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Campaign: Love Letter from a Friend - by Shaheen Sultan Dhanji

Dear World Pulse Friends,

The oppression of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran is significant to share the struggles met by women after the fall of the monarchy. The fundamentalists have created a regime of gender apartheid: a woman is nothing less then a shadow existing in society - her beliefs, intellect, freedom, association and expression, political belief, confidence and reliance are denounced by a patriarchal society - the best of human qualities are compromised, even, annihilated.

In the letter, I share expressions of a woman who refused to submit to social injustice, who pierced the precinct of patriarchal-religious subordination, seeking a right to live as a woman, a mortal. Her crime? She chose to 'speak' after the tongue's blood had dried from years of silence - incarceration is her narration - for those of us who walk liberally, unchained - are we to remain 'spectators' to the many massacres "fated" to women, or, are we to choose to be 'participants' and ignite dialogue to no longer accept being vilified for being a woman and claiming op-positional space, for resisting physical and psychological torture, of denigration for being a woman?

This letter ,from a woman in Tehran, Iran - a political prisoner is a fiction although its content is real . Names have been changed ,yet the existence of the characters are real.

- Shaheen Sultan Dhanji

Zendan Evin (Evin Prison)
Tehran, Iran
4th day of December, 2013

My Dearest Shaheen-joon,

I hope you were able to finally get my diary in which I have been penning since my incarceration, some of my writings you may not be able to read clearly due to my health conditions at the time. Nevertheless, I am grateful that Taha, our dear friend from school days, came and visited me for ten minutes. After almost five months of not being permitted any visitors, he found a way to see me - guess he is a "man", after all, thus, much freedom.

Shaheen joon, on many vacant and empty nights, I think of our school days together - we were full of ideals and a great desire for education. You were amongst the fortunate ones to have left Isfahan and migrated abroad. I had no choice then to shift to Tehran, where I thought teaching would be a lucrative career for me. Little did I know what was awaiting for me. You must forgive my inarticulate thoughts for now -- I am nursing a very painful infection in my foot, which is in bad shape and no medicine has been administered to me for last two weeks.

I did get employment at the University of Tehran. That same year I got engaged to Jamsheed. Life was forming as I had fancied. One spring afternoon, a car pulled by where I was walking to the University - two men forced me into the jeep and interrogated me. They accused me of trying to "liberate" my students. Apparently, after an hour of driving, I was taken to a cell. A pasdar (guard) grabbed my arm and shouts to undress in-front of him. I resisted.

"Fine! Don't undress today, you will soon! You're here for a long time, you monafeq (non-believer) teaching your students to be courageous and to oppose violence! You will please not only me, but, many pasdars!"

The next day, is but a history I live and re-live each day in this cell. I was asked to pledge that I would never teach again if I wanted my freedom. I chose to stand by my beliefs. Shaheen-joon, that night was the longest day of my life....the chief prison guard dragged me to a dingy room, blindfolded me. I was beaten and raped by more then one man. Every night a woman is raped at this prison. Many a times they stare at me, searching my face for answers to their questions. And, silent friendships are formed, after all, it is the abode for the lonely, disconsolate souls, observing metamorphosis - our individual scars become our collective Aazaadi (freedom).

That night....the blood was not only mine, but, of the many women. In my wall to wall cell, I lay by a dull lamp. I think of my late mother and how much I wish she to be alive. I wonder if my father and bother back at Esfahan know what has been done to me? I wonder if my landlord has been notified? Apropos Jamsheed....he left me upon discovering that I did not surrender to the radicals and their ideology.

The blanket has a horrible stench, yet, I wrap myself in it. My eyes notices the writings on the blood-stained walls of my cell - I try to read but my body gives up from dehydration. Many days go by in this placid condition. Each day they call me for interrogation. They want information about other professors at the University. I say nothing.
This is the beginning of my diary, Shaheen-joon. After you read the entire journal, I hope, for the sake of our friendship of many years, that, you would stand by me in solidarity - to transcend the lines of my writings to every woman who may or may have not expressed the angry echo of death - death of a country, of a soul, of a body, of the tiniest breath, of subjugation evoking its horrors, its every emotion, its every vertebra. Shaheen-joon, by portraying a collective consciousness, together we can transmit the hopeful collective reconstruction of our lives stolen by patriarchal subjugation. I live only, only to demonstrate immense courage and survival, honour and dignity; I am a woman - this is my only beautiful reality. I am incarcerated because I chose to be the voice of countless women. Yes, exiled melancholy and profound wounds reign through my raw and ripe nerves, but, one of my most remarkable traits is my resilient self -- that in this small wall-to-wall cell, I am still 'free', for, I have a voice, a pen - at this hour transfiguring blood into ink; and, one day I shall be able to add a single syllable to this existence. A woman knows her strength....

