Afro Trotter Diaries

AfricanFeminism (AF)

Afro Trotter

Curiousity.
To quell insatiable thirsts
To Explore. Discover. Grow.
Put things in perspective.
Connect.
To respect the wanderlust women screaming within…

Some of the reasons we trot. Sometimes exploring the cities in which we live, other times our neighboring countries and other times going far far away.

Trevor Noah said it best when he said you’ll never regret the money you spend on travel. Of all the money I’ve spent on numerous things in life, the one I never think twice about are the travels. From each of my trots, I’ve emerged richer, taking a part of that place with me, filled with memories and sights that can’t be measured or quantified in monetary terms.

As a woman, travel often takes on different meanings and challenges. I’ve done a number of solo travels and the primary concern from family members and friends is often around security. Why, they wonder, would…

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We’ve moved – to aliben86.com!

Jumah WisdomMusingsImages for PromotingFotosFloetryAboutThank you to all of you who’ve been following posts on this blog.

The blog has now been subsumed into a fully fledged website – that also houses photos, floetry, musings and more as you can get a feel from the above. Please head over to aliben86.com where we’ll be posting from now on.

I hope we can continue to engage and share there.

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30 Ramadan Reminders

As the holy month of Ramadan comes to a close, here are 30 reminders to keep us grounded and in tune with the principles that we tend to practice throughout this month so we may continue to espouse these all year round.

1. Practice self-restraint

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. Quran 2:183

2. Be slow to anger.

‘Raise your words, not your voice. For it is rain, not thunder that grows flowers.’ – Rumi

3. Give thanks.

A grateful heart is key to contentment and happiness. Be not like the kid who has a whole cake minus one slice who is miserable. Be rather like the kid grinning from ear to ear, holding one slice.

4. Be courteous.

‘When a courteous greeting is offered to you, greet in return with a greeting still more courteous, or at least of equal courtesy.

Surely, Allah keeps an account of all your actions.’- Quran 4:86

5. Be kind.

To yourself, your kin, strangers. To living beings. To the earth. Disturb not a soul.

6. Be humble.

We begin to feel important. It may be the financial status. Or a prestigious position. Or some new acquisitions. The titles we add before our given names….the way people react or defer to us….and then it begins to get to our heads.

How we conveniently forget that from dust we became and to dust we return. All of us. Without exception.

7. Watch your words

‘Speak only when your words are more beautiful than silence’

8. Practice sabr.

There’s no time like God’s time.
Indeed, Allah is with the patient….Quran 1:153

9. Do good.

Is there any reward for good, other than good? Quran 55:60

10. Be better than your former self, everyday.

When we focus on improving ourselves, there’s no time to be policing other people. The only thing we have control over and are answerable for are our actions. Let’s work on us. God knows there’s a lot to do!

11. Don’t Rush.

The Swahili proverb goes, ‘haraka haraka haina baraka’ (Fast fast lends no blessings). Likewise, the Hareri proverb goes, ‘Zetbalela belela’ (The one who rushes, spoils).

Don’t rush prayers, decisions, conversations, judgements.

12. Be hungry for knowledge.

Understanding where one’s ignorance lies is the beginning of seeking knowledge/wisdom.

13. Always question.

Always seek answers and never stop learning and growing.

14. Be generous.

With your time, your money, your smiles – for even smiling is charity.

15. Seize today, for tomorrow may never come.

16. Have Faith. Like the birds.

‘If you were to rely on Allah as He should be relied on, He would provide for you as He provides for the birds. They go out early in the morning hungry and return in the evening full.’ – Narrated by at-Tirmidhi

17. Act (in the face of injustice)

“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” – Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) [Muslim]

18. Love.

“Love is the greatest, purest, truest, most beautiful thing any of us will ever experience…We can never fail at anything done with love. Love is our true nature. And when we forget our true nature, we forget our true power…” – Nasim Hassan

19. Respect Time.

‘By time.
Indeed mankind is in loss.
Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.’ Quran 103: 1-3

20. Be clean. (body, mind & soul)

Cleanliness is part of faith and faith leads to paradise. – Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)

21. Be hospitable.

Open your home and your hearts to those in need.

22. Pray.

Earnestly and consistently.
No matter what you’re doing, take time out to connect with the Almighty.

23. Be disciplined.

For to accomplish anything meaningful requires discipline.

24. Don’t bow down.

Unless it’s to the Almighty.

25. Tread gently.

The worshippers of the All-Merciful are they who tread gently upon the earth, and when the ignorant address them, they reply, “Peace!” – Quran 25:63

26. Don’t force anything.

There is no compulsion in religion. And so there should be no compulsion in any other arena of life.

