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Clowning in Haiti

Though I have obviously not kept this blog up to date, my most recent travels are demanding to be recorded.  I just finished a trip to Haiti with a fantastic non-profit company – Clowns Without Borders.  This is the first time an aerialist has worked with them and possibly the first time an aerialist has performed in Haiti.  We stayed for two weeks and entertained children around the country with our red nosed antics.  Here are some journal entries and reflections from my time there.

Nov 19th, 2013 — Port au Prince

Poverty is apparent everywhere.  The houses look like converted bunkers, everything is cinderblock and metal with sheets of plastic and wood filling in the gaping holes.  As we drive from the airport, the dust is so thick our eyes water and we pull up our shirts to cover our noses, preferring to breath our own sweaty odors over the suffocating mix of dirt and car exhaust.

Seven of us are crammed into the back of a tap tap — a small, partially covered pick-up —  with most of our luggage.  It takes over an hour to arrive at our accommodations, inching forward up a never ending hill in bumper to bumper traffic, unfazed utilization of the sidewalk as a passing lane doing little to ease the congestion.  When we finally crest the top, a group of men are rowdily taking shots in the center of a traffic circle as we crawl around to the left.  They take a moment to stare at us in quiet disdain and then resume their drinking.

Tumbling along dirt roads and passing through a locking iron gate set into high concrete walls topped with shards of broken glass, we are greeted warmly by Jocelyn, the lady of the guesthouse.  She is full of energy and we quickly find out she is an excellent host as well as an excellent grandmother — to 15 kiddos (and one brand new great grand child!).  The inside is lovely, clean and has everything we could need.  We sit down to a long table heaping with a home cooked dinner.  Everyone is content and slightly slap happy from a long day of travel.  We briefly discuss our plans and hit the hay by 10 pm.

Nov 20th — Port au Prince

A day of waiting.  Menley, our amazing Haitian friend, takes Jan and Dave with him to town for various errands and to attempt to pick up the aerial rig.  Along with our suspicions coming in, Menley has assured us that the system is incredibly corrupt and we will definitely have a hard time in acquiring this large package.

While the boys are away, the girls and Bobby stayed to play.  We learned some songs, rehearsed Kolleen and Bobby’s trunk piece, and churned out ideas for a show minus an aerial rig.

The boys return, as expected, sans rig, but Menley is full of ideas on how to get it the next day.  We sit down for what we believe is a very late lunch, and then realize it will be our second and final meal for the day.  Haitians only eat two meals a day — breakfast and lunch — possibly with a light snack before bed.

We use our last bit of light for some rehearsal, inventing an intro and attempting to tie all our separate pieces into a cohesive show.  Everyone has a distinctive character, an ease with taking the spotlight, and a number of amazing ground acts.  As my only skills rely on being in the air, I sit by, contribute what I can and learn as much as possible from these talented clowns.

Nov 21st — Port Au Prince

Today marks our first show.  I am incredibly nervous though I’m barely doing anything in our sans aerial show.  The school is just down the road from our place and we walk over in costume, creating a small spectacle for the neighbors to openly stare at.  The children are adorable, all spiffy in their uniforms, some yelling excitedly while others shrink away from the strange white people in their midst.

The show goes fairly well and we get some great responses from the audience.  I feel awkward in my cat outfit on the ground, and interact with the children more than I contribute to the actual show.

We return to the house whereupon Menley, Dave and I immediately leave in another attempt to acquire the rig.  Without getting into too much detail, I will say that after 5 hours of waiting, the use of some racketeers we met in a parking lot, and $670 extra dollars (talked down from $3000), the rig was slid into the back of our tap tap, all in one piece, though minus all the packing supplies.

We arrive victoriously back at the house and are rewarded with a lovely dinner and power!  Still no plumbing, but bucket showers are becoming the standard.

Nov 22nd – Port Au Prince

We have a rig!  And we can’t use it.  At least not at the first location for today, which is a tight courtyard repeatedly crisscrossed with different colored pieces of ragged twine.  We take down two of the strands to make room for juggling/diablo and begin to set up as the children file out of the building, peeking at us nervously as they line up for the show.  There is not enough room for them to all sit, so they stand in rows, the little ones surreptitiously trying to edge their way to the front for a better view than the backside in front of them.

