Friday, 19 December 2008

snowfall and sledges

This'll be my last post for a bit. I'm currently trying to pack for a 2 week jaunt to the Olympic mountain of Jahorina, about half an hour outside of Sarajevo. My family are coming out for Christmas so I'm hopeful of some babysitters to allow me a few free mornings on top of the mountain, with exercise and fresh air. Given that there is currently little snow and a total white out and no lifts are open yet, I'm not holding my breath but we shall see.

The amount of stuff we generate for a 2 week trip is awe inspiring, particularly as I'm not sure if we will have access to a washing machine. We are not being helped in our mission to keep stuff to a minimum by also packing a Christmas tree, a whole bunch of presents, most of our decorations, a sledge, half the kitchen and (as the wind chill is estimated at -14C) every single warm piece of clothing I can lay my hands on.

Jessie is off for a doggy holiday camp of her own. A few people offered to have her over the holidays and she will be spoilt rotten at every single one.

It will be a different Christmas for us all. Fingers crossed Sarajevo airport will remain open and noone is delayed or diverted on the way in (a surprisingly common occurence). Fingers crossed that there is some snow and we get at least some skiing in, otherwise I have no idea what everyone will do all day. Fingers crossed people liked stuffed cabbage leaves - and don't miss their turkey and stuffing too much. It'll be fine, everyone will love it (and repeat to self as mantra for the rest of the day). Happy Christmas one and all.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

careful driving

The campaign for careful driving is not going so well (see 15th Dec post). Driving back this afternoon we went past a bit of a smash complete with several police cars and blue flashing lights, situated right underneath the "Careful How You Drive" billboard.

Holes and socks

An update to my Oct 5th post about the Bosnian custom of removing your shoes before entering a house, and the traumas this causes me, someone who is pathologically incapable of finding matching socks. I heard the best excuse for not coming into someones house the other day: on being invited in, the Bosnian in question hung back, and then said,

"I'm sorry, I can't, I'm wearing bad socks."


Tuesday, 16 December 2008

An English take on a Bosnian advertising campaign

More on the current billboard advertising campaigns in and around Tuzla. The ones that I am most bemused by is a large picture of a beautiful girl, glamorously dressed and fully made up, seated next to a loo roll holder with an expression of rapture. The tag line on the poster is "Let it Happen" (in English so there is no way that I have misunderstood it) and the advert is for something called Happening. For quite a long time I thought this was an unusual advert for laxatives. Bosnians are not frightened of advertising this type of thing, current condom adverts are "for women for whom 3 times is not enough" (!?). Turns out it is in fact an advertising campaign for a very fashionable women's boutique clothing range. Ah. Not quite the same thing at all.

This is not the first time that I have got the adverts spectacularly wrong. A whole bunch of pictures of pastel pink and purple butterflies entitled My Style, I attributed to a campaign for sanitary towels. No, it was in fact for cigarettes. I wasn't the only one who got this wrong, D also attributed it to some sort of feminine hygiene product and some American friends thought it was for a product which would have to be bought from a chemist.

Slightly worryingly I am now wondering what this says about our underlying psyche - whilst the Bosnians are thinking glamorous clothes and cigarettes, the Brits are a bit more obsessed with laxatives and sanitary products. Probably not too far from the truth.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Careful how you drive

A Drive Carefully campaign has hit Tuzla, with some force. All across the city there are now wrecked cars placed beside billboards explaining what happened to them. One jumped a red light. Another (upside down and really quite mashed) was driven by a drunk driver. The cars certainly grab your attention and I'm finding it to be quite an effective campaign.

As I have driven past about 5 accidents in the last week, I hope that the Bosnians pay some attention to these adverts and moderate their overtaking manoeuvres accordingly.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

Christmas is starting to take over in our household. Cards have been sent, presents have been bought and decorations are up. Although most of the people round Tuzla don't celebrate Christmas, the shops have been packed with surprisingly nice Christmas fare - probably because most of the big supermarket chains are Croat or Slovenian owned, both countries which do do Christmas.

Many years ago, when we were first married, I agreed that D should be in charge of purchasing our first set of Christmas tree lights. Letting him go out completely unsupervised was an elementary error, the likes of which will not be repeated. For instead of some calming, restful, beautiful white lights that just stayed on all the time, he returned triumphantly with a set of lights that were not only red, blue, green, purple and yellow but had 7 different settings. Every year since then I have made an attempt to get some white lights but have been thwarted at every turn. This year, with the lights safely buried in storage, we had to look for some more. Despite his best efforts, D couldn't find any coloured lights. Or lights that had settings. So, for the first time in our married life, I have the Christmas tree lights that I like. And may I say although it is the only Christmas tree in the neighbourhood, it looks pretty good.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Proud Human Rights

Human Rights Day on December 10th is quite evident to see in Tuzla. There are big events with local rock bands, fashion shows and children's plays out on the Korzo (the pedestrianised drag through the centre of town). People hand out sandwiches, sweets, fridge magnets, copies of the declaration of human rights, and packs filled with educational games for children. There are posters up all over town. Pretty much everyone knows that December 10th was the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even in the boys' nursery the Rights of Children are predominantly displayed so that all may know and understand them. The International Community will be proud; the local population is aware.

The most exciting event for me is a Human Rights Film Festival - showing films in what could almost (if I shut my eyes and squint a bit) be a cinema. I went along to a film yesterday morning, starting at 9am and was surprised to find about 40 other people there. We watched a film about the persecution of homosexuals in 1930s Nazi Germany. Bosnia is not a society open to homosexuality. The first Gay Pride march in Sarajevo in September was attacked,10 people were hospitalised and the rest of the event was cancelled (see here for more information). But I do find it interesting that local human rights organisations are starting to tackle this type of issue, a sign, perhaps, that society is moving on from the conflict of 1992-95?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Human Rights

A reminder today, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that not all areas of Bosnia are as tolerant of difference as Tuzla. A mosque in the southern area of Bosnia was burned on the eve of the Bajram holiday as detailed in this Balkan Insight article. The comments following the article provide a real snapshot of the division that remains present in some parts of the region.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

holidays and festive seasons

One of things that I always forget about in Bosnia is that with a significant proportion of the population belonging to 3 different religions, it seems that there is always a holiday to celebrate. Right now the Muslims are celebrating Kurbam Bajram (also known as Eid Al Adha which is the Festival of Sacrifice, in commemoration of the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God.). This being Bosnia it involves a lot of eating and drinking and a fair amount of partying with many children knocking on our door for small gifts.

I'm gearing up for Christmas at the moment, along with most of the Bosnian Croats who are predominantly Catholic. Right now this appears to involve writing a lot of Christmas cards, wondering where we will get a tree and wishing I had got my act together earlier regarding buying Christmas presents. Tuzla has a significant Croat population and Christmas is a big affair. The town is covered in Christmas lights which, if I am not mistaken, are exactly the same as the ones decorating the lampposts back home.

Then there is the Orthodox Christmas, celebrated by the Serbs, on January 7th. I have to confess to knowing very little about this one, but talk to me after Jan 7th and I hope to know a little more.

Here in Tuzla, which has always prided itself on its multi-ethnic outlook and inclusiveness, the citizens appear to have taken the decision to celebrate everything, irrespective of their personal religion. When Bajram falls in December this time of year gets pretty busy, particularly as there is also a Bosnian National Day holiday at the end of November as well. Throw in a New Year (which everyone celebrates with enthusiasm) and you really do have a festive season. Now, if only I could know when the holidays were before I turn up to find a closed nursery I'd be truly jolly.

Friday, 5 December 2008

money money money

As Bosnia is a cash based economy, and you must pay all bills, rent and pretty much everything by cash, the beginning of each month is usually spent taking large amounts of money out of the ATMs. It does, however, focus the mind on what we are spending our money on and allows us an easy comparison for costs in the UK and costs in Bosnia.

Life in Bosnia is cheap, but not as cheap as you might think. Unsurprisingly rent is much cheaper than in the UK. Our 3 bed terraced house in the UK is let for £1250 a month. Here we have a house with sitting room, playroom, kitchen, 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms and garden all for 900KM a month (about £400). This is not particularly cheap for Bosnia, some friends think that we could have had a better deal, but it isn't ridiculous silly internationals rates either. Telephone bills are much reduced now we have Skype which allows us to call the UK for 1p a minute. Utilities are about the same as in the UK, but you can't pay over the Internet so we wait for all the bills to come in before making a trip to the bank to pay the lot in cash all at once, crying as we count out each individual note. Despite stats citing the Bosnian average wage to be something in the region of 700KM (£325)per month, I couldn't find a reliable cleaner for less than 200KM (£80) a month for 6 hours a week, but she does do all our ironing, a novel experience for most of our clothes.

Day to day living is also not as cheap as you might think. Anything produced locally is good value, but anything that is imported costs about the same as it does in the UK, the high import duties taking their toll. Fresh food is definitely cheaper; with local shops on every corner selling the best and freshest produce, we tend to buy what we need when we need it, which also means much less waste.

The biggest difference is nursery fees. I have just paid the fees for the boys this morning, the monthly cost for one for up to 5 hours every day is 85KM (£40). At my old nursery that would have paid for one day. Admittedly their old nursery had a staff to child ratio of 2:8 as opposed to 2:20 which may have added to their costs.

