Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gymnastics in the Dark

Alexis and Tony working on handstands
I've been wanting to write about our kids' gymnastics club and their teacher, Tony.  First, I'll tell you a little about Tony and his background in gymnastics.  Tony is in his early 30's, from Cross River State (southern Nigeria), and is build like the stereotypical gymnast - about 5'4" and thick as an ox.  Tony started training in gymnastics in Lagos, Nigeria when he was 7 years old.  Like most gymnasts throughout the world, Tony began training on mounds of grass and sawdust in a yard where furniture was built, or in the back of his school during recess and breaks on whatever sand was there.  Fortunately, Tony did not break his neck, back, or any other bone severely enough to hinder his further training and in 1996, Tony was discovered by a national gymnast who took Tony to the Lagos State Sports Council to train.  That same year, after only several months of training, Tony was selected to put on an exhibition for the Governor of Lagos.  A short time after the exhibition, Tony's coach passed away.  Later that same year Tony represented Lagos at the National Sports Festival and won his first gold medal - doing so for his late coach. 

Logan and Tony working on handstands at the National Stadium 
Even though Tony kept training on his own, in 2003 he also began to teach gymnastics at a couple schools in Lagos.  He also began working with the Lagos State Gymnastics Association to organize interschool gymnastics competitions in order to expose his students to an actual competition and help build up their self-confidence.

Alexis and her litte British and Australian friends - no electricity doesn't stop them!
Tony represented Nigeria in 2007 at the prime international gymnastics competition in Singapore.  Tony and the Nigerian team won six bronze medals and a trophy, taking 3rd among 17 clubs and countries.  Tony stayed in Singapore through 2008 and 2009 at the Prime International Gymnastics Competition, getting elite-level training for the first time in his life.  While training in Singapore, Tony was asked to represent Nigeria at the Olympic Games.  Tony declined the offer - he told me he recognized the fact that, while he may have been one of the best in Nigeria, he was not at the level of other international competitors.  He told me that it would have been an honor to represent Nigeria, but he decided to turn his focus and aspirations to his students, making the goal to win an Olympic medal as a coach.

Alexis practicing landings and form
Tony's only job now is teaching gymnastics.  He loves teaching the skills and character lessons he learned from gymnastics.  He started teaching at Alexis' and Logan's school a couple of years ago.  While teaching the children there, one of the parents of one of the students asked Tony to start teaching her children private lessons in her home.  Tony decided to stop teaching at the school and now teaches about 100 kids from Nigeria and all over the world.   This includes the children from one of the local orphanages he teaches on the weekends.  He teaches them local Nigerian dances and basic tumbling.  He feels it's his duty to give back. 

His goal is to build up the program to the point where he will have his own facility and all the equipment necessary to be a feeder program for the Nigerian Olympic team. Currently, the club has a couple older mats that were donated from previous ex-pat residents and a couple mats he made himself.  And he's doing an amazing job with what little he has.  That being said, he is saving up to purchase uneven bars, a spring board, a vault, a running trampoline, regulation padded mats (ones he has not made himself!), and a balance beam. He would also like to begin training some of the girls in rythmic gymnastics.  Yesterday he hosted a competition for the kids - complete with official judges, team leotards, and medals. It was to serve as a fundraiser to purchase some of this equipment and to ship it here to Nigeria (can't find this kind of equipment here.).   We're trying to raise enough money in order to purchase the equipment so we can ship it over on our last household goods shipment (has to be done in the next two months.)  

Logan and Tony working on handstands and proper form
Unfortunately, as I stated, there are not many options for athletics here in Abuja.  Nor is there much support of any kind from the government.  It was reported in one of the local papers that parents of the children in this club (the only one of its kind in Abuja) approached the Gymnastic Federation of Nigeria (GFN) and the National Sports Commission (NSC) to request assistance of any kind.  For example, these parents have requested the support of GFN in the form of making the “Gymnastic Hall at the Package B” of the National Stadium, Abuja, available to this club as the premier gymnastic destination with regular classes and events. The parents are willing to pay for the coaching and administrative operational support of the club, if the government would be responsible for the infrastructure and the working order of facilities (lighting, air-conditioning, bathrooms, safety of facilities etc).  We are still waiting on the verdict from the Gymnastic Federation.  One of these parents did receive a call from the president of the GFN Nigeria who was most positive about the proposal. He said that they would meet with the parents at the National Championships however and unfortunately, they were not present at the times that the parents were there on three consecutive days.  One parent put a call to one of the board members and, per the article, has yet to hear back.  And the facility and the equipment sit, still unused.  And the club continues to use an aerobics room at the Hilton hotel and an empty room in a back building at the National Stadium, and mats Tony made himself. 