My full diary records the time spent in this cell. I await our meeting, my dear Shaheen-joon. May we be united in good times soon. Ensha-allah. (God-willing!).

With love,
your 'exiled' friend (sounds right!),

Safeera Sarmad
Tehran, Iran

note: joon meaning - Persian endearing / honourable word used in addressing a closed one.

Comments

Rukhsana Shama's picture

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Dear Shaheen,
As I have written in the subject, your letter reminded me of 'Reading Lolita in Tehran'. Oppression, injustice, war, poverty or any other negative thing around; women are effected the most. That novel is such a great manifestation of how oppression oppresses the women the most, how it imprisoned them and denies life to them. And this letter, drenched in blood and tears...the only weapon they have against women is to molest their bodies, through that they stain and scar our souls; but they do not know these scars shine, they give us strength and they can kill the body but not the soul. I salute Safeera Sarmad for standing true to herself.
And I thank you Shaheen for telling us her story. It is a story of courage, story of life lived with purpose and with one's own will!

SSD's picture

Lolita Emulated

...And, dear Rukhsana,suffice is to share a poem, 'Preface' from one of the socialist poet we have often relished, Ahmad Faraz:

It's an old story:
when lips thought of speaking words,
giving them life
in sound
they had to drink
a cup of hemlock.
Rulers feared
that words
given life with voices
might become a story.
And those lips were silenced;
but the quivering, sighing words,
wounded by the killer's sword,
kept throbbing,
voiceless.
Who could have known
that the blood of those words
would drop by drop
become lines that shine?
And now these lines of blood
have in themselves become
a story and a fable."

Thus then....for every Lolita, Safeera, countless women -- we live to tell our tales.
Thank you for introducing 'Reading Lolita in Tehran', I shall read it.

Greengirl's picture

Safeera Sarmad

Safeera's story made my heart ache and brought tears to my eyes, yet her resilience remains inspirational. I am at a loss for words.................... She is my Shero and I pray she regains her freedom soonest. This is my heartfelt prayer! Now I am beginning to find my words.......What can be done to make her release happen speedily? I am thinking as a community, we can initiate an online petition and attract global attention to her plight. Shaheen, please I would love to hear your thoughts and plans.

Love to you Shaheen for sharing Safeera's story and blessings to you for being such a dependable friend.

Greengirl

SSD's picture

Heartfelt Thanks!

That your message is full of zeal and passion to unite in solidarity is very meaningful, dear Greengirl !

Ah, I personally do not know a 'Safeera Sarmad' -- this name I have used as a fictional character to convey the reality faced by many women in prison for manifesting their views on oppression, patriarchal subjugation, etcetra... The women-political prisoners in Tehran, Iran continue to be tortured daily as described in my letter. I have written the letter as if a real prisoner had written to me -- the interesting part of my contribution is, that, 'tis the exiled-victim or shall I say brave survivor who writes with conviction to greet freedom - through 'Safeera Sarmad' we hear the echoes of many women, the cultivation of their minds - how they translate their milieu - for us to see, feel, smell and touch. I believe when such harsh realities are manifested, we are all indebted to play the role uniting in solidarity, in equal measures.

Your idea about engaging in a petition is a very noble offering -- perhaps, we can collectively research to discover how to follow suit in helping those women at the famous Tehran prison and/or similar predicaments faced by other women.
May you continue to inspire and ignite changes for a better tomorrow. Love & light, dear greengirl.

Greengirl's picture

Hello Shaheen

Thank you so much for your inspiring response. You sure have a beautiful soul!