Then there are the costs that we just didn't have in the UK. We now have a monthly budget for Jessie's vets bills which were covered by pet insurance before. We also need to have a comprehensive health cover plan which wasn't necessary in the UK (God bless the NHS). Storage costs for the stuff we left behind are astronomical. No, overall, I think that if cutting living costs was a primary motivator for our move we would have been disappointed.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

peace, quiet and relaxation

It is lovely when people come to visit, particularly that they make the effort to leave the more obvious tourist trap of Sarajevo and venture up to the less tourist friendly city of Tuzla. We have had a lovely time with the Grandparents here; the boys loving the extra attention and showing off how to count in Bosnian, D seeing his parents and I got the opportunity for some extra babysitters which gave me alot more opportunity to get to the towns where I am doing research. D and I even went out for a quiet dinner a deux.

However, when the visitors go, and the house returns to normal, however great the visits have been, I do breathe a sigh of relief as the normal routine resumes. The laundry can once again be hung over the backs of doors to dry and the house can slide into its more usual pit of comfortable chaos.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

She is one lucky dog

Jess doesn't get to come with us to luxurious hotels, Instead she gets a dose of her own sort of luxury as she goes to stay with various people, and is pampered, preened, made a fuss of and generally has a whale of a time.

This weekend she stayed with some friends who found on the internet a recipe to make doggie cookies, which they proceeded to do. These cookies look like the real thing. They have cinnamon, apple, honey and oatmeal in. Jess has been happily munching on them ever since. Now she has had a taste of the way life can be, she is not impressed with the daily fare served up at home.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Bosnia, but not as we know it

Just back from a weekend entertaing Grandma and Grandad in the bright lights big city of Sarajevo. It is always fun to show other people around a city, and everytime people come to visit us we realise how much more we now know about Bosnia and its history.

We decided to treat ourselves and stay in a house about 10 minutes outside of Sarajevo. Long experience with toddlers has taught us that staying in hotels can be very stressful and restrictive. Whenever possible we prefer to stay in a house, where the boys have room to play and we have somewhere to sit after they have gone to bed.

The Villa Atelier came with a recommendation from a friend of a friend and having looked at the website we thought it would be nice. Nothing prepared us for just how nice it was. Beautiful rooms, amazing bathrooms (we've not had a standing up shower for a while so are impressed by these things), views to die for. We were looked after by the lovely Leila, who cooked for us and also did a seperate meal that the boys would eat, and all with a smile. They had a sitting room AND a library, not to mention a whole floor upstairs for energetic boys. The house had a calm and gentle atmosphere and was without a doubt the most amazing place we have stayed in for a long time. It was all the best of Bosnia without any of the bits that can irritate.

We've booked to go back there for New Year with some friends, and can't wait. In the meantime Grandma and Grandad have travelled north to the slightly less lovely city of Tuzla and slightly less glamourous surroundings of our house. Ah well, it is a slightly more realistic idea of what Bosnia is like

Thursday, 27 November 2008

footloose and buggy free

I realised the other day as I was rootling about in the garage, that since we got to Bosnia I have barely used the buggy at all. Not surprising for Adam really, but Luke is still not yet 2, and we go on dog walks of a good hour every day. Admittedly we don't actually go very far and I have to carry him for some of the way, but even so this is a development I was not expecting.

The Bosnians are terrific walkers, and do walk everywhere and they don't tend to use the buggy for children that can walk either. I imagine this has something to do with the lack of pavements and very bumpy roads not being remotely buggy friendly. As I look out onto the snow and ice scene outside the window I can also see that buggies are not really viable for half the year anyway.

There are a few unexpected side effects of this new buggy free status. I do drive more than I did, a quick walk with a buggy becomes an hour of torment as I try to entice both boy to move forward in a direction slightly faster than that of a drunken snail. Fine if I am trying to kill the hours of a long afternoon but not great when trying to get everyone to nursery before it shuts.

Trips to grown up places like the post office or a bank have also become more tense. For as every parent of a toddler knows, buggies are not merely instruments of moving your child from A to B. Oh no, they are the vehicle in which you can neutralise them by strapping them in and they have to stay where they are put. Without a buggy, and with 2 toddlers I find myself spending a lot of time pursuing the boys around and about whilst waiting for a free counter. With the Bosnians not respecting any form of a queuing system at all, I frequently find myself in said bank or post office for hours and usually have to abandon plans to retain some form of self respect and dignity.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Viruses and snow part 2

Kept both boys away from nursery in responsible adult way today. Thought their temps were up and had potential to go higher. Got prepared for day of fevered brow mopping, nursing and medicinal administration.

They are running around like banshees, destroying the house (and each other) and running me ragged. They are so going to nursery tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

viruses and snow

I've been thinking for a while about writing a post about how healthy everyone has been since we got to Bosnia, but didn't want to, convinced that I would jinx the good run. But all good things must come to an end and the boys have just come down with their first bug since we have been in Bosnia. It is a miracle we have been virus free for so long; a new environment, new nursery and exposure to whole load of new germs should have meant that they were stricken low on a regular basis. Indeed we were used to dealing with about 1 a month or so in the UK.

The good news that it isn't one of the vomiting ones (without doubt the worst sort, particularly when they infect you too). This is a fairly high temperature but nothing that we haven't seen and dealt with before. Calpol and Calprufen to the rescue and fingers crossed they will be bouncing back as good as new in a few days. They have a high temp, are sick enough not to go to nursery, but are not sick enough to lie quietly whilst I mop their fevered brows.

This bug has coincided with a bout of really quite nasty weather. It has rained/snowed all day today and is pretty slippery outside. It is certainly not the weather to lug sick children out in, so we have been house bound. We've made train tracks and read books, we've made cakes and watched DVDs, we've built blocks and painted pictures. They need to get better soon, I'm rapidly running out of indoor activities.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Serbia, for at least 30 minutes

It happens to us all in the end. The 90 day tourist visa is up and we had to leave Bosnia and reenter again to reinstate our right to be here. We had all sorts of plans. Pre children we'd have driven to Budapest for a romantic weekend. We could have taken a romantic weekend down in the coastal town Dubrovnik, also stunning. We could have hopped on a bus to Zagreb and, with a bit of luck and endurance to go further, gone skiing in the Slovenian mountains. We could have gone for a party weekend in Belgrade, recently cited as the best nightlife in Europe by the Times (article here).

All options a bit tricky with the kids. Partying is severely restricted when you need to be home for an absolute latest 9pm bedtime. Long car journeys to the coast or eastern European capitals are even less attractive when you need to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep for 3 hours continuously. Skiing might be a bit ambitious when Lukey has only known how to stand for under a year.

So instead we left the dog behind and drove to the nearest border, happening to be with Serbia which is about an hour away. We parked the car (don't have insurance to drive outside of Bosnia at the moment), changed a nappy and walked across a bridge spanning the Drina river, huddled against the biting wind signalling the arrival of winter, snow, hail and ice. Once on the other side we sidled into a cafe, ordered a quick coffee / hot chocolate to warm up and then headed straight back the way we had come from.

Next stop, badgering our landlord to come to the police station with us to complete all the necessary paperwork. The boys love this part, the long corridors in the police station echo and make brilliant running tracks. The police don't love this at all.

Now that D's company is fully operational (crack open the champagne, he has even managed to open a bank account), we can now start the process to apply for temporary residency visas which will negate the need to be making this sort of trip every 3 months.

Friday, 21 November 2008

to nap or not to nap

The force of nature that is my nearly two year old, Lukey, has decided that napping in the afternoons is not for him. Words cannot describe the horror with which I face this latest development.

Our routine had been fairly well established. The boys go to nursery, I pick them up about 12 (just as all the Bosnian toddlers are settling down for their naps), we take the dog for a walk and I run the boys around and up and down as many hills as I can find to wear them out. On the drive back home Luke goes to sleep in the back of the car and is smoothly transferred to a bed on our return. Adam and I can then get down to the serious business of discussing the morning over an Orangina.

Luke has been sleeping for up to 2 hours. This gives me plenty of time to have a look at the English nursery curriculum and do an activity with Adam; painting, sticking, his scrapbook, jigsaws, a quick game of snap - all that sort of stuff. I do it because we enjoy it, but also to ensure that Adam is on a par with his English contemporaries and hoping that it will ease any return to the English educational system transitions in the future. Also, I really do enjoy the one on one time with him - this is when I find out what he is thinking.

All of this is far more difficult to do when there is a marauding and slightly tired Lukey on the prowl. As ever, it is the change in the routine which is proving to be stressful and until we all adapt to this new afternoon regime and Luke learns that you can't throw paint at the walls, we are in for a tense couple of weeks.

peace is the word and it takes a long time

Bosnia's war finished in 1995 and since then the international community implemented and monitored the peace through an agency known as OHR. OHR's mandate was due to be finished in 2007. The current tensions between the different groups has led to concerns about the possible reignition of the conflict and OHR's mandate has been extended through 2009, which will be some 14 years after the peace agreement was signed (interested parties can read more about this here).

I just mention this now as I listen to the debates over the globe's current conflict zones. Peace is difficult to attain and even more difficult to sustain. It also takes a long, long time.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A very important activity

There are signs that Adam is starting to settle into and, whisper it quietly, even enjoy nursery. He has made a few friends, despite no common language and talks a lot of Ema and Aid.

I'm not totally sure what they do all morning. Most days I ask him if he did any painting today and he always says 'no' but I've seen his paintings pinned up on the wall. Sometimes he says they do singing and dancing, but in general I never quite manage to find out what exactly he has been up to.

Yesterday I asked him, as usual, what he had done. Once I had gone through all the obvious activities he looked at me and said, "No Mummy, today we did laughing".

Seems to me that that is an excellent way of spending your morning.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Jessie - gdje si?

Jess has quite taken to being in Bosnia. We have a bit of a garden surrounding the house and she is fond of patrolling her territory, barking at the cats and trying to persuade our neighbours that she is never fed and would indeed like some of their dinner. She has spent many happy hours watching the world going by and making friends with passer-bys.

