Youth Writing

Crystal Clear By Firdaws Hakizimana


Crystal Clear


When I was about twelve, my mom and I had stopped at Target and got a Brita water dispenser. It wasn’t particularly large; it should have held about 18 cups worth of water. But, the thing is, when we went through the box once we were home, there was something I wasn’t expecting: a thin cobalt blue, small, electronic device. A water tester. Suddenly, I realized why my mom was willing to spend $30 on a fancy pitcher.

The thing is, during the week prior, my family had watched a  large collection of documentaries about water; we started with marine life,  and then the binge-watching moved on to shows about water quality standards. One of them must have triggered something in my mom because the next day we went to Target.

We ended up returning the water dispenser kit, and it was simply just too small for a family of six. However, the water tester accidentally stayed because I kind of wasn’t paying attention when I was packing the box. By the time we realized that the tester was still in our house, we had already thrown away the receipt.

With a water tester and no dispenser, my mom checked the water that we had been drinking. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the best, much less even that good, and as at the time we lived in Michigan, a place with so many water sources like the Great Lakes, it was mystifying.

Nonetheless, my mom was determined to find better water, and so the tester received its own special pocket in my mom’s bag. If we were at a friend’s house, she would check the quality. One of the most memorable moments, was when she had tested the water that one of her friends bought and had delivered to her house. Filling a small cup with the clear liquid, we found out that even water from health stores couldn’t be trusted.

But why did we even need the water tester, and what did it test for?

There is something called the Total of the Dissolved Solids or (TDS), that the tester would display on its small screen. The higher the number, the worse the water was. Likewise, the lower the number, the better.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency or the EPA, “Water quality standards (WQS) are provisions of state, territorial, authorized tribal or federal law approved by EPA that describe the desired condition of a water body and the means by which that condition will be protected or achieved.” This law is in effect in places where there are a lot of aquatic organisms, recreational purposes, boating, etc.

Different places have different TDS; most of the time it’s simply basic minerals which can lead to saltier tasting water, but there are two chemical elements that also is found in water that is problematic; aluminum and lead.


Aluminum in some places, such as Europe, is used to purify water. The process works like this: while aluminum is one of the most abundant metals in the world, it is never found by itself as it has chemically bonded with any other material near it. Break the bond, aluminum needs to find something else. When the aluminum is then poured into unclean water, it bonds with the strongest thing it can find: the dirt in the water.

Lead, on the other hand, is one of the main reasons that I even chose this topic to write about. If you recall, in 2014, the water that the city of Flint Michigan was using changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to a closer and cheaper alternative, the Flint River. Due to the fact that there were corners cut to make the switch cheaper, the sewer pipes weren’t checked. In the end, 12 people died from Legionnaires’ disease. The rest of the population suffers from side effects that come with a dangerously high level of lead in their bodies.

On April 6, 2018, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder ended the Free Bottled Water Program, claiming that the lead levels in the water are “Now well within the standards.” A  pediatrician by the name of Mona Hanna-Attisha, who strongly disapproves of this course of action tweeted out “This is wrong. Until all lead pipes are replaced, state should make available bottled water and filters to Flint residents.”  Most of the Flint population have said that they don’t trust the water, which is understandable as it has harmed either them or someone they know.

I frankly believe that ending the program is unacceptable and wrong. The government got into this trouble for cutting corners, and now it feels like they are doing it again. Thanks to their blunder, now the younger generation of Flint will now suffer from behavior and development problems.

While I know that not everyone’s mother carries around a water tester in her purse, I feel that everyone should have access to clean water. The details around water quality should be anything but murky; let’s make it crystal clear.

Climate Change Isn’t Just About Sea Levels and the Arctic

For years the climate has been a part of the global conversation, however the public has gotten so used to hearing about climate change that for many it’s become an accepted issue. We know it’s happening and recognize that it’s too late to do anything to stop it, so the general population does nothing at all. That is a dangerous mindset.

  In 2018, around 55% of the world lives in an urban area and a UN study released in May estimates that will increase to around 68% by 2050. The effort surrounding climate change is almost always based off of its impact on the glaciers in Antarctica or fish having to find a new habitat due to rising heat levels in the ocean. Rarely do these efforts focus on the immense impact climate change has on cities. Since climate change efforts don’t focus on cities, many people living in urban areas are unaware of the impact global warming is having on their lives.