27. Seek forgiveness.

And forgive those who’ve wronged you. Don’t hold on to burdens that will follow you and hold you down all the days of your life. Tread lightly.

28. Don’t despair.

For with every hardship, comes relief. Quran 94:6

29. Fear none but the Almighty.

…Fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price… Quran 5:44

30. Be just.

O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. – Quran 5:8

Remembering Deedat

“There is no end to what a [wo]man can achieve if [s]he does not mind who gets the credit.”

Growing up, Ahmed Deedat was a staple in the house. We used to have beta max cassette after cassette (do you remember those, they were smaller than the VHS tapes) of his talks, his debates and discussions with theologians and pastors across the globe. His fiery oratory skills kept us mesmerized – even at a young age. Although I didn’t realize it then, I know now that it was because of him that I appreciate Islam as a religion of reason. Why I have no patience for those who say there’s no room to question in Islam – those who preach rote memorization and not a critical engagement and understanding of the Quran, Hadith and all that come with it. Why I understand Islam to be a religion that requires of it’s followers to seek knowledge constantly, to dig deeper and value rigorous and respectful intellectual conversations and discussions. Why I came to appreciate the power of words and the power of articulation and eloquence. Why I wasn’t afraid to debate religion with my teachers in a missionary school where I was the only Muslim in my class for 10 consecutive years. He also taught me to appreciate that to be a scholar or a theologian didn’t mean one couldn’t have a sense of humor. He was witty and generous with his smiles and emotions.

Ahmed Deedat passed away in 2005 at the age of 87 after battling a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak, nine years prior in 1996. His life story is incredible – here are a few lessons I glean:

1. A man known for his incredible oratory skills is left in his final years, unable to speak. subhan’Allah. Nothing is forever.

2. The doctors tell him he won’t live after the stroke and yet he lives for nine more years before taking his final breath. There’s no time like God’s time.

3. The unsung (s)heroes. His wife, Hawa Deedat, who stayed by his side and believed in him more than he himself did was essential to him being able to carry out the work he did.

4. Despite a stroke that left him unable to speak, swallow or show expression, he continued to study and engage on these topics until he died. This was how dedicated he was to intellectual pursuits.

5. He is by any standards, undoubtedly an intellectual and a scholar and yet his formal education didn’t go past the age of 16. To be learned doesn’t mean to be schooled.

Sometimes we don’t realize the profound effect someone has in our lives until they’re gone and only with the benefit of hindsight.

May we always question. May we always seek answers and may we never stop learning and growing.

Rest in peace and power Ahmed Deedat.

Those Who Hold Up Half Our Skies

As today, May 25th marks Africa Day, I’ve seen many posts about the heroes of this continent. As is often the case, the names that were mentioned were predominantly, if not all, male. It reminded me of being at the 8th Pan-African Congress in Accra in 2015 and feeling the same way – this sinking feeling that half the stories are not being told.

Below are my thoughts and reflections from that day, which unfortunately are still relevant.

Where are those who hold up half our skies?!
Often forgotten, without whom the sky would’ve fallen?

All morning, we heard the high-level dignitaries pay tribute to pan-Africanists. I didn’t hear one female name being mentioned. Is it that we have done nothing for this movement? Is it that our contributions are meaningless? Or is that we are invisible? That we have been removed, or were never included in the collective memory and public imagery of Pan-Africanism? For those who would ask me who those women are, the list is  by no means exhaustive, but here are a select few that I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to:
Amy Garvey
Winnie Mandela
Graca Machel
Amina Mama
Ama Ata Aidoo
Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Miriam Makeba
Angelique Kidjo
Maya Angelou
Mable Dove Danquah
Taytu Betul
Adelaide Caseley-Hayford
Bibi Titi Mohamed
Fatoumatta Toure
Funmilyao Ransome Kuti
Gambo Sawaba
Muthoni Likimani
Thenjiwe Mtintso
Djamila Bouhired
Taytu Betul
Wangari Maathai
Charlotte Maxeke
Albertina Sisulu
Audley Queen Mother Moore
Louise Thompson Patterson
Thyra Edwards
Bonita Williams
Williana Burroughs
Sallye Bell Davis
Grace P. Campbell
Charlene Mitchell
Rahima Moosa
Emma Mashinini
Ruth First
Lillian Ngoyi
Sophie Williams

And countless others – often forgotten, who mobilized for Africa’s liberation, challenged
enslavement and colonization in defiance of imperialist, patriarchal culture and for a complete liberation of Africans – fighting multiple forms of oppression, domination and exploitation.

