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Location: Aileu, Timor-Leste

I'm an aid worker, trying to do my little bit to leave the world a better place than I found it. This blog sporadically tracks my adventures in various countries, as I try to play my part is the massive venture to Make Poverty History.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Whole New World

So – during my fleeting visit home last month, my cousin gently nagged me that I could make the weekends up in Aileu pass more quickly by reviving my blog! I thought it was worth a try. The weekends do drag somewhat here…I live by myself, in a town with only a couple of other foreigners and no electricity between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., which limits what you can do. In addition, it rains most afternoons and gets so dark that you can’t even read a book… So I’m going to give this one more renewed effort – the latest in Kate’s “I’m going to be better at blogging” vows (I think they’ve been going for about four years now!)

I’ve actually been in Timor for six months, which totally blows my mind. I have signed up for two years – I’m a quarter of the way through that. I can’t believe it…I still feel like I’m new here. But I’m not any more. I speak a little of the local language – not nearly enough…my staff are great about trying to practice with me, but of course, it’s easier, for work, to talk in English – my senior staff are all fairly competent.

It’s interesting living in a country that is so new, that is still finding its feet and finding its way in the world. I have mixed feelings about it – on the one hand, as I move around, I look at the Timorese moving freely around their own country, and I think of everything this country has gone through to get to this stage, and I feel such joy for them, and such pride for them. On the other hand…it’s amazing how much of a mess has been made in ten years – this was a country born with such hope and such optimism, that encountered so many problems, but had the whole world rooting for its success. And when I look at what it has descended to – the corruption and the mismanagement, and the same old story in every developing country…the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And it makes me want to cry – because everyone suffered to get to this stage, but so many of them aren’t benefiting from it. They still live in squalor and the child malnutrition rates are at the kind of levels that usually prompt telethons in the West…but because these are chronic, nobody notices. Still – in the end, it’s THEIR mess – no matter what happens to Timor now, it’s in the hands of the Timorese and that is something to be celebrated.

Working here is challenging in many ways – the local capacity is very low and I often comment that I feel like a kindergarten teacher, herding my staff around through the most ridiculously low-level decisions. Much of my day is spent dealing with a high level of absurdity, situations that I cannot imagine even entering the head of people back home. I arrive at the office at 8 a.m., but usually it takes half an hour to an hour to be able to sit down at my desk, because I’m sorting out people to head to the field for the day – cars and motorbikes and supplies and cooperation etc. Yet I also laugh more here than I have in any office since I left Australia. Timorese have a GREAT sense of humour, and they laugh a LOT – most of the men laugh like four year old boys (and have the sense of humour of four-year-old boys as well…one of my colleagues talks about the mental maturation process stopping around age 12). But we laugh a lot together – they crack me up, even as they drive me nuts. And they are a wonderful team…they care about each other and are very protective of me. I think, for all of them, it would be their first time working for a woman, but they really look out for me in a way that makes me feel safe and loved. My 2IC, who is really the least intimidating person you can imagine, tried to give a tough guy speech to the security guards at my house…”we will be watching as well and making sure she is safe…and don’t play your music loud because Mana Kate doesn’t like that”!!! Bless his heart…he’s just not very scary but I was very moved by the effort.

As we’re into the home stretch to Christmas (again – didn’t we just do Christmas about six weeks ago? Seriously?) I will try to write more, particularly about specifics of my life here. But for now…I’m back and I have something to say…

I’ll leave you with a photo of my team (minus three staff) taken at our planning retreat in October.

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Sunday, 8 August 2010

A New Phase

Despite all evidence to the contrary on this blog, I have been alive and well for the last eight months – just a little preoccupied. For the last two months, this preoccupation has taken the form of a new life in East Timor, where I started working on 1 June. I’m venturing into some uncharted waters for me – development, instead of relief (theoretically calmer and more compatible with a decent work/life balance!) and I’m moving away from programming, into more operational management. My new job is managing a regional program in a place called Aileu (47km south of Dili – up in the mountains so much cooler), with responsibility for programming across Aileu District, and running an office of 45 Timorese staff. This alone is a little daunting – I’ve never managed a team this large before, but I am loving it so far.