The signs of climate change are crystal clear in almost any city in the world. Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, Michael Mann recently stated, “The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. We are seeing them play out in real time in the form of unprecedented heat waves, floods, droughts, and wildfires. And we’ve seen them all summer.” These heat waves have had a particularly strong impact on cities due to their already dangerous status as heat islands.

  Urban areas, like NYC and Boston, are examples of microclimates called heat islands. A microclimate is a climate within a small contained area that differs from the climate surrounding it. A heat island is a microclimate created by the abundance of concrete and metal within a city. Since New York City and Boston are heat islands, they are hotter than the rest of the state and often have lower air quality which can create even higher temperatures.

  Currently climate change is increasing the heat in cities and this can cause a multitude of health and financial problems for anyone living in a city. The EPA released a study in April 2017 detailing some health and financial risks climate change is creating for cities. For example, consistent high temperatures can cause a litany of heat related illnesses for the elderly due to low mobility and reduced incomes. Children are also susceptible to heat-related problems such as aggravated asthma and other lung diseases due to air pollution, which is typically worsened by heat waves.

  It’s not just health city dwellers should be worried about though, climate change is taking a toll on pocketbooks too. While the summers heat up air conditioners are getting more use than ever in cities. Although the A/C may be a great temporary cool down, it can have significant downsides. The EPA estimates that if the United State’s climate heats up by around 1.8°F, which it is set to, then the use of electricity solely for cooling will increase by around 5-20%. The predicted increase will cause stress to urban infrastructure and more frequent, long-lasting blackouts. It will also cause an increased demand for additional electric generating capacity by 2050, which will end up costing U.S. residents hundreds of billions of dollars according to the EPA.

    One resident of Portland, ME recognizes the impacts his city has on the climate and suggests that cities begin to, “impose new requirements on building, on development, on zoning.” Another suggested, “If we’re going to make any impact we have to accept the risks of nuclear energy.” He also said in reference to solar and wind power, “When the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing you don’t have energy unless you have the batteries to store it,” and “If we’re going to make any real impact nuclear has to be a part of the equation.”

     Cities across the world are making efforts, some including nuclear power and building regulations, to reduce their emission of greenhouse gasses, but what can individuals do? Well, if you have a roof garden or porch you can plant small shade plants or other greenery to reduce the amount of solar radiation absorbed and therefore decrease the overall surface temperature. And although it may sound cliche, it really does help to take public transportation such as the subway, bus, or UberPool. If you’re looking to save electricity you can make a routine out of turning all lights and electronics off before you leave the apartment, switch to energy efficient light bulbs, and try to air dry your clothes if you can or opt for wool dryer balls. Then, if you’re willing to add a couple larger lifestyles changes you can begin to cut the amount of groceries that you buy and try to buy food locally if possible. Cutting down on groceries and only buying the necessary foods, like one jug of juice for your apartment rather than three, you reduce the carbon footprint created by food waste. It’s also beneficial to dedicate some time to advocating for extended bike lanes or mass transit.

  These are all fairly small actions that can be taken by anybody but are especially easy for those living in urban areas. If you live in a rural or suburban area and are also ready to take bigger steps to help out there are plenty of options. For one, you can plant large shade trees in your yard, switch to a green roof or install cooling pavements to lower the surrounding temperatures.

  The drastic changing of Earth’s climate is an issue that will impact each person on Earth if it is not seriously dealt with in a matter of years. It affects far more than just the glaciers in Antarctica. The general population needs to realize that climate change is not just going to change the future for good but is already forcing negative changes in their day to day lives. We’ve already caused significant damage to the Earth and our future here, but we have a chance to prevent any more damage. As a citizen of Portland, ME pointedly stated, “It’s coming, it’s happening, and you just have to keep that in mind.” You don’t have to be a scientist or environmentalist to make a real change, you just have to care!

Music is the Best Way to Hear Emotions

   Everyone has a different connection to music. Some, like my grandmother, are indifferent–she knows it exists, but it’s just not for her. And then there’s me; music has always played some part in my life. Starting when I was little, my dad would put on one of his many classical CDs, and then he’d have me imagine the story the song was telling. Was it about a princess escaping the grasps of an evil dragon? Or an epic sea battle between two crews of enemy pirates?

