Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Thief Changes Everything

The hushed tone of concern, the feeling of being violated and a promise to put some new things in place... these are familiar feelings to me that come when a thief has come into my own "safe zone."

Recently, that feeling came over me as my neighbour described how some daring thief made his way to the third (top) floor of our complex and into a window of another neghbour. Apparently, he had the window open, and the window had no burglar bars. They stole some clothes from off his baclcony, a cap, a knife and some other small items during the night, while had the window open "to let the breeze in." A few days after, they found the cap and knife on the roof over our particular building, near to a door that they had tried to use to enter the grilled in portion of the building.

Immediately my mind went to explain the reasons why the victom could be so dumb, and why we were much smarter, and why it couldn't happen to us (thieves apparently do IQ tests before break-ins.)

I then postulated that maybe he faked the break-in, to explain the loss of some valuable item that he had actually sold for himself, while collecting the insurance. I guess that in this version of things, he is actually a diamond trader from New Yorker, who wanted to commit insurance fraud. (Somehow, Walter Matthau gets involved at some point and solved the mystery....)

But it was too late -- our sense of safety about living at The Meadows has changed.

When we moved to Jamaica, I advised my wife to start to view everything we owned as "borrowed." In Kingston in particular, that's not a bad assumption as just about anything not bolted down is subject to theft, and even some of the things that are bolted down are apt to find new owners also. In a true sense, this was going to be an abundant opportunity to live a life in which tangible stuff was borrowed, and not really owned, subject is it was to sudden changes in ownership -- called "theft" in some circles.

We also were sure to pick an apartment complex that seemed relatively safe -- a guard at the gate, a formidable grille to the building, double locks on doors, tall walls with razor wire. it would takea combination of spiderman and batman to break in here.

Well, it did. We still can't tell how the thief made his way to a third floor window and into the apartment, and then back out safely.

But the effect goes well past the clothes, cap and knife he stole.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Never a Dull Moment... in Jamaica

<<<<< Before

Life in Jamaica consists of dealing with a never-ending stream of surprises, catastrophes and even horrors.

Recently, the tropical depresson and precursor to Hurricane Wilma that terrorized South Florida dumped 10 days straight of rain on Kingston. Things not only got wet, but they started to slip and slide, and that included a good part of my parent's back yard.

We got a call when we were away in the country from our frantic neighbour to tell us that the backyward was being sucked away into the gully.

Apparently, a hole had developed at the base that allowed the hole to develop, taking with it about 10% of the backyard dirt. It was a scary sight to see, and to contemplate that the edge of the hole was only 10 feet or so away from the foundation of the house.

A full week later, and after several promises fromt the "govament" there was a short burst of rain that lasted about an hour. My parents said they heard a wooshing sound.

When they looked out the window, they realized that not only was the hole bigger, but that their 10 ft wall had collapsed. Also, the gully wall had also disappeared into the gully. They now had a unique view of the gully itself, the other side of the gully and back of the houses on the other side.

It was quite an improved view, actually, and perhaps they stood for a moment wondering what it would be like to keep such a nice vista, and the slight breeze that could now be felt. Perhaps when they recovered, they realized that the hole was now a mere 3 ft from the edge of the gully.

When the news came that a tropical storm was making its way from Barbados, they started to panic.

Evantually, several phone calls to evey contact they could think of yielded some action, and 5 men showed up to pack sandbags to fortify the breach, and smoke some strong ganja. They loaded up 400 bags and packed them in.

Luckily, the rains never came.

Two weeks later, they finally showed up to fix the gully, the wall and to restore the soil, we hope. Maybe they'll even fix the wall, we think. To be sure, they are well armed with a front-end lifter, and bulldozer, 20 men and enough ganja to keep both them and us intoxicated for days.

Incidentally, my wife is just getting used to the fact that the smell of ganja in the air is not only to be widely expected, but is our decisive answer to poor customer service. After all, with a good dose of God's ital gift to man, it's easy to experience life as having "No Problem." In the meantime, however, my wife continues to make a remark whenever she smells the nation's number one cash crop at work. At some point, she'll stop pointing it out, but hopefully the laid-back Jamaican vibe won't stop.