Sunday, December 2, 2012

It's not about the Lizards... adjustments part 2

This little guy is amazing...His Gecko-Glue
 Defies Gravity!
One of the first things we noticed as we arrived in Africa, was the huge number of lizards.  They are everywhere!  In our compound, we generally see two different types scurrying around.  There is a blue and yellow lizard known as an Agama Lizard or Yellow headed Dragon.  The are huge and really creep me out.  I know that they eat bugs and mosquitoes etc, so I should be thankful for them, but I'm not.  In general, I leave them alone, and they stay far away from me as well.  The other little guy, with the insanely sticky feet, is a Wall Gecko.  I am amazed at their ability to effortlessly run up and down walls and even upside down on ceilings.  I'm not alone in my wonder as Aristotle wrote about them over 2000 years ago.   In Historia Animalium, written in 350 B.C., Aristotle mentioned these curious creatures at least five times. At one point, he described another creature by saying, “It can run up and down a tree in any way, even with the head downwards, like the gecko-lizard” (Aristotle, n.d.).  
They truly are fascinating and wondrous......until the second they enter my house, then they are disgusting little freaks!!!!!  Out in nature, I can appreciate their abilities and wonder about the Gecko Glue that adheres them to the walls, but in my house they are not welcome!!  Unfortunately, they have difficulty  differentiating between an outdoor wall and an indoor wall.  The ceiling of my bathroom is probably no different to them than the underside of a rock.  Well I don't like it, and I do my best to keep them outdoors, constantly reminding the kids to slip out of the front door quickly and close it immediately behind them.  In reality, the kids leave the door open while sitting in the doorway tying their shoes or rushing in from school.  Basically we give the geckos ample opportunity to explore the inside of the Woodruff Casa driving me absolutely nuts! 
The bottom of a geckos foot has tiny hairs..the magic ingredient for his acrobatics.
One particular day I had absolutely had it with these little creatures!  Alexis found a little Albino Gecko in her bathroom when she was brushing her teeth, causing the kids to avoid that area of the house until Tyson got home to remove it.  There was one perched next to our water purifier... blocking me from having anything to drink for the day, and two more were found scurrying along the hall wall.  When Tyson came home, I armed him with a mason jar and begged him to
 find all of the little creepers and get rid of them immediately.  Reluctantly, muttering  under his breath,  my hero caught and released all of our unwanted visitors.  Relieved that we were again alone in the house I picked up a laundry basket full of folded clothes to deliver to bedrooms, when staring at me was a huge yellow headed Nigerian Dragon.  Screaming, I dropped the basket and sprinted upstairs and had a complete and utter melt-down.  I stomped and stormed cursing and threatening the dirty lizard for trying on my clothes and sliding through my towels   I don't recall my exact words, but I know they were unkind, derogatory terms aimed at these home-invading reptiles.    I think I promised to slaughter every four legged tree climber in the entire continent of Africa, as vengeance for the crimes of the Yellow headed dragon.  During my tantrum, Tyson made a very astute observation.  Watching me rant and rave he calmly said, "It's not really about the lizards, is it?"
In our 8 years of marriage, he has never been more correct.  It was not really about the lizards at all!  In actuality I can handle a few four legged creatures in my space, I'm sure I could defend myself and children from a lizard attack if I needed to.  The lizards were just the last straw for the day..  A final inconvenience that when added to all of the other annoyances seemed exponentially larger than life!! 
I'm going to share a few of these little inconveniences that when piled up seem overwhelming.  I will inevitably reveal myself as an ungrateful, high maintenance, thin-skinned, brat.  But that shouldn't be news to anyone and isn't going to stop me from giving you a taste of a few frustrations!!! 