Interconnected Struggles
As Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara remind us:

Revolution & Women's Liberation
None of us are free until we are all free. This is in line with the emancipatory nature of the pan-Africanist vision. We must not buy into a hierarchy of oppressions, but rather collectively fight the multiple forms and systems of oppression and exploitation that keep us subjugated. Systems such as patriarchy which ensure women and girls are dispossessed and under siege every day, that ensure they are unsafe in their homes, streets, schools and places of work. How do we convey to them that their lives, and their dreams matter to us? That we will be their dream keepers, as Langston Hughes proposed, and will wrap their dreams and heart melodies in blue-cloud cloth and protect them from the too-rough fingers of the world?

We must recognize that ‘the struggle for Africa’s liberation and development is also a struggle for women’s liberation, gender equality and gender justice.’ Until we realize the interconnectedness and inseparability of our various struggles for justice; including gender, economic, environmental and ecological, and social justice; our movements will remain fragmented and our progress as a people will be stifled.

Power
If we thought the task ahead of us unsurmountable, Malcolm X reminds us: “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression, because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

Toni Morrison, in reference to another system of oppression; racism also warns us of distractions that will derail us: “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you from explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is
necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

Let us not get distracted.

Compassion – where is the love?

A comrade reminded me that at the heart of Pan-Africanism is love, a compassion for humanity – the ‘sympathetic apprehension of another’s suffering as intolerable’. Perhaps Che said it best when he said:

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

Similarly, Malcolm X summed up his ethos towards the end of his life: “I have had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I am a human being, and as such, I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”

May this be our politics – one in which love for one another, for humanity, for the continent, for the movement, for the earth and its inhabitants trumps our love for power, prestige and privilege.

A luta continua.

Sources and for further reading:
Pan-Africanism & the Women’s Movement (African Women’s Journal, Issue VI)
Feminism & Pan-Africanism (Feminist Africa Journal)

Reminscings of Ramadans Past

One of the ways in which we’ve ushered in the holy month of Ramadan as a Hareri community over the years is by doing a deep clean of the home – a spring cleaning if you like. Those that can afford it will paint their houses and change their carpets and curtains – bringing out the best they have. A decluttering of our physical spaces precedes Ramadan – perhaps an indication of the decluttering and the detox that must also take place in our bodies and minds. Some families do this systematically – flushing out their bodies of all toxins in preparation for the month.

Next, once the start of Ramadan is announced, families embark on ‘aboredena hamdi’s’. ‘Aboredena hamdi’ loosely translates to ‘gratitude that we are alive to see this day’. So entire families will call to wish each other ‘Ramadan Kareem’ and then go visit each other in person. This is usually done within the first two weeks and if possible within the first week and preferably particularly for close family and the elderly, the eve of Ramadan, if possible.

One of the responses to greetings of ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Shahr Mubarak’ is often ‘Kulu am we antum bi khayr’ or it’s Hareri equivalent: ‘Amet amet zom yabordena’ which is basically saying may we live to see many more Ramadans for years to come…

This year it was more significant than any year before and I said it much more purposefully and consciously because there are those who were here last Ramadan who are no longer with us…and this has been the case for the last few years but this year as I greet family with this familiar phrase, I think to myself to be grateful for this moment because this time next year, I’m not sure if they’ll still be around, or me for that matter.

One of my favorite memories of Ramadan is of daddy bringing home fruits of all kinds and turning them into juice for us to consume voraciously during Iftar. Decades later, it’s a tradition we still maintain – fruits and juice are always a staple during Iftar. I also remember him bringing home bread balls – kind of like bread sticks but instead of sticks, they’re balls. I’d break them in half, stuff pitted dates in them and devour them like only a child could, popping one after another in my mouth – as fast as I could assemble them.

I remember daddy, regal, dressed in his best jalabiya, shal and koloyta ready to go to the mosque and pray tarawih. His perfume would linger in the room, long after he’d left. He always believed one should be in the best shape and form when going to the masjid.

Ramadan was always very communal. If we sat at the table the rest of the year, during Ramadan, we gathered on the floor to break our fast.

Ramadan is special in ways I can’t describe. People are on their best behavior. They are nicer, kinder, more considerate and conscious of their words and actions…perhaps because it’s re
quired of us – all year round – but more so during Ramadan when we believe the shayatin are bound and cannot sway us towards evil.