We are already down a clown, as Bobby has been hit with the Haitian sickness and can barely lift his head from excessive output from both ends.  He is being well tended to by the ladies of the house, but we miss our adorable and goofy boy clown.

We begin the show and are immediately showered with peals of laughter and screams of excitement.  These children are hungry for entertainment, outgoing and ready to play along.  They cannot get enough of the hobby horse number and are all galloping in place along with their chosen comrade on the stage.  When the child joins Dave and Jan in some astride the stick horse butt slapping, the audience can hardly contain themselves.  They begin to jostle and push each other forward until we have to intervene and lay down a rope to act as a boundary.  These crafty children keep shuffling the rope forward with their feet, edging closer and closer, angrily manhandling one another in any attempt to get closer to the action.

Our second show is at Three Angels run by a very kind white haired woman.  We are able to set up the aerial rig, but only at half of the height.  Doing trapezes at waist height was a new, and slightly mollifying, experience.  Still, it was viewed incredulously by all the patrons and we gave a rousing show to a slightly more timid, but happy audience.

Nov 23rd — Port au Prince

A two show day beginning at the social medical center that our house lady is a large part of.  Still missing Mr. Bobby, but he is on the mend, able to keep down almost a whole cracker!  With sloping ground and minimal space, we are again without the rig, but manage to entertain the small number of children and onlookers from the street.  After the show, we are given a tour of the center, fed Haitian style sloppy joe’s, and treated to the children singing their thanks.  I sat on the floor with two little girls in beautiful dresses on my lap and listened to these young adults sing their hearts out.

We pile back into the tap tap and drive for an interminable amount of time to our next location.  Turning off the main street onto dirt road after dirt road, we believe the next turn will be off a cliff when we suddenly dead end into a community basketball court that seems to be at the edge of the world.  It is a stunning location, high above the city and jutting out over a precipice.  We are able to set up the rig to full height (JOY!) and put on a show for over 300 neighborhood folk who jostle around us, watching from windows, rooftops, and anywhere they can catch a glimpse of the strange clowns.  It’s a rowdy performance, full of masculine energy, and we love it.  We break the rig down among an audience still practically on top of us and slowly edge the tap tap back out through children running alongside and waving goodbye.

As it’s a Saturday night, and it was only a two show day, we decide to try a bit of Port au Prince night life and hit the town.  Menley wisely takes us to a bar that is accustomed to ex-pats, and we settle in for some drinks and dinner.  A very strange place it was, with an incredibly expensive lighting system, the strangest added in sound effects from an unseen DJ, and plenty of beautiful ladies, grudgingly tottering behind their older ex-pat companions in amazing heels.

Grand Goave

An incredibly squished car ride on inventive roads eventually leads us to Grand Goave – our home for the next few days.  We are staying in little partitioned off rooms in plywood cabins with group bathrooms and showers.  Although its a bit like camping, with reliable plumbing and electricity, it gave Madame Jocelyn’s a run for her money.

The beginning of G.G. is a bit of a blur for me, for I too caught the Hatian sickness of death.  Slight stomach disturbance and nausea led to ebullient vomiting and eventual expunge of everything inside.  I missed only one show, but forwent food for about two days.  I also entertained the group with some delirious conversation and projectile powers.

We had some great shows in G.G.  I think my favorite was at an orphanage called Be Like Brit, which I immediately thought meant aspire to be English.  However, it was built as a tribute to a relief worker named Britney who died in the earthquake.  Her father erected the orphanage in her honor.

And what an orphanage it was!  Set high on the hills with an incredible view overlooking the ocean, the place looked more like a resort than a place for parentless children.  We played to an audience of only 40 or so people, but the children were so warm and loving and eager that we were immediately smitten.  This was the morning after I cleaned out, so I was running on fumes.  But those adorable faces pushed me to complete both aerial acts with a beaming grin, and plenty of energy for holding hands and little ones in my arms between acts.  They were fascinated with my tights and would absentmindedly rub their palms on my thigh while watching the action on stage.  As we left, we had to pry their little arms away, and I almost became a mother right there.

