Denis Drouin’s Diary
Climate Change, Canopies and Wildlife in the Ecuadorian Andes

October 6, 2009: Home at last.
October 4, 2009: Last day on the job.
October 2, 2009: Romance, Ecuador style
September 30 2009: Camera Traps
September 28, 2009: Habitat assessment, day two.
September 26, 2009: First day on the job
September 24, 2009: View from the top
September 22, 2009: Equinox
April 20, 2009: New colleagues
Friday, December 19, 2008
October 5, 2009: Goodbye, Santa Lucia
October 3, 2009: Full moon
October 1, 2009: Bird watching -- and listening
September 29, 2009: Collecting precious data
September 27, 2009: Habitat assessment
September 25, 2009: Santa Lucia
September 23, 2009: Meetup
September 21, 2009: One more night to go
March 19, 2009: Selected!

October 6, 2009: Home at last.

Quito  Today I will be flying back home. My departure time is 6:45 am and I want to be at the airport at least two hours in advance. One more time I have to get up early, this time too early for breakfast. I tighten some straps on my backpack, get down to the lobby. It's 3:45, and the taxi is on time. I go through security and customs easily. My flight to Miami is on time. I have to walk a long way in Miami Airport to connect with my next plane to Toronto, but I have done this in much worse conditions for the last ten days. It won’t matter. Takeoff is on time. At the Toronto Canadian customs there is a long line, but many booths are open. So it takes a reasonable time to get through. The next plane to Québec City is also on time. The flight's last 10 minutes is gorgeous. The sky is dark and clear. The approach of the plane to the runway makes us fly all around the town and over the majestic St-Lawrence River. After a soft landing and a short walk to the baggage claim area, I see my lover on the other side of the last window that separates us to be together again. A few minutes later, my backpack arrives on the conveyor. I grab it and walk to the glass door. I kiss and hug Francine my wonderful wife. I drive back one and a half hours to finally get to my home, and rest, 19 hours after waking up!
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October 5, 2009: Goodbye, Santa Lucia

MollyArrivingSantaLucia  Today is my last day at the Santa Lucia reserve. My backpack has to be ready by 8:00 am. The only task today is to have breakfast and be down the mountain by 12:00 to catch the bus to Quito. The early birds -- Anne, Agi, Tony Fisher, Megan and I -- decide to take one last chance to perhaps see a spectacled bear. We get up early and have our breakfast. We hug our Santa Lucia Reserve staff to whom I’m so thankful for their warm welcome and their beautiful place, and walk our way down to Maquipucuna reserve. The spectacled bear (Tremarctos Ornatus), the only bear species of South America, is endangered, primarily due to habitat destruction and fragmentation, but also hunting. Spectacled bears migrate altitudinally during the year in search of food. They can move long distances and live for a few months feeding on “paramo” vegetation from the highlands to the subtropical areas. There are only a few thousand individuals in the wild, and in Ecuador scientists still do not know how many individuals are left. In fact scientists that study the bear can spend years without seeing one; only tracking bears from their feces or traces left behind. At Maquipucuna we have the privilege of hosting a Stick  large bear population; in 2009 a researcher identified 16 different individuals, during approximately two to three months every year. Bears prefer a small native avocado-like fruit, "aguacatillo," which is very abundant in the regenerating areas of the Spectacledbear  Reserve. Time of ripening of this plant varies from year to year depending on rainfall pattern changes. What a good decision this was. We are lucky enough to see two bears: WOW! This journey has been intense from day one to the end. So I have finally enough time to have a drink (delicious fruit juice). Temperature here at the mountain bottom is quite higher than at the top, so the TNT Team (Tony DeNis Tony) chill out again by having a last swim in the clear river just nearby! A little later everybody climbs on the bus for the trip back to Quito. We make a small side trip to the airport, a quick hug and good-bye to Agi, who is leaving us here to take her plane to Hungary (Have a nice trip back home, my dear friend). Finally the bus stops at the Posada Del Maple. We all pick up our bags, hug and say goodbye to each other, climb into a taxi and get to our hotel. I decided to stay at the Posada del Maple for my last night. For dinner I go to an Argentinian restaurant and I have a Cuban waiter. What a special way to finish an international trip like this! Ho! Surprise! As I’m looking out the window I see Anthony Fisher. I wave to him and invite him to sip a glass of wine with me. A few minutes later the other Tony, Anthony Flint, joins us. This is been the last time I see these guys.
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October 4, 2009: Last day on the job.