So this Ramadan, as we get close to hitting day 10, may those who’ve passed rest peacefully, surrounded by the fragrance of jannah and reassured they are not forgotten. My we live to see many more Ramadans, may we use the remaining days to work on ourselves so that we may emerge better human beings and sustain the beauty that emerges this time of year for the rest of the year until Ramadan comes around again, if we are lucky enough to experience it.

Words you don’t speak

I can hear the words you don’t speak

Remember there’s a strength that runs through your veins, many generations strong

Conversations with myself
In ten minute increments
Drifts interrupted by incessant
Rings of alarm
Questions asked
In one quadrant
Before falling asleep
Responses made in another
When forced awake

Don’t promise you won’t change
You’re not likely to stay the same

X

On February 21, 1965 this beautiful man was shot down in a ballroom. 53 years later, we still feel the ripples of his words and actions.

Malcolm was an orator, an organizer, a man of the masses. He was a self made intellectual, schooled on the streets and stayed on the streets to lead and inspire others to believe in themselves, instill some pride and self-respect.

He was a man who wasn’t stuck. He wasn’t stuck in his own time, or in his own ideology or in his own beliefs or ways of thinking. He was willing, not only to confront and challenge others – but also himself (particularly previous versions of himself).

His legacy will forever live on.

In the words of Ossie Davis:
”It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us – unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to : Afro-American – Afro-American Malcolm, who was a master, was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a ‘Negro’ years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that.

…Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves.

…Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man – but a seed – which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is – a Prince – our own black shining Prince! – who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”

If you haven’t read his biography, and if there’s one book that you must read this week, this month, this year – let it be that one. Here are some excerpts:
https://aliben86.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/excerpts-from-the-autobiography-of-malcolm-x/

And some excerpts from the Spike Lee documentary played by Denzel:
https://aliben86.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/excerpts-from-malcolm-x-the-movie/

Rest in power, peace and paradise X.

You’re forever loved.

18 life lessons you taught me daddy

It’s been eighteen years since you passed daddy. And though we miss you more than words can do justice to, you live on in more ways than one.

Every time they ask me my name, every time I sign Nebila Abdulmelik, I’m reminded whose daughter I am. You live in our memories, our dreams, our prayers, our thoughts, our poems. You live on in us and the munchkins who have your blood running through them – one who took your name as well as your ears and your countenance.

You live on in our mannerisms, the way we talk and walk – in our characters that seem to mimic yours.

You live on in the way we live our lives and who we are and who we’ve become – because of all the lessons you and Mommy have instilled in us. Here are eighteen in honor of the eighteen years you’ve been away.

1. Humility – that it doesn’t matter how high I get in school or wealth or status, you taught me to keep my feet on the ground, stay humble and never look down on others

2. ‎To look up. To see the stars. To appreciate the workings and magic of the Almighty.

3. ‎To be good to others – to be kind. That ultimately that’s what we’ll be judged on. Not how much money we have or how many degrees or how many acres but how we treat others.

4. ‎Not to be afraid of the dark. And in doing so, to allow our own lights to take shape.

5. ‎To be comfortable with silence.

6. ‎To fear nothing and no one but the Almighty. That ultimately it would just be Him and me

7. ‎To give the best of ourselves and the best of what we have to others.

8. ‎To love and devour fruits, in all their various shapes and sizes. To become a fruitaholic.

9. ‎There was nothing I couldn’t do because I was a girl. You kept reiterating that I was anbessa, ye anbessa lej. Perhaps my first lessons in Feminism.

10. ‎To be a father was to be present.

11. ‎That love could start in the womb. That a parent could love a child even before it was born.

12. ‎ Kelam faregh. That sometimes words are not enough.

13. ‎That you can’t always get what you want. That you must sometimes wait till Alghefra zezelema sa.

14. ‎That our prayers are not about the words we utter but rather our intentions

15. ‎What true, meaningful and deep friendships look like

16. ‎That there’s such a thing as more than a whole. More than 100%. Gobez we nus.

17. ‎That children can be confided in too. To spend time with both young and old.

18. ‎To be generous – with time and money – and quietly so. To make sure the left hand doesn’t know what the right is giving.

Thank you for raising us to be strong, grounded women, the daughters of lions. For these lessons and more, for all the love you showered us with, we’re forever indebted. Rest in paradise daddy.

17 Books to Devour

In no particular order, some books that have left me feeling inspired, hurt, moved, blessed to be able to read and left in me an insatiable thirst to keep devouring and consuming. Much gratitude to the authors who wove together such beautiful stories.

1. Dust, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
A bit of a difficult but worthwhile read. Set in Kenya – telling of the politics of greed, but also of love, kinship and the search for truth, no matter how painful it is…

2. A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines
A very painful but powerful read. Set in the US in the 60’s.