That is until recently, when she discovered how to escape from our previously escape proof garden. Given her freedom she is off scavenging around the dustbins, which is her idea of heaven. When I catch up with her it is quite a sight; the spoilt, pampered, pedigree pet and local strays hanging out together. She's becoming more adventurous too, venturing further afield with each foray into the great unknown. I've enlisted the help of quite a few local residents to help find her on several occasions now, everyone enjoying the drama.

She is showing a hirtherto unsuspected degree of cunning nous by not escaping whilst we are watching her so we cannot work out how she is getting out of the garden. Until we do and utterly fed up of looking for her, she is being kept, much to her displeasure, firmly indoors.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


Those who read this blog in the hope of occasionally finding out more about Bosnia than the fact they have great coffee, it's pretty warm for the time of year and Bosnian is a really difficult language to learn might be interested to read this article by The Economist last week.

For the rest of you, I was told yesterday that Bosnian (or Croatian or Serbian or whatever you want to call it) is in fact the 3rd most difficult language in world. No idea if it is true but makes me feel better about speaking it so badly.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Preparing for Winter.. part II

An update to an earlier post (Preparing for winter Part I): Tomorrow is the day we MUST go and buy snow chains. For, from tomorrow, not only do we need winter tyres on the car, we must also have snow chains in the boot. This is a legal requirement; should the police stop us then we will need to show that we have them. With the weather still very warm for the time of year it still seems slightly surreal.

The snow chains can join the rest of the stuff that we are legally required to carry in the car when we are driving in Bosnia: a warning triangle, first aid kit, standard spare tyre and tools to change it with, flash light with batteries, tow rope, flourescent jacket and, for me, a spare pair of glasses. Barely enough room left for the dog.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

To hookey or not to hookey... that is the question

Continuing a theme from my previous post. Whilst I am extremely happy that Amazon delivers to our front door (I'm still cheering), we probably won't be buying too much from them. Firstly, the Bosnian postal system is notoriously, shall we say, leaky. Most parcels make it through but a significant number do not. Certainly a high enough number that we don't want to spend a lot of money to have a parcel disappear into the ether.

Secondly, you can get pretty much any dvd you want here. The Bosnians subtitle rather than dub, so we use film watching to also improve our language skills ('oh - that's what that means' type thing). Films, TV series - you name it, you can probably find it. What you won't be able to do is find a legitimate copy. In fact, although I know of any number of shops to buy dvds, I don't know of a single place in Tuzla where I can buy legitimate ones.

As the wife of someone whose living relies on people buying legitimate versions of his products and not using the cracks available on the Internet to get it for free, I do appreciate the need for copyright laws and their non-violation. But, if the legitimate products are not available, what is the alternative? The Bosnians look at us in amazement when we pay £15 for a dvd - here you would buy them for £1.50. And in a country with huge unemployment and an average wage of about £500 a month (I don't have the figures to hand at the moment, so this figure is my best guess, please don't quote it!) you can see why.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Amazon rules

Who would have thought it? does deliver to Bosnia. We ordered a trial DVD to test out their commitment to getting us our stuff, and sure enough, one week later, there it was sitting on our doorstep having had a hassle free trip. It didn't even cost that much for postage.

This is great customer service from Amazon and extremely bad news for my bank account. I'm not sure how many DVDs or CDs we'll be ordering, but English language books that I want to read can be pretty difficult to find here. Now, I wonder if we can get someone to deliver some really good bottles of French red wine....

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Lost in Translation

As the mother of someone named 'onion' and the owner of a dog called 'where are you', (see August 22nd post) I feel that occasionally I can allow myself a little snigger at some of the Bosnian terms in English. Idly looking at the names of Adam's classmates on their coat pegs I spotted the name of one boy: Denial. In reality this is Daniel in Bosnian, but for one brief moment I had to suppress a giggle and a fleeting feeling of sympathy for his parents.

Monday, 10 November 2008

fireworks and flowerpots

Our trip to Sarajevo, bright lights big city, was, in part, to give the boys a good dose of English culture. The British Embassy had organised a Guy Fawkes party and the chance to allow the boys to stand outside in the cold, eating jacket potatoes, watching fireworks was too good to miss. On the whole it was a huge success. The unusually warm Bosnian autumn continued and it wasn't cold at all. The British Ambassador's gardens are lovely with a stunning view over Sarajevo. Luke discovered jacket potatoes and Adam discovered that he could get hold of coca cola by asking the waiters. They found the fireworks quite frightening, but once the big bangs were over the boys had a terrific time.

The highlight of the evening came as D and I were being introduced to the (newly arrived) British Ambassador. Trying to pull ourselves together and raise our conversation to adult level, we noticed out of the corner of our eyes a small white bottom and realised that, with immaculate timing, Adam was peeing into the Ambassador's flower pots. Leaving very shortly afterwards in fits of giggles, we started fantasising about moments in Adam's life when we would be able to gain our revenge by dropping this story into casual conversation. At the introduction of a new girlfriend for example. Or maybe her parents. This game kept us occupied for the whole of the long drive back to Tuzla.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Playground epiphany

The thing I miss more than anything else in Bosnia is playgrounds. Really good, big, safe playgrounds where the boys can burn off huge amounts of energy and I can have a sanity saving conversation with other Mummys. There are playgrounds in Bosnia, and quite a few in Tuzla but they are just not quite the same. They are much smaller, with maybe one slide, a couple of swings and a small climbing frame. They are generally poorly maintained with the result that things can become absolutely lethal.

Obviously we still go to the playgrounds. Toddlerhood wouldn't be the same without one, and I don't have enough else to do with the boys to get by without going. But I do have to be very vigilant to ensure they don't hurt themselves any more than they would normally.

Hunting down playgrounds has become a bit of an obsession. I got excited about one in Mostar, but on closer inspection it had a lot of broken bits of swing to get impaled on, unbalanced see-saws to smack an unsuspecting chin and the highest slide I have ever seen. It goes without saying that the boys loved it, but I aged about 15 years in an afternoon.

But, just back from Sarajevo, and I can type that we have found THE playground in Bosnia, probably the best we have ever been to anywhere. It has angels singing over it, celestial lighting and hula dancers showing the way. It even serves beer and gives foot massages for tired parents. OK, I might have made the whole of that last bit up. But, it did have 4 (that is FOUR) really cool climbing frames. It had swings for small toddlers which stop them from falling out. It has a lot of spring based see-saws. Everything is made out of wood and plastic and there weren't any sharp bits anywhere. Most of all it was really well maintained. Oh, we had such a blissfully happy afternoon.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Adam came back from nursery the other day with a spring in his step.

"Mummy," he said, "I'm going to be really good at nursery."

"That's a good idea" says I, feeling pleased that he seems to be feeling more comfortable there. I can see that he is starting to make friends and he even told me proudly that he held Ema's hand yesterday.

Before I could say anything else he continued:

"but I'm going to be really naughty at home".

Looking forward to this one...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

stamps and visas

D's company continues the long trek to official recognition in BiH. Having been recognised by a Federal Ministry and also been to the Tuzla Cantonal offices (each step involving lawyers, court translators and reams of paper) he now has an official company stamp. Innocuous looking, this stamp is the key to all things useful. For example, the company cannot have a Bosnian bank account without the stamp (and therefore cannot employ anyone and so on and so forth). It is such an important part of being a Bosnian company that if it is lost or stolen he must immediately report it to the Bosnian police.

So one step closer to having a fully functioning Bosnian company brings us one step closer to sorting out our visa situation. We need to apply for temporary residency visas, but cannot do so until D can show that he is employed by a Bosnian company. Until that time we exist on 90 day tourist visas. These are pretty easy to renew, and to be honest we suspect that many people remain on their tourist visas, just popping across the border for a long weekend on the Croatian coast or a partying weekend in Belgrade when it needs to be renewed.

This isn't an option for us for two reasons. Firstly, D is a director of a company and we are not comfortable not complying with the strict letter of the law. Second, those on tourist visas need to register where they are staying with the police. For us this means hauling our landlord down to the police station during the working day which is inconvenient for everybody. The only people who enjoy a trip to the police station are the boys. They rapidly discovered that they could race down the long corridors of the police station at full speed and if they screeched really loudly there was an echo. Yes, I do believe that everyone, including the police, would be happier if we didn't have to go back every 90 days.

Monday, 3 November 2008

a bright, bright sunshiney day

Tuzla has been basking in some very unseasonal weather. This time of year is usually freezing cold and full of drizzly, ongoing rain and cloud. This Sunday however, saw us all in our t-shirts heading down to Slana Banja park. Here were the Tuzlans at play. There were people doing t'ai chi. Teenagers in lycra were sprinting up and down the trails throughout the park, their trainers standing with stopwatches and encouragement. Dancers were limbering up, stretching the legs before displaying snippets of their routines. The clay tennis courts were full of people who are really good at playing tennis (the regional excellence in tennis has certainly not passed Tuzla by). Many people were walking with their families, all making the most of the unseasonal sunshine higlighting the rich autumnal colours of the trees.

As we settled down on the terrace of a restaurant for a coffee with the boys playing happily in the sandpit provided for children, we reflected that this felt more like an American brunch moment than the middle of Bosnia.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Halloween Pumpkins

I'm not normally a fan of appropriating other cultures and have always been a bit suspicious of Halloween celebrations in England, much preferring to get excited about the gruesome effigy burning that is Guy Fawkes on November 5th.