AgiAtWork It's the last day of work and I'm teamed up with Agi and Anne. We are going in theSwiming   direction of the river and waterfalls. Today’s experiment is to know if living insects will choose to live in artificial nests (PVC pipes) carefully installed just under canopies as they do in bromeliads. The work is to bring down these nests to ground level and inspect their content. Unfortunately for us we did not find any living thing in the three nests we visited. After lunch we went to swim in the river and hike to gorgeous waterfalls. After dinner it is time to prepare to leave tomorrow. Our backpacks have to be ready by 8:00 am so the trusty mules can bring them down to the bus.
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October 3, 2009: Full moon

Sun  Today I’m again getting up early because I'm going bird watching again. It is a full moon today, the sky is clear and this fantastic big red moon is going to set in an hour or so. At almost the same time the sun will rise. It is one out of many moments I won’t forget for a while! I’m working with Antony Flint and Noe. As usual in early morning we bring our breakfast lunch boxGrasshopperInAction   up to the mountain. We are very lucky to see two magnificent toucans. We did our early work, but there is something different today. Partners are going to bring us our lunch boxes because on our way down Tony and I will participate in “habitat   assessment” once more. I am proud to have prepared   my body to be able to walk a lot. This allows me to see much more land. After three surveys we all get back to the lodge for a shower and dinner. There aren't many showers with a view like this.Shower  
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October 2, 2009: Romance, Ecuador style

CrockOfTheRockSL  It is a day off today, but for the TNT Team (Tony DeNis Tony) waking up early is not a problem. Effectively one of the activities proposed is to: get up early, 04:00 am, and walk to the “cock of the rock” love parade site. Noe is our guide. The “cock of the rock” is a pretty red headed black back bird. Noe carefully warns us not to take flash photos and be very quiet so as not to disturb the birds. Once again, the wonderful nature show is well worth the effort. Gradually some males approach the site and start to dance and sing. The song is more like a scream or a shout than a song. One and only one female arrives and looks at these males with a very independent appearance, in order to choose the most beautiful singer of the group. They sing louder and louder. They inflate their necks to triple or quadruple its usual size. It is something to see. I feel like being in a National Geographic movie. It is gorgeous! If a human male had to do only 10% of what these birds do to win a female, this would for sure be the the beginning of the end of humanity. I’ll CrockOfTheRock  remember that moment for the rest of my life, believe me. After this spectacular dance show we head back to the lodge for breakfast. My second activity of the day is a visit to ”Tulipe Archaeological Site-Museum.” Tulipe was built by the Yumbo people, who inhabited the north and north western valleys and mountains around Quito from around 800 to 1660 AD. It’s thought that the Yumbo people migrated to the Amazon after a great eruption of the Pichincha Volcano in 1660, and this theory is currently being investigated. Click here for more details. We have lunch in a local restaurant in Nanegalito. We finally walk back up for dinner. Later AnTony Fisher and me DeNis, put red clothes on our head imitate “the cock of the rock”, having Agi acting as the female bird. It was fun. Everybody was laughing at the two crazy guys trying to mimic these very special birds.
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October 1, 2009: Bird watching -- and listening