In the meantime, we are carefully watching the 20 workers and the "extra" 5-10 fellows hanging around making themselves available in case of a sudden manpower shortage. The whole affair might take 3 weeks or more, and I'd bet on the "more" if I had to. Maybe, it will be done by Christmas? In either case, we can probably count on something interesting happening between now and then that's worth blogging, if I can only shake off that giddy feeling I get when I come to inspect the recent progress.

<<< After

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On Cursing up a Storm

In a recent public speech, I was able to utter one of the worst curse words I know without an adverse reaction.

What was the word? “Bombo-claat.” In Jamaican patois, it means literally “sanitary napkin.” (Imagine, if you can, someone in Miami getting very angry and shouting out “Maxi-Pad” or “diaper.”)

To my credit, the audience I was speaking to had not a single Jamaican. Also, I repeated the epithet in the context of a true story in which a Trini friend decided to try the word on a group of Jamaicans, and in the direction of one fellow who was eyeing his girlfriend with some relish.

Strangely enough, (to my friend) the response was uncharitable. A broken bottle, a vicious approach and a run for dear life are the highlights of the story, which relied on the fact that those Jamaicans being told the word had clearly forgotten the etymological, diaper connection.

The Trinis liked the story, but probably would not have been as entertained if I had used a favorite Trini curse word that starts with the word ”mother.” It’s hard to imagine that anyone would be happy with a reference to their mother as part of a curse-word.

In the US, the word ‘ass-hole” is used as a fairly mild insult, but to put an “r” in front of the word is to turn it into a Bajan curse word that is heard as the worst of the worst words to ever use.

In Jamaica we eat our bullas. Proudly. And with butter, cheese or pear. And we don’t like to share them, thank you very much. In Jamaica, bullas are made from flour, water, sugar etc. and look something like rock-cakes.

A Trini would be appalled at the idea of eating their bullas, and it’s not because the idea of adding condiments is offensive to good culinary taste. In Jamaica, the ideas of going “batty” and of being a “batty-man” have nothing to do with one’s mental health, or being a mad person.

The issue here is that the words “bulla” and “batty-man” are demeaning slang for homosexuals in Trinidad and Jamaica respectively.

One man’s food is another man’s insult.

Beyond the issue of language difference, is the sheer satisfaction that comes from good cursing.

Good cursing?

Yes, appropriate cursing that expresses frustration and relieves stress. It heightens tensions, and also lowers it, depending on the intent. It’s quite useful in heat of the sexual moment (or so I’m told ;0) No amount of sharing one’s feelings, communicating one’s experience or using “I statements” compares to letting loose some chosen, timely and appropriate cuss words.

Now, I don’t endorse the kind of cursing that is about tearing someone else down.

But the truth is, tearing someone down has nothing to do with the curse words used, and more to do with the intent of the speaker. I, for one, am suspicious as hell of people who don’t curse, and instead use nice sounding words and a smile to deliver their insults and tear-downs. I’d prefer for them to curse, and therefore share their true feelings, than to couch their feelings in mumbo-jumbo so that the target is left feeling “fuc*ed up” without even knowing why.

Cursing involves being vulnerable, as it puts emotions in plain view. It includes being truthful and honest about nasty thoughts, even at the risk of being judged and rejected for having them.

To avoid using curse words is to run to try to paint a picture without all the available colours of the rainbow – the results could be nice, but are certainly is not as vibrant as they could be.

PS * the reason I used “*” in the place of the proper letters is that I’m unsure about the blogspot rules for “indecent” language.

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Not Quite Jamaican

Alert - You May Not Be as Jamaican as You Think

It has recently come to my attention that I am not as Jamaican as I thought. Specifically, I learned that in the eyes of the law I am considered to be somewhere between a fully fledged citizen and an illegal alien of some kind.

How did this happen? When did I, a heavily accented, patty-loving, football playing, 3rd generation Wolmerian, West Indies cricket cussing "Yard-man" come to be regarded in this way? Was it the 20 years I spent living in the US? Was it the fact that I divorced a Jamaican and later married a Trini? Or was it all that time I spent at Trini Carnival sampling the local delights?

