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.