AgiMorningBeforeWork  I have to share with you that time goes so fast here, but not for the same reason as at home. The work I’m doing with all the other Earthwatch fellows here is instantly gratifying. Of course we walk long distances and sweat a lot, but for each step, there is an immediate reward of beauty and freedom. Today I’m working with Agi, the Alcoa Hungarian Earthwatch Fellow, and Jorge (Noe) the bird watching specialist here in the Santa Lucia reserve. We have to get up very early because we have to be on the watch spot, many kilometers away, by 6:00 am. At 4:45 I am awake and watching stars in the forest darkness. What a peaceful moment it is. So we start walking in the dark with head lamps. It is quiet but there are many crickets that break the silence. On arriving at the first spot Jorge gives Agi and me a pad to record our observations. So we each record the identification number of the spot and the starting time. One of us will keep records of heard birds, the others of seen birds. This is quite new for me that bird watching is approximately 10 times more hearing than seeing. Noe is amazing! He can tell the name of the bird he is hearing and tell the approximate distance the bird is from us. He can also tell if there is more than one individual. He knows his job pretty well. We stay and watch at the same spot for precisely 10 minutes, then Butterfly  walk to the next one. We repeat this five times, then head back to the Santa Lucia Reserve lodge for lunch. You know the advantage of getting up very early is that you have your afternoon free. Agi and I took this opportunity to relax in hammock on the lodge porch. We talk, write our personal journals and read. I finally use the end of this free afternoon to do some hand laundry. Oh yes, remember that there is no electricity here. Do you want to see these beautiful birds? If you do, click here to access the Santa Lucia Reserve bird photo album.
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September 30 2009: Camera Traps

CameraTrap Elusive wildlife such as spectacled bears, pumas and deer are difficult to see and study in forest environments, but there is the urgent need to assess their conservation status in areas such as the north-western Ecuadorian mountain forests to focus and determine the effectiveness of conservation efforts
. The camera trapping project at the Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve aims to capture photographic imagery and provide scientific information on the status of endangered species, using a network of camera traps set up in the forest. These cameras detect movement and allow us to take digital photographs of wildlife in the reserve that is then uploaded to an online database. The database, developed in collaboration with the University of Sussex, stores the information for scientific analysis and allows the public to see the latest imagery uploaded from the forest cameras using a Google maps interface. Today I’m working with James and Xavier as “Camera trap response." We are going to visit four different places. The task is to: Replace the memory card in the camera;  Replace the battery; Clean the lens; Set the clock; Test functionality; then later, at the lodge, download the images on the computer and Web site. This has been one more very pleasant and instructive day. I learned that pumas and ocelots are nocturnal mammals. Evening activity was a very happy game of ”Settlers of Catan." Xavier was a particularly good resources trader.
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September 29, 2009: Collecting precious data

TempMoistureDataCollector  I’m working with Anne, Daniela and Tim as expedition leader. Our assignment is "Climate change -- collecting Data." It consists of reaching moisture and temperature module data collectors. These are electronic, battery operated modules. They can record for 18 months without maintenance, depending on the setting. We started by walking down to a river. Our first objective is on the other side of the river in a cave -- a bat cave! Don’t worry, they sleep during the day. Our task consists of: 1-Untie the module from its monitoring position 2-Identify the module location and serial number. 3-Connect the unit to a computer and download the data. 4-Replace the battery (Make sure to bring the old one back for recycling). 5- Put the unit back in place. Our duty is very simple, but the information in these small yellow boxes is so valuable. During the day we visited 6 different spots and repeated the fives steps. One of the spots has a CameraTrap  remote sensor to collect water temperature in a stream. We have, by the way, learned that there is a decline of water temperature in proportion to an elevation in earth altitude. On our way back we offset the main trail to have a guided tour by Tim to an artisanal banana and sugar cane plantation. There are also coffee trees on the way back. The after-dinner presentation was about camera traps in the reserve. Xavier heads up that program and showed us some great photos of Pumas, Spectacled Bears, and other animals. We learn that when spectacled bears climb a tree, they stay JunggleHamoc  in this tree until all fruit is eaten. This is why he breaks branches -- to make some kind of a nest to relax and rest in the tree. It's a special night tonight for Anne, Martin and I: we are going to sleep in jungle hammocks, in the forest.
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September 28, 2009: Habitat assessment, day two.