    As I grew, music meant various things to me,  but it never lost that touch of magic that made it so easy to let my mind wander. Music became an especially important part of my life during a time when I was depressed, socially anxious, and generally feeling lost in my own little bubble of the world. One night a few years ago around 8 pm, I was trapped in my room in the middle of a particularly bad anxiety attack, (although I was pretty used to them, this one was the worst). My lungs felt covered in Saran Wrap, and my mind buzzed with the same anxious thoughts over and over. Then before I knew it, I was in my mom’s arms. She asked if I wanted to go for a drive. She took me, still shaking and a bit disoriented, downstairs to the car, and we left the house with no destination in mind.

As we pulled out of the driveway, my mom asked if I wanted to put some music on while we drove. We made our way across the rolling hills cloaked by the starry sky, and as we drifted past the grassy fields, “Try Everything” by Shakira came on. With the windows open, the crisp breeze brushed the tears off my face, and the growing beat of the song encouraged me not to be afraid of failure or to doubt myself. As the lyric “Look how far you’ve come, you filled your heart with love, baby you’ve done enough take a deep breath,” combined with the cool breeze rushing through the windows, I felt free. Not everything was miraculously all better, but in that moment, I knew that it could be if I fought for it.

    Music has a way of feeding directly into human emotions. Most people can recall a song that immediately causes them to relax a little more with the easygoing ukulele, maybe to tense up at a heart-wrenching ballad, or to start dancing and smiling to a catchy electronic beat. The song “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles is almost universally recognized as a happy, upbeat song. But if you were to remove the lyrics, it would still sound cheerful. That’s because the emotions of a song are rooted in far more than just the lyrics. The beat and vibrations of a song have the power to impact the neurochemical mechanism that manages, “mood, stress, immunity, and as an aid to social bonding,” according to a 2013 McGill University study. So listening to a song like “Here Comes the Sun” can actually alter your mood and make you a bit more cheerful.

This direct connection between music and mood is one of the reasons playlists, or in the past,  mix tapes, are so popular. A playlist created to help yourself through a breakup might be full of Adele and Air Supply. Or another to hype yourself up for a big speech might include songs by Beyoncé and Pat Benatar on repeat. This is because these songs or artists have a specific style that plugs directly into the mechanisms controlling our emotions, the ones that decide whether we feel a bit more confident, or down, or any other emotion.

    In this way, music can console or bolster confidence far more effectively than language alone ever can. In the past, I’ve found certain songs that communicated what I was feeling and helped me understand my emotions in a therapeutic way. If used in a healing way, music not only lets you communicate your emotions effectively to others but also spurs you to explore and better understand them yourself.  

    The majority of songs I used to listen to were melancholy, and at times I found they re-enforced my insecurities. Eventually I found music that I could connect with in a way that helped me cope rather than give in. Since then, and in the past two years, I’ve made an effort to listen to music that supports me. Yes, sometimes that means listening to cheesy music like “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson or “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. But it also means allowing myself to take comfort in music that validates my emotions without leading me too deeply into a negative mindset.

Music is one of the most genuine ways to connect ourselves to what’s tangible and authentic. One song has the power to connect with and pull together diverse communities of people from across the globe, while another can make us leap from our seats in the middle of horror movie scene. There’s something about listening to music that takes us away to those mystical lands where we can simply be raw, brutally honest, and most of all, ourselves.

 Click here to listen to all of the songs mentioned in the article plus a few that simply fit with them.


White Privilege in Standardized Testing

The main type of testing education that is appreciated by larger entities and feared by students goes by a rather honest name: standardized testing. This testing requires three things: a sharpened number two pencil, a sheet of paper with bubbles representing the answers to the questions, and a native English speaker.

The most well known standardized test is the SAT taken during one’s Junior year of high school. This test is often the first test that reflects each student’s individual knowledge, and the scores actually matter. Compared to some of the other required standardized tests high schoolers take, such as the NWEAs or the NECAPs, which take the data from an entire school and judge the institution based off it, there is a pressure to perform well on the SATs if the student taking it wants to go to college. But several discussions with my psychology teacher, Troy Crabtree, led me to understand that there is an unfair advantage when it comes to standardized testing; if English is one’s strongest language, they will perform better.