To think that you aptly used your soulful words to create Safeera Sarmad and paint her image in a manner that brought her to life, leaves me wowed! I could virtually see Safeera as I read through your piece. She remains real because she represents the faces and despicable situation of women-political prisoners in Tehran prison. We cannot afford to look away or keep mute as it is time to liberate these women. I stand by you and all the women that Safeera represents. I suggest a petition through change.org and or a campaign through Avaaz.org.

You are an inspiration!

Much love and respect,
Greengirl

Tania K's picture

Smitten!

Dear Shaheen,

I came across your post through the community rising voices section, the title and your photograph was the main reason I clicked the post, but after reading your letter I find myself smitten by your words leaving an impact in my heart.

As a photographer I want to say that you're so beautiful! I really love the expression on your face in the photo....I'm bewitched by your beauty and brains after reading the post. You mentioned being born in Africa, where if you don't mind answering? It is obvious you're a lady of merits and you're serving as a great role model. Congratulations for your work. I'm really impressed by you! Is there a way to personally get in touch with you, like email? It would be so wonderful to know more about you and I would also like to show you some of my photographs since you're interested in art. I've sent you a private msg here with my email address, I hope you would respond to me. :)

Now about your post, you've touched my heart deeply by your sensitivities for women's upheavals. I found the letter very strong and written smartly. I've no words that can match yours....
waiting to hear from you Shaheen!

In awe,
Tania

SSD's picture

Much gratitude....

And, well, dear Tania, you surely have a way with words too ! Just noticed that you are fairly new to World Pulse, hence, I welcome you at this platform - hope it becomes an enriching experience for you.

Ah, spoken like a true photographer of viewing subjects according to what pleases and often distracts the eyes, I dare say! Thank you for the oh-so generous compliments, indeed ! Ofcos', you can share your photographs - it would be a delight to go through your portfolio -- and if they are thematic to World Pulse issues, I encourage you to post them.

...And, I hail from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania !

Thank you for leaving your thoughts !

Tania K's picture

Happy to hear from you!!

Happy to hear from you!!

It's already becoming a good experience being here. Thankyou for welcoming me Shaheen.
Where can I send you the photos to you? I've private mailed you my email addr so write to me on that and we can take this on email.Will anxiously wait for your mail.

Hey can I interview you as my first post? You seem to be someone interesting to interview.

:)
T.K

SSD's picture

Interview...

Tania, good that you are enjoying the experience thus-far !

Apropos your first post as an interview on me -- what can I say? Sure, if that is what you want ! I have sent you my email, thus, you can send me the questions and we can commence !

Tania K's picture

Got it!!

Got your email!!! I will write to you now. :) :)

SSD's picture

Interview

Tania, I am requesting to postpone the interview for sometime in the future -- as I am currently engaged in other endeavours. Shall contact you when I have some liberal time.... In the meanwhile, would be great if you shared about your journey in Mali here at World Pulse as your first post.

Tania K's picture

Will look forward

Dear Shaheen,
That's no problem....I will look forward to hearing from you. By the way, are you checking your emails? I've sent you a couple of emails but haven't heard back, I also checked my spam folder but nothing there. I guess you're really a busy woman. :)

Hope to hear from you Shaheen!!!

:)
T.K

Soumya Vilekar's picture

The sadist and heinous world

Dear Shaheen,
Through the lens of your eyes,we perceive here the deepest scars of tragedy made upon the soul and body of a woman. To speak for self and against the falsity or hypocrisy of the system inflicts on the woman a inhumane heinous crime and the people concerned are not even shameful of this at any moment and time ,as the same condition continuesto prevail...
This letter invokes the most gravest sympathy and wrath for the silent observers and witnesses of such country.
Without a sense of humanity,any place on earth cannot be peaceful inspite of any comforts or luxuries.
I am touched by the reality and the true portrayal of the characters in this letter.
Thanks,
Soumya

SSD's picture

Indeed, my Friend!

Dear Soumya,

There is a voice in the distance that is calling for us - 'tis of humanity. We can-not quarantine ourselves from its' scream, whether individually or collectively, we must hear the echo and the sequence as it presses down our spine. We have spotted with handful of the old chalk's blood, though, we must now obliterate the sadist versions and annihilate macro-hypocrisy that plague each corner of our existence. We shall be a storm, and break down the walls, we shall also be a key, a flame to burn down the walls - the bricks of inhumanity.