No - it was none of the above.

In fact, it was because a Jamaican law changed in 2001.

As long as anyone can remember, there has been a law on the books in Jamaica that the child of a Jamaican parent or grand-parent is automatically granted Jamaican citizenship.

It's a wonderful law, allowing us to do useful things like supplementing our national team, The Reggae Boyz. Black English players began scouring their family trees for traces of Jamaican blood, especially when they did the maths and realized that they had a better shot at making the Jamaican team than the English.

My parents did what was, at the time, the right thing. When we returned to Jamaica after I was born in the US, they claimed my Jamaican citizenship and I received my passport and, many years later, my voters card.

Recently, however, when I went to start the process of gaining my wife legal, landed, resident, legally-money-earning status I was told that first I needed to be given official status as a citizen.


A very pleasant lady on the phone at the Ministry of National Justice explained that a recent law was created which made things not quite so "automatic." Instead, Jamaican citizenship required an application, proof of a parent's or grandparent's birth in Jamaica and some six months wait.

Once I got over the shock (and believe me, this was what it was) I tried explaining that I already had a Jamaican passport. That didn't really matter, she said. I still needed to "claim it."

Ah vex, ah vex, ah vex.

But she was so pleasant, it allowed me to go with the flow, and write down the process she outlined. It entailed heading down to the Ministry of Labour to get my wife a work-permit exemption. Then, a short trip to the Ministry of Justice would complete the entire process in one day.

A full 7 days later, we did indeed finish the entire process.

It took 3 separate trips to the Ministry of Labour, 2 trips to Spanish Town to the Registrar General, one trip to the bank, two trips to the Ministry of Justice and an emergency trip by my mother to a safety deposit box for her 65+ year old original birth certificate.

All this while the country was suffering from floods related to a passing hurricane.

And, yes, my wife is a legal resident who can legally work, and legally pay too much taxes for the services received. I submitted my application...

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Dell 5150 A Failure

Well, I'm writing this blog from my Tungsten Palm, scratching away and using the character recognition software.


My Dell 5150 has joined the list of thousands of others that have died as the result of a faulty motherboard. A few minutes ago I was in the middle of typing and the power just died.

A few weeks ago, my problems started when my 5150 stopped pulling power from my battery. I figured, OK, I can do without my laptop on flights.

I called Dell, who said that my motherboard needed to be changed. It took another hour on the phone to India to determine that their customer service was impossible to deal with. Bulletin boards revealed a list price of some $600 or so.

I decided to check ebay., where I found the board for around $450 inc. shipping. While I was price shopping I decided to do a google search for ''Dell 5150 motherboard.''

This is when I discovered I was in deep shit.

I found hundreds of references to failed 5150's, all with variations of the exact same power problem. Everyone had tried the Dell 800 number and had been told the same thing after enduring run-around -- ''you need a new mother board.''

Also my computer is out of the one year warranty by 4 months. This apparently is the trend. This problem develops shortly after the 12 month mark for most owners. Right at the moment the warranty expires.

Dell's response has been to advice those people with failures to replae the motherboard, without admitting that the design was faulty to begin with.

While I was in Trinidad I noticed that a new problem had developed. Some outlets would not power the laptop on. I figured that it was a quirk related to the home I was staying in. Then, my friend, an owner of a Dell 1150, told me that her mother board had died within the first 3 months, and she had the motherboard replaced. I found myself wishing that mine had died earlier.

Then, a few minutes ago, my loptop died in mid-sentence.

I'll bring back a laptop from Miami next week to replace this Dell. Someone online mentioned that there would probably be a class-action lawsuit, and recommended that the owners stay tuned. It would be my pleasure to join in such an action.

This is the last Dell I'll ever own. I'll go back to owning Toshibas, perhaps, as the two I owned before this one never gave a single major problem in 8 years.

Postscript: I bought a Toshiba Satellite that I'm loving, and I never was able to restart the Dell. Perhaps Dell might offer a recall, but I'm not holding my breath.

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Who You Are

Blogging seems to have some similarity to me to writing a newspaper column, with one exception: I have real difficulty imagining who you are.