HummingBirdNature  The work to be done today is similar to yesterday. But do not misunderstand, it is just as exciting as before. We are heading for an observatory tower. Unfortunately the sky is full of mist, not good for pictures. I will simply link you to the Choco-Andean Corridor Project, and you can see why it is so important to learn and protect this beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous forest. At the end of workday there was still enough energy for a secondHabitatAssessmentQuadrant   international soccer game. Ecuador beat the international team 4 to 1. Then a hard-earned shower and dinner followed by a presentation on biodiversity. We have learned as an example that, compared to China which has a 30 times more area, Ecuador has more plant species (7000), mainly because of the different altitudes we can find in the country, and the climate's relative stability.
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September 27, 2009: Habitat assessment

DenWalkingup I pick up this job today because of what's written on the planning board: ”LONG WALK”. I’m the oldest expedition fellow here but I’m also in the group of people who are in very good physical shape. Even more, I really enjoy walking in the forest, and if we engage in this activity it is for two days. Today I will work with Miguel and Edison, both botanists from Quito University, Ann, a Canadian fellow like me, Antony Flint from UK, and James, an Ecuadorian volunteer. We are asked to be at the lodge early at 06:00 for breakfast. A three-hour walk in steep up and down mountain trails is needed to DenEating reach the  first working area. We are going to bring lunchboxes with us. The goal is to survey two or three ten-meter diameter circles. Miguel will pick the sites, which are good representative forest areas. We divide after that, and mark each circle into four quadrants. Each volunteer will choose a quadrant to survey. He also will choose the most representative tree within his respective quadrant on which to answer many survey questions (around 50). Here are some of the questions: 1) What is the percentage of ground cover by dead leaves? 2) What is the percentage of ground covered by living plants Heliconia from 0 to 1 meter high? 3) How many individual bromeliads cover each quadrant? 4) What is the percentage of epiphytes which covering each quadrant? And so on! It is very interesting. By the time we (volunteers) are answering Edison's surveyEdisonHabitatAssessment  questions, Miguel is looking in the circle to find new or rare species. He also collects samples which will be stored in the "National Herbarium of Ecuador (click to download a PowerPoint)." The National Herbarium of Ecuador 
has the monumental task of discovering, collecting and cataloguing the plant species of Ecuador. The work of the Herbarium means that the diversity of plant life can be truly appreciated. After three different habitat assessments we are all happy to head back to the lodge for an excellent dinner. Remember that all this data will be put into a computer for further analysis and comparison. If scientists measure and know what’s happening, it is much easier to predict the future and the action to be taken in order to maintain sustainability.
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September 26, 2009: First day on the job

DenCollectingData Our first breakfast all together. It is an opportunity to introduce ourselves and learn more about other Earthwatch fellows. What a great experience to meet people from all around the world in this gorgeous place, all here for the same goal: to make this planet a better place to live. This cranks me up. After breakfast Tim the project leader in the field for the next ten days explains to us, what is the project? What will be our task and duty? What are the safety rules, (yes, just like at work, there are safety rules to follow)? We will learn during the presentation that: The Santa Lucia Reserve is protected cloud forest. The Santa Lucia Reserve is also home to tremendous biodiversity, including mammals such as Andean cats, pumas, coatimundis (similar to Spectacledbear raccoons), endangered spectacled bears, and ocelots. We are going to help survey key carnivore and bird species and their associated vegetation types to determine abundance and distribution, which will provide reserve managers with accurate scientific data to create habitat and species action plans. Collecting data is a key because if we know well what going on, it is much easier to predict what is going to happen. On our walking intro tour we learn for example that when a tree falls, making a hole in the canopy, the ground which receives sunlight instantly becomes a war zone for new growth. Sometimes CoatiNasuaNarica seeds that have been in the ground for many years feel the heat, and then start rapidly to grow. The tour is followed by an international soccer game. Canada, UK, US, India, Hungary, and Netherlands join together to try to defeat the local Ecuadorians, but they are too strong. Dinner time follows, a great time. Agi, AgiDenMollyDinnerTime Molly and I, the Alcoa team, sit together and enjoy being there. After dinner everybody picks up their task assignment for tomorrow. For me, for the next two days, I will take a long walk to reach the point where we are going to do Habitat assessment. Have a good sleep!
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September 25, 2009: Santa Lucia