'Safeera Sarmad' is a story of a brave woman's striggle in the face of daunting odds -- my attempt is to lull a lion with her voice.

And, your words expand and evolve -- keep lighting paths.

ikirimat's picture

Thank you for sharing this

Thank you for sharing this dairy of a courageous woman. Like it is said, " we have to pay the price for freedom" But how many are willing to do this for the sake of others??. May be its just a few like Safeera Sarmad. We need to joing together and liberate our women and countries from such oppression, especially where more than half of our populations are oppressed, it calls for urgent action.

In our own individual actions and together what are we doing to get out of such oppression and outrageous actions???

Lets reflections on our contribution and act.

Again thank you for your touching article.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


SSD's picture

..And your words...

...And, your words are significant for our act to commence - surely, the ride shan't be easy, but, as human-beings it is our individual and collective responsibility to ignite a spark for the flame to be in full force. Yes, we should contribute further and exchange ideas to commence projects -- to sustain and keep going forward.

In the words of a Persian poet, Sa'adi Shirazi (1210 -1292 - Iran), I leave you with a verse to reflect, for, the vein is too vital in this poem:

"Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you've no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain! "

amirchima's picture

Lull a Lion

Your words bring images to mind. These are intense, gut wrenching images that bring such weight, weight a reader can feel. But, as discussed, where there is darkness in the circumstances surrounding the letter, there is light. The strength conveyed in the letter is a rallying call, for the suffering endured should not continue as a norm.

A new norm needs to evolve, as gender apartheid needs to cease.

Thank you so much for sharing!

SSD's picture

Thank you !

That you have felt so strongly to my post, I feel our pulse resonating the same music -- the music of 'strength'.
And, yes, thank you for picking up the major theme of gender apartheid, dear one !

Keep in touch !

binapatel33's picture

Thank you

Thank you for your message. This is very sad what has happened, but the strength that she portrays in her letter is amazing. I can only hope that she is out of this and no longer in jail? Have you heard from her? I feel terrible for her, for wanting to be free. This isn't fair....I wish we could break this radical ideology and it is a pity for those women who attempt to even be free are imprisoned. Thank you for posting the letter. I hope we can see more letters and hope that she is doing better!

Kind Regards,
Bina Patel
hc Mediate, LLC
www.hcmediate.com

SSD's picture

Thanks Bina !

...And your message reveals a sense of cultivating a difference - but, we do need more then 14 days activism to sustain our commitment in out-reaching women in precarious predicaments. 'Safeera Sarmad' is a fictitious letter, though, the content and the description manifested in the letter is complete reality that unfolds each day at this prison in Iran. I have written the letter in the voice of a woman who has been incarcerated.
Thank you for leaving your thoughts and an encouraging message to further explore solutions to overcoming burdens and danger faced by women in the world.

erinluhmann's picture

In Solidarity

Dear Shaheen,

I commend you for taking the creative liberty to personalize the horrifying experiences of so many female prisoners of conscience living in Tehran's Evin Prison. Although Safeera Sarmad is a fictional character, her will to persevere, innocence, and insight into a world of injustice bring the plight of so many living, breathing, women into focus for those living outside of Iran. I encourage you to continue with your writing!

Reading your letter reminded me of an interview I had with Jila Baniyaghoob, an incredibly female journalist who recently wrote a book about her experiences inside Evin Prison title "Women of Evin: Ward 209." I thought you might like to check it out.

Best,
Erin

SSD's picture

Evin Prison...

Dear Erin,

...And, well, your message has surely punctuated the commitment to seek further solidarity in such a precarious predicament faced by such women at this prison. Whilst writing the letter, I could not resist the tears that formed my eyes, for, I felt and could see the entire image like a film on repeat.
Yes, indeed, I shall pick up a copy of the book you have mentioned. And, where can I read your interview with Jila Baniyaghoob? Surely, it would be a delight to read the material - do let me know !

Thank you, dear Erin, for leaving your thoughts at my space ! We must seek solutions to end gender apartheid and 14 days of activism is surely not enough, we must continue beyond time-frames !

erinluhmann's picture

Happy to Share

Here's a link to my interview with Jila: http://www.iwmf.org/jila-baniyaghoob-prisoner-of-conscience-in-iran-2/

Enjoy reading her book!

