Barbados: Six Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving Here

Barbados: Six Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving Here

Are you cold, wet, miserable? Do you feel as though winter will never, ever end? Please don't despair, my cold friends. I took this photo yesterday from the Barbados apartment Greg and I own and rent out to visitors to our island. It's just a flight away from wherever you are right now!

Are you cold, wet, miserable? Do you feel as though winter will never end? Please don't despair, my chilly friends. What you see here – my Barbados holiday rental apartment – is just a flight away! (I took this photo yesterday … January 5, one of the coldest winters our friends up north have ever seen.)

When Greg and I were in New York over Christmas and New Year’s I was reminded of what a Yank I am and how much I love efficient service, movie openings, sales, Starbucks, and great hamburgers.

This month marks my second anniversary of having moved from San Francisco to Barbados …. where I don’t get any of those things very often.  But you can’t move to a place and complain that the new place isn’t the old place, can you? I can’t think of a quicker route to misery than wanting Barbados to be San Francisco. Really now, life could be worse than waking to the view you see in the photo above.

Fortunately, the fantasy of Barbados as a tropical island is very much its reality as well. Perfect aqua Caribbean Sea. Sugar-white beaches. Gorgeous blue sky. Varied landscape. Ideal climate.

However.  I wish I’d known a few things about some aspects of life and people on the island of Barbados.  Things I wish someone had told me before I moved here. Such as:

1. “Service is usually slow – get over your Type A self and give into the pace island-time.” Relax already. Enjoy the fact that even though service is slow, no one is rushing you to finish your meal, either.

2. “Service is usually friendly except when it’s not. And when it’s not it’s not about you.” I used to think the rudeness was personal to me. It’s not.  Then again, maybe it is. I don’t know. I just know it took me a long time to know how to deal with it.

Two years ago, when a young male clerk at a fabric store ignored me and wouldn’t ring up my purchase, frustration and sense of powerlessness defeated me (i.e., I cried).  Today I don’t take it personally and I feel empowered to say, “Excuse me, young man, perhaps I can call Mr Abed (store owner) over here to ring me up since you are not interested in doing so.”

3. “This is how you learn to drive on the left-hand side of the street: As you drive, keep your body in the center of the road.” Once I was told, I never again turned off a street right or left into the wrong lane.

4. “When you pay for anything, remember that almost everything on the island is brought in from elsewhere.” Look at a map; Barbados is far, far away from everywhere (of course, in other respects this is a good thing). It’s expensive to ship cars, tomatoes, ink cartridges, and everything else here — and on top of shipment is duty, one of the few ways the government has to bring money into an economy that has nothing to export. So forgive how expensive life is in Barbados.

Dumb me. Took me 2 years to finally break down and buy a car.  My righteous indignation over the 100% to 300% duty held me back from the freedom that driving myself brings.

By the way, with respect to grocery store prices: Everyone pays the same price. Guests to the island ask me if residents receive a discount. No, they do not … the housekeepers who keep our holiday rental accommodations immaculate pay the same price for a loaf of bread as our far more affluent guests who come to stay in them.

5. “Bringing goods to Barbados in your suitcase doesn’t save you a cent in the long run.” I used to raid my San Francisco home to bring in sheets, towels, lamps, Splenda, etc, etc, etc.  Then I’d have to go out and buy replacements for the things I took out of the place in San Francisco. I created a nightmare routine of leaving Barbados with two empty suitcases and returning with two I couldn’t even lift. Make that four suitcases when Greg and I traveled together. I justified it by telling myself (and Greg) that I was “saving money.”

I paid overweight charges on airlines, threw my back out, and took advantage of my kind husband’s patience far too often before I finally learned to accept that even though selection is small and prices are high, life is much sweeter when I don’t try to beat the system. I now buy what I need here in Barbados. Plus, by buying goods on the island I’m contributing to Barbados’ economy. And I can travel with a small, light bag.

6. “When you throw away anything, remember that Barbados is a 14- by 21-mile island.” Consider how difficult a problem trash is in a small place like Barbados.

I was ridiculously cavalier about replacing very slightly used items (furniture mostly). The truth is, I’m only slightly less so now.  I’m afraid that living in a disposable goods culture is still a lesson this American needs to unlearn.