As a teenager who is only fluent in English, I can say with surety that the reading and comprehension section on the SATs is difficult. Although I like to think I excel in English as a course, this test was arduous. It set up sentences in ways under experienced readers would struggle with, along with grammatical errors hard to discriminate. It is important to remember that the SAT is not offered in different languages. Unless the reader has a full understanding of English grammar, the language can be difficult to interpret.

The math section on this standardized test may also pose difficulties, seeing that the questions are in English as well, despite the idea that “math is the universal language”. If someone who was preeminent in mathematics immigrated from Africa recently, the odds of them doing well on the math section would be seriously hindered because of their language skills. Without an accurate understanding of what the question is asking you to perform, there is no way that one could adequately answer the question. As a native English speaker, I already found the math section on the SAT to be difficult and riddled with tricks. It is hard to imagine trying to solve the numerical pieces without the ability to comprehend the language attached.  

From a teenager’s perspective, it somewhat feels like the SATs, along with many other standardized tests, are curated to make students fail. Now, I doubt that is what the creator of the standardized test envisioned, but nonetheless, it is happening to students who are not fortunate, or privileged, enough to have English as their first language. If a student who only speaks English feels this way, it is hard to imagine how insurmountable the test must feel for a recent immigrant with English as a second or third language.

As a soon to be high school senior, I need to retake the SATs. Though I disagree with what the SATs, and standardized tests in general, I still will use the scores from it because I need them to go to college. In an ideal world, there would be no need for standardized tests, as students would be judged on their character and not their ability to sit in a room for two hours while forced to stare at a glaringly white piece of paper and bubble in their answers.

Debunking the Defunding of Planned Parenthood

What do you think of when you see the words “Planned Parenthood”? Perhaps it is a sense of pride, knowing that it is a place where anyone can go to access help. Likely you also think of abortions when you encounter the organization. “Planned Parenthood” can be interpreted in numerous ways, but more than anything, its core meaning is literally its name. This organization is a resource to help safely plan your future parenthood. Do not let the name fool you- not every service is related to being sexually active. Their variety of care includes (but is not limited to): men and women’s health services, STD testing, patient education, LGBTQ services, pregnancy testing, abortions, and referrals. Moreover, Planned Parenthood is a healthcare provider invested in fighting for women’s rights; the proof is in their unwavering message of equality during the Trump administration. Therefore the question should be asked: why is this organization solely thought of as an abortion clinic?

The services of Planned Parenthood are substantially important for teenagers. As a teenager who has endured almost twelve years of public education, I can say with confidence that I feel a sense of failure in terms of my sexual education. Although many public schools provide more than adequate sex education and reproductive health classes, I did not receive it.

My first encounter with a topic broadly labeled as “Family Living” occurred in fourth grade. My class was split into two sexes: the boys went to the library while the girls were forced to sit in a circle. A middle-aged woman talked to us about our “changing bodies”. We were subject to this talk, that at the time seemed like a punishment for something none of us had done, once a day for around two weeks. Us nine-year-olds listened to this woman talk about periods, sperm, pregnancy, and sexual predators. I always questioned why the boys got to escape this lesson. Sure, they would not personally experience female reproduction, but nonetheless, they should still be informed. Perhaps if they were from a young age they would not squirm when a woman mentions tampons and they might understand the fear set in girls at a young age of people around us, especially men. Maybe if certain men experienced that lesson as boys, they later would not become the sexual predators fourth-grade girls have to learn about.

My second encounter with a reproductive lesson happened in seventh grade. This time the sexes were mixed together, and the teacher was male. In this trimester-long class, we touched upon sexual education. We were taught what pregnancy was and how to avoid it: use a condom. We were shown male condoms and told to “play with them”, a weird concept to me still. Us middle schoolers all uncomfortably laughed and stretched the rubber, but none of us had learned anything new. The most important lesson my health teacher taught us was about STDs and STIs; a lesson I still appreciate. But he failed to talk about miscarriages or stillbirths, an occurrence from reportedly one in four pregnancies. He also neglected to talk about consent, rape, or anything of that nature. If he had handed out Planned Parenthood pamphlets that informed us of where to go to learn about these sensitive topics, many students would have explored the subject matter further.