Obviously, the reason I blog rather than just write in a private diary is that I am writing for You, Dear Reader. All I know with absolute assurance at this moment is that you are reading this blog.

Are you some programmer living in New York City, taking a break from crafting some subroutine at 7pm? Are you a newspaper columnist from the Gleaner looking for ideas? Or a cousin of myvwifes who is trying to catch up with our lives? Or a Trini looking to move to Kingston from Woodbrook in the next month for business? Or a crook looking to see if I slip up at some point and mention my social security number? Or are you some lonely soul who lives in the apartment door to me who saw me running the other day and has been stalking me ever since (I hope not, because I'm on to you if you exisist! )

I suppose that You, Dear Reader, read blogs the way I read them, which is just for the odd moment when sonething goes click and a connection is made that leaps from my world into Yours. Those odd moments are well worth waiting for, and reading for, and the beauty of blogging is that the jump can happen quickly... without waiting for the book to come out.

And while I've met only a few blog readers in person, I imagine that You and I would click if we were to meet in person.

Unless you are a crook or stalker, that is.

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Carnival Coming!

I visited Trinidad this past week and felt that familiar pulse of Trinidad Carnival, the highlight of my year as far as holidays or vacations go.

For some reason, I remembered the astonishment I felt at my first Carnival that I could have that much fun in such a short space of time. The astonishment continues each year, as my Carnival experience evolves from one year to the next.

Last year, it was the discovery of the Breakfast Fete in Diamond Vale. In prior years, there was Jenny’s fete on Carnival Saturday, Jouvert morning, the track on Panorama night, Insomnia, crossing the stage 6 times in Poison, being so tried and drunk that I fell asleep at breakfast in mid-fork.

And then there was that dark skinned, well endowed beauty from
Colombia ah, yay yay.

Now that I’m married, and I know that my wife reads this blog (carefully, and prior to publication) I am sure that this year’s Carnival will be just as good, but in some new an unexpected way. For me, Carnival has been a gift that’s not stopped giving.

A gift?

Yes, a contribution to me of community, life, love, connection, high spirits, excellence, fun, sexiness, beauty and creativity.

The old/new song Lorraine captures the feeling quite well for me…

Lorraine 2005 (Bunji Garlin and Explainer)

Taxi…. airport Kennedy…. Let’s Go!

Lorraine don’t cry I’m leaving

I can’t miss this jamming

With all them steel-band playing

And woman background shaking

If the bug bite you baby

Then you can come and join me

In my calypso island,

Jamming on some man woman, yeah…!

Can’t wait for the new songs and dem January fetes. Machel, Bunji, Destra, Iwer – here I come.

(To hear the most complete list of soca songs for 2005, including Lorraine 2005, check

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bills & Less Bills

I don't understand.

Today my wife and I received our first phone bill. I felt like we had arrived. We moved into our apartment on August 1st and today, Nov 9th, was the day that marked the first utility bill arrived.


Well, it happened to be the phone bill, and it came this late because it took C&W so long to install a simple phone line, that we have had service for only a little more than a month.

That was bad, but as it turns out, not too bad.

We have still not received an electrical bill from JPS.

Before today, we called JPS twice since Aug 1st; and in each case the CSR explained that they had not yet read the meter, or done the computations, or checked the runes, etc. We decided to go ahead and pre-pay about US$100, as we had heard reports that the non-receipt of a bill meant nothing when JPS was looking for a payment. We got the account number, and trotted off to Paymaster to ensure that my erstwhile blogging could continue without interruptions.

Finally, today we called again and a patient CSR explained that three bills had been sent out, and that we should have received them. He did not go as far as to say that we should have paid the bills, as that would have just taken the cake... and I guess he was not hungry for the taste of yet another confused customer. Anyways, he proceeded to explain how much we owed and when the payment was due, and we asked him if he could fax over a copy of the bill. He agreed, to our surprise, and in less than two minutes the fax line was ringing.

Now, this was a whole new level of service, I thought. Maybe they have developed a customer branded experience, and were just looking at ways to implement it! Perhaps all the complaining that I had heard about JPS was all exaggerated, and blown out of proportion.