Back in Bosnia there has been a deluge of pumpkins. They are clearly now in season with everyone chomping away on pumpkin seeds and eating a form of savoury pumpkin pie (which took me by surprise the first time I tried it as I had always assumed pumpkin pie was sweet). Stuck for ideas to entertain Adam whilst Lukey was having a nap, we decided to give this Halloween pumpkin carving a go. Did you know that you can buy pumpkin stencils and special pumpkin carving kits? Neither did I. Obviously we didn't and hacked away instead with a big knife and a couple of spoons.

We are both very pleased with our efforts, lit up with candles they do look pretty gruesome. On display outside of our front door, they are catching the attention of passing Bosnians who are no doubt even more confused about what English culture entails.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

One of those days

Big grump and bah humbug from this particular Brit. Just had one of those days where nothing goes right (well almost nothing). The role of mother was reduced to that of a boxing referee. The house is both a pigsty and a perennial black hole which sucks in useful things and puts them somewhere were no sane person would ever think to look. Actually that might not be the house's fault, there may be some toddler interference somewhere. Lots of people were out picnicking in the unseasonal sunshine, which makes walking a food obsessed dog stressful. Said food obsessed dog then careered down a hill and strained a paw leading to a trip to the vet. Nothing wrong with the paw said the vet (yay!) but she needs some nails clipped as they are bothering her (not so good). Nails were clipped a little too close for comfort leading to a small blood bath in the back of the car. Now call me old fashioned but surely a trip to the vet shouldn't end up with me wiping blood off the floors and bandaging up the hound? Then, just as we were settling down for dinner an enormous explosion rocked the house. Turns out that someone had let off a grenade at a bakery down the road - apparently the police have arrested the people involved, all to do with an argument that got out of hand. Actually, this last one didn't bother me that much, having lived in Brixton and witnessed the aftermath of a shooting just outside my front door this one was sufficiently far away to be of interest rather than a worry and the telling of the story makes it sound worse that it is.

Yes, it was one of the days where everything was irritating me. We don't have enough workspace in our kitchen to make cooking an enjoyable activity. The washing doesn't dry fast enough so there are clothes hanging up (and falling down) everywhere. The Estate Agents who are renting our house in the UK are being incompetent. My work is on a pause whilst I try and organise the next assault. We need to get cash for all the bills that are due and no one takes cards or accepts payment over the Internet. A big bah humbug and mega grump.

There was however a ray of light in the quagmire of grumpy mummydom. For the first time ever, Luke did a wee in his potty. Those of you who have not been through the hell that is potty training may not appreciate the excitement of this fact. It makes up for all of the above!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Looking for lamb

Now, I have mentioned before that lamb roasted slowly on a spit and served simply with excellent bread (usually still warm from the oven) is one of the great Bosnian delicacies. It is also pretty commonly found in many restaurants along the main routes in Bosnia. So I wasn't really expecting to have any problems in finding any lamb neck fillets to put into my favourite dish.

I visited the supermarkets, no lamb for sale in any shape or form. I visited the butchers (at least 3) and nothing. Finally I found a butcher that did sell lamb, but only whole ones. That would definitely be biting off more than we can chew so I left it well alone. I've asked people where I can buy lamb and no one seems to know. Admittedly it is not the season for lamb at the moment, but I was expecting to be able to find some lamb, somewhere.

Going to make my favourite dish with beef and see what happens. I'll keep looking though, maybe I'll have more success in spring. Until then, I'll just have to visit a roadside restaurant to get my lamb fix.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

More articles on Bosnia

I know I said that I wasn't going to be political in this blog, but I found this article published last week in The Guardian and thought to provide a link to it here: If it is read together with the comments following it it provides quite a good idea of the different perspectives on Bosnia and what has been done in the years following the war, which might be interesting to some of this blog's followers.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Preparing for winter

One of the things about moving somewhere new is that you have a load of unexpected expenses that come up. Things that you never thought to ask about, or even crossed your mind that they would be on the horizon. Things that are so obvious to the people here that it never crosses their minds to tell you that such things exist. After all surely everyone has to replace all their tyres on their car in November to make sure they have the appropriate cold weather abilities?

We have just had to buy 4 new tyres in preparation for the snowy and icy roads that are about to hit us. In addition to this we have to buy snow chains and think about what we need to have in the car in case we get stuck in a nasty snow storm. Apart from being slightly alarming it is also quite expensive.

All seems a bit surreal as we bask in one of the warmest Octobers Tuzla has had for a while and the forecast for later this week is for a temperature of 28C.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Thomas is still working!

A favourite activity of mine in the UK for those long afternoons with toddlers was going to look at trains. We were lucky enough to live near to a train track and could quite easily while away the hours waving at trains, hoping they would toot back at us and speculating where the trains were going to.

Tragically for me, Tuzla isn't blessed with an extensive train network. It does have a train station, but there are, on a good day, 3 trains that run and even these are mainly freight. Less tragically for me I have been able to convince the boys that looking at train tracks is almost as exciting, but I'm not sure how long I have until they work out that Mummy is bluffing somewhat.

However, today, we went to see a friend and took a walk down to their stretch of the train line. The boys were pretty excited to see a new bit of track, and as we approached I could see that there was a train on the line. Freight train, carrying large amounts of coal, but that works for them. The excitement of the little party was palpable. But as we got to the track a smartly dressed man in a blue uniform and a red hat informed us that the trains were about to move. Can life get any more exciting. Oh yes. It can. As the train shunted the wagons past us I suddenly realised that the engine was a proper, fully working, steam engine. Not looking quite as glossy as the engines that you see in the museums and railway centre, but it was doing a job and doing it well.

There were 4 men in the cab who were as bemused to see us as we were excited to see them. They did pause for a chat but sadly wouldn't let us on for a quick ride. Apparently train spotters come from all over Europe to see them, sometimes they get sent postcards from enthusiasts. I'm not sure we are quite in that league but the boys haven't stopped playing with their Thomas train set since.

Friday, 24 October 2008

So long direct flights to London...

Arrrggghhhhh - BA have just flown their last direct flight to London. From now on, if we want to fly from Sarajevo to the UK we need to go via Budapest (a very nice city but the wrong direction) or Vienna (apparently very nice, but never been so can't really comment). Alternatively we can drive to Zagreb - a cool 6 hour bus ride, always fun with 2 small children - or trundle into Belgrade, not as far as Zagreb but bus connections are a nightmare. Neither city is in Bosnia.

Not sure when I shall have the energy to brave the 2 toddler journey back to the UK. The direct flight option nearly killed me last time. The thought of complicating the journey is not one that I relish.

As an aside, Granny decided that it would be a waste not to make the most of the direct flights and has been hanging out in Tuzla for the last couple of days. The boys have loved having her around, as have I. Back to the grindstone tomorrow...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Hague in Bosnia

This blog is intended to be about settling into a new culture, learning a new language with all the stresses and strains that this entails (particularly with 2 toddlers and dog in tow). It is not intended to be political or a commentary on the political situations in Bosnia in any way. However, for any of you who are interested there will be the odd link to an article about Bosnia and some of the challenges facing it. This is one, an article by The Spectator to accompany William Hague's trip to Sarajevo this week: curious parties should click here

cultural sleeping differences

There are a lot of cultural differences between the UK and Bosnia, particularly around children. The one that I am noticing the most is bedtime/naptime. I've always sought to get my boys to bed and asleep by about 7.30. The reality is more like 8 and if I'm really off my game it can go as late as 8.3o. But that is about as late as it gets. Ever.

Here children don't seem to go to bed until their parents do. This is, I know, a very European tradition and it is the UK that is out of kilter with the rest of the continent. But I like having the evenings free to do my own stuff in some form of peace and quiet, so don't really want to change. However, friends with appropriately aged children keep asking if I want to meet them at the play centre at 8pm. I'm rapidly realising that if I want some form of child company during the week, it will have to be during the evenings. The weekends are looking like a much better alternative.

The flip side of this is that the Bosnian children continue to have a good 2 hour nap during the day right up until they go to school. This does mean that the Bosnian Mummies get a break during the day, but I'm on duty from the moment I get up until the moment I get them into bed (nursery notwithstanding) as Adam hasn't slept during the day for almost a year now.

Most of the time this difference in sleeping habits doesn't matter at all. However, I was slightly late in picking up the boys from nursery yesterday and found Adam in tears. The other children were all lying down for their sleep and he most definitely didn't think that he had to have one. The nursery staff do believe that children of his age should have a nap so were trying to persuade him to do so.

So, although I have paid for nursery until 1.30pm each day, I shall continue to pick them up at 12 as this appears to be the only way I can hold onto my English sleeping routine and maintain peace and harmony at nursery.

Monday, 20 October 2008

And what I forgot to say in the last post

is that despite their vastly increased chocolate intake - guess what? It turns out that after they have chomped upon a bar of Milka, the boys don't turn into 3 headed monsters . Who'd have predicted that, especially those of us stuffed full of British middle class angst about feeding your children sugar. Whilst obviously too much sugar is a bad thing, some chocolate and cakes are no bad thing at all. Just not immediately before bed time...

chocolate chocolate and more chocolate

There is a Bosnian tradition that whenever you visit a house with children, you bring with you lots of chocolate / cakes / sweets for the kids. This seems to extend to whenever you see children as most people rush off to buy Adam and Luke chocolate whenever they see us.

As I mentioned before I'm a fully paid up Annabel Karmel kind of girl when it comes to feeding the boys. This kind of approach says that sugar, whilst tolerated as an occasional special treat, is to be avoided wherever possible. Extensive eating of chocolate in children tends to lead to really manic behaviour with lots of running around and shouting at the top of their voices.