Aileu is a green town after you wind up a torturous mountain for a hundred minutes or so (most people are sick on this trip – the road is atrocious and when there is a road, it’s extremely narrow and a constant maze of switchbacks). It has rice paddies and surrounding farms, and is really one street, plus a few radiating spokes. My team is wonderful. I’m still earning their trust (Timorese take a long time to trust foreigners – they’ve been burned by them so many times), but we are really bonding and they are wonderful people. I’m really looking forward to working with them for the next two years.

So – it’s Sunday night and I’m heading to bed, but I wanted to jumpstart this blog and get it revving a little. Here’s hoping updates will be far more frequent from now on…

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Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Well - it's a new one - 2010. And I'm welcoming it in in Washington D.C., so instead of being one of the first in the world to move on, I'm one of the last - it's a strange feeling. Felt like an anticlimax when it finally happened - and of course you realise just how arbitrary this whole New Year thing is anyway!! Although I do have to say that welcoming the new year in, with snow on the ground, all around, is a great way to go...
So what does this new year hold? Well, for a start it holds a month in America as I travel, see friends, and do some skiing. After that - who knows? I'll have to wait and see what comes my way and where I feel drawn...could be very close to home, or very very far away. But whatever it is, I will make an attempt to pay a little more attention to this poor, sadly neglected blog!
Happy New Year to all out there

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Friday, 29 May 2009

Paris in the Springtime

Well – I’m back in Paris, for the fourth time in two years! Staying this time on the Left Bank, which is an area I’m less familiar with, so it’s fun to explore new turf. Bettina and I have been torturing ourselves for the past couple of weeks, thinking of all the great food I would be eating here, and I’m certainly indulging now. I adored that I received an email from my mother before arriving, detailing all the coffee options in and around our apartment!! It truly is genetic.

Thus far we have just been wandering, enjoying the beauty that is Paris, doing some shopping (bit of damage to the credit card!) some museums etc. The weather is pretty cool and a bit rainy but I love it – a great change from Uganda and no chance of getting burned! I’m going to be catching up with some friends over the next few days and might try to get into the French Open as well.

I was pondering yesterday, whilst in a public bathroom in the Tuileries, that really, living in developing countries just prepares you for the bathrooms in France!! Excellent practice. Much of Paris has changed since I lived here in 1995 (my mind is still reeling from discovering a Starbucks on the Champs Elysees) but much abides – I still find it very easy to get around and it still feels like home here. I guess a city that has been here since 500B.C. won’t have changed much in 14 years.

Next week, we are taking a three-day trip up to the north of France (and Belgium) to see a series of sites where Australian soldiers fought in WWI – should be excellent and very moving. We don’t think we have any ancestors who fought in France (my family seems to specialise in the Middle Eastern countries) but are trying to confirm this. I am really looking forward to this…the history geek in me lives on!

So – until I have more news, I bid you adieu…

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Thursday, 23 April 2009

You know you've been in Uganda too long when...

Tee double hee - this is an email doing the rounds of expats in Uganda, that you read and think, yep, yep, oh yes definitely! Very funny.
I will probably need to explain a couple of things:

  • 'Flashing' or 'Beeping' refers to one of the habits I find most frustrating in Uganda - people want to talk to you on the phone, but they don't want to actually pay for this privilege. So they call you, let the phone ring once and then hang up, so you see a missed call. You are then supposed to call them back and pay for the conversation they want to have with you. It is standard practice here, even amongst staff, and drives me nuts, because I think it's so rude. Also pointless - if everyone just paid for their own calls to start with, it would all even out in the wash!
  • Airtime, is credit on your phone (called Load in the Philippines).
  • CHOGM - the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - held bi-annually and the last one was in Uganda, at the end of 2007. There was a frenzy of preparation for it, including building many hotels that specialise in empty rooms, beautifying the city and indulging in some serious Queen love. Kampala was full of ads with the tag line "Uganda is Ready for CHOGM" and it became a catchphrase.
  • Marabou storks are massive and incredibly ugly birds that live in Kampala and eat rubbish (literally - they eat trash). They are disgusting
  • Umeme is the power company
  • boda bodas are the taxis that drive around towns with passengers, generally piloted by kamikaze riders with no regard for anyone else on the road. They have quite a high death rate.

