National Equality March

October 12, 2009 at 8:41 pm (Fun, News) (, , , , , )

Yesterday was the National Equality March here in DC. I went down to stay with a friend on Saturday night so I could avoid the morning metro crowds. Pictures courtesy of my friend who brought a camera. It was a beautiful day, no cloud in sight, with sunshine and wonderfully moderate temperatures.

7921_1143410665299_1228440130_30414611_6172207_nHangin’ out in McPherson square while the rally was just filling up.

7921_1143410865304_1228440130_30414616_6820699_nThe turnout was absolutely HUGE. By the time we started marching (at noon), the rally stretched back for several blocks. We didn’t stay for the whole thing, but apparently by the time the march reached the Capitol, there was still TEN BLOCKS worth of people.

7921_1143410985307_1228440130_30414619_3170459_nOne of the many funny signs we saw. We didn’t get a good picture of one sign a gal was holding that said, “IF YOU MET MY GIRLFRIEND, YOU’D WANT TO MARRY HER TOO.” We awww’ed a lot.

7921_1143410905305_1228440130_30414617_2077576_nSomeone gave me a sign. I was leaning on it at this point, waiting for the rally to start. Lots and lots of buses went past us and the tourists gaped.

7921_1143410945306_1228440130_30414618_7683048_nMore signs!

Later we went to Adams Morgan and had lunch there. We saw a whole bunch of people dressed in pink and it turned out there was a 60 mile Breast Cancer Walk going on. Among the many things we saw, there were tricked out motorcycles (one dude had put a lot of pink fuzzy stuff on his motorcycle and a pink lace bra), pink fauxhawks on motorcycles. And then there was this guy:

7921_1143411065309_1228440130_30414621_4384397_nHe was dancing to Will Smith’s Wild Wild West. It was bizarre and hilarious.

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Desert Flower

October 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm (News) (, , , , , , , )

0688172377.01.LZZZZZZZI recently picked up Desert Flower – The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad after finding out a German filmmaker had managed to snag the rights to it. I had heard of it before, but seeing as I only recently officially came into being a snot-nosed feminist, it hadn’t occurred to me to read it.

Waris Dirie’s story is at once heart-breaking and inspiring. One of twelve children, she was born into a Somalian pastoral nomad family and raised in the deserts among those goats and camels. With no ability to read, write or speak a language beside Somali, she didn’t seem to be destined for great things. In fact, she was rather average for a young Somalian female. She tended goats, played with her siblings, had no shoes or education. Like every girl she was expected to marry whoever her father wished in exchange for more camels.

And like every other girl, she was subjected to the awful, awful practice of female genital mutilation when she was only five years old.

Waris Dirie is now a renown supermodel and UN special ambassador for the elimination of FGM. While I read this book, it felt like a small part of me died when I came across her experiences with FGM. When she was five, her mother woke her in the early morning before anyone else was awake and taken out to the bushes where the “gypsy woman,” as she was referred to, waited for them. Dirie was given a root to bite down on and held down by her mother. The gypsy woman herself used a razor stained with the blood of countless other young, helpless girls that this woman cleaned with her saliva and nothing else.

By African standards, this is relatively cleanly, apparently. Anything can be used – razors, glass, sharp rocks and when nothing else is to be had, teeth. The severity of the mutilation ranges from the removal of the clitoral hood to the full on removal of the labia majora, minora and everything else, then the girls are sewn shut. Dirie experienced the latter form – thorns from a nearby bush were used to create punctures for the sewing. After this, Dirie’s legs were bound together in order to create a minimal, “tidy” scar and she was left in a specially built hut to heal for a whole month.

Many girls die from blood loss, tetanus, infection, gangrene and other horrific side-effects of the “operation,” which include pelvic infections, severe UTIs and more. One of Dirie’s sisters bled to death. Dirie herself suffered for many years because she was left with only a small hole through which urine and menstrual blood were supposed to be allowed to escape. She was able to get surgery later in life, but will never regain much of the feeling in that region of her body because the surgery was performed back in the 90s. Nowadays, with medical advances, there are doctors who specialize in reconstructive surgery in order to help women regain feeling and a sense of pride in their bodies again.

