Bandu, the game changer.

It can be challenging to keep a house on the edge of the jungle on the Southern coast of the tropical island of Sri Lanka, from being taken over by the elements.

The elements tend to be invasive… Strong rains lead to columns of millions of little black ants and baby frogs; humidity means risk of damp and mildew. Sometimes it feels as though we are “glamping” in a hard shelled tent ~ the blending between the outdoors and the inside of the house, can be rather blurry.

We have no screens on the windows. No air conditioning, only ceiling fans and fresh air, and between the tops of the walls and the roof there is a small open space, all the way around the house. This space is in most Sri Lankan basic homes, a practical tropical feature which allows hot air to escape, but of course it also allows for little creatures of the forest to enter.  Ours is not a hermetic home. This makes maintenance and cleaning a constant challenge. Help! How to keep up with all of this??

And then one day, everything changed.

That was the day I, Peta, met Bandu.

I jumped into a tuk tuk to get a ride home from the beach. The tuk tuk driver was particularly friendly  I asked him during the ride if he knew where the best place to get fresh coconuts was. And he replied “Madam, I bring you coconuts. Tomorrow! My name is Bandu.”

The next day a large branch with bright orange coconuts still attached, was delivered to by Bandu to me, as promised. Pretty exciting stuff, having fresh coconuts delivered to our front door.

“Madam, I open coconuts?”…. And within minutes, a coconut was chopped open outside on the ground, the coconut water poured into a jug and the flesh scooped into a bowl.

“How much for the coconuts, Bandu?” I asked. “No madam. No money. Coconuts from my garden. For you.” And so it began….

Bandu noticed that our front porch was covered in leaves. A big no no in Sri Lanka. He offered to sweep it for us. “Bandu, do you know anyone who can help me keep this house clean, once or twice a week?”, I asked, thinking there might be someone in his community looking for work.

“Madam. I will clean!” he said enthusiastically. When I heard this offer, I was surprised, but delighted because Bandu has an easy demeanor and had already shown initiative and generosity. I naturally, had tagged him as a “tuk tuk driver”.

“Can you start tomorrow?” was my immediate reaction to his offer.

And this was a game changer.

Bandu whipped the place into shape in time at all. After a couple of weeks, he asked if his wife Nilu, could help him clean. “No extra money madam.” Sure I thought, why not?Nilu is as delightful as he is.  And so, Bandu and Nilu came into our lives and have become an integral part of our experience here.

No matter how many times we have asked Bandu to call us Ben and Peta, cultural habits are heard to break and the Colonial past encapsulated in the automatic use of Madam and Sir is unshakable, however awkward it feels to us.

Bandu cleaning a large jackfruit which he cut down from one of our trees. It is quite a tricky and messy job due to the latex sap, but he has done this many, many times before. The flesh of the jackfruit is delicious raw (taste between a pineapple and a strawberry) but in Sri Lanka is mostly used to make a curry.

Another ripe jackfruit. The largest tropical fruit there is, filled with beneficial nutrients, hangs like boulders in the trees when ripe, right outside our front door. The monkeys enjoy this fruit too in the higher branches which are out of our reach.

There are so many little things that Bandu does seemingly effortlessly that make life easier for us.

He gives us tuk tuk rides when needed (when we prefer not to go by motorscooter for whatever reason), changes the gas for the stove, feeds the dogs, delivers the clothes to the laundry guy and back and finds us workers for repairs, such as electricians, carpenters etc. He is in short, a dream come true.

Ever the problem solver, when we need to cover one of the sky lights and had no ladder, Bandu figured it out and took care of the job by creating a furniture pyramid.

A few weeks after meeting Bandu and Nilu, we were invited to their house for dinner one evening and we happily accepted. Bandu came to get us in his bright green tuk tuk,  to drive to his house which is about ten minutes away.

Their house is a work in progess. As of now, a concrete shell, with grand plans for continued improvement. Blankets and fabrics cover the openings which one day will have real windows and doors.

We got to meet their two young sons, Dimalsha and Isuru and as well, other members of his family who were all there for this occasion. His brother in law was in the kitchen cooking and all sorts of delicious aromas were wafting our way….