Without further ado...You know you are been in Uganda too long when...

…driving, you find yourself using your turn signals as means of communication....'the road is too thin', 'don't overtake (pass me) there is a BUS coming', 'No I'm NOT going to turn here', 'whoopee, we won the football!'

…you no longer get annoyed when people lie to you and make promises they can't possibly keep

…seeing someone speeding towards you in the wrong lane seems completely normal

…Your phone rings and it is a wrong number and you can keep the Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello's going back and forth like a tennis match until eventually the caller realises you are the wrong number and abruptly hangs up, after spending at least 2 minutes worth of airtime!

…You find yourself pointing with your lips and saying "yes" by raising both eyebrows.

…You can masterfully employ a variety of "Eh!" and "Eh eh!" noises to convey a range of meanings

…You know "Come back tomorrow at 10:00 a.m." means whatever you're trying to get done is NEVER going to happen

…You start using the words "even" and "ever" in places you never would have ("Even me, I'm feeling hungry," or "I have ever done that")

…You start referring to people as "this one" or "that one"

…You know you've what? been in Uganda a long time....when you what? Start each sentence as a question and proceed to what? Answer it yourself!

…You've figured out the Ugandan difference between food and snacks

…someone asks you "How is there?" You reply "It is there...

…You willingly drive into oncoming traffic just to avoid the potholes

…A car isn't full unless it has at least 7 people in it

…you can speak Uganglish so well that - you talk with a Ugandan accent; use words like 'shocked,' 'fearing,' 'extend,' 'balance,' ''somehow,' 'even me,' and 'can you imagine' and 'are you sure?' far too often...

…someone "flashes" your phone you just flash them back and wait for them to flash you back and then you flash them back and then they flash you back and....

…you know the load shedding schedule by heart

…you keep a jerry can full of water around, just in case…

…you feel exposed without bars on your windows

…When you come back from being out of the country and conversations go as:
Them: "you have been lost!!" and your response: "I have been found!"
Them: "how is there?" and you: "there is fine!"
Them: "you have gone fat!!!" and you are lost for words because you are not used to be told so with such frankness!!

…You emphasize how you like something and they say: "Are you sure?"

…you are asked how you are and your response is: "Me I am fine, how are you?"

…someone calls out your name and your reply is: "I am the one!"

…you end the conversation with "ok please!"

…your knees ache from squatting over a long drop 4 times a day as a result of a parasite living in your intestines

…it's 28 degrees outside and there are people wearing parkas ("jumpers"?) and stocking caps

…You ask for someone, and you know the answer "He's within" means everything from "He's within the building" to "He's within the city" or even "He's within the country".

….you refer to others as 'you people' and don't intend to be rude

…you start sentences with 'As for me, I ….'

…you stop using those little 'off' or 'up' bits of verbs. You pick people. And you drop them.

…you get 'Fine' as a reply to your 'hello'.

…'nownow' means sometime soon, possibly in the next day or two, whereas 'now' means anytime in the next month.

….'moving' becomes 'shifting' (but you move with people rather than hang out with them)

…you stand in a line and feel something is very wrong because it is orderly and the person behind you respects your personal space...

…"ok" punctuates, modifies, tags and answers almost every sentence.

…"Bambi", said with that humble look, becomes your standard expression of sympathy.

…you use the term "just there" to mean on the other side of the city

…"first let me come" or "first wait" makes perfect sense to you

…at the end of a meeting, people say, "Ok Please" as opposed to good bye or have a nice one.

…your stories always have an "eh?" to make sure the people are listening

…you say SORRY! when someone hurts themselves through no fault of yours

…you call white people "muzungu" and forget that you yourself are white....

…you go to a restaurant and order something off the menu and the waiter/waitress looks you right in the eye and says "We don't have that one

…walking by a uniformed officer carrying an assault rifle is completely normal

…you are Ready For CHOGM

…Clothes becomes a two-syllable word. Clo - thes.