My last encounter with sexual education was in tenth grade. Although our health class was a semester-long, our sex ed was whittled down to about a week or two. Again, I had a male teacher. He was a Physical Education teacher so his curriculum was not geared towards sex ed. The main thing I took away from this high school sex lesson was abstinence. I did not learn how to apply a condom. I did not learn about the side effects of birth control on a woman’s body. And, once again I learned nothing about consent, rape, sexual abuse, or anything that daunts high schoolers. I was also not pointed in the direction of Planned Parenthood resources so I could find more information to help.

The importance of being educated sexually is crucial when it comes time for college. Many studies state that one out of three women gets raped on a college campus. Essentially, if you are in a room with a handful of college graduates, odds are at least one of them has been raped. As a privileged teenager in the age of technology, I was able to learn about these overwhelming topics on my own as needed. As the president of my school’s Women’s Rights Club, I am aware of the relationships high schoolers endure and the abuse that could have been prevented if only we, as impressionable young adults, were taught about them.

Planned Parenthood services must be provided in schools, in workplaces, or anywhere an undereducated person may be. The resources this organization provides include much more than just abortions. Therefore, the defunding of an entire company that simply strives to inform the population of sexual health is as close-minded as it is dangerous for future generations of parents.

New life


      The past is the consequence of what we have done in the present and the future will be the result of what we are doing in the present,choices lead us to the future.

   Me and my family we made  a choice,and that choice brought us here.My name is jemima,and i from Angola,a beautiful country ,located on the South Atlantic coast of West Africa, between Namibia and Congo, a country that is wonderfully warm, with happy people who loves to dance, with beaches and forests, a country where summer is  longer than winter I would say that my country smells like the ocean.Where it is possible to find hawkers in every corner of the city capital, Luanda, small markets almost everywhere, with some paved streets and other not, that when the rain falls, makes a lot of small holes in the roads, streets that are always crowded with taxis of blue and white color, but what captivated me and still  captivates me in my country is the capacity of Angola to make anyone feel at home and get into the rhythm.And it is important for everyone to feel at home, and Angola makes everybody feel comfortable,because of the diversity of colors found in each corner, by the unique and exotic way of the Angolan movement, a joy that the people transmit every day it is unique!

was an easy and difficult decision at the same time, it was easy because we  were exited with the idea of knowing a new country outside of Africa, to see the snow for the first time, to eat the famous American hotdog, to listen to the noise  caused by the traffic in new York,i was amazed.It was a difficult decision because we had to leave our house, our old friends,stop going to our favorite places, say bye to the country that saw me grow, yes it was difficult because I didn’t know when I would go back to it, until now I do not know.

For political reasons, my family had to move, reasons that included my life and my family’life, before we leave, we spent some scary moments in which we did not feel safe in our own country,Fear of being killed, kidnapped.During all the time that we lived in Angola we created roots and friends, we were afraid of not being able to rebuild the same friendships and roots here.We made the decision to leave without even knowing what awaited us on the other side of the world, carrying with us only a few suitcases, which were full of hopes and fears, but above all joy, joy that a of the strong characteristics of the African people has always been the weapon of my small family, we were happy with the mere possibility of a better future.

as we arrived in the United States, we began our journey into the future, and the quest for much of our questions about how and indeed life as an immigrant. In the beginning it was difficult because we did not know the language and it was complicated to communicate with the natives, it was difficult to even get some answers. But it was also easy because around us there was always someone willing to help, using a translator of course!

we saw great differences between here and my country, one of them was the snow something we never saw, our first snow was a memorable experience! very different from Angola, in a short time that I live here I would say that the smell that identifies Maine is a mixture of cigarette and wood and that the sound that identifies is the sound of the wind on the trees.

we were very well received here, we met people with huge hearts and willing to help. We are rebuilding our lives here, learning every day, meeting new people, new places, and learning to see Maine as our new home.Maine will eventually turn to be our home, but Angola will always be our place, the land of our grandfathers, Maine will see me build a future for me and for  the peoplethat I love, but Angola saw me born, grow and leave.