The kids always look forward to Friday after their homework, piano and chores are done and they get to play the Wii.  We've told the kids that  Friday and Saturday are called the Wii-kend because it's the time they can play their Wii video games. Logan is especially motivated by Mario Cart and counts down all week for the time he can play.  Unfortunately, as of last week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday will no longer be known as the Wii-kend at the Woodruff house.  (Instead, the weekend is just the time mom serves everything on paper plates so she doesn't have to do the dishes.)  The Wii that Santa brought last year for Christmas was inadvertently plugged into an outlet that didn't have a voltage regulator attached.   Basically, It means that the inside of our Wii consul and the inside of a chain-smokers lungs are virtually identical.  The kids and Tyson (my biggest kid) were devastated.  Alexis wants to ask Santa for another one.....but we explained that Santa only brings each toy once and he keeps track of what he has given.  It was a hard way to learn about the importance of using a voltage regulator for EVERYTHING!  I think the kids are ok about losing their Wii because we have talked about how fun it was to play with it every Wii-kend for almost a whole year!  Most kids around here will never even play once!
What I imagine the inside of our Fried-Wii to look like.
Speaking of electronics, when arriving in Abuja I had to trade my I-phone 4 (with Internet access, gps, and other awesomeness)  for a Samsung circa 1998.  Seriously, this phone resembles the one I had in college 14 years ago.  It's the type that requires you to push each button two or three times in order to type each letter. This is bad enough if you are trying to text someone a 3 or 4 word text, but  even worse if you have to include a greeting!... Yes, every conversation here (verbal, text, whatever) begins with something like, "You are very welcome, how was your night?  How are your children? How's the family?"  It  is considered impolite to just get right down to business as most Americans are accustomed to doing.  I just want to text "On My Way!"  but instead have to ask about health and family first!!!!  Aggghhh!  And with the old fashioned phone and it's cumbersomeness, by the time I have composed an urgent text, it is usually moot!  In the time it takes to compose a text on my phone, I could breed carrier pigeons, strap a letter to one, and have the message delivered. 
While setting up voicemail on my phone, the operater instructed me on the best method of checking messages while driving!  I wonder what the recommended way to text and drive is.
Also an adjustment is that the MTN network (the cellular phone service) gets overloaded regularly causing the phone to be a reliable source of communication only about 50% of the time.  There are no phone contracts here, as each person loads and reloads their phone with credits.   The economy here relies on Cash only, and everything paid in advance, so I go to the local hole in the wall to buy 1000 Naira cards to reload my phone each week. 
When you have a five year old boy at home the toilets don't always stay pristinely clean.  Our little guy has been working on being respectful of other family members by making sure that the toilet is flushed, and toilet seat is down and clean after each use.  I thought we were making progress until yesterday I found three toilets in the house that were un-flushed.  He denied even going to the bathroom, but I told him the evidence was right in the toilet bowl where he left it.....yellow and brown.  He and I walked to each bathroom to flush the toilets together and discuss proper bathroom etiquette.  My annoyance gave way to disgust when upon flushing, the water didn't clear.  We flushed again and again, and the water was still filthy.  I rushed around to check all the taps and sure enough the water coming from all areas of the house ranged from a dingy color pictured below, to a dark muddy brown.  I ran to the housekeeper to have her immediately stop the laundry as I didn't want my whites "washed" in what looked like coffee.  It was dark brown with sludge and smelled like a bag of potatoes that had been forgotten in a damp basement long enough to have sprouted eyes and hair. 
The embassy facilities manager came out  and had a crew working on it within minutes.  The city water had somehow gotten into our separate compound water supply bypassing the filter.  After many man hours of pumping water and flushing tanks, clean water was restored by bed time.  It left me with a lot to ponder about the cleanliness of the cities water supply.  I knew it wasn't drinkable, but didn't realize that it resembling sewage more than spring water.  Since we have a water distiller in the kitchen and a additional filter between the city supply, I didn't realize how bleak the water situation really is.  Clearly this was a one time event for me, but not for others. I want to look into it more to find out about the water quality available to the average Nigerian.  In the meantime it looks like I just need to apologize to Logan for assuming he didn't flush!!

Sorry Logan!!!

Monday, November 19, 2012


So, I've adjusted to life in Africa!  I came to this conclusion, as a green taxi cab sped towards me, on the on the wrong side of the road, (because there was less traffic on our side of course) with a goat as one of his four passengers. I wasn't shocked or even overly irritated.  I didn't even think to reach for my camera, because I'm sure I'll see a similar thing again tomorrow and the next day.  My only thought as I swerved onto the shoulder to avoid collision, was "why does the goat get to sit 'Shot-Gun'?  That's a bit insulting to the other passengers don't you think!?'".
This led to the realization that I have moved beyond culture shock into a sort of comfortable routine.  I've accepted the once shocking and unusual and embraced a new "normal".   To find this new normal, I've just made a few adjustments and substitutions.  I thought I'd share a few of these adjustments with you..

I didn't realize this shop existed for the first few weeks we lived here, but this "hole in the wall"  has become my favorite shop.  It is only 30 yards from my compound, and is literally "a Hole in the wall"  that is boarded up before and after hours.  The shop owners, Faith and her husband live and work behind that wall with their two teenage kid.  Faith is so friendly and always asks about each one of my kids by name each time I stop by. This shop is a gold-mine and has taken the place of Target, Walmart, and 7-11 for me.  The refrigerator inside the shop works most of the time, so I often get a cold 'Coke-light' in a glass bottle (which I have to return to the store within an hour).  As you can see I am standing on a pile a squared off rocks placed on the ground for the customers' viewing convenience.  The store is even equipped with a trashcan for it's paying customers (the box to my right).  Unfortunately, not much of the garbage actually reaches it's target.
My hole in the wall sells everything you didn't know you needed, phone cards, peanuts, eggs (unrefrigerated of course), razors, beauty products (if you have dark skin), snacks, plantains, batteries , 1-ply toilet paper, etc.  They also sell cigarettes, not as a pack, but one at a time.  My thought is that if you have to buy cigarettes individually at N25 (15cents), then smoking may be a habit that you might want to kick!  Bags of water are also sold here, and is what most people drink because they are cheap and tap water is not clean.  I usually buy 10  little bags of water to  hand out to the barefoot workers I pass on my 18th of a mile walk home.  Currently, there a men digging trenches in the road to lay a new DSL line to our neighbor's house.  It makes me feel really sick to see these guys doing back breaking labor in the blazing African sun just so that a bunch of Americans can get more channels to their TV.  Then I realize how happy they are to be employed for the day.  Anyway, Sawyer and I like to treat them to some of our stock of Costco treats like Quaker granola bars and otterpops occasionally. 
Sawyer loves his daily walk to the shop.  He calls it the "Bread-store".  He either chooses and entire loaf of bread or a pack of "Nice Biscuits".  Each cost N50 (about 30 cents).   As soon as we get home, he gets to share his treat with his best friend, our housekeeper Immaculata. 
I still can't figure out why flour is so expensive here, but bread is insanely cheap.....unless of course this bread contains something besides white flour.... mmmm food for thought! 
These are the "Nice Biscuits" that Sawyer loves!  This picture definitely glamorizes them...we have yet to ope n a package and have them all the identical shape and size.  It's one of those 'Quality Control' things that we Americans take for granted. 