DenAtWorkInWater Today is one more sunny day in Quito. But today is also different. We are going to make the last leg of our trip to Santa Lucia Reserve, base point of our expedition. A bus came to pick up us at 09:00 am. We were driven northwest of Quito, on the amicably named "Superjhighway #1." After one hour of driving in the most polluted town and suburb I have ever seen, we started to see more and more nature. Quito is surrounded by mountains, but we could see very clear indication of human presence, like plenty of radio towers, high voltage electrical poles and lines, etc. The further we went, the more those things disappeared. We turned on a small and tortuous road. Let’s call it road 1. From small road to smaller trail (may be "trail 1"). Yes, there's no more pavement. To cross a little brook, the driver has to go very slowly at some point. Less and less civilization, as we sink deeper into the Andean rainforest. We arrive at the end of this trail. The bus can no longer go forward, but the journey is not over yet. Some Ecuadorian gentlemen with mules are waiting for us and our backpacks. I’m really HummingBirdFlying excited now, for the next ten days I’ll be in this huge natural place with no more noise, no more pollution. I’ll be living with ecological minded people in a gorgeous place. By working with them, I am helping scientist understand climate change and wild life. Isn’t it wonderful? Oh yes, but first let’s climb this mountain. Now the trail is so small and steep, that it can be used by 4X4 trucks, mules, human and others forest mammals. Half an hour later it is now very narrow. One after the other we walk up the trail never wider then 1 meter. We are now surrounded by luxurious nature, thousands of plant species are all around us. The trail is very steep. It is easy to recognise those that are in good shape from ColeopteraEscarabajo those who are not. At the top of the mountain stands the Santa Lucia main lodge. WOW! THE VIEW IS BREATHTAKING! From all directions we see forest and mountain. I really have the sensation of being on the top of the world. This is a great reward for the effort of walking up. After all have arrived, everybody has been assigned to his “cabana”, taken a shower and had a very much appreciated dinner. We talk together after dinner then off to bed to sleep like a baby. 
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September 24, 2009: View from the top

A look at Quito from the top! Today at breakfast time we met two more Earthwatch fellows: Anne Maurais and Antony Fisher. While eating we discussed various plans for the day and decided that we would visit the "Cruze Loma" at 4100m altitude, using the "Teleferico" cable car. From the top there's a splendid view of Quito and it is possible to climb the volcano "Rucu Pichincha." We had lunch in a very typical restaurant. My meal was a delicious shrimp soup. In the afternoon we visited some more churches and crowded streets of the old town. Back at the hotel we met Megan from Pennsylvania, one more Earthwatch fellow -- the youngest by far. We had dinner all together in a nearby colorful club.
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September 23, 2009: Meetup

Today Quito welcomed us with good weather, blue sky and warm temperature. While at breakfast I met Molly. It was good to see each order. We talked together, then after a moment a man asked us if we where on the Earthwatch expedition. He was Antony Flint from United Kingdom, an Earthwatch volunteer as well. Discussion continued and we got to know a little more about each other. We agreed to go sightseeing around the old town of Quito. We walked in the old town, visited many churches and one mueseum. At lunch, it was Antony time! First he ordered in Spanish what he thought was a "fruit juice." He received an egg in a cup. Molly and I thought that his Spanish was good, but perhaps his British accent was difficult for the local people to understand. We will never know! Second, something very unpleasant happened. Antony’s bag was stolen. So we went to a police station to report the robbery. The policeman on duty called one of his colleagues on patrol. Soon a five-passenger pickup truck with two people on board arrived. Molly and Antony climbed on board; the policeman suggested that I climb in the trunk, an offer witch I declined because it does not comply with "Alcoa’s safety protocols." Then he took the last available place in the truck. I finally stayed alone at "la Bazilica" police station while Molly and Antony went to the main station to fill out forms. Finally back to the hotel for dinner in a restaurant nearby. After dinner we met Agnes, talked together a little and agreed to meet the next day at breakfast.
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September 22, 2009: Equinox