49 Responses to “Barbados: Six Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving Here”

  1. Meg says:

    I love your blog, though I only just heard of it recently. I liked this post, too, and thought it was worth a mention on my own blog I’ve been keeping while living in Barbados (until August 2010)
    http://travelswithmeg.blogspot.com/2010/01/things-to-remember-before-you-move-to.html

    Re the friendliness factor mentioned in Point 2: I try to start all interactions with a ‘hello, good day,’ or some other pleasantry. Sometimes that helps. Nobody really should rush anyway!

    Anyway, thanks for blogging!

  2. stephen says:

    I almost agree 100%, but you don’t need Starbucks. Coffee Italia is cheaper and better and you get a smile!

  3. Not a bad list at all – having grown up in ‘the islands’ – St. Lucia mainly and then lived here, I have never gotten used to the rollercoaster of service – from the best to the worst, but then, like you say, there’s plenty to make up for that!

    Regards your furniture-changing habits – that’s one thing I LOVE about Barbados – the second hand shops and auctions – so at least you know it’s not going on the dump – someone else will get it for a snap and probably they or others after them will wear it right out!

    But if you happen to want to get rid of any dressers, wardrobes or shelves…give me a shout :)

  4. Hi, Meg. I agree that being nice with a greeting is important. I do this but I think it sort of backfires in my case because I’m a bit over-exuberant (I’m American, you know) … to a relatively reserved culture like the Barbadian culture, I may come across as phony or false. I haven’t been told this is the case but I wonder …

    I like your blog very much, certain points about it especially, such as points of the culture that the US can learn from. Very nice. And your characterization of a white Christmas, Barbados-style. You write, “The only thing here close to a white Christmas are the white sands of the beaches and white foam in the waves.” Well done.

    You’ve got a reader in me; thanks for sharing!

  5. Stephen, you are so right. Truth is, I’m not even a coffee drinker (tea’s my usual brew :) … It’s the idea of what Starbucks is that appeals to me: ubiquitous spots (in NY, one on every corner, I think) that are warm and cozy where you’re amongst other people who, like me, are stopping for a respite from the weather and a warm something to sip.

    I’m with you on Coffee Italia – on the few occasions I have drunk coffee (in my case, cappuccino) in Barbados, I like theirs very much. I’ll take smiles wherever I can get them!

    Happy new year, Stephen. Still awaiting your review of Tapas :)

  6. Finola, ha! You’re so right … the secondhand market is thriving on the island and there are some very fine pieces to be had – castoffs from the old plantation homes are often collectors’ pieces, even.

    I try to comfort myself in the knowledge that even if I tend toward a bit of wastefulness no one else is; my things will always find a good home.

    I’ll keep my eyes peeled for old wardrobes etc … ! Thx for writing, Finola :)

  7. stephen says:

    I haven’t been to Tapas yet; I’d like to, but we fell out in a large way with Mamma Mia (not the movie; that was great) due to insulting behaviour of one of their people to us, who has now moved to … Tapas. We used to send all of our friends and visitors to Mamma Mia, but they’ve lost out due to his unfriendly manner. You talk about service here, but that was the worst I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. Not holding a grudge (ha ha) there’s too many other great places to eat; NovelTeas (Hastings) for lunch was interesting today, nice food.

  8. Bajee says:

    Absolutely love this post!

  9. shaun collinge says:

    Hello everyone I hope your all well..? I have to say I speak as I find and maybe you should give Tappas a try Stephen we all have off days (I obviously dont know what went on when you fell out) but we have a saying in England “Dont cut your nose off to spite your face” as I said I can only speak as I find and I have nothing but praise for ALL the staff at Tappas…. I booked a table for some friends who have been on the Island for the last 10 days and they were looked after very well, nice bottle of Veuve on the table on arrival as I requested, a great table and excellent service made for a very pleasant evening…. Another saying we use in Engalnd “Bury the hatchet” (and I dont mean literally) go on you may just enjoy it..!! Regards from a very cold UK.

  10. Sorry to hear you’re cold, Shaun!! Time to start planning a visit to Bim.

    As far as your advice and life philosophy … I raise my glass to you! Here here, well said!

  11. marcia miller says:

    Love this post. I am planning to return to Barbados soon myself. Lived in Canada for almost 30 years but you are right we have to learn to adapt back to the Island. There is no place like home- Love Bim.