A large table in the center of the room was covered with a  white table cloth, plates full of a variety of curries. And….. two settings of white plates.

“Bandu, why are there are only TWO plates on the table?” I asked.

“For you and Sir. We eat later.” He said with insistence as though I should know this…

Ben and I looked at each other knowing that we were both very uncomfortable with this arrangement…. There was no way we were going to eat on our own, with them watching and waiting to eat later. No way! It took a few rounds of our insistence that we would be way happier if we all ate together. Eventually they relented. More plates were brought out by one of the kids and placed around the table. Whew, we could relax now.

“But Madam” Bandu said despairingly “we don’t have enough forks.”

“But Bandu, in Sri Lanka everyone eats with their hands right?  So we will eat with our hands, yes?”

And so it was that we all sat down together around the table to a plentiful and delicious feast of vegetable curry, a fish curry, and  fresh grilled fish and shrimp. In addition there was of course Sri Lankan sambol (a grated coconut and chili dish), and papadams (fried crispy “crackers”).

Bandu and Nilu, proud of the dishes they have made to share with us. (Note the two plates set for the guests.)

Ben chatting with the younger son, while we all wait as the fish is being grilled in the kitchen. Nilu and Bandu are Buddhist, the same as 70% of Sri Lankans living in the South, but interestingly Nilu has a strong affinity and reverence for the elephant Hindu god, Ganesh as well. There are pictures on the wall of both Buddha and Ganesh.

The two sons and a cousin, shy yet interactive, it is a first for them to have foreigners in their home. Front of the table you can see the golden papadams used to scoop up curry.

Dimalsha, the youngest, is a chess champion at school. He brought out his chess set and was eager for some competition. It has been a LONG time since I played chess… probably when my own son Oren was a chess star in first grade, and now he is 29! At any rate, he beat me but I gave him a good run.

Nilu’s curries were delicious.  She had thoughtfully toned down the level of spiciness, as Sri Lankan curries are typically fiery hot. Sri Lanka, earned a place in history for its trade of exotic spices for several centuries and the palate of spice combinations is deep and extensive and makes Sri Lankan curry unique amongst Asian curries.

At the end of the meal, when we could eat no more, Bandu took us home in his tuk tuk. A great example all in all of the infamous Sri Lankan hospitality.

A few weeks later while we were traveling to visit family, Bandu and Nilu took care of our house in our absence, fed the dogs, watered the garden and kept an eye on things. Our friend Brook lived in the house for a while with her boyfriend and baby. Nilu,seeing them struggle to keep up with the demands of a newborn, offered to cook veggie curries for them, at our house.

I started to get Facebook messages from Brook telling me how great Nilu’s curries were and saying we just had to ask  Nilu to cook meals in the house for us when we get back. Hadn’t thought of that!! But hmmm, what a grand idea!

And so, we now have in home authentic Sri Lankan veggie (and sometimes fish) curries once or twice a week, cooked either by Nilu, or Nilu with Bandu assisting her and sometimes with us watching, learning how to prepare these local classics and chatting in the kitchen about food and cooking. Nilu learned how to cook from her mother, who learned from her mother.

Curry ingredients for today, from right to left: jackfruit (both fleshy flower petals and the large seeds that taste like chestnut), eggplant, baby bitter gourd ~ an exotic Sri Lankan vegetable (we have just discovered), and leafy “gotukola” ගොතූකෝලා,  which in English is known as “Pennywort” and being used here to make a sambol “condiment”.

(Not shown are the curry leaves, spices and coconut milk, essential ingredients in Sri Lankan curries.)

“Madam, you want curry little bit spicy?”

As we finish writing this post, on a quiet Saturday morning, Bandu and Nilu arrive in their tuk tuk with tiffin boxes (Indian style metal stacking food containers), in hand.

“Want eat string hoppers for breakfast, Madam?”.

Special delivery. of fish curry in coconut milk (front), coconut chili sambol behind and string hoppers on the left. String hoppers are made from red rice flour and are an alternative to rice as a base for the curries.