Luckily, we have the privilege of getting our gas from the Embassy.  It is imported and we go to a special station and trade gas tickets for however many liters we need.  Simple.  Not once have I had to wait for more than one other car before being filled up.  This is not the case for the rest of the population in Nigeria.  Roads often turn into parking lots as people spend entire days in the Fuel Queue waiting and waiting to get gas.  There have been fuel strikes recently caused by an unresolved dispute between gas companies, the government and the consumers.  Having no gas can  completely shut down the city because people can't get to work, school, generators can't run etc.  A couple of months ago there was a nearly empty school parking lot as many of the international students couldn't get to school because their drivers were out of gas. 

"Fuel Hawkers" are seen everywhere.  Teenagers, men, and even really young boys are seen up and down the roads waving surgical tubing that they use to funnel watered down gas into the tanks of cars for extremely exorbitant prices.  This man likely siphoned the gas from the tank of his own green cab to sell to the highest bidder.  He will surely make more money Hawking the gas to someone in a bind than he will chauffeuring people all day in his taxi. 
I am definitely unqualified to comment on the greasy fuel situation here, but the picture below sums up a common sentiment  regarding it.  
"Get the Shell Out of Here!!"

I miss McDonald's!!!  Go ahead and think you are better than me, that's fine!  I'm not ashamed.  I miss the ease of the occasional sprint through the drive-through to get 3 things from the dollar menu for the starving animals in the back seat, and an enormous bucket of Diet-Coke for myself (the driver needs to stay alert and happy).  When running home from sports and dance in the evenings, the last thing I want to figure out is what to make for dinner and how quickly I can make it while supervising homework and piano lessons concurrently.  McDonald's, Taco Bell, Chick Fil-a, Sonic, are life-savers in these situations.  I also miss having a 'safe' place for the kids to play when we are desperate to get out of the house. I know some of you don't think McDonalds' play places are safe because you've heard dirty stories about razors in the ball pit, and pedophile clowns from the 70's.   You are probably aware of the risk of diarrhea from playing on a filthy slide while eating chicken nuggets or the disease potential that goes along with licking a melted ice-cream cone off the floor (Logan actually did this).  Compared to what I have here, McDonald's is as Sterile as an Operating room.  I have seen some scary food prep here and would choose the filthiest Taco-bell in Los Banos California over most of what we have here.  The following pictures is the closest thing I've found to Fast-Food here.... There are stands similar to this along roads all throughout the city.   Food Handler's permit anyone??  

This meat will become "Suya".  Suya is Nigerian BBQ, and everyone eats it and loves it...  Consequently, a few of our guards have difficulty  pronouncing Sawyer's name, so he as acquired the nick-name Suya.  He is the Nigerian BBQ Boy!  ....Yes, that is meat sitting out in the sun :)  A friend and I went to Wuse Market a few weeks ago and somehow ended up in the meat section of the outdoor market.  Kidneys were being thrown from one vendor to his customer, whole cows were being decapitated and disemboweled while people bargained and bartered for pieces.  The horrible images I saw were only outdone by the stench in the air.  I emerged  from the carnage unscathed, except for blood stained tennis shoes and long-term emotional scarring!

The other common fast-food joints are the roasted corn stands.  I guess this is more like the vegetarian fast-food menu.  I felt pretty safe about this food option until Tyson reminded me of the man he'd seen cleaning his nails with the same knife he used to prep the food. 

These claim to be "All American Hot Dogs".  Have you ever seen tube-steaks floating in a jar in the US?!?
Signs like these are reserved for only the finest of buildings......everything else is Free-Game!!!  My poor 7 year old girl has seen more male nether regions than you can possibly imagine.  No one even tries to hide while peeing into traffic or along side a grocery store.  Why not drop your drawers in front of the general public?!  Speaking of which, any body of water including puddle, bucket or river rapidly becomes a locker room.  Dressing, undressing, bathing, talking while naked etc. are all activities we've seen taking place on the side of the road.

Well, I will have to post a part-2 to this post because it is getting late but there are so many other things I want to add.  Stay tuned and I will get to them soon.  In the mean time I will be dreaming about a Cherry-Lime-aid from Sonic....with the really crunchy ice!!


Monday, November 12, 2012

African Halloween Party

Sorry it's been so long since we've posted!  We have about 5 blogs we're trying to finish up, so stay tuned!!!

We've been asked several times what we miss about living in the United States.  Well, one of those things is Halloween.  Like most Americans, I always enjoyed Halloween, but it wasn't until I married Diana (who LOVES Halloween), that I really started having fun with the holiday.  Since marrying Diana, she and I have thrown a couple Halloween parties and had a lot of fun doing so.  So, before moving to Nigeria, we decided we would make a concerted effort to bring what we would need to continue our U.S. holiday traditions and make them really special for the kids - especially Halloween.  Diana and I decided it would be fun to throw a Halloween party for some of the international friends we've made here.  And we may have gone a bit over the top - but it was fun!