The boys however can't believe their Bosnian luck. They believe in the power of chocolate to do great things, including making them run faster and shout louder than usual. And Bosnia appears to be the place to test out these theories.

What normally happens is that they have some and then I confiscate the rest of it when no one is looking. It then sits on top of the fridge whilst they forget about it and D and I then munch the remainder once everyone is in bed. I do have occasional guilt pangs about swiping all their chocolate, but not really. The amount of chocolate we have stashed away would keep them going for a year.

Friday, 17 October 2008

learning Bosnian...

For the first time since they started their Bosnian nursery there were no crying from the boys this morning. They weren't exactly leaping with joy, but went to their teachers without a tear.

A couple of people have emailed me about children and a foreign language environment. The consensus appears to be that although brutal, the best route to settling the children quickly is to throw them in at the deep end by attending a local school and letting them play with the other children in the street. The other prevailing piece of advice is to be patient and not to push them. Adam is likely to say virtually nothing for months and when he does start to speak will be fairly fluent. Luke will almost certainly get the languages confused which will affect his English speaking development for a while.

We are seeing the first signs that they are picking up Bosnian. Non-English speaking friends have mentioned that Adam appears to be understanding more, despite saying very little. Luke is a parrot and will repeat anything that is said to him. D and I are just hopeless and are still trying to arrange lessons so that we can progress from our current 'I'd like 2 beers please' level.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Central Heating on a grand scale

One of the joys of living where we do in Tuzla is that we have access to the Tuzla central heating system. The local industry (we think the coal fired power station down the road, but have no idea if we are actually right) produces large amounts of piping hot water which is pumped around the town into apartments, houses and our radiators.

It is really effective. Our radiators are piping hot and do an excellent job of warming up the house. The only issue we have is that the heating is either on or off. So, a couple of weeks ago when there was an unexpectedly early cold snap, the heating was yet to be turned on, and we shivered. Taking pity on us the authorities authorised an early start to the heating (it doesn't usually get turned on until October 15th) whereupon the weather promptly turned nice. The heating was then ON and everyone spent a lot of time with their windows open. Today it is chilly and the house is toasty warm inside. Perfect.

I have no idea when the heating system was installed in the town, but it is an excellent use of industrial by-products. I do have a sneaking admiration for the large scale planning that it must have taken to implement it and suspect that only a communist state would have the ability to do it. In the meantime, it is good to have a fixed price to pay for heating each month. This neatly circumnavigates the annual spat D and I have: I like to open windows and air the house every day, D mutters darkly about the cost of heating the great outdoors. Here it doesn't make a difference, a win win situation.

Monday, 13 October 2008

A very English boy

Having worked out that no one else in his class speaks English, Adam has developed a new tactic. Instead of learning Bosnian he is going to teach them all to speak English.

The imperial genes run strong; he is English through and through. If in doubt, bend everyone elses will and get them to speak your language.

It has to be said, his success has been limited.

we're gonna get them critters...

Jessie didn't have to wait long before her next visit to the dreaded vets. Charging up and down the hills of Ilincica she managed to tread on a thorn and rendered herself extremely lame. She also managed to pick up a tick, without doubt one of the worlds most revolting creatures.

At the vets she managed a bit of a wag of the tail before she was muzzled, hoisted on the table and held down. Ever the gentle dog she barely moved throughout the whole ordeal even though the thorn had gone deep into her paw and there was a lot of blood. The removal of the tick was less successful. It turns out that we are in the middle of tick season and Jess's new blood is particularly attractive to these parasites. Getting rid of them is tricky, there is a certain knack to making sure that the whole of the tick is removed which we have yet to acquire.

Back at home Dave and I did our research on the internet and scared ourselves silly with tales of horrible diseases for both dogs and children, stories of house tick infestation and generally felt a bit icky for a while. But we took on board that ticks are a serious threat to health of dogs and children and need to be dealt with immediately.

Back to the vet we went. This time there was an enthusastic greeting of the vet from Jess, who is obviously a girl who likes to be treated mean. He got out his tick removing implement and despatched the critters with ease. Conscious that we don't have pet insurance in Bosnia (an imperative in the UK given the size of vets bills there) we opened our wallet to pay but he declined. Instead he retreated into his office and appeared with a litre of homemade slivovica (that's plum brandy for the uninitiated amongst you), a tick removing thing and instructions on how to use them to get ticks out. We've tried it on the subsequent 3 ticks that we found with some success. Not a fan of slivovica myself - I'll never make a true Bosnian - I'm just excited we have finally found a use for the bottles we have stacked under the stairs.

Friday, 10 October 2008

nursery games

Stop press. End of Week 2 at nursery. Adam came home from nursery and announced "I like my Bosnian nursery Mummy". When I picked him up there were 2 boys fighting over who would be the one to hold his hand as the class walked in the crocodile queue to lunch. Adam presided serenely over the chaos before magnanimously trying to hold both their hands. I think he is enjoying the interest created by being a bit different. There are no more tears on being dropped off, even a smile and a wave. Long may it last, but so far, so good.

Lukey on the other hand is playing the nursery staff like a seasoned pro. Never one to pass up an opportunity to create a mountain out of a rather small mole hill, he starts wailing as we approach the school. The howls continue right up until the moment that the door shuts whereupon he gets up and scurries off to find his favourite digger, leaving me wanting to open the door and say "I can still hear you, young man!". He has also worked out that if he turns his little nose up at the good healthy food served up for lunch, he can usually persuade someone to be worried about him going hungry enough to find him a bit of cake. "This", thinks Lukey, "is more like it. None of this cabbage soup for me." He's now trying this game at home, with very different results.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

English cars, Bosnian over-taking manoeuvres

Bosnian roads merit many blog entries (let alone the driving that accompanies them). The main routes weave through the mountain ranges, are seldom more than single lane and our poor car hasn't been above 50mph since we got here. Tuzla to Sarajevo is 120km and can take 2 hours. Or, if you get stuck behind a log moving lorry, of which there many more than you might reasonably expect to come across, it can take twice as long. Particularly in a British car. Having the steering wheel on the right makes overtaking difficult and puts a particular onus upon any front seat passengers. Bosnian friends are still getting used to the concept that any lifts with us involve an important driving role. As the car edges out to see whether it is possible to overtake the beer lorry moving at 15mph, the passenger must make the decision to go or not leading to a few over-taking moments that any Bosnian driver would be proud of. The language accompanying the manoeuvre is suitably colourful and I do long, every now and then, for a good bit of peaceful motorway driving.

Monday, 6 October 2008


After a weekend break it is back into the nursery maelstrom. Neither are leaping up and down with enthusiasm at the prospect of a morning in nursery. Luke starts crying as we turn the corner and is fully howling by the time I actually deposit him into the arms of the teacher (the lovely Faheda). Adam does his best to soothe him: I heard this from the backseat today

"Don't worry Lukey, it is only for a little bit. Mummy will be back soon." Once Luke was safely inside his classroom Adam turned to me and said "please Mummy, don't drop me off". Apart from hitting my heart strings exactly where it hurts, I had to admire his ingenuity in waiting for his brother to be out of the way before attempting his own salvation.

When I pick them up they are inevitably playing quite happily and the staff tell me that they have had good days. Adam, it turns out, has asked every child in his class whether they speak English, which I see to be exhibiting good problem solving initiative. I think that they will be ok. There would be a certain amount of upset at any new nursery, and so far their experiences seem to fall within that parameter. With luck they will get used to their new regime and begin absorbing some of this new language that is surrounding them. I'm still keeping a close eye on them though.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

sorting socks

Bosnians have a tradition of removing their shoes before entering someones house. Usually you are offered some forms of slippers but often you just end up padding around in your socks. Unwittingly they have exposed my Achilles heel. For of all the housework jobs that I need to do (and trust me, there is a lot of housework to be done) sorting out socks comes bottom of my list. I have been caught out a few times now as I remove my pair of matching shoes - or even my really very lovely and dare I say glamorous boots - to reveal a pair of odd socks with holes in the toes and heels. Then the boys' shoes come off and their socks are never a pair either. Whisper it quietly, the sock sort out time has arrived. It is the dawn of a new era.

Friday, 3 October 2008

suited to the job?

Almost without exception every single Bosnian we have met has loved children. Everyone will cootchie coo at the boys, from the girls in the bakery to men walking down the road. Even the 12 year old lads will rush over to come and amuse the kids. Which is why it is so odd that the woman in charge of the children's section of the library should be such a child hating dragon. Think of a jobsworth communist librarian and you are are picturing this woman.

We'd gone to the library to have an explore and found the children's corner, stuffed full of books, toys, tables to sit at and areas to read to your children. Which I duly did, encouraged by the head of the library who was just leaving. Lukey was being a bit boisterous, but nowhere near as loud or energetic as he can be and Adam was reading books beautifully. I read a few books to them both. The child-hating dragon then appeared and gave me a right royal telling off including telling me that she couldn't do any work (her desk, incidentally, was the clearest desk I have ever come across). Shooed out we made a sharp exit.

The prospect of making the library a regular haunt (first ensuring that the lovely and most helpful head of the library was there) to specifically irritate the child-hating dragon is almost irresistible. What else is there to do with such capacity for entertainment during the long cold winter months?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Nursery talk

And it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I didn't have to detach a child from each leg and then run, leaving them howling as their mother deserted them (which was worrying me all night). I did leave them howling but the nursery called to say that they had stopped and were starting to settle nicely. When I turned up to pick them up after 2 hours they were both playing quite happily. Adam said that he had cried a lot but then he was alright and Lukey had cried alot too. That was to be expected, they would have cried at any new nursery. I felt quite cheerful about the whole event.