Good morning! සුභ උදෑසනක්!

75 thoughts on “Bandu, the game changer.

  1. caroline helbig

    I’d like to find a Bandu and Nilu! What a fortuitous meeting in the tuk tuk. This is such a wonderful story about such lovely and generous people. The two place settings reminds me of when we were invited to the home of our Egyptian guide. We finally convinced him to eat with us, but no luck with his wife who insisted on staying in the kitchen. I am very envious of your special delivery curries! Enjoy!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Yes Caroline, this was our lucky day indeed. It was interesting to hear about your experience in Egypt, these opportunities to go beyond “transactional” exchanges with locals and to “peek” into their lives, represents a valuable dimension of cultural discovery.

      No doubt that the Muslim community’s sensitivity to female modesty complicates interactions with Westerners in a multi gender setting. We had a similar experience when we were invited for lunch in the nearby Fort Gale a while back. The gem traders wife would not join us for lunch and furthermore, as she was not veiled in the house, only Peta got to meet her.


  2. Shari Pratt

    This is a wonderful post, Peta. You’re very gracious to describe the special relationship you and Ben developed with Bandu and Nilu. They are lovely people. Are Sri Lankans generally as welcoming as this family? The photos show a great deal of what you experienced. It’s interesting how the kitchen hearth is the central room of most houses. I think people who are extremely wealthy and never prepare their own meals are missing out on the most important activity of the day.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Shari thank you for your thoughtful feedback, as always.

      Yes, Sri Lankans are extremely hospitable, especially in more “rural” areas. When we go for walks in our little village, we often get invited to come in for tea by people we have never met before. People are friendly, gracious, curious and therefore eager to chat with people from faraway lands. We find that it is easy for foreigners to fall in the “trap” of limiting their interactions with locals to relationships with vendors of stuff or services. It is qualitatively different to get together with Sri Lankans (anybody actually) when there is no commercial motivation.

      It is very true that food and the making of meals is something that transgresses all cultural boundaries. However, the practice here of having tea is even stronger: there is not much preparation or burden on the host, it is all about the social interaction over a cup of Ceylon tea.

      Ben & Peta

      1. Shari Pratt

        I think we in the states have given up a lot by going to coffee shops rather than making it at home and inviting in friends to share a cup. I do offer a coffee or tea to anyone who comes by, however, but we usually meet when we’re out an about. Something seems lacking when we rarely have people over for social occasions. Guess I know who can change this, at least in our house.

        1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

          Shari you are absolutely right. There are some “old fashioned” behaviors such as a hand written letter or an invite for tea at home that yield different kind of interaction ~ more personal. At the end of the day, I would surmise it comes down to the notion of time and the Western obsession with “efficiency” i.e. a valuation of time that is so high that relationship building investment in time is not valued as high as transactional investment in time. In Asia where we live, it is the opposite. First comes relationships, (and the investment in time that they require), and then come transactions. If I am ever in your part of the world, I hope to get an invite for tea.:)


  3. Rusha Sams

    How fortunate for you to find this family willing to invite you in literally to share their culture. I marvel at what people can do and can eat in other countries. Sometimes I feel rather inadequate because I seemingly can do so little comparatively.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Rusha most Sri Lankans are very hospitable and we do get many invites for tea as we go about our walks in the “neighborhood”. I am often nervous when we get invited into someones home for a meal, because I don’t eat much meat, no sugar and have an allergy to onions. So I worry that I might offend a host by not eating their food. But in this case, they made all the curries without onions especially for me and as well, almost everything was very tasty to us.


  4. Patti

    I love reading your posts because you present such an alternative lifestyle to what I know and am comfortable with. It’s fascinating to think of all the people all over the world going about their daily lives in so many different ways.

    I, sadly, have a very definitive fear of creepy crawlies so the idea of living in an open house such as yours would never work for me, but I sure do enjoy reading about how you make it work.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Patti, it is actually surprising how quickly wherever we live becomes the new norm for us… a different place, a different lifestyle. We find that we both naturally adapt and adjust rather easily to that which when we first arrive in a place, might seem “different”. This is one of the main benefits and joys for both of us of sequential living.

