The lonesome wolf or the people person : visions of myself in Canada

When you travel for a long time, and I mean really TRAVEL, not visit, not be a tourist or a beach bum, but hard core traveling, sometimes, you are confronted with the idea you have of yourself.  Suddenly you have to take a hard look at what you thought you would be. At what you profess you are. And it never happens during grand actions and spectacular views. It’s never while walking barefoot on a beautiful beach. It’s not even when you reflect on yourself and your life (because let’s say it, that happens a lot when traveling). It’s more of a sudden confrontation with yourself, happening for a tiny shitty reason. For me it was during my time working in an hemp farm in Canada. I usually had a room in my boss’s house, but they were going away for the week end and I had no way of getting back there after work. It was decided that I would then sleep on the farm, in that old van they had there. My boss’s wife showed me how to get the “kitchen” out of the trunk, how to tie a bag of water to a tree to have a shower, where the “toilets” were. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no princess. Life on the road taught me to be tough, and suck it up. But it was kind of cold, the van was really bare, and I was miles away from any kind of civilization. Well, except from that caravan down the road, where the worker for the field next to mine lived. Now, these were my options :

20160618_185447-staying in my van for the week-end. Working the fields, eating some hard core farmer soup in my hairy ugly bear sweat-shirt and plastic boots, talking to no one and seeing no one, being tough and lonesome.

-Or I could grab my six pack of beers and head down the road. Knock on the caravan door of that stranger and be like : hey, I got beers, we both are in the middle of nowhere, you want to share a meal ? Connect, for better or worse, with another human being. Make a friend for life, have another story to tell or meet another douchebag.

Here’s the thing. I always thought of myself as highly un-sociable. I mean, of course I like some people. I have friends. But let’s face it, those friends are usually the ones no one talks to. That dude by himself in the corner at the party ? now that’s my guy. But human kind in general ? People ? Ugh, people, of course I didn’t like people ! People fundamentally suck. I was not social.

But here I was. Confronted with that fascinating choice. Stay by myself, and I always enjoyed being by myself. Time to think. To process stuff. Or go and meet someone. Someone who, for all I knew, would be terrible company.

And I took my sick pack and my plastic boots, and I headed down that road. Knocked on the door and met Rosa. And it was wonderful. We had beers and she cooked diner for me. I knew her for 20 minutes and she was telling me her whole life story. She made me so comfortable, and we laughed and we shared and we became fast friends. She refused to let me sleep in that bare empty van and I stayed over at her place. We had breakfast together and the next day we went for a walk after work (with beers) in the forest. To this day she still emails me with the glorious details of her life and I love her for it. I am sure we will meet again.

And of course I don’t regret for a second my decision. But I have to face the consequence. I’m not talking about a beautiful friendship. I’m talking about what it means in terms of who I am. Not who I thought I was, or who I claim I was. But who I truly am. I am a social person after all. I like interacting with other people. I mean of course that doesn’t change the fact that I can be gloriously rude to people I don’t like. Or that if I am not interested I cannot bring myself to give a damn. I can still give the dead stare, be dismissive with assholes and have no patience. But I guess I am less of the lone wolf I thought I was. And, just maybe, that’s not such a terrible thing after all.

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My time as a farm worker in Queensland

“Girls, you’re working too hard ! Time for the smoko”. These were beautiful words, heard every day on the farm. The smoko was this tradition, once during the morning shift and once during the afternoon one, to sit down with the boss, drink hot tea and eat cakes and biscuits. Ah. Life on the farm.

I think I’ve already mentioned my glorious arrival in Yallaboroo (here).The bathroom, the meal, the goddess. Well, things were pretty much at the same level of perfect and fuzzy the whole time I was there.

I was hired as a farm helper and I loved the whole experience. The place was about an hour away from any kind of civilization. You had this gorgeous view of the valley from the kitchen and the back porch, nothing but fields and mountains in the background. After the massive yummy farm breakfast, I would get into the door-less car (my favorite ever), the dogs would jump in with me and we would drive to the teenage cows. Hungry little fellas, I would give them seeds and molasses, which smelled disgustingly sweet and always ended up all over my clothes.

