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.

Friday, 15 August 2008

call to prayer

Our new house is right next door to a mosque. It is a very Bosnian mosque, small, pretty and rather sweet. I like the feel of having a mosque next door. It allows us to watch the coming and going and the call to prayer provides a soundtrack to the rhythm of our lives in BiH. It certainly helps place us firmly in a different country. Bosnia is the most geographically western country which whilst you would never describe it as Muslim does have a significant proportion of Muslims in its population.

The only problem with the call to prayer is that it does start rather early. Today, being Friday it went off with a particular enthusiasm and length. Little L, affronted by the sound of a falling feather 3 blocks away whilst he is sleeping, was up instantly. Which is why I was trying to watch gymnastics at 5.30am this morning.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Olympic Dreams

Obviously you can watch extensive coverage of the Olympics in BiH. But it isn't the same. I want massively biased coverage! I want to feel part of the movement as the whole country unites in its new found ability to talk expertly about fringe sports (" I think you'll find the synchronicity points for that dive will exceed the execution ones..."). I want to see the replays of England's few medal moments over and over again! I want Adrian Chiles and Sue Barker!

I don't want to see the Croatian water polo team in their very tight red and white checked trunks at 6.30am. It wasn't pretty.

*** updated later on in the day****

They haunt me - innocently checking the Guardian website and I was confronted by this picture. It still isn't very pretty.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

the holiday is now, most definitely, over

After a week or so of living the uncomplicated childfree life, I popped back to the UK (for literally one day) and picked up the boys. The three of us flew to Sarajevo, 2 1/2 hours of purgatory. Flying with toddlers is hard work, flying with 2 is harder work. Suffice to say I earned my Mummy money and nearly wept on landing. After a quick trip to the lovely parks and tree lined avenues in Illidza to try and run the boys around enough to take away some of their excess energy it was a further 3 hour drive through the mountainous roads to Tuzla. Overall they were pretty good especially bearing in mind the very early start and epic amounts of travelling in one day, but home was still a very sweet sight.

Today was the first toddler filled day in Tuzla and it was exhausting. A is behaving appallingly. Refusing to let a chance to torment his younger brother go by, he has also developed a complete inability to hear what his mother is saying and, on being chastised, is combining it with an Oscar winners instinct for melodrama. I'm not sure if it is the change of scene, months of imminent change and now the actual move, an opportunity to get back at his parents for deserting him for 10 days or a heady dose of toddler hormones, but whatever it is we all hope it is going to be temporary. I'm a firm believer that it is change that is stressful and until we all get used to the new environment I doubt we'll be having those movie moment days when everyone is enthusiastically engaged in paper mache.

In the meantime we have appointments to look round 3 nurseries tomorrow.

Monday, 11 August 2008

the devil is in the detail

Er, turns out the service was not being held yesterday, but next week instead. My career prospects as a proficient and incisive researcher are golden...

Friday, 8 August 2008

post conflict reconciliation

As the boys are still in England life has been seeming like a bit of a holiday despite the mountains of admin to plough through. There have been long mornings lounging in bed, late nights in restaurants and general behaving like we don't have any children. But, the holiday had to end and work starts tomorrow for us both.

D has got his new office up and running and now needs to set about registering his company and looking for some employees.

I on the other hand need to kick start my research. So, I am off, with a few friends, to the village where I hope the bulk of my research will be taking place. The main reason for going is to reintroduce myself and to sound out a few people about the feasibility of what I would like to do. However, tomorrow has a particular resonance for them. Their village was one of the first to be ethnically cleansed in 1992, and during the war years the mosque was razed to the ground and an orthodox church was built in its place. Since the conflict finished many of the original village inhabitants have returned. There are no Orthodox Christians resident in the village any more but those Muslims who wish to attend a mosque have had nowhere to pray. Tomorrow there will be a service at the church which is believed to be the first step towards shutting it down and permitting a mosque to be constructed in its place.

Whilst everyone hopes and expects that this will be a calm and peaceful process, there is a possibility that there may be some tensions and there will be a large scale police presence. Moments like these in rural Bosnian villages, will illustrate how far Bosnia has really come on the road of reconciliation.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

an accidental dinner

Coming to Bosnia is not a step into the complete unknown for us. About 4 years ago we spent a year in Bosnia, and are still in contact with lots of people. Since our arrival we have been involved in a flurry of coffees, drinks and dinners catching up with a variety of people, most of whom have done sterling work for us in finding somewhere to live, sorting out pet issues, visas, you name it. To say thank you we held decided to cook everyone dinner as I don't think we would have ever made it to Bosnia without their help.

This is not as selfless as it may sound. Firstly, the whole concept only came into being because I was trying to send a text to our landlord asking him round at 8pm (in order that he could sort out the washing machine - but that hadn't been mentioned in the message). I wasn't really concentrating, sent it to the wrong person and the next thing I knew quite a few people were coming over for the evening. Being English I was, of course, far to polite to correct the my mistake so dinner for 8 it was.

Second, and never being one to pass up an opportunity, I took the chance to get those attending to help us move furniture around the house. Beds went upstairs, others came downstairs, tables came downstairs, coffee tables went into storage. I'd have put money on the bed not making it upstairs, but the boys adopted a never say die attitude and against long odds the furniture is all now where I want it. The Bosnians were not convinced that it was an ancient English tradition to move furniture around on being invited to dinner, but lavish supplies of Tuzlanska Beer and Croatian wine helped convince them in the end.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

a very english shopping list

What do you buy in your first trip to the supermarket on arriving in a new country? I'm sure the check out girls had a field day with us. Combined with such vital things as a laundry basket and a couple of rubbish bins were a number of cleaning products (and lets face it, I'm hardly known for my ability to clean the house, so why I thought this was quite so vital escapes me), fresh milk and special K, some towels (accidentally put all of ours in storage), some nice wine glasses and a couple of bottles of french reds and some Tupperware. Obviously we have bought large boxes of PG tips out with us, although are lacking in the marmite front.

We have to go back to the supermarket today to get something to eat.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

there'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of dover

And there we go. Early start to catch the ferry, wave all the passports - including the stylish blue pet passport and D, Jessie and I were off. Waving farewell to the white cliffs of Dover as we made our way with the holidaying masses to Calais. Through the French countryside we zoomed, stopping only when I realised that we were in the champagne region and virtually threw myself out of the car. Through Germany and Austria we sped, on into the utterly lovely Slovenia, through the north of Croatia and eventually 3 long hot days later, into Bosnia itself.

By this point we were hot, smelly, dirty and very much looking like the kind of folk you do not want to have in your country. So for the first time at a border post we were stopped, grilled and searched. An hour later now possessing the appropriate car insurance for Bosnia and a new fan club for golden retrievers we were finally in.

So here we are. We have moved into our house, more of which later. Now for a few days of serious sorting out, before I fly back to pick up the boys and the real mayhem can begin.