  12. This is just amazing

    I am planning for honeymoon

    I am sure these steps will help in my holidays to Barbados

    cheers

  13. Steve says:

    Glad you are realizing that Americans are such insufferable, spoiled, materialistic brats :-)

  14. Bimlady says:

    Let us get together I will be in Bim in late August

  15. Steve, good morn. I am an American through and through and proud to be one. We can find ‘spoiled, materialistic brats’ anywhere in the world if we look for them. We all have complaints but let’s look for the best in people … people in different countries are generally far more the same than different. xxJane

  16. Hey, isn’t homosexuality illegal in Barbados and punishable by life in prison? That’s a pretty important thing to know, I think, and to take into consideration when vacationing or moving to the island.

  17. I don’t know whether it is or it isn’t, Michael. Society here seems to be quite tolerant of a wide range of lifestyles. xxJane

  18. Bev sullivan says:

    Hi from freezing Derbyshire uk
    My husband Matt and I have always had a dream ..to
    Live in a warmer climate by the sea with friendly
    People and a different culture
    FINALLY in our late 40s we have found it in Barbados
    And realising our dreams we are looking to emigrate with
    our two young children and do it!
    Every day it feels even more right than yesterday and
    yes we are slightly anxious about schools …the summer
    heat the small island bit etc et but hey life is for living and
    If we keep dreaming it will never happen
    So …..August 2013 is a proposed date to leave behind the
    rat race and to start living the dream ! Believe me we are not
    coming with our eyes wide shut and would love to meet any
    of you guys ……
    The family sullivans UK

  19. Jane says:

    The family Sullivan … Welcome (in advance) to Barbados! I’m sure you’ve done your homework about emigrating to the island .. it’s not easy!! But dreams are dreams and I hope you pursue this one and make it real.

    Nothing in life is perfect but Barbados is a wonderful place in so many respects and I wish you the very best.

    Contact me when you’re here if you wish. You can e-mail me at PlanetBarbados@gmail.com.

    Jane

  20. Paula says:

    Hello Bev and everyone

    We are are in our mid forties and making the move this year with our small children to Barbados as well. I hear it is beautuiful in Barbados but am still anxious about leaving our home to live on a small island.

    A little sad, no a lot sad, about leaving a wonderful network of fabulous friends and family behind. The kids are super sad right now but I am hoping the schools are great and the people are friendly so they will be able to make new friends fast. We are looking forward the exciting adventure ahead of us. Hoping people will want to visit often.

    Love this blog and if anyone has any information on setting up in Barbados…schools, rentals, life living on an island I would love to hear from you.

    Thanks, Paula

  21. Janeene says:

    Hey Michael homosexuality definitely is illegal in Barbados and you can be arrested for it. However its not strictly in forced. Despite this there is GLBT chapter here in Barbados even homosexuality is still frowned upon especially with the older society.

  22. Clare says:

    Just returned and as a first timer to the island and visiting one Bajan friend and his American wife, I enjoyed the island without exception. Road conditions are unpredictable, some “attitude” towards outsiders noticed but overall, a pleasant and extremely beautiful island. I didn’t find prices for food, car rental, hotel to be a problem in October. Only one rainy day too.

  23. I’m delighted you enjoyed your stay on our beautiful island, Clare. You are right that roads are unpredictable … after living here five years I still get lost on a regular basis and the roads are often curvy and narrow (I feel as though I’m driving thru the countryside in England sometimes).

    Yes, we had a good October, weather-wise!! Barbados hasn’t had a hurricane since the 1950s, which is why we say god is a Bajan :)

    All the best … happy travels to you and hope to see you again on our beautiful island.

    xJane

  24. sierra says:

    Im concering relocating to the island. How is the emoloyment sector. I have a bachelor’s degree in the line of social work. Also, is the cost of living expensive?