I remember being in an Ethics class and the topic of FGM coming up. I argued against it because I feel, as a woman, that it is a cruel, unnecessary and awful tradition to uphold that gives a whole continent a bad reputation. I was told my Western privilege was showing – that it was necessary to approach some traditions with respect and the dignity it deserves because – while it is not my own culture – it is someone else’s cultural practice.

I call bullshit on that. I agree that the Western way is not always the right way, but I see no reason to accept a practice that is so barbaric. Many of the cultures FGM is practiced in are Muslim; men argue that the Q’ran demands it. Nowhere in the Q’ran does it state that you are to maim and brutalize your women. FGM – I refuse to deign it with the term “female circumcision” because it undercuts the severity of what is done – was invented by men in order to oppress women and make them pliable through their pain. Those who argue that male circumcision is equally cruel – what on Earth are you thinking? We do not cut off young boys’ penises. We don’t divorce them from their sexual organs in order to oppress them. There is a vast difference between a small surgical procedure in which the foreskin is removed and the hacking off and permanent crippling of young defenseless girls.

It makes me sick to my stomach that around 2 MILLION girls a year are at risk of being victims of FGM. I hope that, through education and redirection of practices, it will be possible to decrease and maybe eliminate the practice entirely, though it will take a long time. Meanwhile, here is the trailer to Desert Flower where Dirie is played by Liya Kebede:

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Dentist 1, Dani 0

August 18, 2009 at 11:19 pm (Life) (, , , )

Since a bunch of my readers have friended me on Facebook or are following me on Twitter, you probably will have heard about my dental woes already. About three weeks ago I had a dental appointment where my cavity-infested molar was to be fixed. Easy-peasy, right? Right. So we thought. Looking back, there were a few warning signs of worse things to come.

Exhibit A: It took four shots of regular pain killers followed by some hardcore Novocaine to numb my gums enough for the dentist to drill. At first, we thought it was a small cavity. It was. HOWEVER, it went deep and I think the dentist must have laid open the nerve because of this.

Exhibit B: I was hurting like hell afterwards, to the point where I had to skip going to the gym because my whole jaw was throbbing. Excedrin and Motrin became my new best friends. I chalked the pain down as my body coping with the trauma of drilling and the subsequent adjustment that goes along with having foreign substances inserted into it.

The pain did not wear off. It got bad enough that half a week later, I dropped by for dental sick call. The dentist shrugged my concerns off because my tooth was not reacting to blowing cold air on it or him banging on it repeatedly. My tooth was doing whatever the hell it felt like doing. I was prescribed higher doses of Motrin for the pain; because Motrin is an anti-inflammatory drug, we were also hoping this would help.

The next two weeks we went on vacation and let me tell you, it is not pleasant to have to swallow 800 mg of Motrin three times a day in order to keep the level of pain bearable. The pain killers often wore off in the middle of the night or when I was eating or doing whatever I was doing, resulting in severe aching and extreme crankiness. I become really mean when I hurt. I would not have liked to be around me, frankly. We ran out of the prescription Motrin at the beginning of our stay in San Francisco. I raided my mother’s supply. That ran out too. I took my dad’s Aspirin and some hardcore meds. Those were short-term pain killers more than anything. We bought more Motrin at the local Walgreen’s. We ran out of that too. Back to the Aspirin and Phenergen. Cranky hurting flight back to Heathrow. We walked in the door of our house; I ingested two extra strength Exedrin and four Advil within two minutes of arriving back at home.

The dentist was called. I was squeezed in on sick call again.

We made the run to Croughton. My body’s still messed up on time zone changes (as evidenced by the fact I am writing this at four AM) so of course I was awake at godawful hours in the morning, which meant more pain killers. My body was still processing 800 mg of Advil and two Exedrins when we arrived at the dental clinic, which meant it wasn’t too bad to have the dentist bang on my tooth and whatnot. He decided to take out the filling and replace it, though he thought a root canal would be necessary; he took the filling out.