      Actually, I am not a fan of creepy crawlies myself when they come INSIDE the house. Am happy to observe them in their “natural habitat” outside though. We wrote about this earlier in more detail…

      Peta & Ben

  5. Anita @ No Particular Place to Go

    I love the furniture pyramid and have no doubt that you see a lot of these, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ solutions! Such an interesting insight into Sri Lanka’s colonial past and how it’s carried down to present relationships that I’m sure made egalitarians like you and Ben very uncomfortable. And I can’t imagine trying to eat a meal with everyone’s eyes on you, knowing that they were waiting before eating their own meal! I love how appreciative you are of the friendship and help that Bandu and Nilu have offered you and Ben and hope that they realize too (someday) that what may seem to them to be small things are huge to a expat learning a new culture and how much their help has enriched your lives. 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Anita, we are now entering the phase with Bandu and Nilu where we do favors for each other, per the concept of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. So for instance, we had an older computer that we weren’t using and needed fixing. It was sitting around gathering dust. Then we met Bandu and Nilu’s younger son, whose achievements as a budding chess champ was paced by his ability to be challenged. We gave them this computer so that they could get it repaired by a friend and then Ben downloaded chess games for him to use at home.

      On another occasion I gave Bandu our white curtains to take to the laundry guy. I added a bottle of bleach in the package so that they could whiten the fabric. Nilu brought them back and was all excited that she had (through this exchange) discovered the benefits of bleach for use on her older son’s white uniform, which now for the first time was as white as could be. I promptly gifted her a bottle of bleach for his uniforms, which is a product that was new to her and not something they would be able to spend money on.

      Thanks for your perceptive comments.

      Peta & Ben

  6. Darlene Foster

    How wonderful to get to know a local family. I imagine they have been a godsend. The food is an added bonus. My dad always said, “It´s the people we meet in life that makes the difference.”

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Darlene you are absolutely right. It is very much about the people we meet and befriend along our journey that add to the quality of the adventure. In our case, it is also about the animals we meet along the way which enrich many moments of our experience.

      One of our very favorite blog posts about the animals we have met and befriended along the way… dogs, cats, elephants, camels, monkeys, cows, buffaloes….

      Peta & Ben

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Annabel, one of the best things about Bandu is is never feels like he is working. He takes everything in his stride, nothing is unreasonable, too hard, he just stays as cheerful and congenial as ever! Yes, he is a real gem!


  7. Alison

    Love everything about this post! How wonderful for you that you found Bandu and Nilu. And for them too. They have given you true immersion into the local culture, and you give them new eating arrangements, and employment, in return. I can imagine you will all become close friends over the years and that those old colonial boundaries will slowly erode.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Alison, thanks for your thoughtful feedback. Beyond the immediate “employment” value for Bandu, we are mindful that by working with us, improving his English, he is also developing a fluency in working with foreigners which no doubt will be helpful to him and his family in the years to come.


  8. Sharon Rosenzweig

    Great story, well told. Makes me wonder how you got along without these folks for so long. Reminds me of my next door neighbors in Nicaragua who did lots of these kind of things for me, which were so essential. They turned out to be the most memorable aspect of my time there, having opened my eyes to a whole different way of life, involving a dirt floor, partial roof, and chickens, with baby chicks, living inside. We need help with many things as we try to live in new ways.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Sharon especially for the compliment of being a good story teller!

      That’s the fun part of constructing sequential new lives, they built up over time, adding layers of different experiences. I do remember your sweet neighbors and how helpful they were when you were living in Nicaragua. It really does make a huge difference to have nice neighbors (probably anywhere anyone lives!)


  9. Janice Abramowitz

    Peta and Ben, love reading your stories. You describe each experience so succinctly , I can feel the atmosphere. How special and wonderful to have these two people in your lives. The food looks and sounds delicious. The only part I’d not enjoy would be cohabitating with frogs and creepy crawlies!! Oohhh! Thanks for sharing! Xoxo

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Well, now that Bandu is around, there are definitely less creepy crawlies as the house is in far better shape than we could maintain it! And we do get monkeys sitting on our bathroom wall and in the trees, which go a long way to make up for the occasional ant parties. This afternoon as I was typing, I looked up through our open bedroom door and a wild peacock was quietly sauntering by. By the time I had alerted Ben, he had vanished into the thick green foliage.