SSD's picture

Fantastic !

Thank you very much for sending the link, dear Erin ! I shall read the interview and share my thoughts with you !
Wishing you much bliss !

amymorros's picture

The Art of Letter Writing

Reading your journal entry was indeed a very moving experience, as was looking through the wonderful comments and much-deserved praise you have gotten from the World Pulse community. Thank you for sharing the gift of writing compelling prose and unforgettable characters.

Amy
@amyinstl

SSD's picture

Welcome, Amy !

Surely, your generous words are meaningful to me -- they echo inspiration to further propel the fuel to flare in activism for such issues. We must look beyond 14 days of activism in obliterating gender violence and continue to strive for a better and just world for women - through creativity, intellectual participation, spiritual insight and utter truth in lighting paths.
Thank you for sharing your views in solidarity, dear Amy ! Keep in touch !!

Jumi's picture

Resilient Shaheen and Safeera

Such resilience even while struggling and facing oppressive people. Safeera's letter further underscores the importance of women speaking out again injustices in our communities. Yes, we must look beyond the 16 days of activism and continue to challenge the systemic issues that are at the root of these injustices.

SSD's picture

Thanks, Jumi !

Thank you for leaving your thoughts -- certainly, they are significant and I accept your solidarity in looking beyond the 16 days of activism ! 'Tis crucial that we continue voicing in creative and intelligent ways to reach societies through our platform(s). Recently, someone asked me, "shaheen, what is the use of a two-week activism?" Of course, it takes almost a lifetime to cultivate differences, but, we are human-beings, thus, it is our foremost responsibility to be cognisant of expanding our compassion where we are most needed.
Keep in touch !

Beverly Rose's picture

the cost of truth

Dear Shaheen,

That such would be the price to pay for speaking one's truth (and I know that in much of the world it is) is total insanity. Thank you for writing this beautifuly moving letter to raise awareness among those who don't know - or worse yet - refuse to believe that this is reality. We must continue to shed light on oppression and injustice else it will continue to grow in darkness.

In my work with victims of domestic/sexual violence, just as with your beloved friend Safeera, their resiliency and strength and courage and determination continue to amaze me.

I look forward to reading more by you. We need your voice.

In peace,
Beverly

SSD's picture

You said it !

Dear Beverly,

I appreciate your imprints at my space. 'Tis through compassionate people like yourself who forms and sculpts our world to a better standard. I applaud your sensitivity in a world lacking of humanness at times -- many times. Indeed, my friend, we must never cease to ignite the spark of hope, of resiliency -- we can never un-see what we have seen, thus, we cannot walk away from injustice.

Thank you for registering my (humble) voice in your recordings of the many you have heard and felt -- I also stand with you in solidarity !

antonia.h.'s picture

Dear Shaheen, I would like to

Dear Shaheen,
I would like to write something encouraging but I can't find any optimism to transmit. Your friend's letter was really touching and I feel that more people should see it and hear her voice. She is really strong, being able to write these lines to you and be so honest and warm at the same time. How can she still be so warm, that's amazing! I admire her courage and commitment to her values. She will not surrender to these men, that is clear.
Thank you for sharing her letter and I hope you can tell her so many people have heard her voice and admire her!

SSD's picture

Your words, Antonia !

Dear Antonia,

And, well, though you "could not find encouraging" words -- surely, you have vocalised rather wonderfully -- in fact, you have fathomed 'Safeera' in the most human way. I had to manifest the myriad of struggles faced by social-cultural-political prisoners - for their truth is needed to share with the rest of the world. Safeera could only be warm - as the options are limited in a wall to wall cell -- either she withers and dies in that small space, or, she expands, evolves and cultivates her resilient self - by claiming the latter, she shines of hope -- hope to someday walk freely as a woman - as a universal right to humanity.

Thank you for registering your thoughts at my space -- you are always welcome, dear !

Linda M. Ando's picture

Deeply Moved...

Dear Shaheen-joon,

I am deeply moved by the intimate stories of this courageous woman imprisoned for believing in human rights and freedom for all people, especially women. Your talent as a writer takes us on a "human journey" of emotions, feeling the pain, hope, fear and determination of Safeera and other political prisoners/women subjugated to human rights violations. Evoking emotions is so important as it humanizes us and invites us to empathize with others, as if they were our own sister, brother or friend. We hear their cry and understand we need to be their voice to break the silence and chains of oppression.