Then I made a mistake and decided to do some research about the effects on pre-school children placed in a nursery which doesn't speak their mother tongue (my aspirations to forward thinking and planning remain firmly in the aspirations phase). Having not really thought too much about the process of young children learning a second language, I had merrily just assumed that it, sort of, just happened. Which it does, sort of, but with a number of other developmental issues attached. One of which stood out from all the others: apparently it is common for a child to go completely silent for a period of time of UP TO A YEAR as they assimilate the new language (link to article here). Needless to say this has freaked me somewhat. More deep breaths and a glass of wine as I assimilate that fact.

In the meantime they are due back in to the nursery again for another 2 hours tomorrow. The staff are doing their best to help the boys settle in. We shall just have to see. One day in it seems to be going ok. Tomorrow, as they say, is another day.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Everyone says that kids pick up languages really fast. A couple of months they say and you'll be using them as your translators.

So far Adam has failed to see why it might be remotely useful to speak Bosnian at all. He won't say 'dobar dan' or 'hvala' (good day or thankyou) to anyone even though he can. The times he has been playing with Bosnian children they haven't communicated in anyway apart from shouting really loud.

They both start nursery tomorrow. Adam and I were talking about it earlier. He says that he doesn't want to go even though there will be children there to play with. When I asked him why he said it was because the Bosnian children don't speak English. I said that he would have to learn Bosnian (like Mummy and Daddy are) and he said that he didn't think he would.

We are in for an interesting time. I'm clinging to the hope that everyone else is right.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Tuzla town

On hearing that we have moved to Tuzla most Bosnians, including quite a few who live in Tuzla, ask why? Not why have we moved, but why have we moved to Tuzla. On return to a grey, drizzlefest in Tuzla I asked myself the same question. After all we could have moved anywhere in Bosnia. We could have moved to Mostar with its old town, beautiful river and easy access to Dubrovnik and the Croatian coast. We could have moved to cosmopolitan Sarajevo with its internationally renown film festival, numerous other cultural opportunities and 2 areas for wintertime weekend skiing within half an hour of the city. But no, we chose Tuzla, a town in the industrial heartland of Bosnia known for its factories. There is even a factory on the entrance to the city which is lit up luminous green at night time, just to remind us that it is there. We knew Tuzla well already, but for goodness sake there isn't even a cinema.

No, Tuzla is not the obvious place to end up when you have the pick of the country. But, when the sun shone today the boys and I took ourselves off to collect leaves in the mountain behind the city and it was glorious. The woods seemed almost magical and we all, including the dog had a wonderful time. Into the old town of Tuzla we went in search of ice cream this afternoon and remembered that the Korzo (central pedestrianised street) is not without its charm. People were relaxed, drinking coffee and enjoying what was there. We bumped into 2 people that we knew within the space of half an hour.

For all their charms Sarajevo and Mostar also have their drawbacks. The parking in Sarajevo is a nightmare (and this is from a girl born and bought up in London). Mostar is beautiful but hides an obviously destroyed cultural fabric. But most of all, we don't know anyone in Sarajevo or Mostar. In Tuzla we have friends, friends who have invited us round to make slivovica (also known as plum brandy, will put hairs on your chest in seconds), friends who go out of their way to help us with translation when we need it, friends whose parents ask us over for coffee and to play with the boys, friends who want us to come over tomorrow to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Ultimately, it is the people who make the city and the people from Tuzla are just fine. We couldn't imagine being anywhere else.

(and before I get too dewy eyed I should probably mention there are always the more practical factors as well - my research is based not far from Tuzla and Tuzla is positioning itself as an IT centre with entrepreneurial centres for IT start-ups, always useful for D and his software development company)

Friday, 26 September 2008

Lamb for lunch

On our way back from Mostar we stopped off at Jablanica which is famous for two things; a very great victory there by those resisting Nazi occupation during World War II (the bridge that was blown up is still dangling down the canyon) and more pertinently, lamb. The restaurants on the main road just outside Jablanica are known for their spit roasted lamb, and very rightly so - it is amazing. Served by the kilo with fresh bread, a sort of roasted potato and a salad it is the best lamb I have ever tasted and if we are ever in the vicinity we always make sure that we manage to stop and stuff ourselves stupid.

I was once told that to eat lamb in Jablanica was rated as one of the top 10 culinary experiences in the world. Now, I'm not sure that it truely merits a global top 10 mention but it would be up there somewhere. The restaurants perch on top of a canyon with huge windows allowing fantastic views of the emerald Nervetna river flowing away beneath where you sit and of the destroyed bridge. The lamb is roasted outside the restaurant, the spit turned gently by the water flowing past (although in reality there is a generator doing most the work but lets not let reality get in the way of the idyll).

As a motorway (or as close as it gets to motorway in BiH) stop it can't really be bettered.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

touch tzping on Bosnian kezboards doesnćt work

Briefly in Mostar for a quick visit to see D's parents who are holidaying in nearby Dubrovnik, I've managed to grab a quiet moment nip to an internet cafe. I was thinking about writing a quick post about playgrounds (Mostar has a great one, although not well maintained and with the highest scariest slide ever seen, Tuzla doesn't really do proper playgrounds at all, a rusty lopsided swing or an unbalanced see saw about as far as it gets there). But as I sat down to write I was reminded about the Bosnian keyboards. I have used one before and for quite a while but I never never got the hang of them - y and z are swopped, there are several more letters (č, ć, ž) which go where I would expect to find : ' and -. There are also š and đ to think about. All in all, it is doing my head in so the post will have to wait for another time.

Monday, 22 September 2008

is there a professional dog groomer in Tuzla?

Jessie has had her first trip to the vet. Entirely my fault as well. Finally pushed to do some grooming I had to resort to using scissors to get rid of the matted hair around her ears. After a few glasses of wine I probably wasn't as careful as I should have been and caught her skin under her ear. An enormous (thankfully shallow) cut opened up that looked really nasty.

Off to the vet we go. Jess usually loves the vet. She can't wait to get through the doors and then generally precedes to behave really badly, harassing the vet, the technician, the receptionist and anyone else in the waiting room for the treats that she knows are somewhere. She wags her tail, actually she wags her whole body, at the vet and goes into ecstacies of excitement as the vet approaches.

She soon discovered that the Bosnian vet was not quite the same. They took one look at her, got three men, held her down, muzzled her and in rapid succession applied iodine and all the other type of things needed to make her better. Jess was horrified... 'but but but' I could see her muttering 'I'm an English dog! I don't do three men and a muzzle! I do gentle soothing words! I don't do PAIN at the vets!'

The cut is now fully healed. It only cost us a small sum unlike the fortune we would have to be claiming on our pet insurance if we were still in the UK. It was quick, effective and pretty brutal. Jess has to have her booster jabs next month, we shall see if she still bounds into the vets office which such enthusiasm then.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

ain't no sunshine when it rains...

Moving somewhere new does not necessarily mean that you get to start a whole new life. The old one does tend to follow you. So, although we are living somewhere completely different with lots of new sights and experiences, many of my day to day trials remain unchanged. I still need to think about what I am going to feed the boys. I still need to work out what to do with them for the whole day. Luke still needs to nap for long enough that he doesn't become the worlds largest nightmare (current banking crisis/credit crunch included) by the end of the day. The dog still needs to be walked. In many ways my life is not very much different to how it was in the UK, except there I can speak the language and have a whole network of toddlers I can inflict mine upon in hours of deep distress.

I very much could have done with a couple of toddler cups of tea today. Miserable weather with a drizzle that would do an English February afternoon proud, so not many of the obvious outdoor activities available. Tuzla is not a city for tourists and doesn't really have much in the way of museums etc. suitable for children. We don't really know people yet we can just drop in on. I try not to let the boys watch too much tv which leaves a lot of the rest of the day unfilled. Many people are deeply talented in finding creative and fun things to do with toddlers, I'm not one of them. At least I am not one of them when it is the fifth day in a row that I've had to do it.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

It's nursery time...

After weeks of dithering I've actually done it. Today I took the boys to a nursery and signed on the dotted line. They will go for 3 mornings a week, possibly more depending on how it goes. It is going to be pretty ugly for a while, especially as we're taking the sink or swim tactic and are not going to attempt to ease them in. They can both be shy and will certainly howl the place down on their first morning but hopefully... hopefully they will soon adapt and start to enjoy themselves playing with all the other children.

It has taken quite a bit of a cultural head change for me to get used to the idea of a Bosnian nursery. The classes seem so big. There don't seem to be very many adults around. I can't understand how they are going to undertake activities like painting, sticking and all those other lovely things that nurseries do. They don't seem to have very much equipment.

BUT, but but but but but. It seems to all work. I've been to see a lot of nurseries at all times of the day, usually unannounced, and I have only ever seen classes of beautifully behaved children having a great time. There isn't much equipment but the children play very creatively with what is available. I have no idea if they will do as much in the way of activities as in their English nursery, but I can easily do that kind of stuff in the afternoons, and with the Bosnian winter upon us indoor play is most definitely on the agenda.

So (deep breath) the boys (deep breath) will start nursery (deep breath) in October.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

you can doo it if you really want to

D is setting up a software development company in Bosnia and has been going through the fairly torturous process of registering a new company in BiH. Fortuitously combining a trip to pick us all up from the airport yesterday, he also managed to pop into the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations and pick up his registration papers. Champagne all round - metaphorically speaking only. I'd been in sole charge of 2 fairly fractious toddlers on the plane so a cup of tea and an early night was really all I was going to be able to manage in terms of celebrations.

