Friday, 19 December 2008

snowfall and sledges

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 December 2008

careful driving

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

Holes and socks

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

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


Tuesday, 16 December 2008

An English take on a Bosnian advertising campaign

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

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

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

Monday, 15 December 2008

Careful how you drive

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

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

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

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

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

Friday, 12 December 2008

Proud Human Rights

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

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

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Human Rights

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

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

holidays and festive seasons

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

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

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

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

Friday, 5 December 2008

money money money

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 4 December 2008

peace, quiet and relaxation

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

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

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

She is one lucky dog

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

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

Monday, 1 December 2008

Bosnia, but not as we know it

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

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

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

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