Jacmel

Another winding and death defying car ride, this time through the mountains, led us to the beachside town of Jacmel.  Joe, our rasta B&B host, took good care of us in a laid back way, chauffeuring us to shows that were set up minutes before, always finding us food eventually, and chilling us all out with his relaxed state of being.

Joe’s B&B was beautiful, right on the cliffs of the water, with water and power and incredible star watching.  We made friends with his assistant, Papooch, and his children and the neighborhood kids.  Joe is doing some amazing things for the area, including inventing a sustainable alternative to the all too popular and polluting charcoal.

The shows in Jacmel were lovely though a bit less memorable.  They were usually under organized, though we had a good school show or two.  On our last night we were invited to a going away party for a co-worker of Joe’s and saw a whole different side of the Haitian and ex-pat culture.  Fernando, a Spaniard who was leaving Haiti for Guadalupe, loved voodoo and alcohol.  These things, in one way or another, were both very prevalent at his party.  Though not a true ceremony, we did get to see a real voodoo priest do a small assimilation of what might happen at a real thing, including a drawing in on cornmeal on the ground and setting alcohol on fire and tapping it all over Fernando’s body.

Back in the City — last few days in Port Au Prince

A most dizzying and scorching car ride in the back of Joe’s large truck delivered us back to Port au Prince.  It was difficult to return to the less than pristine and bustling city after sleepy little seaside Jacmel.  We had a general group lethargy and had to push through the last few shows.

We ended our performances with two completely opposite and equally amazing shows.  The first was in an open park in the worst neighborhood in Port Au Prince.  Setting up the rig among endless catcalls and comments, we performed to an incredibly diverse and large audience, the energy pulsating with danger and violence just a drop of a hat away.  We performed beautifully, entertaining all the way to the women peering over their vegetables from watery deluge of a charcoal market down the road.  Getting packed up presented some difficulty, with the entire audience following us to the car, grabbing at our belongings, asking for our hands in marriage, and stroking and licking my boots while we tied the rig to the roof.

Our very last show was supposed to be a workshop at the social medical center.  However, when  we arrived, the standard lack of communication in Haiti reared its head again and we were asked to do a show for the school across the road.  In a narrow gravel hallway between open classrooms, we did the best we could, without costumes or all of our normal props.  And it was fantastic.  The children were wild for anything we did, screaming happily and shoving continuously to get a better view.  Without the rig, I do very little in the show, which was a blessing here as I was on crowd control and got to crouch among the children.  They latched onto me, piling into my lap and tirelessly petting my hair.  Upon ending the show, we laboriously clomped down the hallway with children literally hanging off of us, and eventually disentangled ourselves from their loving grips.  What an experience.

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Self Esteem Boosts, Surfing, and Solidarity in Nicaragua

Do you ever feel ugly or unattractive?  Or unnoticed by those around you? If you happen to be white, and (even better), blonde, then fear not!  The remedy comes in a trip to Nicaragua, where you will not only get attention from every local male you pass, regardless of age, but the women too will stare openly!  If you’re lucky, and own a pair of booty shorts, you may even be followed more than once in a day.  

I’ve been in Nicaragua for over a month now, and have gone through a wide range of emotions regarding this constant and incessant attention.  At first, I was put off and slightly disgusted.  Then, for a short time, I felt empowered and incredibly attractive.  I mean, I could look like absolute shit and still get hit on by everyone around me.  This quickly faded and changed to contempt for these people not having the ability to realize when I hadn’t showered for 2 days.  Now it has become a background noise, albeit an annoying one, that only registers when physical contact is attempted.  Then I whip around with all the fury a local woman and scream “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”  In the heat of a moment, it’s hard to remember to speak Spanish.

Though my Spanish has improved greatly in my short time here.  I was lucky enough to meet a lovely English girl named Liana, who lived in Spain for 5 years and is fluent — at least in the tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth kind of Spanish.  She became my fill in professor and we often limited ourselves to Spanish when traveling.  We worked together at Magnific Rock, a beautiful surf lodge in Popoyo on the Atlantic coast.  