…You know the man asking for Lose actually refers to Rose. And when
someone says "let's play" you should stay seated.

…you don't get confused even though the person you're talking to keeps mixing up 'he' and 'she' in the same sentence talking about the same person.

…you are reluctant to let go of a new, CLEAN 1000 shilling note.

…your home does not have an address.

…your handshakes last an entire conversation

…next to a public phone at the bottom of the call cost there is a charge for beeping

…marriage proposals become a normal and almost expected thing from strangers.

…you have time to grab lunch while the bank teller cashes your check.

…you stop noticing how ugly marabou storks actually are

…you think the taxi you're about to enter is too full but the conductor will squeeze you in and let you sit where he was sitting but then he will be standing over you with his bad body odor.

…You have 9 x 10,000UGX bills and you wrap the 10th one around it and put it in your wallet.

…being given a "push" has nothing to do with "push and shove", but being escorted to your car after a visit....

…You lie on the phone that you are about to arrive for a meeting…yet you've not yet left you're home, forgetting that someone can do the mathematics and be able to tell that you lied!

…You have constant power supply at your house for a week. It leaves you thinking Umeme is not doing its work right. Supplying darkness instead of light.

…people walk into your house and you say "You are all most welcome!"

…you are making a verbal list and trail off saying "what, what.."

…you start calling inanimate objects "stubborn" when they don't work well

…you always use your big notes despite the fact that you have the exact change.

…you think "eh" in a high pitch tone is the correct way to respond when a boda drivers price suggestion is too high.

…umbrellas are not for rain but for the shunshine

Q: why do boda boda drivers wear helmets?

A: because of the passengers whacking them on the head to slow them down.


Thursday, 9 April 2009

And still more pictures...

This is very easy - I am writing a logframe at the moment (fellow POs, feel free to groan in sympathy with me) and I keep distracting myself with posting photos - makes the time go more quickly, although unfortunately the wretched thing is still waiting for me when I get back... Without further ado, I present more photos (these are really random at this point - I am looking through my pictures and thinking "cool - I'll post that" - I will try to be more thematic in the future...)
This photo is actually just a couple of days ago in Capetown - a bunch of us went out to dinner at this quite fancy restaurant, where we paid the staggering amount of approximately US$15 per head for amazing food and drinks (another thing to add to the 'Reasons-Why-I-Love-Capetown list - incredibly cheap!) Needless to say, we were not actually dressed for the occasion (as Ash said, we were in a very upscale place, dressed for MacDonalds) but we had a hoot regardless, and probably entertained the rest of the restaurant with our discussions of heroics from the training ("remember when those terrorists made you dance the Conga Line?")

L-R Judy (Aussie, based in Cyprus), Ana (Bosnian, based in Georgia), Ash (Kiwi based in Australia - old buddy), me, Angel (Indonesian based in Singapore) and Patrick (Ugandan, based in Nairobi) with our pretty scrumptious food
Okay - I already posted this picture and am trying to re-post in the hopes that it is a little larger and you can actually make out the faces. I think I will fail in this hope though - it is just a darn small picture. It's strange to look at this photo, taken a year ago, and realise how many changes we have had in our team since then. I'll have to get a new team photo soon and we can put them side by side.

L-R; Isaac, Wycliffee, Julius, Ekra, Me, Bob, Godfrey, Simba (behind), Bettina and Wise, with Amos seated and looking like the King that he is!

This is from my birthday in February- I took my camera and took a photo of the table when we arrived, because it looked so beautiful (all formal place settings for 25 with wonderful flowers) then forgot about it until the end of the night, so have no actual pictures of the dinner!! But someone took this at the cake moment and although it's a lousy shot, I think it shows how long my hair is getting...

With Kim, one of my very best friends here, at a Christmas party last December. Kim lived in Russia for six years, so is a vodka afficionado (!) She was also a Godsend when we went to St Petersburg last year - not only did she give extensive lists of which restaurants to go to, she gave us lists of what to order! Everyone has those people with whom they immediately click and become so close to - Kim is one of those for me and I will miss her greatly when we no longer live in the same city.