After that it was driving the land mower, trying to do straight lines, then picking it all up with the wheelbarrow. I remember one time when I unloaded some of the grass by hand, a little baby snake sneaked out between my fingers. I was ecstatic “oh look, how cute and adorable !”. Turns out it was a brown snake and even at that age it could done some serious damage. Oh well. What doesn’t kill you.

The day was filled by fetching the chicken’s eggs and feeding the ducks. Painting the house, cleaning the cars, moving the cows. It was 11 o’clock smoko where we talked about life and travels and adventures. It was afternoons spent at the beach where my coworker would go for a jog while I would just lazily sit in the sun, reading my book and chasing little blue crabs. Evenings by the fire with the weird neighbors, petting their enormous puppies. Or at the table with the boss and her husband, sweetly annoying their teenage son who tried to be tough with his cowboy boots.

I loved the job, the remoteness of the location, the simple lifestyle, the beauty of the nature and being able to work outside all day.

And I really enjoyed the time spent with my boss. I was full of admiration and awe. She grew up on a farm even more remote than this, at about 4 to 5 hours from the next town. She was homeschooled by her mom and yet she was so social and curious about everything. She was living in the middle of nowhere yet had pretty clothes for the evenings and she took care of herself. She read, she was always upbeat and she treated me like the best of friends.

I loved the sense of community that you could find there. They all were very good neighbors, even though it was a 20 minutes’ drive to get to the next house. They were there for each other and made time and had drinks. It was such a different kind of life. And yet the bonds were deeper and the need and willingness to get human contact was that much stronger.

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Miami and the cult of the fake

Before I actually went to Miami, I had two very distinct, very specific visions of what Miami was like.

  • This glamorous place with palm trees everywhere, cool parties, tan people and also the kind of pretty pastel buildings you can see in Scarface
  • Since Miami is in Florida, it was at the same time this place full of retirees here to buy big ass houses and enjoy their golden years in the sun and the sweat

Big shocker, it was neither of those. I know Miami sounds cool, but honestly, and I am not one to say that lightly: I did not like it one bit. Miami is ugly, trashy, fake and in your face. Its streets full of restaurants and bars with music so loud, even at lunch time, that you can’t talk to the person right next to you. Its filled with big ass shiny cars with trashy gangsta music blasting throughout the day.

It’s all these girls roller blading at the beach with fake boobs and a shitload of makeup on their faces, even though it’s 35 degrees and it looks like they are melting. Even the shop mannequin have bigger than life boobs there !

Miami is also decadent and poor at the same time. They have this huge district with only luxury stores. The streets are beautiful and clean, everything is shiny, they have street art and fountains, beautiful people walking by. And LITERALY the next block is all empty, dirty buildings and empty pieces of land in between, with poor people and empty beer cans everywhere. For me there was something indecent about such luxury and such misery right next to each other. And no one cared about it, either way.

I know, I know, but what about the palm trees and the sun ?! what about super famous Miami Beach ? Now, I know that my judgment here is not 100% honest. That I am completely spoiled by my year of pristine empty beaches in Australia. But Miami beach ? Nah. Nothing special. Too many people. Not FANTASTIC like the beaches of Western Australia or Queensland. I know. Spoiled brat.

But I just didn’t feel the vibe. And you KNOW how much the vibe is important when getting to know a new place. I didn’t like the people that much either, you could talk to someone forever and not ONCE would they ask about you. I’m pretty sure one time I talked to this woman for about an hour, and she told me all about her ex-husbands, and that she was inhabited by the spirit of an old Hawaiian dancer (she demonstrates her skills too) and she didn’t even ask for my NAME. How amazing is that ? How perfectly shallow, self-centered and egotistic.  What’s the point of meeting someone if all you talk about is yourself. Honestly.

And the American laziness and wastefulness was somehow exacerbated there. I was so shocked the first time I went to a hotel breakfast. Everything was in plastic and you just threw it all away at the end, plates, cups, mugs, everything. That and their AC cars that they leave running even though they are not in it, so that they can come back to a fresh and cool environment. The never ending lines at the Starbucks drive-ins because they are too lazy to get up and get their coffee. I mean the whole place was a big stereotype of how Europeans are seeing hard core Americans. Fake, lazy and egocentric.