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We bonded over yoga, breeze less nights, and our outgoing natures, and quickly sealed our friendship for life by becoming poop buddies.  Do you have a poop buddy?  They are indispensable in countries where runny bum is your constant companion.  A friend will go out of their way to help you find restrooms, maybe even go so far as to pass you toilet paper if you run out.  A poop buddy will help you sneak into a hotel bathroom while pretending to want a room, steal you makeshift toilet paper from random street vendors, and sit in the stall next to you making noise to match or to cover the noises coming from your ass/mouth.  

Liana and I had plenty of memorable potty time together, especially in San Juan del Sur, where we made the mistake of drinking the smoothies.  The smoothies that were made with local water.  Oops.  Or should I say, poops.  

But even with this inordinate amount of time spent moaning behind a closed door, or in an open stall, we managed to make loads of friends.  Being two white girls who could speak Spanish was quite a draw.  Also possibly our propensity to dance on tables after a few rum and cokes.

While we did chat with many locals, it was very difficult to form a real bond with anyone.  The women weren’t really interested in anything past a superficial conversation and it can be difficult to keep chatting with a guy who interjects with “you’re so beautiful” or “I love you” every other sentence.  

So we made a lot of gringo and international friends.  Lots of surfers.  And Popoyo is such an amazing spot to surf.  Liana had never surfed before and I could count on one hand how many times I’d been in the water with a board.  She insisted that I teach her, but after watching her shriek and run away from the small shore waves when we went swimming, I bowed out and we manipulated the guy who was in love with her to give her a lesson.  He had no problem paddling around on a board with her, his face about two inches above her buttocks.  

As for me, in my month at Popoyo, I went from a long board to a 6’2″ and from getting smashed by 3 foot waves to getting smashed by overhead waves.  There were actually no real beginner boards available, by the time all the other girls and guests grabbed boards, so I took what was left and quickly came to love my little short board.  

Paddling out to the beginner Rock Break

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After a few weeks of surfing the beginner break just out front from the hotel, we had a few days of no waves.  My boredom got the better of me and I got the nerve to go to the big boy break — the real Popoyo reef break.  No one was ready so I scooted off by myself and spent a good ten minutes staring at the waves and other surfers, hypothetically weeing myself, before beginning my paddle out.  I managed to get out there relatively easily and endured the stares of all the surfers with plenty of false confidence.  I stayed on the outside and actually caught a few waves!  Then the other surfers actually began to speak to me, as if I were an actual person, or one of them.  

Unfortunately, this didn’t last long.  The tide started to recede and the waves became steeper and had more sucking action.  The next wave I caught had a pretty tall face, and as I frantically paddled to catch it, I could hear a couple people cheering me on.  And then I looked down to see my board jutting out over the drop, and I had yet to stand up.  I did have plenty of time to curse my late pop up as I tumbled head first into the barrel of the wave and got rolled over and over closer to shore.  I came up at last, gasping for breath like a dying fish, trying in vain to readjust my bikini, which was basically somewhere around my knees.

Paddling back out was a bit of a process, and when I finally arrived near the group of surfers, every single person was staring at me in silence.   

“Estas bien, chica?” one of them asked.

“Oh, si!  Perfecto!” I replied with a grin.  Then I coughed, and water came out my nose.

Repeat this entire ordeal about 5 times, and by the end of it people were making bets on how I would fall, how long I would stay under, and exactly what my bikini would or would not be covering.

I made a lot of friends that day too.  

        

Costa Rican Stomachaches and other Important Information

Three weeks have passed since I hopped a plane from San Diego for San Jose, Costa Rica.  It has been a blur of large backpacks, sweaty bus rides, hissing noises, and of course, mangos.

I arrived at 5 am to a small man waving a sign with my name on it.  A sign with my NAME on it?  I knew immediately that I had hit the big time.  Unfortunately, that man was Manuel, the manager of the hostel in San Jose that I was supposed to work at for a few weeks.  After meeting the hostel’s long term guests who were all apparently alcoholics who paid women to sleep with them, I tried to settle into my job of changing sheets, taking out the trash, answering the phone and never leaving the hostel.  Pair these amazing tasks with an older American man who thought I was his new dance partner, a older black man named “Rock” who had an obsession with taking me roller skating, horrendous jogging conditions, and a boss who tried to cop a feel every time he went by, and it can be no surprise that I ended up leaving.  I lasted 4 days.  Barely.