We decided to make it a costume party mainly for the friends of the kids, but make it compelling enough for the parents to stay.  It is common for parents to drop their children off at activities and leave, or to just send the kids with their driver.  We also wanted to get to know some of the parents, or get to know some of them better, so we decided to make the invitations unique, memorable.  In addition to the paper invitation, Diana sewed and I painted bags to look like jack-o-lanterns, and then we filled them up with candy corn, tootsie rolls, and other candy.  From the feedback we got from the parents, the kids loved the invitations and the candy so much they made their parents come! 

Our jack-o-lantern invitations
For the next few weeks, we spent the weekends and evenings planning the party, the food, and the activities.  It was fun for us, but it was also a lot of fun to see the kids get into the planning and the holiday.  The kids came to Wuse Market with us several times, helped to make tombstones and a coffin, and helped us decorate.

We set up the home so that as the families walked up to our home, they would have to pass through the graveyard in our front yard.  Upon entering the home, the families would be ushered into the spare bedroom to the side of the entryway, where we had a Halloween photo booth set up.  The families could come and get their pictures taken in their costumes.  If they didn't have a costume, or if they wanted to try on another one, we had all of our costumes, wigs, masks, and accessories set up for them to use. 

The family with our steward Immaculata
After taking a picture, the kids had several activities to choose from: a Halloween Beauty Salon and Tattoo Parlor (girls could get candy necklaces and their nails painted in Halloween colors; boys and girls could get Halloween tattoos put on); a table where they could decorate trick-or-treat bags (Diana made bags and we had fabric pens and bought jewels, beads, etc. to glue on); a table where they could ice and decorate large pumpkin cookies, and then a place where we had the classic Disney Halloween movies playing.  And, of course, we had a lot of food and drinks spread out on a large table in the front room. 
Our Jasmin getting her nails done by Raggedy Ann and a referee!

Decorating trick-or-treat bags

We found Sawyer eating the icing and candy off everyone's cookies!

Some of our guests enjoying the food
 So, for the first hour and a half, the kids and families enjoyed the various activities and socializing while eating the food.  We then started the first activity - the cupcake walk.  In our hallway we set up all the numbers on the ground and all the prizes on a small table.  I managed the music - the Monster Mash, Thriller, etc.  The kids walked around the numbers until the music stopped, at which time someone would call out a number.  The child on that number would get to pick a cupcake and a prize from the table (Halloween nail polish, pirate eye patch, etc.).  The game lasted until. . . well, until we were dying of boredom and told the remaining kids to come and grab a cupcake and pick a prize! 
The cupcake walk

Trying to destroy Frankenstein!
The next activity was the pinata.  The kids had helped me make a pinata in the shape of Frankenstein's head - we made Frankenstein smiling on one side, and angry on the other.  And, because we had invited a lot of kids and wanted them all to have a shot, we made it out of a small box so it would be more durable.  Well, durable it was!  We had over 30 kids, and after the first 10 had their go, barely a dent was made!  Given, they were the youngest kids, but even still, barely a scratch.  So, we decided to let the kids have a few whacks with the blindfold on, and then a few whacks with the blindfold off.  Even still, by the time there were only two kids left in line, Frankenstein still barely had a scratch.  During the turn of one of the last girls, the pinata dropped on the ground and the girl asked if she could stomp on Frankenstein.  The last girl asked if I would hold the pinata so she could "do taekwondo" on it.  Still, barely a dent.  So, I ripped it open and tossed candy around.

Because we only have three homes on the compound, trick-or-treating wasn't possible.  After the candy was stuffed into their decorated bags, I came out into the family room dressed covered in a grim reaper cloak and holding a lantern and a treasure map.  I proceeded to take the kids on a treasure hunt around the compound, ending at the home-made coffin filled with candy.

We were asked by most of the families after the fact whether or not we were going to do this again next year, so we considered the party a success.  We made samosas, chicken kabobs, fruit, hot dogs, cupcakes, cake, pumpkin spice Chex mix, and Halloween white trash popcorn.  And we were fortunate enough to have a few good friends who came just to help out with the different activities.  It was a ton of work, but it looks like we've started a new Halloween tradition.
The cooks making samosas!

Monday, October 15, 2012

A short get-away!

The last time I kept a journal I was 15.  My mom bribed me with $.50 per page, and like most teenagers I was in desperate need of cash, and had few other opportunities to acquire any.  So, I set out to make as much money as possible, pouring my soul onto the lined pages of my blue pleather journal.  I'd write as much as my hand could take, pushing through writers cramp all in the name of earning a few bucks for the movies and shopping.  Since writing was very difficult for me (probable the motivation behind my mom's eagerness to help me improve), each dollar I earned was precious.  I would have rather dug ditches or mowed  the lawn in 100 degree heat than laboriously document my experiences.  But money was money, and I did whatever I could to get my hands on some. 
This all came to a screeching halt when a little while after beginning my journal-writing job I decided to flip through some old entries to remember what I'd written.  To my absolute horror, there inside my journal, were red pen marks!  Yes, grammatical corrections made by my well intentioned, loving, English teacher mother! It's obvious she wasn't tying to be sneaky or deceptive (hence the red ink), but needless to say, I've kept my thoughts in my head, and far away from paper since that time.