DenWithGearInFrontOfIsHouse It is Equinox day today. Indeed day and night will be 12 hours everywhere on the planet today. Isn’t it a great day to fly to Ecuador in other to be part of a scientific project dedicated to: "Climate changes, canopy and wildlife?" Believe me, YES it is. Air Canada Jazz flight 8913 scheduled at 06:55 am took off from Québec city on time, a few minutes after a beautiful sunrise. After five minutes in the air we pass through the clouds. We change planes in Toronto and Miami, and at least we are approaching Quito. Arrival into Quito is quite something. The plane has to fly over the mountains to get to the valleys and the view is incredible. I couldn't get a photo, unfortunately, because of where I was sitting. Once on the ground I head for a shower and a good night's sleep at the guest house in Quito.
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September 21, 2009: One more night to go

DenEating Very nice day today, with beautiful weather in the mid 20s C, and sunny! There is still only one day of sleep before getting to Ecuador. I review my checklist for the last time. Everything is well packed, and all OK, except two small items to buy on my way to the airport. For this last evening and night before departure I drove to a restaurant 10 minutes from Québec city airport to have a romantic dinner with my darling Francine. After dinner we watched a movie then went to bed in my camper. Living on the road whenever I get the chance helps me get closer to nature and better appreciate living on, and caring for this planet. I'm grateful that Alcoa's concern about the environment is giving me the opportunity to do something about it. That’s it for today. So see you in the plane tomorrow!
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April 20, 2009: New colleagues

Today I had my first chat with my new friends and fellow Earthwatchers, Ágnes Józsa and Molly Brown, who are going to join me and others in Ecuador for the “Climate Change, Canopies and Wildlife” research project. We share our excitement and enthusiasm about this great project. Ágnes lives in central Europe, in Hungary. Her home town is Székesfehérvár which is near (50km) Budapest, the capital. You can visit her blog here. Molly is from Lafayette, Indiana which is two hours south of Chicago. You can visit Molly's blog here. 
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March 19, 2009: Selected!

"Congratulations! You have been selected to be a 2009 Alcoa Earthwatch Fellow." This is the first line of the most anticipated e-mail I've ever received, and it came just three days before World Water Day.  I will be in Ecuador on a scientific project to help stop climate change due to human activities. My commitment to this project will be 100% -- I've already made up my mind. I am shouting and waving my arms:  “I’m going to Ecuador! I’m going to Ecuador!” My office neighbor looks at me as if I'm an alien, then asks: Are you going crazy? No, I say, but I was so excited that I must have looked like it. I explain the cause of my excitement. Then I walk quickly (and safely) to my boss's office to thank him, because I am sure he'd had to say “yes” to somebody earlier in the process. Second, I make a phone call to Ricardo Montiel, my Icelandic friend and 2008 Earthwatch fellow, who had encouraged me to apply for the program. “Takk ferrir” Ricardo!
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Friday, December 19, 2008

A few days ago, an email was sent saying that Alcoa and Alcoa Foundation were again partnering with Earthwatch on the fellowship program. From that moment, I told myself that I wanted to be one of those fellows.
 
I have this longing to help, to do more for the Earth’s health. A fellowship would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.
 
I know that I am a good candidate for this mission. I also know that there will be hundreds of Alcoa applicants as good as, if not better, than me for those missions.
 
To get some tips on applying, I decided to have a chat with my Icelandic friend, Ricardo Montiel, who had the opportunity to participate in the Climate Change in the Rainforest project in 2008. It was great to speak with Ricardo, with whom I worked in Reydarfjordur, Iceland, for 14 months in 2006 and 2007.
 
I know now that to sell myself well, the only tool I have is the written survey that I have to complete. I carefully read each question and answer them with my heart. Since English is my second language, I ask my daughter, Mélanie, to correct my writing.
 
I’m confident, but it’s now time to patiently wait for the results!

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