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!!!