      Thanks for stopping by to read us and for taking a few steps with us on our Green Global Trek.

  10. Lexklein

    What a find! Not only for the help, but for the local friendship, which I imagine would make your lives so much richer. The warmth of your new relationship shines through in your post; you guys do things right! I am always inspired and impressed by your way of living. 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thank you Lex, your comments are so nice and heartwarming. Local friendships definitely enrich our lives and often in ways we could never anticipate. So many countries, so many wonderful interactions and connections with neighbors and people along our Green Global Trek.

      Peta & Ben

  11. Paul Fowler

    What a great reminder for me to continue to strive to live a life so rich and full as the one you guys are living. Great story – but of course. It’s what happens when you put yourself out there. The universe rises to meet you and showers you with it’s riches. Breathe it in my friends and pray for all your friends to also experience such sublime beauty, bounty and connection.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Paul so very lovely to read you and your poetically written feedback. You know of course how we believe in manifesting the life we want to have. I do love your description of it, “rich and full”.Am ever grateful for the “sublime beauty, bounty and connection”.

  12. Debbie

    The people along the way are often the best treasures and memories. We are enjoying following your posts.

  13. Eric Lieberman

    Peta, you writing is so descriptive, and I am envious of your wonderful ‘simple’ life.
    My mouth almost ‘waters’ when you describe the curries and really all the food.
    It’s good to have help and make new friends. Send regards to Ben.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Eric, especially for the compliment on the writing. Sri Lanka has a rich culinary tradition that takes advantage of the plentiful spices that grow on the island. Lots of good seafood too. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  14. My Inner Chick

    Beautiful curried foods, friendships, & education.

    I love your new friends.

    Thank you for allowing us to live vicariously thru your luxurious adventures!

    I, for one, appreciate you and Peta immensely!

    Your blog should be called ((( Wow! )))

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Kim for your enthusiasm for this post. We will consider the name change 🙂 Not sure our adventures are always “luxurious” but any adventure is a good adventure.


    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      It takes time to “appreciate a culture completely”. And for this reason we opted ten years ago to start our Green Global Trek and live sequentially in different countries. It is cultural immersion which excites us both.

      Thanks for reading us and leaving your comments Ann.

      Peta & Ben

  15. Cheryl

    Friendship is the key to survival anywhere! I’m so happy you found a friendly family and support. Their warmth was amply reflected through your post. The food looks delicious!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Cheryl, I would tweak your comment about friendship being the key to survival, by saying that “adaptability” is key to survival and local friends are critical ingredients to being able to be adaptable. Luckily Peta has a tendency to interact with people and makes friends easily. So nice to hear that Bandu and Nilu’s warmth comes across in our post.


  16. Gabe

    Peta, you’ve highlighted one of my favorite aspects of living abroad. Once the exotic begins to become a bit more familiar, occasionally we stumble across an opportunity to accept a welcome into the homes (and lives) of people we would never would have otherwise met.

    Bandu and his family sound like wonderful people. Thanks for introducing us and glad to here that you’re settling into Sri Lanka so well!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Gabe nice to read you once again. Welcome back!

      You are right that opportunities come up every so often, but one also has to be of the mindset to seize these opportunities and be open to the window into a culture that opens up as a result. Sometimes it is a hit and miss (and we have had our share of long awkward moments after accepting an invite) but in this case it was a very comfortable and natural evolution in this nascent relationship.