I don’t want to be too dramatic. There were some things I truly enjoyed about Miami. Like the Wynnewood district with the gorgeous street art. And they were definitely some things I enjoyed about Florida. Like the Everglades and the Keys.

But in the end, Miami will always stay in my memory as the cult of the fake.

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Street art in Wynwood district, Miami. Only thing I loved

Swimming with whale sharks, sparkles in my eyes

I guess I must have mentioned this somewhere before, but my favorite animal is the shark. I remember the first time I saw one in a random aquarium somewhere. I must have been about 15. I didn’t expect anything, it took me by surprise. Instant, delirious love. I was fascinated. I just sat there and watched them for hours. It was so utterly and deeply relaxing. I guess it’s about the elegance with which they move. The casual dignity. It’s also about the symbolism of it all. They never stand still. Ever so slightly, they move all the time. And they can’t move backward, they can only move forward. Isn’t that the whole point in life ?

So, when I arrived in Mexico, it’s the only “day cruise” expedition that I signed up for. Swimming with sharks. And not just any sharks either. WHALE sharks ! Amazing, beautiful HUGE whale sharks. I was so excited.

The boat ride to get over there was pretty rough. I’m usually a pretty seasoned sailor, but by the end I was throwing up just like EVERYBODY else on the boat. Fernando (our guide) asked me if I wanted to go first. I was like “yeah” and then throwing up and then “HELL yeah”.

The whale sharks were pretty impressive, so massive, right next to our tiny fragile boat. One of the women of our group refused to jump “nope, nope, I see them now, I’m good, I’m good”.

So you just sit on the boat, wait for a shark to be RIGHT there, and your guide says JUMP and you can’t hesitate; you just jump right next to the shark. And it is AMAZING. I mean yeah, physically it is rather hard on you. You have 3 or 4 jumps of about 10 minutes, so that there’s not too many people in the water. We jumped 2 by 2 with our guide. You have to swim pretty fast to keep up with the shark if you want to see something. It’s very disorientating. Too many things happening at once. Then you go back on the boat, you throw up big time and when it’s your turn again you just spit, put your mask back on and jump again. No rest for the warriors.

So yeah, everybody was pretty sick and exhausted afterwards. But during. It was surreal, amazing, beautiful. These creatures are peaceful and graceful in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I was lucky, our guide kind of liked me best (probably because I was the only one doing that by myself). So he was always grabbing my hand and pulling me closer to the sharks so I could keep up, and see the most of it. The sharks didn’t give a damn about us. I mean I’m not even sure they registered our presence. The just kept on moving lazily forward.  With their cute little spots and distinguished presence. It was one of the most surreal experiences in my life. When I got back to my hostel and my best friend, I was pale under my tan from too much throwing up, but my eyes were shinning bright. I couldn’t wait to call my mother and give her an heart attack by saying “guess you swam with huge bad ass sharks today ?!”.

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PS : sorry I don’t have any pictures. I was too busy living the dream.

My best friend Don

During my time touring the US, I found a job in a hostel near Miami. I am not going to lie, that was one of the worst jobs ever. But I stayed anyway, for the people. Being an employee in a hostel is a wonderful social experience. Yes, it’s tough because you have to say goodbye a lot. But you get to meet so many cool people, and you have the special power to be the one who regroups everyone because you are the person everyone knows. I hung out with all kinds of people there. My new best friend from Sweden with cool tattoo sleeves and a shaved head. The dude with an eagle on his chest and a record. The Florida guy who was taking a vacation from the Zombies. The Swiss dude with the long hair, smoky voice and Harley Davidson. That young American couple who went food shopping for me and put little notes all over my stuff. That sweet German guy who used to cook me pasta. But the one I want to talk about here is the particularly odd one.  The unlikely friendship.

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Street art in Miami

There was this older dude. He was kind of living at the hostel, kind of living in his van. He was using our showers and eating at our tables. Always shitty food, always by himself. That looked lonely.

So I started to ask if I could sit at his table, a little, in the evenings. And when he got comfortable enough, he started talking. He was a sweet man. But OH MY, the things he had to say.