Just wait until your Father sees you!! (family in-joke!) My car in Karamoja last year. It takes beatings for me again and again and keeps coming up roses (well - until someone else took it to Karamoja a few months ago and blew up the engine - it is currently still in for extensive surgery). This trip was amazing - it poured with rain as we drove in and we passed so many cars stuck in the mud...I was nervous because we only had my Prado, not one of the Landcruisers, fitted with mud tyres and an electric winch, and many prayers were said as we drove through bogs. Returning, we left on the Friday night as Bob's father was very ill and he needed to get back to Nairobi...we drove out through insane pouring rain and even continued on to Kampala that night (I was driving whilst the driver napped in the passenger seat and Bob kept commenting how much tiring it was sitting in the backseat than driving - although he declined my frequent suggestions that we swap places to alleviate his fatigue - I had a hard time exercising a modicum of restraint!) We arrive around midnight (greatly violating security protocols, but I was so glad not to have to sleep in Mbale) and I collapsed into bed exhausted, then got a phone call from our Security Manger the next morning - we had about six cars trying to also get out and just getting perpetually stuck in the mud - they kept driving and finally arrived in Kampala over 24 hours later, on Sunday morning. I was SO grateful that we had left the Friday night - those 12 fewer hours of rain really saved us!

That mud is so thick it totally obscured our logo on the door (for security reasons, all NGO cars have their logos on their doors, as evidenced by the UN car behind us) - it demonstrated the point that Louis had made a week before about larger logos on the doors aptly!!

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Wednesday, 8 April 2009

More Pictures

Well - pictures don't require much effort and as I am working on a proposal, this is my default right now!! I have just come back from a week of Security Training in Capetown and am in love with Capetown and want to move to South Africa right now - it was like being at home (the shopping! drinking tap water! good roads!!!). The training was intense but incredibly valuable - I will be writing about that at a later point. But for now - on with the pictures...

At a food distribution - true to form, the women do all the heavy lifting
while the men stand around supervising...

Bob putting on a bullet proof vest for the first time ever - whilst IN a moving car in convoy. We didn't know he had never put one on - they are murder to get into and you really need someone to put you into it whilst standing up. Anyway, his efforts provided much hilarity to the rest of us in the car (and took him about ten minutes) - I have a sequence of photos that are increasingly funny (including Walter, next to him, theoretically helping him, but really laughing too much to be anything more than a hindrance) but due to the difficulties of uploading, you only get the final one, with his look of triumph. He then proceeded to take the remaining vests and build a little wall of Babylon all around him as well...

The thriving metropolis of Pader ... seriously folks, this is it. This street.
I'm not leaving anything out. What you see is what you get...

Bettina and I (in traditional dress) with Dez at his traditional wedding, in his wife's village. That day was an amazing saga - I should try to write the story sometime as it was surreal...

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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Some Photos

So - I thought I'd have another stab at showing some pictures from every day life here, the work etc. Internet seems to be cooperating a little more (nervous to say that in case it blinks out again!) so I will have a shot...

This is Denba, who used to drive for us - Driver Extraordinaire and pretty much the coolest man on the planet. He's sitting on a traditional little stool which cracks me up as he is about eight feet tall. I still see him, but no longer with work with him. I miss Denba...

This is at Landmine Awareness Day last year in Pader - I am with my landmine team and VERY dear friends, L-R Susan, Me, Monica and Walter (who appears fascinated by the happenings!!)

A day in the life - digging a car out of the mud in the East

Geoffrey (our Water Engineer) and myself distributing relief supplies during the flood response, Soroti, 2007 (no comments about stupid hats, please - it is hot and I burn too easily!)

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Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Drop the Pressure

Well - I was supposed to be travelling to northern Uganda today for the week, but was held up with issues with the EU and another food aid project, and then suddenly we have four days to write a WFP (World Food Program) Proposal, and I think I will be lucky to go to bed this week, let alone go to the north!! The field teams will just have to survive without me for another week! That's not too bad - it is dry season here now and sooooooooo hot up north...makes it really hard to sleep at night. Although I am really excited - up in Pader, which was nothing but a refugee camp a couple of years ago, they now have RUNNING WATER!! It's still insanely cold, but it's running out of taps (sometimes) and makes hair washing soooo much easier!!