Well, this blogging thing is my second attempt at journaling and I'm happy to report that despite over 6000 people having read it,  I don't feel the least bit violated!  Sharing a few stories with our friends and family (and complete strangers in Bangladesh, Italy, and Pakistan apparently) really helps us feel a bit more connected when we are so far away.  It was my friend Kathy Kidd's idea for us to keep a blog...  So thanks for being interested in what we are up to, it shortens the miles between us.   I've learned that even if garbage is all I can write then I should write it anyway, because Garbage eventually becomes compost with a little treatment! 
So here's to my writing garbage and your help making it compost!

 Here is the excrement from last week...Since there isn't much to do in Abuja, and we aren't allowed outside of the Ring-Road without armed escorts, the CLO (community Liaison officer) at the Embassy organized a field trip.  Our destination was the Bwari Pottery Village, and getting there was half the fun.  We drove in a motorcade of 6 suv's escorted by 6 armed guards which I felt was complete overkill until we reached the city limits.  At that point I knew why they were necessary.  I would have felt less vulnerable hiking in a dress made of bacon in bear country.  It was beyond sketchy!!  I was sudden longing for the relative "safety" of Abuja 50 km away. 
Fortunately our family was able to drive in our own vehicle in the motorcade so we could enjoy gawking at all of the sights together.  We had a running contest to see who could find the craziest thing....I think we all won because there was no shortage of unusual sites!  At one point we entertained ourselves counting the number of people on each motorcycle we passed.  Six people on one motorcycle was the max we found, but there were many with 4 or five riders, and one towing a wheelchair!  We laughed that  we had wasted so much money on an SUV when all we really needed was a family dirt-bike!  Apparently there is enough room on a two-wheeled vehicle to drive the kid's car-pool. 
Armed with only my I-phone, I wasn't able to capture many good pictures from our speeding car, but at least I got a few to give you a flavor of what it was like. 

This must be the Nigerian equivalent to the baby "car-seat".  I can't imagine it is Pediatrician approved, but it is how  everyone transports their babies.  We saw so many babies strapped to the back of motorcycles and even a few who looked like they were driving......mmmmmm, Why is infant mortality so high?

The "Nike Outlet"!  One of the thousands of identical stores selling random knock-off goods on the side of the road.   

See the piles of fire-wood on the ground? Nope, that is not fire-wood, but the number-one food staple here.  They are Nigerian Yams.  Yams here aren't sweet like we are used to, and they are more "woody" like a Yucca plant.  Yams, and Yam flour comprise a big part of most diets here.....but not at the Woodruff house.  I'm not willing to cook fire-wood for dinner when we still have boxes of perfectly good  Mac and Cheese in the cupboard!
Choosing a handmade lantern from all of the pottery at the Bwari Village.  Every time we use it we will think of our little escape from Abuja for the day!

This man is kneading all of the air bubbles out of the clay so it will be strong and not crack when made into pottery.  His arms were lean, mean, clay- kneading machines!!

Sawyer and Tyson in the Shea House.  The Pottery Village also makes Shea butter and Shea soap from the local Shea nuts and clay. 

Alexis learning to use the pottery wheel with Mohammad.  This picture is very reminiscent of the famous scene from "Ghosts" minus Patrick Swayze of course!

Logan's favorite part was playing in the mud while creating a Christmas present for grandma!  Shhhhh!  Don't tell her!

Some of the local police posing with the kids.  People are always asking to "SNAP" our children.  The first time someone wanted to Snap my kids I was freaked!  No I know it means to take their picture!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Nigeria

On Monday, Nigeria celebrated 52 years of independence from Great Britain. It's like the 4th of July for Nigeria....minus the fireworks and watermelon of course.  Since we are always up for a party, we were eager to join the celebration with our new country.  Unfortunately, we had to stay put because Independence day here became tainted when two years ago a bomb went off in Eagle-Square, the venue for the celebratory events. I pass the square nearly every day and have heard first hand accounts from a friend and a driver recounting how that explosion has effected their individual lives.  One lost a family friend, and the other feels lucky that her husband was late getting to the event and narrowly missed the explosion.   Because of the risk of this kind of violence at public venues during celebrations, we memorialized the day by hanging in our Pajamas, overeating   and decorating the house for Halloween (I guess  I should have warned our housekeeper about Halloween because she arrived the following morning while I was out, only to be greeted by decorative skeletons, plastic mice and Jackolanterns.  Poor Immaculata received a shocking introduction to our macabre October tradition).  Luckily, we were able to join in the festivities the following day in a special Nigerian Day Celebration at the international school our kids attend. 

The Nigerian Day tradition includes wearing traditional Nigerian attire and eating Nigerian food while enjoying African music and dance. A few weeks back I became aware of the upcoming celebration and learned the importance of getting  'Nigerian attire' for the family.  I knew all the kids at school would be clad in their regalia and we needed to be as well.  Unfortunately, you can't exactly stop by the Mall and pick up something to wear for the big day because there aren't many "ready-made" clothes for sale here, and definitely no Target, Walmart, or anything resembling mass-production.  If you want something, you either make it or get it made. 