  25. Greetings from Barbados. It’s very difficult to emigrate to Barbados; your best bet is to get a job here that permits Residency status. Yes, cost of living is indeed high – remember, almost everything we have in Barbados has been imported. Good luck to you … anything we really want in life is possible – we just need to do the research and have the desire to overcome obstacles. Jane

  26. Debs says:

    Hi Jane, thank you for your blog. Me and my husband are planning to make Barbados home. Just filling in the forms at the moment and reading as much as I can to get as much insight as I can. Hubby is from the US and I am from the UK. I will keep you posted as the steps to our dream becomes a reality! Debs

  27. Awesome! Good luck and best wishes on making Barbados your home. It’s not easy getting permission to stay … you might end up needing an attorney to help. Best of life to you … Jane

  28. Gwen says:

    I have just returned from Barbados and cannot wait to get back!
    I was in the Gap, had a great time there! Walked the white beaches, and did have lunch at Tapas :-) where the service was great, the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable, and the food was pretty good :-)
    I have a quick question, if you don’t mind? I am interested in investing in a rental condo. Did you find the process to be difficult?

  29. Jane says:

    I’m really glad you had a great time in Barbados, Gwen. Isn’t Tapas great? The location on the boardwalk is so ideal, too.

    I have many opinions and experiences about buying investment property in Barbados. I could write a long dissertation on this topic – but suffice it for now to say that it IS possible, it IS do-able, but you need to exercise patience and and work with good people in Barbados. I can refer you to agents I know and trust and as far as the rental market goes, you are welcome to ask me questions in this regard as you encounter them.

    Best of luck to you. On your next vacation in Barbados, you might want to set aside some time to look at properties that are for sale. Again, I can refer you to agents who can help you.

    Warm regards and thanks for writing,
    Jane

  30. Scott says:

    Hi Jane and everyone who has posted a comment. Its great to be able to get insights on Barnados from those who have first hand experience. I am interested (my dream) in living in Barbados for half the year. As a Canadian, I have to admit I still love our summers, but when it comes to winter, I’ve put enought time in here dealing with it. Time to enjoy 5 to 6 months of perfect climate and then enjoy a Canadian summer. So I seek to either find a good longer-term rental, or would consider buying a condo or property for myself. I assume from what I’ve been reading that I will require a good (read: trustworthy & professional) attorney on the island. I will be coming back for an investigative visit in a few months. Any ideas you may offer on what to do with my time relative to pursuing this dream would be greatly apprciated. I am a big believer in referrals from those who have been well-served. Like anywhere in the world (Canada included), you can always find a less-than-optimal resource. So I’d rather skip that lesson by listening to those of you with experience. Thanks in advance for any pointers you may have about what first steps to take in working towards the reality of this dream!
    Thx in advance!
    All the best to all of you from (slowly warming) Canada!
    -Scott

  31. Jill says:

    Hi jane. My husband and I have been talking about permanently relocating to Barbados. I have been reading things regarding citizenship , residency, working , etc. I am a registered nurse but I stay at home now and homeschool my two youngest. Have a 15 yo son as well in public school. We were thinking of starting our own business in Barbados. I thought we would be able to pack and leave but I see the process is much more involved. As US citizen can you have dual citizenship with Barbados ? What is home schooling like ? How are we able to start a business there if you are not allowed to work until you get your legal papers?

  32. Lynnette duncan says:

    must I have dual citizenship if Ivwant to live in barbados and rent. Also how do I get dual citizenship …where is the best place to live? should I buy a car abroad before relocating..

  33. So many good questions, Lynette. With respect to citizenship, you need to check with your country to see about dual citizenship (also see here: http://www.dualcitizenship.com/countries/barbados.html). As for how to get dual citizenship, check with your country as well as Barbados immigration. For general info about immigration and citizenship, check here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbados_nationality_law.

    Where to live? You need to visit and see which areas you like. Each coast has its own particular magic.

    No, do not buy a car abroad and have it shipped over – the duty is very high. While cars are expensive in Barbados, it’s much easier to buy one on the island than to import one.

    Citizenship isn’t easy to obtain; if everyone who wanted citizenship in Barbados were granted citizenship, we’d have three million people on our little island! Good luck to you.

    Best,
    Jane Shattuck

  34. raymond says:

    i would like to relocate to babardos as a nigerian,can i get a working permit

  35. Good morn! You’ll get a work permit through a company that wishes to hire you. Please contact Barbados immigration for details (check links I’ve provided on other writers’ posts). Good luck to you :) Jane

  36. Bryan Boone Jr says:

    Hello Jane,
    I live in Pennsylvania, US, and and desperately trying to locate a source to purchase “Barbados Tar.” I am not entirely certain as to what exactly it is or similar to, but is an essential ingredient to an old linament recipe that has been passed down through our family. Are you familiar with this and is it locally available on the island? Any info you would be able to give would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much!