Thank you for giving voice to Safeera and all other women/political prisoners who are persecuted unjustly and with no legal rights. I encourage you to continue to be a strong advocate as a journalist, global citizen and human rights activist - you make an important difference in the world.

With Gratitude,

Linda M. Ando

SSD's picture

You are inspirational

Dear Linda,

'Tis, I, who is deeply moved by such an inspiring message. I am very grateful that you have found the raw and ripe nerves in my post.
I am sharing a poem I wrote at my website, for, your pulse and my own is woven in the following poem:

O' Tyrant One !

Each dawn they cast their net,
beneath the din of explosions;
no voice can be heard -
the blood on the tongue has dried
from the beggars -
Begging for Life.
Between dreams and day
a colossal distance
fills their throat!
The infinite fragility of hunger,
how the bones knit and shut -
who could speak across such space?

Is there anyone listening?

The eyes refuse to meet -
how in this blindness
the world
cracks open -
Its veins all dried up,
destruction devours the crevices -
disfiguring each human like a herd of blind Scheherazade's,
exceeding all bounds - lamenting -
I find my coffin in your conscious !
Beware !
Beware the unraveling of your face, for,
you shall see your terror...
on the summit
and in the pit
resurrecting the slap of shame
O' Tyrant One !

*******
the above poem encounters the harsh realities -- It is not only about exiled melancholy and profound wounds — for there is no human dignity after distance has distanced itself.
Thank you for leaving your imprints at my space, am obliged, dear friend !

Salaam Shaheen,

You have voiced out a profound truth loud enough! And "such truths" alone can pierce through the walls built exactly to keep "such voices" away. Shaheen, I commend you and your pen for this brilliant manifestation!

With your image of "Safeera" you have not only filled an otherwise dark canvas with ad-hoc strokes of red -- bloodstained hues of suffering, of oppression, humiliation, injustice and of inhumanity -- now perceptible to the eyes despite its blindfolds. You have also given a voice to a "mute reality" confined behind bars. It is always heart-wrenching to see such realities, where simply "being a woman" is the crime one is being made to pay a price for -- often with her dignity and freedom.

The phrase in your article; "fundamentalists have created a regime of gender apartheid" has provoked my mind in such a way that I cannot help but envisage certain realities pertaining to my own country resonating in those words -- where I perceive my country being awaken from its "now-slumberous" state, into the reality, which you have described in your post so daringly.

In a country where its Law obliges its citizens to follow a certain sect of a certain religion, little space is left for a woman (or a man) to voice out against the set of rules imposed upon them by "fists of a patriarchy". Women however are most prone and vulnerable in such situations. The atrocities which often takes place "beyond black hijabs" and within polygamous marriages here aren't any lesser than what a woman jailed in Iran may feel -- oppression of one's voice, humiliation of one's self-worth, denial of one's basic human rights, deprival of one's freedom... and so on.

Having said this, I already have said more than I am "allowed" to say, as the subject is almost a taboo. Yet, its time that "Safeeras" hail from every nation. And truths be told. From countries barely visible on the world map, as much as from a countries handing nuclear powers. It is time to rise!

Forgive me, for I have taken up much of your "white box's" space. It is the valor of your pen that ignited a spark in me, which I hope to carry forward to light up a fire for the freedom of women living in the "hell of a self-selling-sunny-paradise". Shaheen joon, our lands maybe separated by distance, yet our hearts and souls are one. Our cultures may stand polar opposite, yet you and I are bound as one -- each a woman who strive to carry a scorching torch through the dark night of "inhumanity".

I wish your pen more light, and your ink much depth. Amen!

Salaam and dua,
Ishtar

SSD's picture

thanks

CamilaFMScialla's picture

Shaheen, Thank you so much

Shaheen,

Thank you so much for your beautiful writing and sharing the story of many prisoners in Iran. Thank you for bringing to light the plight of many.

Camila

SSD's picture

..And your words

...And, your words equally brighten and infuse hope to the content shared in my post. I thank you for dropping by and leaving your sentiments. Happy New Year, dear Camila !

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