My first step was finding the fabric for our clothes and the best bet was the Wuse Market.  I ended up going with a friend who is from Camaroon and has lived in Nigeria for a few years.  She grew up in Africa, meaning that she has been bargaining since birth.  Her negotiation skills as well as her sense of direction were beyond helpful as we searched for just the right patterns and colors in stack of African fabric.  All fabric here is sold in a 6-yard piece.  It makes it simple knowing that each bundle is long enough to make a dress for even the most "ample" woman.  It's a bit frustrating though, when all you want is a few inches for a trim or accent and you are stuck buying enough fabric to cover all the windows in the house!  I'm sure the 6-yard standard is also the reason I've seen so many husbands and wives walking down the street wearing matching outfits. It is not uncommon to see entire families clad in identical fabric.  I guess the thought is, that if you have six yards of the stuff, you ought to many things as possible to insure you get your money's worth! 
So basically, the wife picks out fabric that will look good on her
....the husband is stuck wearing it too!  He's one of the lucky ones
 because I've seen men wearing floral pastels. 
Tyson would sooner have his fingers gnawed off by a wild animal than dress as "twinners"!

We had a very similar picture growing up... I'll have to have my mom find it!  We are all wearing twinner shirts!

Being the one foreigner at the market adds an additional measure of difficulty.  For some reason, the Nigerians erroneously think that just because I'm from the US, I must have wheelbarrows of money. Actually, to buy anything substantial here, you really do need to use bags, or boxes of money to do your transactions since the highest denomination here is the 1000 Naira bill.  Sounds like a lot, but it is only $7.00 US,  and nothing is done by check, credit or debit.   So, when Tyson bought both of our cars, and had to make the transaction carrying all of the cash in huge stacks of $7 bills, you can only imagine the awkwardness of the's a bit reminiscent of a gangster movie with a briefcase full of bills! When checking out of the hotel he stayed in for several weeks when he first arrived in town, Tyson told me it was also important not to let anyone know when he was leaving.  This is because it is not unusual for someone to be robbed the night before they leave a hotel because everyone knows they would be carrying hundreds of thousands of Naira in order to settle the bill.  I'm feeling more comfortable using Naira and doing the computations in my mind, but I still feel like I'm using Monopoly money around town because anytime I spend 100,000 of anything, it doesn't seem quite real.
Stacks of Naira....Since N1000 ($7) is the highest have to carry alot to make any transaction....
Nothing is done in Credit, check or Debit! 
Why rob a bank when you can rob the man leaving a bank oh his way to pay his rent!
Sorry, I got off track!... Because I'm foreign, I was followed by so many vendors,  each pushing their wares into my face hoping to make a few Naira.  Not only was I pounced on by peanut vendors, watch salesmen and kids selling gum, I had women willing to braid my hair for 4 hours for the cost of about a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk.... The hardest part for me is all the maimed and crippled beggars  that swarm.  There are some of the most physically disabled people, who kneel down on the ground uttering prayers with arms outstretched for a handout.  This is kind of stuff that kills me and makes me question the right way to handle each situation.  My thoughts tend to linger on the individual wondering about their family, or where they sleep, and mostly I wonder about whether or not they feel lost and forgotten in this world of so many.  Each encounter is an internal ethical struggle.  I often wonder,  will helping people actually hurt them more in the long run.... or does doing a little for one person even make a difference?  It is severely overwhelming when as far as my eyes can see in all directions are people who don't have enough.  The most difficult part for me is seeing the sweet little children who start life at the bottom of a barrel, with not a morsel of possibility to achieve the greatness they would be capable of if born in a different situation. 
I'm off the topic again, but that really is where my mind floats to much of the time here......
After a little shopping, some negotiating and hassling, I emerged with the fabric needed to make Nigerian clothes for the family.  I ended up spending $6,800 Naira, or about $60.  If we all wanted to go as quintuplets, I could have gotten out of there spending half that! 
Piles of fabric at the Wuse Market....each six yards long!
My heart can't handle it.
The next step was finding a tailor.  There is no shortage of tailors in Abuja.  I see them walking all over town, carrying what seems like the same model Singer sewing machine that I remember seeing at my grandma's house 30 years ago.  Since everyone has their clothes made, everyone has a tailor, but not all are willing to lend you theirs!.... Women are funny like that!  I' decided to ask a girl at church who is always well dressed in her Nigerian clothes to take me to her tailor.   I didn't realize we would find him in a tiny closet sized work shop located in the back of an alley in a place called Garki. Had I known, the neighborhood we were headed to, I may have reconsidered.  The neighborhood was the type that accepted all forms of "currency" after dark!  It was more than a bit sketchy, but I hit it off with Abdul the tailor right away and found him trust-worthy.   Like most tailors here, Abdul doesn't use any patterns, just draw sketches in his notebook and listens.  I explained the look I was after and he came up with a picture that fairly accurately resembled what I had in mind.  Since the kids were in school...not that I would have brought them to this hovel anyway, Abdul made measurements from their clothes I'd brought with me.  Abdul agreed to make a dress and headwrap for Alexis, Skirt, top, and headwrap for me, and Kaftan shirts with embroidery for each of the boys and Tyson.  I  was nervous to hear the grand total for all 8 items, suddenly afraid I'd gotten myself financially over my head.  For Sewing all the clothes for the entire family, including the cost of zippers, buttons, and embroidery on the Kaftans, he asked $13,000 Naira.  I interrupted Re'joice as she began to negotiate a lower price and was more than happy to pay the $91 asked.  What a bargain for hours and hours of work!!  I like getting a good deal like anyone, but when it comes down to the difference of a few dollars, it doesn't make sense.  $5 to Abdul would mean dinners for a week, whereas $5 to me means so much less.  After paying half off the agreed amount I let Abdul know that if he did a really nice job I would bring him 3 friends from the embassy who were currently looking for a tailor for their families.
Within a few days, Abdul was done, meaning I had to make my way back to the "shop" to retrieve my things.  Abdul was very accommodating, and happy to make any adjustments needed later.  He also sent me home with a bag of scraps from all of the dresses he had made recently so I could construct my own patchwork skirt.  He'd seen me admiring the one he was making and talked me through how to make it myself.  I will definitely bring my friends back....... and probably a large man with me when I go!
Abdul in his little workshop!  He arrives at 6am and leaves at 8pm every day. 
The Nigeria day celebration at school was set to start at noon, so I scheduled a driver to pick me up at 11:30.  Most of the time I drive myself, but I have a couple of hundred pre-paid vouchers for the embassy motor pool that I use when I don't want to deal with a particular area of town, or difficult parking situations, or when I just want to sit in the back seat and help the kids with their homework rather than stress over Abuja traffic.  Each ticket gives me access to a driver who will pick us up in an SUV and drive us around for an hour at a time.  Very handy.  Anyway, the driver was late and I was getting stressed.  I knew Alexis was dancing in the show and would be devastated if I missed it.  I kept waiting because I knew that at this point if I drove myself I would surely be late because I would have to park and walk from the car-park to the school, rather than being dropped at the entrance.  When the driver finally arrived, I let him know how serious it would be if a seven year old dancing on stage looked across the audience and couldn't find her mom!.  Im not sure Ibrahim really understood what I was saying, but he definitely felt my urgency and did his best to get me there before the crazy white lady had a melt down in his suburban.  Well, he took full advantage of the red diplomatic license plates that mean we couldn't be pulled over, and got to the school within 15 min.  I ran with Sawyer through the security  line to have my bag checked and then sprinted to the cafeteria in my full Nigerian Dress. 
As I ran in my Nigerian get-up, I heard the music "We are Africa" coming from the multipurpose room.  Just in time!  She was only 30 seconds into her dance and her eyes met mine as she spun around with the other second graders.  For all she knew, I'd been there the entire time.  Alexis is definitely no stranger to the stage.  Although she has been in more dance competitions and recitals than I can count,  I have never seen anything quite like what I saw on-stage that afternoon.  She was insane!  Seriously, she was tearing-up the African dance moves like nothing I've ever seen!  The best part was, she was having a blast!   Several strangers and teachers came up to me afterwards and commented on her African dance ability.  Who knew our little 'goldie-locks' could move like that!  I really wish I had video of it.  I will have to track down a parent who taped it and get a copy.  It was Hilarious and stunning at the same time! 
Alexis modeling her traditional
Nigerian Dress made by Abdul!