  37. Bryan, hi. Thanks for writing. I have never heard of Barbados Tar. I asked my Bajan husband and neither has he.

    I know there are many old recipes for health remedies that are passed down through generations — just yesterday a friend brought over a mixture of garlic, lemon, ginger, and some other things in a jar for my husband’s head cold. I think it helped him because he woke up feeling better.

    If you find the Barbados Tar ingredient and a recipe for the liniment, let me know.

    Best of luck. Cheers,
    Jane

  38. Babs says:

    Hi, I’m just about to come to the island for six month’s with my Bajan husband and 9 year old daughter. We’ve been many times before. This is a ‘taster’ session for me to see if we want to live in Barbados. I’ve sorted a school – St Gabriels in St Michael! I’m a bit worried that I won’t meet any fellow Brits. (or others) whilst I’m there and wondered if there is a meeting place that xpats go to meet? Any ideas?

    Babs (from Cambridgeshire)

  39. Babs, good morn! I’m an American, not British, but you will find plenty of fellow countrymen in Barbados. Through St Gabriels you surely will meet other parents ….. and I’m sure there’s a British club for expats. Be open to meeting Bajans as well, of course … I’ve found the problem with meeting expats is that they eventually leave Barbados. Good luck and enjoy living in paradise! I can’t believe I’ve lived in Barbados 9 years now!! Jane

  40. Kay Babb says:

    After so many trips back and forth… I’ve finally decided to give living in Barbados a shot… I live in America and consider myself to be an East Coast City Girl… my hubby lives in Bim and we have been together for five years.. I’ve had so many reservations about making this move because the biggest question I keep asking myself is what am I going to do during the day with all this free time on my hands… I’ve always worked full time, school, volunteer and had an active social life. I know in Barbados that I’m unable to work…and I believe that will include volunteering as well….so I will blog and continue to write hoping that I will be able to find my niche….. and not have to give up to many of my city ways :-)… I am realistic coming from a West Indian family and spending the last five years visiting that it will be a change for me.

  41. Jenn says:

    My family (husband, 4 boys and myself) are have decided to relocate and Barbados is at the top of our list.
    My husband is hoping to find a teaching position (he is currently a high school teacher), any idea on how hard it is to get a teaching position?

  42. piero says:

    Hello, I may be relocating with my family to Barbados, we are an international family mixed European and African. how is a salary of around 90K there? I should get also some rental subsidy and school subsidy for the kids. Also, would my wife be bored? she has always worked and coming there would mean for her to quit her job after 17 years

  43. This is response to the comment of Bryan Boone Jr. who is looking for Barbados tar. I doubt you can buy Barbados tar though many years ago, various tars and asphalts that seeped out of the ground were regularly sold through pharmacies. Before pharmacology got all so very scientific after WWII, tars and oils from natural seeps were sold for various topical ointments and salves. That someone once sold tar from Barbados comes as no surprise to me. There are natural tar seeps along the northeast shoreline of Barbados, in the marine sediments that are exposed on the coral cap that covers most of the island. When I worked on Barbados back in 1982 doing geologic mapping as part of a research team from Northwestern University, there was just such a tar seep just on the other side of the old railroad grade from the beach, which I will never forget because it was the site of an underground fire. Underground fires are almost impossible to put out so it’s probably still there and still burning slowly. Now, my assigned area for mapping on the island was between Codrington College and shoreline to the north. If my memory isn’t totally out of whack, the tar seep was somewhere along the beach between Bath on the west and below Sealy Hall/St. Mark’s to the east. The folks who had houses along the beach had a name for tar seep – something like ‘Burnt Hill’, or ‘Burnt Bluff’, or ‘Burnt Knoll’ or something like it. You could always smell it when you were within 50 yards or so from it. Now, this was a long time ago for me and I just can’t remember all the details anymore. It’s possible I am remembering the location incorrectly (though it’s certain it was southwest of Bathsheba which is where we had rented a house, and north of the point with the big lighthouse). Barbados has a government office for oil – they probably know where all the tar seeps are on the island. I will try to find my old mapping notes from where they are buried in storage to confirm the location – but they are in another state so it will be awhile.