Many friends here are off on adventures soon - Sam, Kenny and Julia are going to climb Kilimanjaro on Saturday (I could have gone, but can't really afford a week away from the office at this point, plus...a week without washing? Not really me?!?!) And Charlie is heading to Antigua for a fortnight (me? jealous? Not in the slightest - what makes you ask that!!) I guess I am (hopefully) going to Sth Africa in six weeks for Level Two Security Training (the one where they practice abducting you and holding you hostage etc...should be oodles of fun) so who am I to be jealous?

As part of my attempt to "do stuff other than work" I have started doing personal training with Remmy (the husband of Bettina, my fellow Program Officer and general saving grace). He has succesfully killed me twice now (amazing revival, hey?!) but it's good. He is such a sweetie and very encouraging as he is dragging me up and down hills. I will keep plugging away at this and see if I can't regain some of my former fitness (running 8km kills me about now, and that used to be my standard morning run).

One fun thing...we are now working longer hours on Monday to Thursday, then supposed to leave the office at 2.00 p.m. on Fridays. I have not yet managed this, of course, but it is a wonderfully tantalising prospect, and am hoping to do it this Friday, as it is my birthday - Bettina and I are going to go for Devonshire Tea at the tearoom run by the British wife of the Doctor here - I cannot WAIT!!

Okay...back to it...

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Monday, 16 February 2009

Snap Back to Reality

Well, it's a hot Sunday in Kampala and I am ploughing through emails, trying to clear up a fraction of the hanging work before heading north again tomorrow. This is my least favourite time of year here - in the middle of the dry season the weather is hot and the air is dusty, in the north they are burning the grass and it is brown. This usually lush and green country is far less attractive, although just one or two rainstorms also makes an amazing difference.
I am well into the year again - Christmas seems like a distant memory. I think I will subtitle my trip home over Christmas the "you have to join facebook" promotional tour, as I was extolled the facebook virtues by just about everyone (John even giving me a demonstration of their excellent facilities, which I think was an excuse for "look at all my holiday pictures from America"!) The only dissenting voice is Mum who read an article about it being co-owned by a senior CIA official and thinks it is being used for information gathering purposes (she is probably right, although I do pity the poor person who has to wade through all of that to try to ascertain any useful intelligence!!) I think the masses have prevailed and it is jut a matter of time (and me being willing to allocate a few hours to this) and then I will really join the noughties (is that what they're called?)
Apart from that, Christmas holiday was awesome, but unremarkable. There was home. It rocked. End of story really!! Lots of Mum-cooking, dog-walking, sleeping, catching up, adoring the wonderful Melbourne roads (and my zoomy little car!) and the ease of life in Melbourne. Spending time with friends reminded me how lucky I am to have so many great ones, and made me feel guilty that work has superceded contact with them so much in the last year...but no more! I will do better...
Travelling back delivered a nice surprise - I was upgraded to First Class (I feel that deserves capital letters) for the Melbourne-Dubai leg, which rocked the house fairly sublimely. My own little bed (that they made up with sheets and pillows and a doona!) and pyjamas, a full wine list, with Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne (!), a la carte dining, a massaging chair, the list goes on and on. I was totally in love with First Class, and then had to shuttle back to economy (undeserving of capital letters) for the Dubai-Entebbe leg, which just about killed me. Also, I ran out of time at the airport and all my planned Duty Free shopping wound up producing one tall latte with an extra shot :( Not quite what I was looking for (and then we sat at the gate for an hour and a half...I was tempted to ask if I could just duck back into the terminal to finish my shopping, while they sorted out whatever problem they had - after all, they could page me, right?!?!) Anyway...
So - back to work, back to real life. We have a new Department Director (finally - after a year of waiting) so are all waiting to see what life is like under the new regime. Apart from that, I am vaguely attempting to get a life, instead of working 24/7 - I'll keep you posted on the progress...
I have been trying to upload more pictures but the internet here is not so interested in cooperating - I will keep trying. Seems to be unable to even load one picture lately... Guess them's the breaks...

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