At school in our Nigerian Attire...  Alexis is wearing her dance costume.
One of the other school moms.

Other dances were performed to highlight the three major tribes and languages that make up Nigeria.  The Hausa, Igbo, and Yuroba.  Finally, there was a fashion show of parents and students exhibiting different traditional Nigerian wear.   Some of the women's outfits were stunning, especially the Geles (head wraps) which appeared be gravity defying.  Everyone in the audience was dressed to the nines.  We were dressed traditionally of course, but in daily attire, not formal wear like many of the others.  Most were dressed in green and white regalia, the colors of the Nigerian flag. 

No celebration would be complete without a feast afterwards.  The Nigerian parents treated the rest of the school to an amazing spread sorts of things I didn't recognize and can't pronounce the names of anyway.  All of the dishes were traditional Nigerian food such as suya, yams, rice, kabobs, plantains etc.  The rush on the food was insane!  I haven't seen pushing and shoving like that since the line for BYU Fudge during Education Week!!  Seriously, it was worse than any ward pot-luck I'd ever seen....Like flies on....well, Like flies on Nigerian food!   It seems that there are different social norms in Nigeria...  Apparently, here it is acceptable to trample small children as long as fried dough balls and Kabobs are at stake. 

Puff Puffs...The last thing Alexis ate before
 vomiting all over the house...coincidence??

Finally, we ended the day by making cookies for the guards and police men that watch our compound.  I'm sure they would much rather be home with their families than hanging out watching the Woodruff kids play (and fight with eachother).  We gave them each a plate of triple chocolate cookies and told them how much we appreciated them.  Since most Nigerian treats aren't exactly sweet, their bodies probably didn't know how to react to the sudden sugar overload!  Since they were back at work the following day, they obviously survived the insulin surge!

Several gaurds rotate watch on our compound....  Thanks for even working on your holiday!!!  This is one of the guards that accompanies the kids to school. 
Well Happy Birthday Nigeria!  You throw one heck of a party!

On another note, Independence day wasn't all celebration here in Nigeria.  The following day I saw the news about a horrific event that happened that day.  Only click on the link if you have the stomach for it.  Otherwise, ignore it.