Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Do You Believe In Miracles" -Al Michaels

After a quick 15 months of waiting sprinkled with rare moments of preparation the unthinkable happened.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce to you the members of the inaugural Malian National Tennis Academy. 

Standing from L to R: Moi, Asthar, Samba, Yousef, Bouare.
Kneeling:  Aissita, Gausson. Missing: Abu
Smiling strictly prohibited!

Three weeks ago I received a call informing me that everything was in order to start the academy on the following Monday.  This was the most promising call I had received in many months.  Unfortunately, days later it was followed up with another one notifying me that there were a few problems with the house for the kids and they needed one more week.

Week 2.  Saturday rolled around and I was actually feeling some nerves.  I had the first week of training and conditioning all scheduled and was ready to go.  Yet, as the sun was setting so went my hopes as I heard my phone ring and saw who was calling.  This delay wasn’t accompanied with any reason, just another empty, disheartening postponement. 

A fortnight had passed since our first somewhat believable start date and I fell back into the routine of filling my days with zero realistic expectations of any tennis in the near future.  That week flew by, as many of them have been lately, and the insignificant transition into the weekend brought with it a very inconsequential recognition that I had not yet received that dreaded call advising me that this Monday would once again pass without any tennis. 

It was Sunday afternoon.  I was having an out of body experience.  The final courtesy of being able to count on the promptness of calls informing me of countless delays was being stripped away from me.  I felt violated.

I went on the offensive and made some calls.  Only, I didn’t get any excuses, all I got was “oui, nous commençons demain à 1530.”  For those of you who’s French is only slightly worse than mine, that was a confirmation, we were starting the next day.

I’m obsessively punctual, one of the biggest reasons for much of my frustration here.  Your word is your bond and if you say you’re going to be somewhere and don’t show up on time then to me that’s simply saying something more important than you came up, so sorry.

I arrived at the tennis club 30 minutes early.  Greeted Bouare, the director of the tennis club and the only reason I’ve maintained the sanity to try for so long, and grabbed a seat to reapply some sunscreen.  Not surprisingly, none of the kids had arrived yet.  I asked Bouare if they were all coming today and he reacted with a yes, but then looked puzzled and walked purposefully back into his office.

Ten minutes of listening him yell at his phone later and he came out to talk with me.  “Tyson, we have small problem.”  (Bouare speaks pretty good English, a huge help to me, but also a crutch allowing my French skills to sputter)  “The driver forgot to pick up the kids today.”   Hmm, initially, I thought to myself, isn’t that his main job, as a driver, to drive his clients from one place to another?  What other part of that job could have deterred him from this rather crucial aspect? 

Then, as I’ve learned to maintain a cooler head in moments like this, I rationally deduced that he has probably received all of the scheduling changes that I have and probably thought it unlikely that we’d be starting today, confirmation or no confirmation.   It’s difficult to start a tennis academy without any players, but no big deal, our long wait turned into forever and a day. 

Against all odds, Tuesday came and more shockingly, so did the players.  They actually arrived before me which was a pleasant surprise.   

Stepping onto the court felt surreal.  It’s a strange thing to walk into a day you never thought would come.  In spite of the long and trying road to get there, spirits were high and we had a very productive first day.  

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