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.