Then I saw the bill, or more accurately, "attempted to understand it."

My wife has three degrees, and I have two. We are each over 35 years old... and we could not figure out the bill.

I instantly recalled the complaints that I had heard about people not having a clue as to what their JPS bills meant, and we slipped.... while trying to resist... into their ranks.

So, we will call JPS tomorrow and join the ranks of my country-men (or, would-be country-men, given my apparent non-citizenship of Jamaica.) We also do not have a clue, and it seems that that must be the way that JPS likes it.


Because it's been this way for a loooooong time.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

On Jamaican-ness and Bajan-ness

On Jamaican-ness and Bajan-ness

On a recent trip to Barbados I had the good sense to bring along my wife. (No... she's not in this picture.)

Although she was on the trip for quite an official reason (i.e. carrying my bags after recent surgery,) the unofficial reason was that we wanted to give her a nice 4 day break after dealing with a recent 12 day volley of continuous rain and no sun that had afflicted her new island home in Kingston. While I can’t say that she was looking forward to “carrying my bags” (oh, the things wives must put up with,) she was looking forward to her second trip to Barbados, in which she would have the opportunity to spend four days doing Absolutely Nothing.

I would be away all day in meetings of a high and important nature in which we discussed, among other matters, the idea of being nice to customers (but we used bigger words than that, to be sure.) She would be all alone, and have three whole days to herself, to sit and read and catch up on her free time, while comfortably ensconced in a four-star, Caribbean seaside resort.

Maybe it was the “ensconcing” that proved her undoing.

On the first evening, I returned the hotel to hear her report of the day – she spent two hours reading beside the pool, drinks in hand, bathing suit on, relaxing to the sound of the waves crashing in the background, when it started to creep in – a sheer and bottomless boredom.

To her credit, she fought it.

She went running, talked to the hotel staff, went for a walk into “town,” read 2 books, went swimming, talked to the staff, went to the store, talked to the staff, and for good measure, talked to the staff some more. To her credit, I did get a report from some of the hotel staff that she had indeed been talking with them, and they had truly enjoyed her company (as Trinis would say, “she has a set of talks” which in Jamaica would be translated to mean “she can chat!”)

Over the next few nights and on the flight back we talked a lot about the sort of bland, nothing happening-ness that is the Bajan experience, from a Jamaican and Trini perspective. The fact is, Barbados offers the visitor the most organized Caribbean experience that I have ever had in the region. After a trip to Barbados, a visitor might very well think that the Caribbean is a polite and conservative place, where the rule of law is only superseded by the even stricter “social laws.” It gives Barbados a very safe and quiet atmosphere, sedate and soothing.

Coming from Jamaica or Trinidad, however… the place is “bloody boring,” and most Bajans “nah say a damn t’ing” (trans. have nothing to say.)

Now, I don’t want to offend Bajans here, and what I am saying here must be understood in the context of the culture we were trying to give her a break from. As a relative of mine put it, Jamaica is one surprise after another, with something new and exciting happening every day.

When she says that something “new and exciting” happens every day, she did not mean that something GOOD happens necessarily – in fact our exorbitant murder rate is proof of that. That “new and exciting’ thing may be referring to:
  • floods that rendered roads impassable in almost all parishes, and our attempts to drive through a river gully that had water high enough to make the car feel like a boat (scary)

  • gruesome murders and rapes that are too gruesome to get into in detail lest you, Dear Reader, be offended. They have been enough to make my wife think twice before going out for a long run on a Sunday morning

  • recent laws that make me unclear if I am officially Jamaican or not, in spite of my Jamaican passport and voter’s registration – which we discovered in the process of trying to get her official landed status.

  • drivers that attempt to do amazing, reckless and daring things – such as riding a bicycle in the middle of a storm on Washington Boulevard, in dark of 5am, wearing only slippers, shorts and an open umbrella; a man and a woman on a motor-bike taking a right turn at Shortwood Road from Constant Spring Ring, with the woman dragging a lawnmower behind her; the driver that hit me off my bicycle and dislocated my shoulder coming down from Stony Hill.