He talked about aliens. Area whatever, instruments of some kind that allowed him to see and recognize things we couldn’t see or recognize. I was amazed, and kind of fascinated. I mean, it sounded completely insane but at the same time it was such a caricature.  You know, of these Americans we make fun of on TV.  With the tin foil hat and whatnot. He told me about famous psychics that he knew. How he was some sort of channeling master. How one of his girlfriend got pregnant (and then un-pregnant) by an alien. How he participated in the dismantlement of a prostitution gang with his shaman friend from Louisiana. Sometimes I listened, fascinated by that level of craziness, sometimes I was uncomfortable and shot desperate glances at the eagle dude so he would come and save me. But all in all, I loved my talks with Don. He was sweet and alive in his ideas. I could tell he really appreciated our time and the company, and that made me glad. And you know what ? When I had to leave, who drove me to the airport ? Was it the cool motorcycle guy ? The eagle man who was hitting on me the whole time ? No. It was good old Don. I didn’t ask for anything. He just got up in the morning and offered to drive me.  That was the sweetest thing. He deserves to have his story told. The odd ones are always the best ones.

Mystical Angkor and tuk-tuk driver love

First article published on a travel website ! Check it out here !

I don’t remember how I ended up in Siem Reap in the first place. It wasn’t in the plan and I don’t remember it ever being on THE LIST. But here I was, in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of the temples, drinking it all in. Cambodia really took me by surprise. I didn’t quite expect the mystical of it all, the adventure feeling of the jungle, the quiet splendor of lost temples from forgotten times. Nor did I expect the simple kindness of the people, the dignified politeness, the sincere sparkles.

Now, it’s already been established that I am not a touristy person, and that a thousand people in my face is closer to my vision of hell than anything else. So it won’t come as a surprise that Angkor Watt was not my favorite part of the trip.

IMG_20150716_173050What I really loved and appreciated, what really spoke to my soul at Angkor was the quiet ruin of it all. The silence of the jungle gaining on what humans had once conquered. The mystic of the trees growing on top of walls and monkeys sleeping where monks once lived. I didn’t feel any of that at Angkor Watt. Thousands of tourists with loud clothes and selfie sticks prevented any kind of feelings beside annoyance. And the temple in itself was one of the more “clean” and well preserved one. No trees there, no jungle wining back its turf. It was old stones and I didn’t see anything special in it. But temples like Ta prohm really took my breath away. Torturous trees growing through walls, on top of roofs, destroying it all oh so quietly and slowly. Nature takes its time but will always conquered what was hers. And then there were places with more trees than walls, completely conquered by the jungle, very remote, my favorites. You just get a special feeling. Being somewhere unique. I liked all of the smaller, less impressive temples, where sometimes I was by myself. You just hear the ruffle of the leaves and the creatures moving out of sight. You hear your footsteps in the sounds of the jungle. You climb inside the temple, or the walls, through the windows and you feel quite alone in the world, discovering something all by yourself, with nothing but your tiny backpack and water, your military pants sticking to your skin, sweat dripping down your back, the air hot and moist around you. Delicious adventure and quiet contemplation. I remember sitting in the middle of what used to be a room, completely broken down by the trees, with absolutely no one around and thinking : how can I stop ? How can I choose to go home and stay there. And not see all of this. Not explore more.

Now, the second thing I think about when  remembering Siem Riep is my tuk tuk driver. The only way to get around the temples was to hire one. He would drop you at the entrance, you would walk around, do your thing, and he would meet you at the exit, ready to take you to the next temple.

My tu tuk driver was AWESOME. He was so cute and adorable, so happy to pick me up every morning at my hostel. The tuk tuk drivers all had hammocks in their tuk tuk and they would all takes naps while their client were inside the temples. My one big dread was to find him sleeping and having to wake him up … But it never happened. He was always ready right when I came out, driving up to me and waving “Mary, Mary !”. I loved him for it, I didn’t have my glasses and I would have been lost otherwise. He told me that he liked that I took so much time for each temple, people usually went in and out. And on the last day when all the temples were visited, we sat for a while and he told me about his life and his family and his two jobs. He was really sweet, my favorite person there.