I met some girls who were renting a car and heading down to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast.  In the midst of a tipsy evening at a club called ‘Vyrus,’ they, and the random college kids I was dancing with, urged me to come with them.  We got back to the hostel at 3 am where I promptly did my laundry, packed my things, and gave my notice the next morning before heading out with Amanda and Cambria at noon.

Driving to Puerto Viejo in the dark of night on the one lane mountain roads of Costa Rica was interesting, to say the least.  It became even more exciting when we got lost in Siquirres and ended up behind a motorcycle accident on a hill with our un-savvy stick shift driver in a bit of a panic.

This week happened to be Semana Santa — think Latin American kids on spring break.  Imagine our dismay when the only hostel we could find space at was a tent and hammock hostel that was chock full of slightly smelly under 20’s and had about 3 prison style bathrooms for all 100+ of it’s patrons.

Now, sometime during my exit from San Jose, I contracted some sort of terrible stomach disease.  I’m talking incapacitating, gut clenching, teeth grinding, black liquid bowel movement issues.  As you can imagine, this was a jolly good time during a 5 hour road trip through nowhere.  And, it was absolutely fantastic to deal with while at Rocking J’s drunkenly overcrowded and limited public restroom wonderland.  Ever tried to use the random sound around you or the music to disguise the incredibly disgusting noises coming from your ass?

Needless to say, we left in the morning and found our way to Kaya’a Place — a really lovely establishment at the north end, across the street from a beautiful black sand beach.  The rest of our time in Puerto Viejo passed in lazy beach afternoons, attempts at surfing on a HUGE board, thundering evening downpours, and drinking the night away.

A side note to all the ladies: If you want to drink for free without having to flirt or even speak to other people — go to Puerto Viejo.  Every hour a different establishment has free drinks for the ladies.  9:00 daiquiris, 10:00 strawberry mojitos, 11:00 rum breezes, and the night goes on.

San Diego — the land of pretty people and cute puppies

Having recently been in Florida where beauty must be measured on some sort of sliding scale based on your funds for plastic surgery, it was marvelous to arrive in San Diego and gaze upon attractive people.  Seriously, even the homeless people have a kind of rugged allure, as though they are actually undercover agents who are just waiting for the right moment to shrug off their oversized military jackets to reveal their sleek sexy spy clothes underneath.  

Florida seems to be a land of bad stitching.  At least in LA, there are a majority of attractive people who’ve had work done.  In FL, there are countless cougars with rocking bodies, fake tits, and paper bag syndrome.  Some even need to be double bagged.  And all the gentlemen are old, overweight, and quite hairy.  Needless to say, I had a good time people watching, as long as no one got too close.  

I took my first jog in San Diego on the afternoon of my arrival, needing to stretch my legs and wanting to explore a bit.  I was staying at the Smoker’s amazing hill house in Ocean Beach and was directed to jog down to Sunset Cliffs.  Saying I’d be back in about a half hour, I ran toward the water, basking in the afternoon sun.  An hour and a half later I was still on my “jog,” which had really turned into a stumbling canter as my head swiveled to look at the cliffs, the waves, the surfers, the abundance of attractive runners, and the ridiculously cute dogs.  Everyone seems to have a dog in San Diego.  Every 2 minutes there was another adorable puppy that I simply had to crouch down to pet.  I mean, it’s just rude to pass by a dog and not pet it — it hurts their self esteem. 

San Diego made a wonderful impression.  I went running everyday, ate fantastic Mexican food, and watched surfers longingly as I determinedly held onto a bench to keep myself from running in and messing up my shoulder further.  We even went snowboarding for Smoker’s birthday.  In San Diego, you can snowboard in the morning and surf in the afternoon — and I would have, had we not had so many snow beers on the mountain.

Tarrant, Catherine, Smoker and I at Mount High (which is really a hill/mountain — a Hountain):

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But alas, all good things have to come to an end.  The original plan to work in San Diego for a bit and then drive Smoker’s old van down the Central American coast was foiled when his van refused to pass smog.  No smog = no registration, and border patrol frowns on that kind of thing.  I quickly brainstormed for new transportation ideas, when Smoker pulls a grown up card and decides to actually interview for a real job.  He’s to be a Lake Ranger, which I am led to believe entails riding around on a boat all day while randomly arresting people or diving for dead bodies.  Fun Smoker.