A black man in the South of the (not-so-united) States of America finds himself in the middle of a shootout in a store that leaves one white man (store owner) and two black men dead. His own defense describes him as a ‘hog’ to the jury who sentence him to death by execution. The story is of another black man, an ‘educated’ black man, a teacher – who is tasked with turning the convicted into a ‘man’.

A book about deeply rooted injustices, but also about seeking and reclaiming dignity, love, resistance and triumph.

Read here for excerpts of the book which stood out to me.

3. Homegoing
I’ve never read a book where each chapter (all 20 of them) introduces a new character and a new generation. Spanning a number of generations and traversing two continents, the author manages to tell an incredible and very personal tale of slavery and what is passed down from generation to generation – both figurative and literal.

4. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
My best friend and soul sister wouldn’t stop raving about this particular book. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it and confess it wasn’t an easy read but it still makes this list because it’s written in such a unique way and has an intriguing storyline.

5. Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

This was a truly beautiful, funny and poignant read. I read this on my phone through the kindle app and would read late into the night snuggled into bed – soliciting laughter at all hours and making family members wonder if I had gone loco.

Just as he is on stage, Trevor’s wit, street smarts, intellect and insight came out in his storytelling. You will have so much respect for him and his phenomenal momma after reading his story and his life journey. He’s talented on many fronts – my only complaint would be that it seems to target an American audience. Trevor, you know there are countless of us here on the continent who still consume your content voraciously. Don’t forget us. Otherwise, I’m already looking forward to re-reading it!

6. Blood Brothers

A fascinating back story to the friendship, brotherhood and fallout of two incredible men – Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali. It’s a story of conviction, camaraderie, black pride, love, alliances, discoveries, deception and pure history. It’s also a telling story of human beings turning on each other…Especially when blindly following a figure to the detriment of the cause. A must read.

7. Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selassie

Taiye keeps us engaged from the first page to the last. About love, family, shame and the lengths to which we’ll go to cover it, betrayal, abandonment and redemption.

8. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri

A collection of short stories. Jhumpa has a way of making ordinary stories extraordinary. Each story is it’s own, taking you deeper into the craft of Lahiri’s mind and imagination.

9. The House Girl, Tara Conklin

A fascinating and intricately woven tale centred around two women separated by close to 200 years. One enslaved and the other, a corporate lawyer pursuing a reparations case. A story about the pursuit of freedom, truth, redemption, purpose, ancestry and a life worth pursuing.

Definitely worth a read and even a reread.

10. Letter to my Daughter, Maya Angelou

This was amongst the first books I picked up in a long while. I had almost forgotten how beautiful it is to read. To get lost in another’s world and to relate to a reality that is separate from ones own by decades, oceans, miles, circumstances. But to still be able to experience a multitude of emotions while at it, laughter and joy, anger and sadness, beauty and triumph.

11. Born on a Tuesday, Elnathan Jonathan

Elnathan Jonathan’s debut novel. Unputtdownable. Very relevant, raw and real.

12. I can’t make this up, Kevin Hart

I’ve always loved Kevin Hart but reading this book made me respect and appreciate him and his momma so much more. His drive, work ethic, hustle, persistence, wit and groundness deserve much respect. A good read – highly recommend.

13. The Fishermen, Chigozi Obioma

A heartbreaking story of what can unfold and break what seemed like unbreakable brotherhood bonds following a prophecy. Dark and raw – difficult but a worthwhile read. Amazing particularly considering its a debut novel.

14. We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo

I loved the way NoViolet writes and undoubtedly thinks. A story of Zim told through the eyes of young kids and one girl in particular who ends up in the US after ‘change’ disappoints. A great read.

15. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen

An intricately woven tale of history, (mis) representation, pride, nationalism, love, friendship and shifting allegiances in times of war. Brilliant story that transports the readers from Vietnam to the US and back.

16. Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty, Alain Mabanckou

I was curious to read this book considering Mabanckou was my former professor and had won numerous literary awards but I had yet to read any of his books. This book is a depiction of life, love and politics from the eyes of a young Congolese boy, Michel. A beautiful and easy read.

17. Animal Farm, George Orwell

It was only in December 2017 that I managed to read this classic that has been translated and taught and studied the world over. I found myself getting increasingly distraught at the events that unfolded – as well as some of the characters and their blind faith in the face of the rewriting of history and narrative. It’s so telling that decades since he wrote this book, it rings true in so many ways and is a warning for the pitfalls we must avoid as a people.
Even if your pick is not in this list, pick up a book people, and get lost. And get found.

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