    There is an alternative, though. Tar seeps do not vary a great deal from one another: long C-chain hydrocarbons are the same the world over! Seriously, any tar seep would probably work for your liniment. U.S.P.-grade coal tar would probably also work too. One of the things that medicinal tars were used for was to soften the epidermis and improve penetration for other ingredients so the place the tar comes from is far less of an issue than the presences of the long C-chain hydrocarbons. Alternatively, you could take a vacation on Barbados, where you could hunt down a tar seep or two…

  44. Andrea says:

    HI,

    After a recent visit to Barbados, I fell in love with the island. I think I may have also met the love of my life while I was there. I want to work and live in Barbados. I am not ready to retire yet I am concerned about how hard it would be to find employment . I have been reading as much information as I can about getting a work permit. Does anyone have advice on how hard/easy it is to apply for a work visa, or any advise? Any advise is much appreciated.

  45. Nicole says:

    Hi! Just came across your blog while doing a Google search. I came to Barbados for CropOver this year and loved it! I have been wanting to relocate from the US for a while now and Barbados has been high on my list. I am planning to make the move in August 2018 as I plan to have a job where I can telecommute and start living the island life. I wish the best to everyone looking to make a similar move!

  46. Xana says:

    For all the people who are inquiring about jobs, please note that jobs are incredibly difficult to get here, so be sure you already have a job secured before you move.

    The cost of living is incredibly high, so be sure that job is a good-paying one. It is no falsity that a lot of people here are overworked and grossly underpaid. Not to mention nepotism runs overwhelmingly rampant here, so be wary of jobs that have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, daughters/sons and mothers/fathers working there, as there’s a HIGH chance promotions will go straight over your head. It doesn’t matter how hard you work, you will never win competing against a son or brother.

    Again: Be sure to secure a great-paying job BEFORE you relocate, and most of all, PLAN.

    I know living in the Caribbean might sound fun and awesome, but bear in mind that we do not have any Costcos or Targets or Walmarts. Not bargain stores. Nothing is cheap. Things here are ridiculously expensive. If you’re used to paying $1 for something in the Staes/UK/CA, be prepared to pay four times the amount for it here.

    If money is not an issue for you, come on then, this place is paradise!

    For the commenter “Piere” who wanted to know if his wife will be bored, it all depends on what she finds entertaining. The island is mellow and laid-back, people here love live music and good food. A handful of clubs but not many. Lots and lots of water/beach activities for sure. If your wife is fast-paced, fussy, picky and likes wild, crazy fun, then this might not be the place for her.

    They’re all about live music, good food, dance and beach fun here.

  47. DocV says:

    This was a great post. My wife and I are considering retiring some where in the islands and are coming to Barbados this Christmas to look the place over and do some scuba diving.

    Thanks for the information you provided.

    Doc

  48. Amy says:

    Us Americans need to take a step back and think about how spoiled we really are. I have been to beautiful third world countries that rely on what they have and I enjoyed every bit of it. They care about the environment and live life simpler and use what they’ve got and are thankful for it. Are we? Sometimes I get so tired of worrying about all the cush things I have here. So when I go to places such as this, I enjoy not worrying. I turn my phone off and use my computer less. Give up Starbucks, give up all those things that make your life more hectic and just enjoy what’s around you and see how beautiful it really is. I want to lean towards the more simple life. No heavy traffic to get through. No worrying about fine sheets and what anyone is going to think about what I’m wearing, or rushing to get back to whatever it is I’m up to. I wish we could all feel the same about these things but alot of us are spoiled on what they have now and that’s sad. People in places like this know how to live life simpler, more peaceful and are at least being less eccentric than us Americans.

  49. Xana, hello. This is all extremely well said and very very good advice. I am asked all the time what it takes to move to Barbados and I respond in similar words as yours but you put it all together so succinctly. Thank you.

    I love Barbados, have lived on the island ten years now, but when you live in a place the “paradise” aspect takes its position alongside all the downsides you mention: high cost of living, difficulty finding goods and services, difficulty finding employment, etc etc.

    Thanks for your input. Well said.

    Best best,
    Jane Shattuck

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