  • the many eccentric Mad-men on the roads (i.e. the indigent, homeless, insane,) including one fellow we saw yesterday in a Tastee patty shop in New Kingston who was talking incessantly to the air while telling jokes that he alone found funny. My wife has observed one of his insane colleagues walking down the street, and carefully replacing the rubbish he found (i.e. the good Jamaican citizen’s mail) with his own collection of rubbish gleaned from the nearest garbage pan. (This may have something to do with the Jamaican practice of sending anything that you deliberately want to lose via the Jamaican postal system.)

  • a woman walking in her bare feet on her way to work down a flooded Mandela highway, past the carcass of a dead horse. I’m no epidemiologist, but that sure seemed like a “bad idea.”

These have all happened in the last month.

By contrast, my wife reported that while she was running in Barbados, she ran past a puddle and observed each and every car stopping to crawl through it, lest a pedestrian be splashed. All I could think about was the number of pedestrians we splashed between us, during the recent floods in Jamaica, and a guilty feeling came with it…

Incidentally, in this respect, Jamaica is no different from Trinidad, in my experience, in terms of it being exciting and new all the time. In the recent news they had their own share of kidnappings, bombs, beheadings, fetes, marches, speeches, World Cup qualifiers, and the most outrageous headlines I have ever read. From today’s newspaper:
  • Garbage Truck Kills Scavenger at Forres Park (was that a good thing or a bad thing?)

  • Underdogs WI look to bite Aussies (Ouch)

  • Somos Viva Nueva-We are Viva Nueva (what?)

  • Teen Killed in Hail of Gunfire

  • Republic Staff Gives Advice (I would hope so…)

  • Beware Racial Bombing Spree

  • Ready to ‘Bite Political Dust’

  • Badjohn Cop Transferred (A Trini word meaning SOB)

  • Glencoe Man in Court (OK – hopefully they are have permission?)

These newspapers have a flair for taking mundane happenings and turning them into MAJOR HEADLINE EVENTS, with lots of bright colors and bold lettering.

Bajans are, by and large, are appalled at these uncivilized happenings. I can imagine Bajans visiting Jamaica and having heart-attacks at what to them would look like continued mayhem and chaos. The Jamaican response to chaos is to confront it head on and deal with it in as an aggressive manner as possible.

The Trini response is to laugh at it, write a biting Calypso, and break out the hard liquor.

In Barbados, however, it seems that the prevailing response is to dampen it.

Recently, I heard confirmation from a friend of mine who has lived in all three countries that the Bajan newspapers suppress bad news on a gentleman’s agreement intended to present a good face to tourists, and to preserve their number one industry. I believe it, although I have no proof.

When Jamaicans get into a fender bender, our first response is to start arguing our way out of it. The Bajan response is to sit in the car, and wait for the police. That is, to wait for the police in the middle of the road, regardless of the size of the damage. A Bajan will block traffic for miles doing this, their civic duty.

A Jamaican reading this would start imagining the new and exciting “claats” that would quickly learn from passing motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. A Trini would expect people to stop and remonstrate in a comical way, easing the tension of the moment.

The Bajan slows down and does not complain openly – as this is what everyone does, or is supposed to do. They will suppress the outburst before it happens.

These examples demonstrate what seems to me, an outsider, to be a visible suppression that I sense when working and dealing with Bajan women. I suppose it’s there with the men as well, but I don’t study men in the way that I study women as a gender (the fairer sex is just fairer to my eyes.)

Recently, when I was leaving Barbados last week for Jamaica, I ran into a friend who had been living in Barbados for some time. She is a fairly typical Trinidadian woman – outgoing, engaging, beautiful on the outside and inside, vivacious, smart and she enjoys people just because they are … people.

Meeting her in the airport had me reflect on the fact that I could count only a single Bajan woman among the hundreds I have met that I would say is “outgoing” or “expressive.”


My wife, (with her “set of talks”) was happy to get home… and yes, that meant happy to get home to the craziness that is life in Kingston. She was greeted by her first water lock-off in a while, coming right after the floods, that prevented her from bathing and washing four loads of laundry.

Ahh… home sweet home.

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