D's company is a limited company which in Bosnia is denoted by the use of d.o.o. after the company name. I love this - there is something so positive about having doo after the company name. ABC doo has a real can do spirit, take on all obstacles, climb those brick walls and emerge triumphant kind of feel. It'll be needed: Bosnian red tape is legendary.

Monday, 15 September 2008

winter arriveth

Before we left for the UK last Monday the temperature in Tuzla was 38C. We were in shorts, t-shirts and hadn't seen rain for months. We ate ice cream and swam in lakes. I obsessed about having enough cold water in the fridge.

I'm packing for the trip back to Bosnia tomorrow morning and have just spoken to D. It has done nothing but rain for the past 3 days. The garden is a festival of mud which Jessie has been trooping into the house. The temperature is 11C and apparently they are forcasting it to go down to -4C next week. Summertime fun is over.

As an aside, D, who has been on his own all week, is convinced that aliens have stolen all his clean shirts and pants and scattered dirty ones throughout the house. They also appear to have kidnapped the washing machine. Fancy the chances of that happening the exact same week the washing fairy is away. Hmmm.

Friday, 12 September 2008

phone bills...

D has just seen our first months phone bill. A small heart attack later and we are now fully SKYPEd up and ready to go. We've been talking about getting Skype for years. Nothing like a massive bill to finally instigate some action.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

a totally predictable shoe tragedy

Anyone could have told you it was going to happen. Briefly back in the UK to go to a wedding, I was congratulating myself on remembering to leave my wedding outfit gear at my parents. How forward thinking I told myself, not to hike the whole lot out to Bosnia only to bring it back again. And yes, there hanging up with the dress are an appropriate shawl for the inevitable freezing temperature, a suitable bag and, if I owned one, there would also be a hat. But, missing in action are a pair of suitable shoes. Now I am absolutely sure I left some here. I definitely haven't got any in Bosnia as I did, in an unusually organised move, check before we left. But there are none here now.

The only pair of shoes I have with me are some rather flowery, psychedelic trainers which look great with a pair of jeans but not good with a tasteful pretty frock. Alas, alack. It looks as if I must make the most of having a keen babysitter on hand (Granny) and apply myself to some emergency shoe shopping. Sometimes it is a tough life.

Monday, 8 September 2008

little pup

Dogs in Bosnia have a different life to one in the UK. There are an enormous number of strays which people often leave food and water out for. These strays have a difficult life and most are young dogs or puppies. Many of them are absolutely lovely dogs. D has a theory that only the nice ones survive as people wouldn't tolerate an aggressive stray for long. The dogs roam all over the place, often on the roads and are often hit by cars.

We were in a car on Sunday which accidentally hit a young stray puppy. I'd seen the puppy earlier, it had bounced over to come and see how we were doing. Probably some form of Alsatian cross she was around 8 weeks and so friendly. I'd entertained a very brief flirtation with the idea of taking her back home and allowing her to become our 'outside' dog, but it was only very brief - with young children who are used to abusing a golden retriever, I would have to be very sure of the temperament of a dog before taking one on.

We weren't driving and those who were didn't stop to see if the dog was ok. As we drove off all I could hear were the howls of pain and through the back window I could see that she had obviously broken a leg.

This image haunted me all night, and we drove back today to see how she was doing. She had crawled under a bench and was in pain. I took her home, gave her a drink, fed her and took her to the vets to be put down. Fortunately the vet confirmed that there was very little he could do for her - I was dreading having to make a decision about whether to give her treatment or not. We took her away and buried her in a friend's field in a beautiful spot overlooking a valley.

Adam had quite got into the puppy and I wasn't ready to talk to Adam about death. He kept asking about 'the little dog' and couldn't quite understand why she had been buried or why the vet couldn't make her better. We didn't shy away from saying that she had died, but he could only really comprehend it in terms of going to sleep for ever - never waking up. Even then he is convinced that we can come back next week and she'll be ready to play. How people ever explain it when it is something closer to them than a stray dog I have no idea.

Now, I know that in the greater scheme of things this is not a great tragedy. She would have gone under a car sooner rather than later and putting her down was the kindest thing that we could have done for her. That hasn't stopped me howling ever since.

Friday, 5 September 2008

la dolce vita

One of the things I will really miss when the summer leaves is the people watching opportunities that balmy evenings provide. Sitting on our porch we have a prime view of the local young (as in too young to go out drinking in the bars). It is something out of a 1950s Italian movie. The boys lounge around on their scooters, most are without helmets - those that do (you just know their mothers made them wear them) have pushed them to the back of their heads in an attempt to not look law abiding. The girls, all long, lean and dark, collect at the top of the steps flicking their hair and giggling together in groups. The boys show off, getting more and more ridiculous as the evening progresses and the girls pretend to ignore them getting more and more impressed.

This gathering takes place most evenings and is one of my favourite parts of the day.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

more lake success

As we bask in 35C of pretty continuous sunshine, it is difficult to believe that there will ever come a time when we need to put on a jumper. But last time we were here it snowed on the 2nd October so we know it can happen. Always with this in the back of our mind we are trying to make the most of the last of the summer sun - eating ice creams, swimming in more lakes, al fresco dining in the centre of town - generally feeling as if we are still on holiday.

Tuzla, without a proper river of its own, has created 2 man-made salt water lakes (apparently the only in Europe, whether that is true or not I have no idea). And they have really done a good job. It feels as if you are on a (admittedly pebbly) holiday beach. The water is clear and is self cleaning, there is a beach volley ball pitch, ice cream sellers and lots of places to get changed and shower.

The boys can't get enough of it. Adam wades in with his arm bands and won't get out; D gets to go in with him - they usually take a water pistol so it is not totally painless for me. Luke potters in and out and then spends a very happy 40 minutes or so moving pebbles from one pot to another. It's a brilliant game and I wildly encourage it. Requiring no adult input, I could almost bring a book. That would really make it a holiday.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

research ethics?

A day out today. At least it was billed as a day out to the boys and they believed what Mummy said as they (a) saw a train (a bit of a rarity in Tuzla) AND (b) we went through a tunnel. Sometimes I wish I was their age and could be satisfied with such snippets.

We actually went to a village were I am doing some research. I was meeting a women's group which is supposed to have a drop in centre for children. When we arrived it was very obvious that the only 2 children present were mine, and they were firmly attached to my legs and not going to go and play nicely next door.

It really was quite fun. The boys soon warmed up especially as the biscuits and sweets appeared. The women all played with them and appeared charmed, particularly when they decided to practice their 3 Bosnian phrases. It was difficult to conduct a sane conversation though; you'd get a certain way down an avenue and be disrupted by a green ball flying through the air, or I'd be trying to ascertain the exact meaning of what had been said and have to break it off to stop Adam climbing over Luke. I missed the bulk of the most interesting part of the conversation as Adam announced he 'had to go for a poo right now Mummy' - the translator filled me in later.

Having the children there was interesting. It changed the atmosphere of the room, stopped anything getting too serious and opened up many of the women. I'm not sure I could totally concentrate on what they were saying and I'm not totally sure of the ethics of using your children as a research tool, but as far as I could tell everyone was enjoying themselves. The key was to remove the toddlers from the room before the sugar from the amazing quantities of biscuits they put away kicked in.

Monday, 1 September 2008


Spare a thought for Bosnia's Muslims today - the first day of Ramadan. Those who are fasting started at 4.19am and didn't break it until 7.26pm. That is no eating or drinking.

There are a load of special foods which are only available during Ramadan here. My favourite is the lepina bread which is a bit like a puffy naan bread. Eaten with cream cheese - it really is so good. I indulge without the fasting bit, which is not the point but never mind.

Adam is intrigued by this development. He tells everyone that the Bosnians only eat when it is dark. I'm not sure what picture he is building in his mind about Bosnia but this is going to add some colour.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

another day, another lake

Refusing to put off by our environmental eye opener at Lake Modrac we renewed our efforts to find a lake near Tuzla worth hanging out at before the weather gets cold. And today we hit the jackpot. Very close to Modrac but right off the main road rather than left, and importantly up a hill on a very ropey road with no signposts and following slightly dodgy instructions. There, like a beacon was Lake Bisterac.

There was one restaurant, but it was a good one, for those who wanted restaurant food. There were many barbeque areas for those bringing their own food. There were tables with shade and a volleyball field as well as places selling beer and crisps. There were some (but not too many) Bosnians hanging out and having a ball with their mates. But most importantly for the 3 year old approval there was a climbing frame which had a slide going into the water. How cool is that? Adam was impressed. Lukey is impressed if Adam is impressed (which does make life easier).

The toddlers charged towards the water followed by their unexpectedly enthusiastic parents who had by this point discovered the grown up water slides. Up and down the slides we went all afternoon, kids squealing in delight and us parents getting terrible attacks of the giggles over the boys expressions as they launched down the slides. It would undoubtedly be banned under health and safety laws in any sane country, but we all loved it.

Friday, 29 August 2008

sunny seaside afternoon?

Until I start feeling competent here, D has agreed to work only until 3 and then to come and rescue me from maternal insanity. Taking advantage of a lovely afternoon we thought we'd get out of Tuzla after he finished work and take a trip to Lake Modrac, about 30 minutes away.

Tuzla, being pretty landlocked and also lacking in any proper river (the insipid dribble in the middle of town does not qualify as a river), is blessed by being surrounded by several lakes. Modrac is the largest and is lined with restaurants and a beach side atmosphere.

And indeed it was. The restaurants had palm tree rooves and served good food and cocktails. If you wanted fish you chose the particular fish you wanted from a pool and it was cooked for you there and then. There were multicoloured beach huts lining the water, boys fishing, boats pootling around plying their trade.