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Texas and the complexity of the hospitable South

I had a very strong opinion of Texas before going there. It wasn’t even on the plan but somehow I got talked into it. And I can honestly say that I loved Austin. Houston not so much. What I really want to talk about is my special evening with my new Texan friends. In the end, they were kind of everything I was told a Texan was supposed to be. Both good and bad.

I was drinking a beer with my new friend on the back porch when her husband came home. And he looked at me and said “you are drinking my beer ? On my back porch ? Chatting with my wife ?”. A pause, and then, with a big smile and a tap on my back “ah, you are FAMILY now ! if you ever need anything you can always call us”. And that’s all it took. From then on I was their best friend. They took me with them on the birthday diner, and I slept in their daughter’s bedroom, and somehow I ended up going out partying with them and their friends. And that night says it all. I arrived there and everybody was insanely friendly “you come from EUROPE, woow, what are you DOING here of all places ? You want a drink ? Let me get you a beer”. And asked cute questions and were interested in what I had to say. Drove me around, paid for my drinks, were just so completely and perfectly lovely. And this is the south. The south, in what I experienced of it, is full of kind hearted people, ready to drop everything and help you out. Opening their homes, cooking heavy food for you, telling stories. It’s about belonging to a community and the simple stuff in life.

But south is ALSO the rest of that evening. “So, I heard you didn’t have a real good opinion of Texas before coming ? How come ?”. Well you know. Back where I come from we always think Texas is the worst state. You know with guns and … “Guns ? Yeah, guns are important. I mean I have 4 of them upstairs. You got to be able to defend yourself”. Mm, ok. And then it was a lot about all those immigrants coming in to steal their jobs, even though they come to collect the food stamps in Cadillacs (“every one of them I swear !”). I was asked if I had a boyfriend, and then, with a suspicion frown, if I had a girlfriend. Then they talked about the confederate flag and even between themselves they were not quite clear on whether or not it’s ok to have it in your garage.

I guess what I am trying to say is, I really loved my experiences in Texas, and in the South in general. I found people absolutely lovely, so ready to help me out, so open and lay back. But that evening made me wonder if I was able to experience all those things because I was a cute, white, young female. And I just wondered for a second if my black, Mexican or gay friends would have as much good luck here as I did. And that made me sad.

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Street art in Austin, Texas

Surfing in Mexico, winning the battle

I always thought surfing was cool. It’s all about the ocean, and that definitely speaks to my soul. It is about braving the waves, spending time at the beach, getting salty hair and sandy toes. I love, at least in parts, the philosophy of surfing, the lay back attitude, the chilled out spirit. I spent a whole year in Australia, THE country for surfing, and yet I didn’t get the chance of trying. I spent a lot of time in California and still nothing.

But when I made it to Mexico, the water was so blue, so warm, so delicious. I was told it was the best place for learning since the waves were smaller and still you could surf on them. My new best friend was up for it and one day, we got down to the beach and just rented two boards.

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I think you could right away guess what our level of success was going to be by watching me helping my friend carry her board to the water because it was too heavy for her. That first surfing for me was basically an hour of getting beaten down by the ocean. Hanging on to my board for dear life, and just a general unwillingness to give up. A lot of surfer dudes type were coming up to me and asking “you all right ? I surf, you want me to give you some pointers ?”. And I would just generally reject everybody saying “I’m fine, I’m fiiiine”. And I would get back on that board and wait for the next wave and paddle paddle paddle, and fall down, and underwater, and get hit by the board in the ribs or the legs, and spit salty water, and pant, and moan. And still, I would get back up on the board and paddle away. After an hour I managed to KIND OF get up on the board for some seconds, and I’m pretty sure that counts.

Exhausted, my friend and I gave back the boards, sat up on those swings at the beach bar and started ordering a steady flow of Coronas.  Victory tasted de-li-cious.

The next day people were asking me with a shocked expression “what HAPPENED to you ?!”. I had bruises and cuts over 70% of my body. I didn’t care. That’s battle scares. Mexico was only the beginning of what I imagine will be a long and brilliant life of surfing.