In light of this new information, I immediately abandoned my job hunt and bought a ticket to Costa Rica.  Why Costa Rica?  Cheapest one way flight.  

I am currently at the airport in Denver waiting for my redeye to San Jose.  I’ll be back eventually.  

 

Where in the world is Caitlyn Larsson?

Although Carmen Sandiego was a bit before my time (or perhaps she was my time — just out of reach for a family without cable television), her theme song has become a constant in my voicemail messages.  Friends calling to find out, once again, that Caitlyn is no longer in the country, or at least no longer in the same time zone.

My parents often express their disbelief at my constant moving about, and yet their history makes me seem merely indecisive.  My father was a pilot for 40+ years and has been to almost every country in the world.  In casual conversation, he drops lines like “my instruments always stop working when I fly over those graveyards where they’re buried upside down,” and “I slept with a gun under my pillow and my foot against the door, but the real pain were those huge poisonous beetles.”  My mother was kicked out of no less then 3 colleges — generally for missing chapel or mispronouncing names in the Bible just to be cheeky — before graduation with her degree in education.  Oh yes, good idea — let’s let the professional skydiver and girl who takes the top ends off of normal scooters to make them go 80 mph mold young minds.

My parents raised me in Reno, NV.  Yes, exactly like Reno 911.  Only not.  And no, Reno is not next door to Vegas.  Or anything like Vegas.  Reno was actually a marvelous place to grow up, filled with stunning natural beauty and plenty of outdoor activities.

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I spent my childhood skiing, snowboarding, playing soccer, doing a LOT of gymnastics, and making my mother ferry me to these and any other activity I could fit in.

At 18, I left Reno for good and have since only been back for the holiday family visits or the occasional between jobs stay.  I have travelled to many locations, presumably looking for “the one,” but really just mucking about and seeing what I see.  Just like choosing a husband, choosing a place to live should take a lot of careful consideration.  Perhaps that’s why I move around so much.  Husband blog to come later 🙂

I have tried out New York, England, West Virginia, Seattle, Austin, and Turks and Caicos, to name a few.  Each had their own appeal and I would happily visit each again.  But LIVING there??  Now that’s a big commitment.

Turks and Caicos

To get to the point, I’m moving again!  Currently I am sitting in a fantastic library in West Palm Beach, FL.  Florida itself was a let down, really.  You come down here expecting paradise without all the huge bugs, and instead get old people and smelly waterways.  People here are either extremely unhappy or completely oblivious to anything outside their little world, inside of which they are disgruntled and discontent.  This library is actually the best thing about West Palm Beach.  I do so love libraries.  It’s a bit of an addiction.

This Sunday I will begin a 24 hour solo road trip to TX, with a little stop along the way to see my good friend Marcus and have a little fun in New Orleans.  In Texas I will get to see my whole family, including my father who is flying in, as we all croon over my new niece.  Then it’s a flight to San Diego where I will take complete advantage of my friend’s hospitality and crash for a month while I see if I like it.  Michael Smoker’s new place is only 2 blocks from the beach — I don’t think I’ll have to try too hard.

The musings of a modern day circus vagrant….

I have been told for years that I should write a book about my life.  Well, seeing as my life is not even close to over, I have finally caved and decided to create this blog, so that only the interesting snapshots of my adventures can be broadcast to the world, while the dull and irrelevant moments can be tossed aside or savored privately, as needed.

The Reader’s Digest lowdown is that I am a teacher and performer of flying trapeze and circus arts, and I travel ceaselessly to do this, as well as to fulfill some internal need to constantly be on the move.  Perhaps my Native American/Swedish nomadic roots influence this, or perhaps it’s my strangely Type A need to attempt to see EVERYTHING before I leave this world.  Regardless, this is me:

 

I will get to an in depth history at some point in this narcissistic venture, but at the moment, I will simply leave you with a few photos, and the most important news of the day:  I AM AN AUNTIE!!

Here’s Tabitha with the newest addition: Peyton Jade Larsson

 

 

 

More to come….