very far away from my two summer homes, Delhi and Mussoorie. I feel like writing this will bring me back there for a few minutes at least.

My first glimpse of the small town came after an overnight bus ride from Delhi. In nearby Dehradun, a big city at the bottom of the hills, I caught a shared taxi with other travelers up into the town. For almost an hour we drove on a winding, narrow (but still two-way) road up into the mountains. Everything I could see from the window was green and wet and beautiful.

Eventually we reached something that looked more like India—a busy little bazaar, with hotels and restaurants lining the streets. The taxi driver pulled over and we all climbed out onto what I later came to know was called Mall Road. After taking a few steps away from the taxi and realizing that I had no idea whatsoever where I was going, I went back to the driver and asked him for directions to Sister’s Bazaar, the only “address” that my guesthouse had provided. Eventually, he drove me another two or three kilometers up the hill, charged me a rate that was proportionally ridiculous compared to the drive from Dehradun, and took my picture with his cell phone. Probably just a little reminder of the person he ripped off the most in his taxi-driving career.

After a long nap and a day of rain spent trapped inside, I ventured into the great outdoors. Mussoorie is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is remote and green and on clear days you can see the snow-capped Himalayas to the north and Dehradun to the south. Most days, however, are not clear, and when you step outside you find yourself literally inside of a cloud. This makes for some amazing and unearthly views too, seeing the town below emerging out of a cloud almost as if the whole town were floating in the sky.

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The Himalayas

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Mussoorie, “queen of the hills”

The whole purpose of my venture into the clouds of northern India was language study. Although there are language schools I could have attended in Delhi, I wanted to experience more of the subcontinent and the Landour Language School (where I studied), was recommended by the Fulbright program, the University of Texas, and countless posters in an India forum I found online. So I made my reservation and began taking twenty hours per week of Hindi lessons. Within the first week I had learned the entire alphabet and was able to write small sentences. By the time I left four weeks later, I was able to converse with my teachers about such topics as the behavior of rabid dogs and the plotlines of newly released Bollywood movies.

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Many hours of my summer were spent here

Finally, the people in Mussoorie were really what made my experience. There was Joshi-ji, one of my teachers, who would say “I mean” at least one time in every sentence—“the monkeys, I mean, they came into my house too, I mean.” And there were the other students, such as an Oxford graduate student studying Indian economic history, an Australian law student rediscovering her Indian roots, five exchange students from Brown University whom I met up with in Delhi to visit the International Museum of Toilets (that’s another story), my Swedish roommate who was so good at Hindi that he was reading the Harry Potter series, and the large number of American missionaries with even larger numbers of children. And then there were the locals… The little kid who sold me fruit in the mornings and on the last day gave me free plums and a hug, the Sikh guy who lived next door and taught me how to dance bhangra as well as procured our somewhat sketchy 4th of July fireworks, our cook Seema and her family, the guy from Washington state who lives in Mussoorie with his dog and is working on opening a brewery there, and a very special someone with a wonderful smile.   

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Me and Antonia, my lovely British friend/roommate

 

I will go to Mussoorie again. I know I say that about everywhere I go, but I’m always serious. I’ve never been to such a beautiful and peaceful place (minus the wildlife). I might study there again too, but mostly I just want to make the drive from Dehradun and to see that little town rising out of the clouds again.

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River of clouds

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Goodnight Mussoorie

monkeys in the kitchen

13 Aug

This is the story you’ve all been waiting for. I apologize for the fact that monkeys were in my kitchen almost two months ago and most of you are only now hearing the story. However, in those almost two months, I told this story many, many times, both in English and in Hindi, so I hope that I have perfected its telling.

First, let me set the scene: it is 6 AM on a Saturday morning in Mussoorie, a small town in northern India nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. I, a student at the Landour Language School, am deep into the REM cycle, as is any good student on a Saturday morning. And this is where it all starts…

I am awakened from my glorious weekend sleep by a loud knock on the door. I groan loudly to let my uninvited guest know that I am alive but very unhappy at this early morning intrusion. From the other side of the door, I hear a familiar voice saying, “Audrey?”