LO AND BEHOLD! The nerve under the plastic filling was bleeding! Not only that, but the blood had accumulated under the filling. We assume there must have also been an inflammatory chemical reaction from the blood with the plastic filling. The nerve was still viable because it was bleeding, meaning it was alive, but it was going to die sooner or later. We decided to go ahead with the root canal. Two numbing shots – I am still able to feel the drilling. The third one does the trick and leaves everything in my mouth swollen and numb for hours, but at least I can’t feel them scraping pulp out of my tooth, not to mention cutting and pulling out the giant-ass nerve. I made them show me the nerve. It looked like a dead worm, in terms of size and coloring. (For all of you who didn’t take a lot of biology back in high school or even college, that means it is HUGE by cordata standards. We have fatty tissue around our nerves to make the electric transmission of signals faster and more efficient; critters without spines don’t have those, so the nerve of an octopus, for example, can be almost as huge as a medium-sized carrot.)

What I did not know about root canals is that they irritate the shit out of the inside of your tooth in order to kill off everything inside. They use bleach. YES, YOU HEARD ME RIGHT. BLEACH. Did I mention dental dams sometimes leak? Let me tell you, bleach tastes fucking nasty. The tooth, ironically, hurts a lot less now than it did before and there certainly isn’t that dreadful dull ache anymore. However, it is not happy when I bite down on things, even when I chew on the other side of my mouth. Even soggy cereal makes it angry. Motrin again.

So now I basically have a dead tooth in my mouth; the follow-up appointment to fix it up the rest of the way is next Tuesday, or maybe Monday, depending on whether the inspection of the dental clinic is on Monday or Tuesday. The dentist was also pretty nice once I got over my crankiness with his ignoring of my pain two weeks beforehand.

That, my friends, is my dental saga. Let us keep our fingers crossed that this is my first and last root canal for a LONG time.

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A Heavy Heart

July 23, 2009 at 7:31 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

There has been a lot of silence on my part lately; partly because my life is just not that exciting, and partly because a lot of emotionally draining events have taken place. The one I am most concerned with occurred yesterday.

My dog, while chasing a deer, jerked something around in her back, keeled over and started screaming like there was no tomorrow. Her hind legs and tail are completely paralyzed. After wailing and twisting in agony for a few seconds while I stared in horror, she managed to throw herself onto her stomach and somehow managed to drag herself through half the yard on two legs, towards me. It was like watching war footage in which a soldier has lost his legs to a mine. I ended up screaming my head off for my mom to come downstairs while I raced to the dog, made her lay down and tried to calm her down.

It turns out even my mother heard the dog scream in pain – while she was on the second floor of our house, in the shower. Our house is a solid brick building and pretty good at naturally dampening down noises. My mom managed to fly downstairs, onto the lawn. I called the vet. I managed to barely keep it together. I don’t even want to get it into Lena’s panicked struggling when she realized we were going to move her, she was definitely going into shock and so was I.

We left her at the vets. They took x-rays. One of her discs has been compressing her spinal cord because she has an arthritic vertebra. When she ran, she must have jostled something and thus cut off feeling. The dog is high as a kite on pain killers from what I know, they’re treating her with steroids in hopes of the swelling going down. She has a 50-60% chance of recovery. If she doesn’t, we’ll have to put her down.

This is the most traumatic, awful thing that has ever happened to me. I just can’t forget how she screamed and fell. I’d like to express my thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive and willing to listen to my obsessive ramblings about the state of my dog. I am not ready to lose her yet. I want for her to live and chase stuff until she is eleven, twelve, thirteen, then pass away in her sleep the way she deserves. Yes, she may have injured herself doing something she loves and because she leads a high quality life, but she is still in pain right now, in a cage in a strange place and not home.

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Life Goes On

July 15, 2009 at 7:16 am (Fun, Life, Music) (, , , , , , )

Since I am in England and this is where I can get all my health care, I decided to do the full shebang. I went in for a refill appointment last Thursday and am now all stocked up on the various medications I was running low on. Yesterday, I had a dental appointment since it has been over a year. One small cavity and a cleaning – I get the cavity taken care of next Tuesday.