Sounds idyllic? Well... not quite. This area was the heavy industrial heartland during the Yugoslav era and the factories are still there - without the environmental protection constraints that might be expected as reasonable. Besides this picture of holiday harmony was a very large factory, channelling its waste in little buckets across the lake and spewing all sorts of noxious looking fumes into the sky.

We spent the rest of the evening feeling faintly sick and just annoyed that something that could be really fun, where a lot of effort had been made to make it special was so spoilt by something so obvious. And bemused as to why the Bosnians hadn't appeared to notice.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

cash is king

One of the things about living in Bosnia that is taking a little adjusting to is the need to use cash to pay for almost everything. Very few places accept credit or debit cards and paying your bills via the Internet - the concept is so far removed from here that you don't even ask.

This has two effects. The first is that I occasionally find myself walking around with a lot of cash on me to pay something specific. Today it was the car insurance. That is right, a major Bosnian insurance company required us to pay for annual car insurance up front and in cash. There was no other option available.

The second is that I am really noticing the amount of money we spend. Rather than just hand over the card and away you go, now we need to go to the cash point and withdraw the actual notes before physically handing them over. It is a lot more frightening this way.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

but it's organic!

Luke is not what you would ever describe as slight. Or even slim. He has a stomach that looks as if it has taken 60 years of drinking beer to attain. This is not something I am particularly worried about as he'll trim down as he runs around chasing his brother - already since he started walking there are significantly less rolls of blubber around his legs.

The other day we went to register with an English speaking doctor, actually getting our act into gear to find a doctor before anyone needs one. The surgery was exactly what you would expect from a doctors surgery and the doctor was extremely nice and good with the children. All was boding well.

Lukey had not had any lunch was starting to give out those feed me now before I scream the place down signs. I rummaged around in my bag, located a cereal bar which had been there since we were in the UK and handed it over. Luke sat on the doctors chair, legs straight out in front, stomach doing its best to imitate Buddha's and stuffed his face.

A swift sideways glance later and the Doctor launched into a lecture about needing to feed children fruit and vegetables and to make sure they get a lot of exercise and the inherent dangers of obesity. I was taken aback and mortified. 'But...' I felt like crying 'it's carrot and orange and oats - sweetened only by organic apple juice, no artificial sweeteners or flavourings, it is so good for you it is probably negative calories!'

I haven't been able to find any cereal bars or equivalent here yet. It probably did look like I was stuffing him stupid with chocolate. Looking back, I have a horrible suspicion that the reason I felt so affronted was that if the doctor thought that I was feeding him chocolate he would assume that I was not a good middle class Annabel Karmel type of mummy, a stereotype so English that it is very unlikely the doctor would know it if it waved its organic, lentil stew, steamed vegetable hand in his face.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

making your life easier

I'm a huge fan of making my life easier. Granted that as a mother of two toddlers it is never going to be a long leisurely coffee whilst reading the papers kind of easier, but even so there are things that can be done to promote a more harmonious, less stressful existence. All toys that require a battery or make a noise are discretely 'lost' for example, as are any toys that repeat a ditty over and over again. I buy 2 of most things, always in the same colour which may not actively promote sharing but does save me from the ridiculous battles over who is going to drink out of the red beaker.

Given the mantra above, why oh why did I take such leave of my senses today? It was foolish, it was stupid, it was such a basic, fundamental error of such catastrophic proportions that I'm still shuddering to think of it. This could take me years to get over. For some reason, a complete personality transplant must have come over me and I voluntarily gave the boys some water pistols.

I don't need to describe the scenes that followed. Best a pretty flowered veil is drawn over them and soothing music played. But if you are imagining a moment with 2 toddlers scarpering in different directions screeching with excitement followed by a screaming banshee howling "water pistols are for outside" then you are not too far from the truth.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Boslish / Engian

With improving Bosnian language skills comes the recognition that our beloved off spring and dog do not have the fine and majestic names in Bosnian that we were aiming for in English. Rather brilliantly Jessie sounds very similar to 'gdje si' meaning 'where are you'. Never has a dog been more aptly named. Although retrievers are supposed to be the most trainable dog and come back when called, ours must have missed that lesson. Both boys have been through of a phase of shouting 'Jessie' at the top of their voices, clearly imitating their mother who spends rather a lot of time every morning trying to relocate the dog on our walk.

The Bosnians also use gdje si as a form of greeting - a sort of how's it going - and particularly use it for children and dogs. Jess now believes that everyone knows who she is as every one who comes up to make a fuss gives her a pat and mutters gdje si.

Not content with that it turns out that Luke means onion. D muttered darkly in the early hours of yet another morning spent trying to get Luke back to sleep that it was because he can make grown men cry. At least now he has a full head of hair he doesn't look as much like one as he used to.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

summertime nurseries

When we first talked about moving to Bosnia I envisaged getting a nanny for the boys. The more I think about it now the less attractive that option comes. Firstly, and most importantly, I think that Adam, at 3 1/4 needs to have other children of his own age around him. Although Luke is starting to be more of a playmate, there is still quite a big discrepancy between them. Second, I do worry that having a nanny or even someone who came round everyday would send me into complete nervous meltdown about how untidy/chaotic the house is and I would probably end up staying up all night trying to tidy some of the chaos up before they came round. At least this way the house retains its atmosphere of total happy mayhem that was so prevalent in the UK.

Anyhow, having decided on nurseries I have been exploring the options. Turns out that August isn't such a great time as in the whole of Tuzla only 4 nurseries are open. These are all state run and absolutely ENORMOUS. Admittedly the boy's English nursery was tiny (16 children total) so I was always going to be in for a culture shock on this one, but these nurseries each have 10 groups of 15 children. Each group has 2 members of staff which is about half the number you would expect in a UK nursery - although both must be qualified, one as a teacher the other as a nurse.

Cue more twirling around by me about a non Bosnian speaking Adam in a nursery of this size. I'm sure the Bosnians think I am being very precious about this, noone else seems to find it strange at all.

So, instead I am putting all my eggs in one basket and hoping that the private nurseries, which reopen in Sept will be smaller and more intimate. And, equally as crucially, that they will accept non-potty trained Lukey. The only issue with this tactic (barring the fact that there is no plan B and that I may have to take on the Lukey potty training gauntlet at a very early age which will be extremely ugly) is that these nurseries shut for the whole of July AND August. I thought I was unlucky in the UK when my nursery shut for August (a fellow Mother's Union member and I would get very jittery mid July as the holidays loomed). Two whole months? What do all the people with proper jobs do? I might still need a plan B.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Tomica Tank Engine

I've always said that I wanted to the boys to go to a Bosnian speaking nursery as this is an amazing opportunity for them to learn a second language at a very young age. This won't be too much of a problem for Luke who at 19 months is a long way off conversational ability. Adam, however, is fairly chatty and able to communicate pretty well both with adults and other children. He is also very shy with people who he doesn't know and in unfamiliar situations.

Now that actually dropping the boys off into an all Bosnian speaking nursery looms ever nearer I am starting to fret. I'm pretty sure that Luke, after an initial protest, will be fine and will flourish. I am worried that, unable to communicate with the teachers and his peers, Adam will hate nursery and retreat further into his shell in unfamiliar situations.

Tuzla is not the sort of city that has English speaking nurseries - the international community are much reduced as the area recovers from the conflict which finished over a decade ago, and most internationals who were here don't have children of nursery age anyhow. So, if I want the boys to go to nursery it has to be Bosnian. I have spoken to nurseries in the UK which have experience of teaching children who don't speak English, and they said that after a few months the children have learnt to communicate. But as I sit here sipping my wine and typing away, a few months seems like quite a long time.

In an attempt to start to familiarise them with the language, we strolled into town the other day and bought Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends DVD in Bosnian. With CBeebies unavailable in Bosnia, the boys have enthusiastically embraced Tomica & Prijatelji demanding it over and over again. They don't appear to have realised that it is not in English, or at least it hasn't diminished their enjoyment of it one bit. A small part of me is hoping that I am worrying about nothing.

Monday, 18 August 2008


One of the biggest cultural aspects of Bosnia is coffee. Nothing happens without it. At the border post waiting for our insurance to be resolved I shared a coffee with the border guards. Any meeting, any visit to a house, literally any time you do anything you have a coffee.

I really like Bosnian coffee which is just as well. A proper Bosnian coffee is dark, smooth and with a lot of sludge at the bottom (reflecting the Turkish influence of their history). You drink it strong, sweet and black and it will keep you awake for hours. A skinny latte it is not.

I think what I like most about the coffee is the ritual of its making. In the days when I used to smoke, it was always the ritual of smoking that really attracted me; the search for a lighter as much a part of smoking as actually inhaling. Bosnian coffee is made in its own special coffee pot, the coffee heated before any water is added and then there is stirring, settling, sugaring. I made my first pot since arriving in Bosnia today and it did the trick. Now I can't remember why I have left the coffee pot I bought when we were here 4 years ago languishing at the back of a cupboard for so long. With 2 babies during this time and a distinct lack of sleep you would have thought that the caffeine hit would have been exactly what was needed.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

you've gotta get organised...

This Bosnia living is going to require me to get a bit more organised than my natural state allows, as thinking ahead is the key to a smoothly operating household. Every hot water tap has its own separate boiler which needs to be switched on half an hour or so before you want to use it. Ovens here have electric hobs but I am a fully subscribing gas hob cook cook cook cookability kinda girl. Drinking water shouldn't come from the tap but bought (and preferably decanted into a smaller bottle and put into the fridge) in advance.

I am going to have to learn to do it as there is nothing more annoying than thinking you are all on course for a nice early children's bedtime and realising that there isn't any hot water for their bath. Grrrrr.