Raju. Of course. I groan again. The South Indian rubber plantation manager who was also studying Hindi at my language school. His awkwardness was notorious, and it was not at all out of character for him to come to my guesthouse and wake me up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning to re-confirm a pre-confirmed plan to visit a temple on a hill in a neighboring village with a few mutual friends later on in the day. Without leaving my bed, I tell him that yes I am still coming, no I haven’t changed my decision since yesterday when you saw me in the bazaar, yes I am still sleeping, yes I would like to sleep some more so I will talk to you later. Finally he leaves, and I close my eyes and snuggle back into bed, where I am only able to fall into a half-sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, my half-sleep becomes a not-at-all-sleep when I hear a crashing noise coming from the kitchen. I assume that it is Seema, the tiny, happy Indian woman who cooks breakfast. But after a few seconds pass, I realize that this is not the case, unless Seema has taken to making screeching sounds and using pans as percussive instruments. My hazy, still-sleepy mind is forced to come to terms with the hard truth: that there are monkeys in my kitchen. Raju had not locked the door when he left and the furry little troublemakers seized the opportunity to wreak havoc in the kitchen of the guesthouse.

For a minute I consider going back to sleep, pretending I heard nothing, and avoiding the problem entirely. But I climb out of bed and creep to my door, pressing an ear against it. Yep, definitely monkeys. Up until this point, I have gone out of my way to not have monkey stories or any interaction with them at all, because they scare me with their sharp teeth and people-ish faces and the fact that they have hands. Now it seems that I have no choice but to wage an epic battle against them, except for one small problem– the door to my room is located between the front door of the guesthouse (i.e. the only exit) and the monkey-infested kitchen. If I come out of my room, I will be leaving an unknown number of monkeys cornered with no way out except through me. Also, I will be weaponless, as I have no objects in my room with which I would be able to fend off monkeys.

Again considering climbing back into bed and deferring this responsibility to someone else, I turn and walk across my room to the wall opposite from the door. On the other side of this wall lived Henrik, a Swedish language school veteran who had lived/studied in Mussoorie since February. He had had his fair share of monkey encounters, most recently being a cheeky monkey stealing an entire jar of Nutella right from his windowsill. Forgetting basic grammar rules of subject-verb agreement in the excitement of the situation, I bang on his wall and shout, “Henrik, there’s monkeys in the kitchen!” Through the wall, I hear a sleepy and confused, “What?”

Eventually, Henrik the fierce Viking warrior gets out of bed and saves the day using a cricket bat and projectile tennis shoes. From my room I can hear the screeches of frightened monkeys running down the stairs and eventually fading into the outside world where they belong. I open my door (camera in hand, of course) to survey the crime scene that is my kitchen.

The monkeys had dusted their own prints using most of a bag of white flour.

The monkeys had dusted their own prints using most of a bag of white flour.

The rest of that bag of flour is carried to the roof across from my window, where the monkeys continue to chow down.

The rest of that bag of flour is carried to the roof across from my window, where the monkeys continue to chow down.

The monkeys faces are all covered in flour, causing them to appear to be abusers of some illegal substance.

The monkeys faces are all covered in flour, causing them to appear to be abusers of some illegal substance.

However, the day has not been completely saved. This is the final scene of the scary movie when you think everything is going to be okay until something pops out at you right at the last minute. The door leading outside had a hand-sized hole so that a human could lock and unlock the door from both the inside and outside. Now that the monkeys were aware that we were in possession of delicious white flour, they wanted nothing more than a way in. And when you’re a small hungry monkey, a hand-sized hole is a small obstacle in the quest for food. So be warned, bags of white flour in the kitchens of Mussoorie. You think you are safe in the kitchen? Think again. Somebody’s watching you.

The End...

The End…

Thanks for reading! Keep checking back, more India stories are on the way!

good people

13 Jul

“Duniya me, kharab logue hain.” My limited Hindi caused this statement to come out much more profoundly than I had intended, translating as “in the world, there are bad people.” The non-English-speaking travel agent in Dehradun, who had initiated our conversation prior to my departure in the mostly-male overnight bus to Delhi, nodded to acknowledge my point. But then he smiled, looked me right in the eyes, and very earnestly said something that I will remember forever– “Lekin bahut bhi acche logue hain!” Then he started singing an Enrique Iglesias song.

I still smile when I think about what he said… “But there are also many good people!” Yes, Javed the travel agent, you are right.

I have had very limited internet access for the past few weeks, and I don’t see that changing much before my return to the states in August. I am writing down all my stories and will post them when I come home. Until then, don’t give up on me. I’m having a wonderful time out here making memories with some of the good people of the world.

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