The technician doing the cleaning was a lovely, bouncy young lady, maybe five or six years older than myself. Her office was covered in music paraphernalia, including an ukulele on the wall, various pictures of Elvis, some certificates of competitions she’d entered and several decorative guitar statues. Our shared love for music made for a good time.

When it was time for my cleaning, she handed me her iPod and told me to pick what kind of music we’d listen to. Navigating an iPod Touch was a little confusing at first, but I managed after a while and then settled for Lady GaGa telling her that she amused me. The technician laughed and said, considering I was majoring in classical music, that was a strange choice. “Yes, but she’s so absolutely batshit crazy that you can’t help but sort of like her. Besides, she actually has TALENT.”

We proceeded with the cleaning, all the while talking about Lady GaGa. At one point I stated I hoped her second album wouldn’t be about fame again, because it just gets tacky after a while.

“I heard she’s gone bankrupt, like, four times now!” the technician exclaimed. “How does that even work? I mean, seriously. She’s making a lot of money.”

“In that case, I suggest a cover of ‘Gold Digger’ for her new album.”

She laughed. It was probably my wittiest moment in weeks.

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Nonsense!

June 19, 2009 at 2:15 pm (Life) (, , , )

When I was eight or nine, I got sick.

At the time, I was very independent. Sleeping with my parents was for babies. But I was so sick my dad put me into our parents’ bed because the room was fairly dark. It meant I would be able to sleep. I was running a really high fever, so high I started having auditory and visual hallucinations.

I kept hearing drum beats. Superimposed over the view of the wall, large steamrollers threatened to flatten me. I couldn’t move. I kept having visions of myself swollen, my arms stick-thin but my outer extemities, fingers, swollen and infected. I had the same sensation you get when you bite into something too-sweet and gritty, the texture sending my body into shivers and jerks. The drumming was all-encompassing and I’m sure I must have started yelling. The light coming in through the window was too bright and it allowed for unholy shadows to lurk around it. We don’t have curtains in our houses because of me, they collect dust.

I remember Papa, who worked at home at the time, waking me up. I was drenched in sweat, tangled in sheets and yet the pounding in my head was still there. It wasn’t a physical sensation, it was the actual sound of drumming. The large rollers were still at the edge of my vision. My limbs still felt alien and swollen. I kept getting those grit-biting jerks. Papa took me to the Emergency Room, where they just looked at me and said I would be fine.

I got that sensation again last night, as I lay in bed. All of the sudden, I was struck by the image of my swollen arms and the jerky shiver ran through me. Next thing I knew, I was semi-awake and responding to a text message bringing bad news.

I don’t know why I wrote this down, but it felt right.

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Braincrazy

June 18, 2009 at 1:37 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

Mental illness is a recurring theme here. My family has a history of it in various forms. I am severely unstable when not medicated and, while it makes me a little sad, I realize that this is in no way my fault. My body has a faulty configuration. I have no influence over how much or how little serotonin it produces – my medication patches up a hole in my body’s programming. I will not find out for quite some time how effective this medication is or will be in the long run; I have had too many breakdowns – episodes of major depression, if you will – that went untreated  to say how long I will be on medication.

I was told two years for one or more major depressive episodes. More than that, and a patient is never taken off the medication.

I sometimes forget how fortunate I am to have grown up in a family where, for most part, it was understood that I had little to no influence over my irrational, sometimes violent, behavior, my self-injury, my low self-esteem and my anger. It was understood that it was a matter of genetics. It was never something I had much control over – gaining even a modicum of control takes years of cognitive therapy. I have no ability to put that much trust in one person nor the strength to start over each time as I physically move away and have to find a new therapist. I am not seeing anyone right now and I am quite comfortable with this.

It’s outside of my family that the misunderstanding and the queer looks started. People do not know how to separate the symptoms of the invisible illness from the personality of the person fighting it. In the minds of the unafflicted, they merge and you, I, we become the disorder. Suddenly a nameless, looming, silent evil part of the psyche has a face. Suddenly they do not know how to treat you anymore or describe you.

And thus, we remain silent to save face. We become bearers of a stigma and feel as though we carry the plague into the unwitting masses. We are taught by others that our illness could be contagious, even when we rationally know it is not. When we are found out, we are shunned as lepers for something beyond our control.