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To dreaming big and screw ups. We’ll always be the next big thing

I’ve spent my life making choices. We all have. And yes, I’ve chosen to leave right after my studies, take to the road, discover the world. And yes, those years made me who I am. They made me fearless and open minded, flexible and not afraid of getting dirty, happy and creative. Now I am back home, trying to figure out what to do. It feels like I have spent months sending resumes to vaguely media or communication jobs. Not really enthusiastic about any of it, but still, I wanted to give it a fair shot. Yes, I have panicked, and looked at the next ticket for Bali, but this time I am not running. I want to travel some more, but I don’t want to be back home at square one.

It feels like I’m spending my time apologizing. Apologizing in my cover letters for those years of wanderlust. “Yes, I have traveled, but it made me bilingual”. “Yes, I have traveled, but it made me flexible”. Apologizing to my family and friends, “well, yes, I do want a job, I’m not finding one. Well, no, I would not like to have a job right here forever. It’s all temporary isn’t it ?” Apologizing for not wanting to stay here. Not having a saving account for my future apartment. Not wanting to get married before I’m 30. Not settling for something that I do not want.

“Well, you have to realize, this is real life now”

Real life. What the heck is real life anyway ? Is real life coming home from work and watching tv while playing candy crush ? Is real life being in a relationship for the last 10 years and having nothing to say to the other person anymore ? Is real life saving up to buy a house ? And suddenly, after 7 months of it all, it just came to me. Like a revelation. Like I snapped.

I’m done. I’m so done. I’m done apologizing. I LOVE my choices. I don’t regret a single one. I refuse to stop dreaming big because everybody else is pulling me down. I refuse to apologize for having seen the world. For wanting more out of the whole experience. This is who I am. Come on, some people make it to being movie stars. Athletes. Astronauts. Why can’t I just want a little bit more ? A little bit more than working at a shitty real estate job because that’s all I can find ? A little bit more than diner with the same people over and over again ? A little bit more out of life.

 

What the hell am I doing here ?

I talk a lot about the beauty of traveling, about what a magical experience it is, about how everything folds into place. And mostly, it does. You just have to trust your lucky star, and always keep moving forward.

But don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of moments, during my time on the road, where I wondered, for a mere second really, what the HECK was I doing.

For example, I remember distinctively arriving in Cambodia. I was pretty exhausted after a six hours stopover in Singapore. I was emotionally on edge because I just left Australia after a glorious year of sun and beach and making friends everywhere. I stepped out of that airport and the sky seemed to be falling down. It was pouring rain like I’ve never seen it before. It was a couple of months since I experienced any kind of rain in the first place, so that was quite impressive. And I didn’t have time to register any of it because an army of Tuk Tuk drivers were fighting over my attention. I finally found the one send by my hostel. I was embarrassed by my heavy bag, had to repress the urge to explain to him that I was already traveling for over a year, otherwise of COURSE I wouldn’t have that much stuff, I’m usually a light packer I swear.

When my bag and myself were safety inside the Tuk Tuk, merrily away we went. Under the heaviest rain of my life. On the mud roads. The tuk tuk broke down after about 10 minutes and the driver had to call a friend to come and pick me and my enormous bag up and drive us to the hostel.

So, all in all, it was about 20 minutes of tuk tuk driving to get to the city. And during the ENTIRE time I was just looking at the mud, the muddy fields, the people half naked working them, the dogs, the cows passing us buy, the scooter where 4 people would be SOMEHOW sitting, the other tuk tuk full of fruits for the market, the chaos of it all. And I just kept thinking, what in the WORLD was I doing here ?! what was I THINKING ?! By myself ?! I wasn’t really sacred, I was just uncomfortable with my decision. Somehow hearing what my mother would say if she could see me. Wondering if I didn’t bit off more that I couldn’t chew on. You know those few seconds, minutes, were everything is questionable, where you wondering about why you are here, can you really do that, are you strong enough, tall enough, are you not a little bit insane after all ?

And then you breathe in. It suddenly dawns on you where you truly are, and what you are truly accomplishing. That you can’t be nothing but proud. That everything is going to be just fine. Because you are made of tougher stuff. And in the end, you’ll shine that much brighter.

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