      Ben & Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Johanna it might seem that way, but if we did a blog about Ben and all his meetings, and work etc, no one would read us…:) Fifty percent of his time and therefore our time, because we share so much, delves into the world of climate change and disaster preparedness and resilience. But yes, we do very much like the life we have constructed. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Peta & Ben

  17. Gilda Baxter

    Peta, I love your description of the house…it sounds like a life very conected with nature and its creatures. I love the symbiotic relationship you have formed with the wonderful Bandu and his family. Do you feel that you and Ben are becoming more and more rooted down to this lovely life you are creating on your newly adopted country? As always a great post 😄

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Gilda, it is a correct assessment that the longer one stays in a place, the more “rooted” one becomes. However, if you know us then you know that even when rooted we can easily uproot and move on to the next stage of our lives. And definitely from a work point of view, being in Sri Lanka now a year means that Ben has developed a root system in all directions. That would not be possible if we were moving around as we were before. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments.


  18. Kelly

    How wonderful that you’ve connected with such a lovely local family. Hospitality and kindness flows in such beautiful ways around the world, particularly when we as travelers/expats open our arms and minds and accept it with gratitude, and then return it or pay it forward in whatever way we can. Thanks for sharing this story!

  19. Liesbet

    Peta, what a wonderful story and turn of events in your Sri Lankan life! Bandu and Nilu seem very friendly, hospitable, generous and helpful people to have as new friends and help. I’m sure you are learning so much from them and that the cultural experience of life and immersion has expanded enormously. What a great exchange and arrangement for all involved! But, does this mean we never get to house and pet sit in your home? 🙂 How are the dogs doing, by the way?

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Liesbet, that’s funny… you guys are more than welcome to house sit, just shoot me an email to let me know when you think you might be heading this way. Whenever we travel and there are no home exchanges going on, the place is available. Many Sri Lankans are very hospitable and we have been invited and joined a few families for tea or holiday celebrations. When you think about the parallel situation of Westerners encountering foreigners, it is interesting to think about how often foreigners are invited and welcomed into peoples homes in the same way as they are here. Lest we forget, we are “immigrants” here. Not sure why Westerners are usually referred to as expats and yet in Western countries expats are called immigrants.


      1. Liesbet

        That is a very interesting realization to contemplate, Peta. Expats versus immigrants. I agree that when we live elsewhere, we are immigrants. Just like I am here in the US. And, we don’t call a Mexican community an expat community. Interesting thought… Expat must have to do with a group of gringos that settles abroad.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Agness I am one of those people who interacts a lot with people, along the way. We both enjoy forming relationships and having interactions with people we met that extend beyond the mercantile transactions. Thanks for reading this post and commenting.


  20. Sue Slaght

    This may be one of my favorite posts of yours ever. The feeling of the kindness of humanity springs forth from your stories and photos. As you describe some of the challenges in living with the outside trying to move inside I can certainly see why Bandu is a game changer.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Sue, it is interesting that this is one of your favorite posts.. one never knows what will appeal to whom. Perhaps “kindness of humanity” is most palpable at the personal “grass root” level ~ basic interactions between humans on a daily basis.


  21. Suzanne

    Without a doubt, you are two of the most interesting people I have come across this past year.

    Your experiences and the beauty with which you tell of them captivate my senses! I can only imagine your discomfort with the two place settings.

    Please tell me they now have more forks…

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Suzanne thank you for such a flattering compliment!

      Now re the forks… Sri Lankans ALWAYS eat curry and rice with their hands. Unlike Western culinary experience, which is limited to 3 sense: visual, scent and taste, Sri Lankans add a fourth dimension which is texture. The rice is scooped and “squished” together to create a platform for the curries. Surprising when you first witness it, but one quickly adjusts to the norm.

      Whenever Nilu makes us curry in our home, before she leaves, she smiles and says “only hands madam. No forks”. And I reply, “Of course Nilu.” And, yes, now whenever we eat Sri Lankan curries, we use our hands, even if it is just the two of us. This is the way it is supposed to be eaten. When in Sri Lanka…

      It is interesting how natural eating with your hands becomes once you get used to it. Somehow the metallic feel of the cutlery interferes, it now just feels “not right”, when eating curry and rice.

      Peta & Ben

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Yes.. as we read this we just finished our fish curry and string hoppers delivered by Bandu in his tuk tuk, for our dinner. We are lucky indeed. Thanks for stopping by to read us and for commenting.


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