My aunt’s friend has a severely ill daughter who was recently hospitalized for her mental issues. This friend, let us call her Joanne, had never let on how sick her daughter – henceforth Hanna – truly was. Hanna spent her first night in the high security ward under suicide watch and remained in the institution for a week. She was released on a combination of three medications, mood stabilizer, anti-depressant, anti-psychotic. I had assumed Hanna was severely depressed and had equally awful body dysmorphia. What I did not know was how she would sneak up on her mother when Joanne was brushing her teeth until she was inches from Joanne’s face, only to start screaming incoherently. What I did not know was that Hanna randomly threatened to kill herself in order to pressure her parents into pitying her. What I did not know was that Hanna’s therapist was somehow unaware of his client’s behavior and the true extent of her mental illness.

I am sad that Joanne did not feel as though she could turn to either my aunt or someone else she trusted. I know Hanna was sick; sometimes, in those rare instances when Joanne and I had a spare moment together, I would reach out. I told her my parents had almost institutionalized me at one point. I told her I, too, was ill, much like her daughter, and that it would pass if they all pulled their share. I told her Hanna would have to be ready to make changes because her parents were currently doing all the work. Medication and treatment would make Hanna better, I promised, and if there was anything I could do, I would do it. I offered to reach out to Hanna once she was ready.

My own experiences make me capable of empathy, but I also find it almost too easy to be judgmental. Hanna is deeply entrenched in her illness at this point in time. She does not see that she is acting immaturely, that her hostility will eventually wear even her sweet parents’ patience thin. I do not expect her to make sudden changes and see the light of how stupid she was acting, but I still find myself wanting to be angry about how she treats others.

I did this. I should know better.

I hope I did the right thing in opening myself up to Joanne that way. I wanted to let her know that her experience was not out of ordinary, that it happened to other families as well. I wanted her to see that, with the right help, her daughter would be alright. Most of all, I wanted to comfort someone who needed it.

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An Open Letter

June 3, 2009 at 2:52 pm (News) (, , , , , , , , )

Dear Sir,

I realize you thought you were doing a good thing. Your thoughts were tainted by the grandeur of martyring yourself for the cause, ending a reign of terror, a genocide. You were stopping a godless murderer from ending the lives of defenseless children, those who had no voice. You and your friends, you were to speak for these innocents, you were going to protect them.

What you call ideology I call madness. What you call an innocent child I call a cluster of cells, a the half-formed beginnings of what – after birth – will be a human being, with no personality or viability. What you call murder I call choice. Those you condemn I support.

What you do not realize, sir, is that you have no right to make decisions for someone with little choice in the matter. For every woman who, in utmost emotional pain, fells the decision to have a “late-term” abortion does so with a heavy heart. It is a traumatic, invasive, terrible procedure. Those “children” are wanted. You have no concept of the terror and anger and sadness these women feel as they grasp their partners’ hands throughout the procedure. You have no idea of how these people have to pick the pieces of their shattered dreams and hopes they pinned on that pregnancy. Everything they’d wished for is dashed with one visit to prenatal care.

You may think you have the right to judge and shun these women and men, harass them and shame them. It is my duty to correct you, sir.

You are no hero. You are, in fact, an awful human being, as is every single one of your friends at Operation Rescue. How dare you take it into your own hands to pass judgement on someone else when you spend so much time arguing your belief in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. You are nothing but a useless worm. Do you think this is what your God wants?

How ever did you think it was right, even just to shoot another living, breathing human being? You are no martyr, sir, you are an asshole. You committed a heinous crime against another person, defying one of the Ten Commandments, if you feel inclined to placing worth on your own goddamn Bible. Does “thou shalt not kill” ring a bell? No? Then perhaps you are not as familiar with your own scriptures. You are a horrid person, sir. What you and your friends are doing is called domestic terrorism. You shot a man providing invaluable, important services to those who needed them the most. You shot a true humanitarian. Countless of Dr. Tiller’s patients are stepping forward to tell their stories. You are instilling fear in the hearts of innocent people, making them afraid to seek the help and make the choices they need to. Did you know all of them are anonymous because they are afraid of you, of the things you do in the name of a God who surely condemns what you did just as much as anyone with even an ounce of brain matter does?

