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.