Along my journey here I learned that each country is a country, with stories, adventures, culture …  to build a new life in another country we should not forget life in the previous country, but we must use all knowledge of the previous country for the new country, because no matter where we are, the land will always be the same, the air the same, the same souls, the same animals, there will always be music and dance, any country will always be a home.


Kaleidoscope by Firdaws Hakizimana

I hear laughter, shrieks of delight as someone splashes another with water,

thumps as feet hit the floor with speed,

different languages spoken sometimes at the same moment making a twisted form of harmony.’


I watched as pearl white freckles erupted one day on one of my brothers cheeks,

like stars in the night sky,

much to all of my family’s confusion.

I looked on in delight as my baby brother got his first two teeth,

stared at test results in surprise.


I’m molded by my experiences; different to many, but normal to others.


I am surrounded by bright colors,

neon pink and teal chiffon scarves wrapped on heads covering jet black and hazel hairs,

lime green cooking utensils,

deep red cups filled with brown, green, white and clear liquids,

Grey, shiny skyscrapers twinkling as it catches the daylight,

purple colored walls of my room,

paintings, perfectly polished hang from tacks embedded in cream paneles,

shades of brown on most bodies.


I catch the fragrance of almonds as my mom opens a bottle of castile soap,

or the aroma of meat boiling in spices soon to be fried.

The smell of peanut butter, however light is at the time is always in the kitchen,

unless it is overpowered by lemongrass, lavender, or eucalyptus from the essential oils we use in the air humidifier.


I am helped by guiding hands, my family and the internet.

Opinions of others are often countered by dedicated research.

Secret smiles are shared as inside jokes are spoken.


I live among colors,

many shades and different pallets,

from ivory to ebony with gentle greys in between,

and they have shaped with me to be who I am.


Blue Eyes by Grace Brenner

You are always there to envelop me in a strong hug

You know how to cool me down

Your strength gives me power to continue my day

You support me when I can’t even stand

You let me float into you, going deeper and deeper

You rock me back and forth in your arms until I feel strong enough to continue

Your deep blue eyes give me so much hope

Your fresh smell of salt draws me in

You control the whole world yet still make me feel important

You pull me back in when I’m not ready to go alone

You are the ocean I was raised by

A Mother’s Grace by Neila Claffey

You smell of strawberry lotion

Please play Joan Jett for me

Hips sway and legs bounce

It doesn’t matter if the CD skips

Starwars dolls and princess dresses

I want to feel needed

Hold my hand and love me tight

I think the monster is lurking

Wounded knees and jump rope handles

I can’t seem to be

You push me hard, but still stroke my hair

“You’re as normal as can be.”

Pills Pills

So many Pills

and all of them



I can hear your heart ache and see it shake

The monster is awake

Blame Blame

You are doused in shame

Please don’t blame yourself

I have felt hurt

But you saved me from the sting

So please don’t shame yourself

Strong and willed

I hold the key

To my future

Who I will be

I say “I want my reflection to look like you”

And you whisper “I want it to mirror who you will be”

Tears Tears

Dribble down my cheek

Thank you for teaching me

How to be free

Shoes by Lilah Morrow-Spitzer

I watch everyone’s shoes

Making different zigzags across the floor.

I hear squeaks

New pairs dragged along the tiles.


I am pacing back and forth along the carpeted room.

My shoes are in the corner and I begin to panic.

I run down three flights of stairs and to the outdoors

Forgetting my shoes upstairs.


At my house I see a pile of shoes by the back door.

I enter the room to a group of friends.

A friend gets a phone call.

And I hear the


When she ends it.

Slowly she slips her shoes back on

Drops of water hitting them from the river across her face.


Inside this strange house I see pairs of shoes neatly arrayed towards the door.

I slip off mine and add them to the collection.

Inside the house muffled tears come from every corner.

Her mother stands there in the center of the room



I go up to her room

A place foreign to me prior

As I slowly open the door I see her shoes lined against her closet.

Shoes that will never be worn again.

I smile at the photos of her lined against the walls that are speaking to me

Words that I don’t understand.


I get into bed with my shoes on.

Stained cheeks and red nose

I lay up towards the ceiling

Questioning everything.

Was she buried in shoes?

When will her feet hit the ground again?

Knowing that I’ll never be answered.


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