I hope you rot in Hell.

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A Swine Flu Update

May 26, 2009 at 5:43 pm (News) (, , )

I figured you guys might find this interesting. My mother (an epidemiologist) is currently attending a medical conference in Hungary. She sent me this.

Swine flu is spreading more widely than official figures indicate, with outbreaks in Europe and Asia showing it’s gained a foothold in at least 3 regions. One in 20 cases is being officially reported in the US, meaning more than 100 000 people have probably been infected nationwide with the new H1N1 flu strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the UK, the virus may be 300 times more widespread than health authorities have said, the Independent on Sunday [newspaper] reported yesterday [Sun 24 May 2009]. Japan, which has reported the most cases in Asia, began reopening schools at the weekend [23-24 May 2009] after health officials said serious medical complications had not emerged in those infected. The virus is now spreading in the community in Australia, Jim Bishop, the nation’s chief medical officer, said yesterday [24 May 2009]. “I think we will see the number rise,” Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio today after confirming the nation’s 17th case and saying test results are pending on 41 others. “This is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint.”

So far, 46 countries have confirmed 12 515 cases, including 91 deaths, according to the World Health Organization’s latest tally. Almost 4 of every 5 cases were in Mexico and the US, where the pig-derived strain was discovered last month [April 2009]. Most of those infected experience an illness similar to that of seasonal flu. The main difference is that the new H1N1 strain is persisting outside the Northern Hemisphere winter.

Summer disease?

“While we are seeing activities decline in some areas, we should expect to see more cases, more hospitalizations and perhaps more deaths over the weeks ahead and possibly into the summer,” Anne Schuchat, CDC’s interim deputy director for science and public health program, told reporters on a 22 May 2009 conference call.

The US has officially reported 6552 probable and confirmed cases, Schuchat said. “These are just the tip of the iceberg. We are estimating more than 100 000 people probably have this virus now in the US. There have been 9 deaths and more than 300 known hospitalizations,” she said. The fatalities exclude a woman in her 50s who died in New York over the weekend [23-24 May 2009].

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Bah! Humbug!

May 20, 2009 at 7:20 am (Life) (, , )

As most of you may have gathered from my frequent bitchy Facebook status updates, I have been having some major difficulties with my asthma over the past few days. After being under control for well over four years, I’ve basically been sitting on the edge of an asthma attack for the past few days now. I made a stop at the emergency room yesterday because it got so bad.

There’s really not much to say; the doc pretty much said that he couldn’t hear the typical rattling and wheezing in my lungs when he listened to me, but that’s not terribly comforting. I know what it feels like to have constricted breathing. My neck and chest were pulling in painfully with every breath I was taking, my coughing is dry and almost pertussis-like in its sound. They also gave me the side-eye when I told them I was not on steroid medication because it gave me laryngitis. I hate it when that happens. I am part of a small, small percentage of people who react badly to inhaled corticosteroids. Deal with it. Stop looking at me like I’m an idiot.

Last night was oodles of fun, obviously. The nebulizer treatment in the hospital only lasted for about two hours or so. Once I left the hospital again, my breathing went straight back to shit. I can’t find my peak flow meter and I would fucking HATE to have to go to family practice and have them prescribe me a new peak flow meter. My medication dose has drastically increased and an oral steroid will probably have to be added for a few days so this can pass. Normally, I am on one puff of cromolyn inhaler, four times a day, along with a montelukast tablet in the evening along with certirizine. Now I am on two puffs of albuterol along with one puff of cromolyn, four times a day; one montelukast tablet and the certirizine.

On the upside, if I have to add an oral steroid, that usually clears up any and all infections in my body. And my voice gets an ear-splitting clear edge when I sing. I WILL BE SUPERWOMAN!

We assume the attack was triggered by the combination of pollen, stress, air travel and dust that accumulates in our house like crazy. My plans for July have also been changed; it appears I will be going to England rather than Germany, which is fine by me.

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