Friday, 18 December 2009

Things I have said to my children: The snowtime edition

It's still snowing here. I hear that it is snowing in England too. With luck, not too many of you will have to repeat what I found myself saying earlier:

- Look at all that snow boys! Lets go outside and play!
- Want to build a snowman?
- Yes we can throw snowballs.
- No, I prefer it if you don't put snow down my trousers.
- Before we go out everyone has to do a wee.
- Because once we have your waterproofs on it is very difficult to get them off. Much better to do a wee now and then we don't have to worry about it.
- Why are you saving your wee up?
- Because you want to make pretty patterns in the snow with it.
- Ok. Right. I think it is probably better if we do wees now. What happens if we were playing where you did a wee?
- Yees, we would be playing in yellow snow. That isn't a good thing darling. We don't like yellow snow.
- Are you SURE you don't want to do a wee?
- Ok, fleeces on.
- Luke - can you hear me? Come and put your fleece on!
- Luke! Stop taking the Christmas tree decorations off the tree and come and put your fleece on.
- What do you mean you don't want to go outside. Look at all that snow! It's brilliant playing outside in the snow.
- I know we played in the snow yesterday.
- And the day before.
- But it was great. We loved it.
- You're bored of playing in the snow?
- You know that it hardly ever snows in England. Think of all those English children who'd love to come and play in the snow right now. (realise at this point I am starting to sound like someone wittering on about starving children in Africa, with Bosnians the over privileged snow wasters and the Brits the snow starved charity cases - decide not to pursue this tactic any further)
- We are going to go outside.
- Luke, STOP pulling the lights off the tree.
- Where's your fleece gone Adam?
- Adam?
- Is that my bra you've got on your head?
- No, we can't pretend to be aliens and caterpillars. We are GOING OUTSIDE TO PLAY IN THE SNOW
- LUKE! Have you just fed one of the Christmas decorations to the dog?
- COME BACK HERE BOTH OF YOU!
- Ok, you have your fleeces on. Now lets put on our trousers.
- Luke, stop hitting Adam please.
- Oh just put your trousers on - both of you.
- Adam, don't hit Luke.
- Boots.
- Stop chasing each other, stop screeching, stop laughing at me and once I've put something on you DON'T TAKE IT OFF.
- You have to wear gloves. Your hands will freeze otherwise and they are best put on before your coat so that they keep you nice and warm. (oh sweet jesus, I have had enough of this. Shall I just let them go out without gloves and freeze their little paws off?)
- Who's just walked through the house with muddy boots?
- No, you are right, I did tell you to keep your boots on but I didn't tell you to go and get your Tractor Jigsaw.
- The Tractor Jigsaw is not going outside.
- BECAUSE IT IS NOT.
- Hats!
- Because it is -5C out there and you will freeze.
- I'm hot too. That is because we are still (bloody well) inside. If we ever manage to get out of the (f*cking) door then we'll be the right (f*cking) temperature. (deep intake of breath, forced smile and slightly weird manic staring eyes)
- We are going outside because playing in snow IS FUN (said through gritted teeth and with clenched fists)
- No we are not going to go to the Yellow House Pizza Place.
- Because we are going to play outside in the snow and because the roads are ice rinks and all the cars are slipping around all over the place and I don't want to drive ANYWHERE.
- Daddy wouldn't drive either.
- Ok, everyone ready? Phew it is hot in here with all our winter stuff on, lets get outside and play in that snow! (hmmm that wasn't great, but it is better than last year when Luke was still in nappies and he'd always do a poo just when we were ready to go out.)
- What do you mean to you want to do a poo?
- Um, no I'm not bashing my head against a wall. I'm just resting it a little.
- Have you been in the laundry basket?
- No we are not playing caterpillars and aliens with the one nice bra I own. Because we are not. Because it is mine and the one of the only things left that is sacred from the Before Boys era - only apparently no longer sacred - relegated to being a caterpillar head.
- Why have you taken your boots off?
- ARRGHGHGHGHGHHHHHHHHHHHHH Some one come and rescue me! I'm losing my mind - it is a form of Chinese water torture but worse because I have to keep on trying to be nice.
- That's a record boys. Only one hour from deciding to go outside to actually making out the door. (note to self: The boys do not understand sarcasm. It may make you feel better but it isn't big or clever. Grow up, act your age and rise above it.)
- See! It is such fun outside. Aren't we having a nice time.
- You've had enough of playing in the snow already? No, I do believe that you have to stay outside for at least as long as it took us to get ready to go out.
- Yes I like the summer too. Only a couple of months to go now.
- I can't wait either.

Enjoy the snow, you Brits.

(with thanks to Millenium Housewife who invented the Things I have said genre and writes them so much better than I ever could!)

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Spare us a thought this weekend. We're off on our Christmas trip which involves an estimated 15 hour drive (in good conditions) through 6 countries. Current forecast: Snow. If it takes us less than 3 days to get there I'll be amazed. But we are passing through countries with good food on the way so we may get diverted to stuff our faces with all the things we can't get here.

Anyway, I probably won't be doing much on the blogging front until after New Years, so have a good one, all of you and try to stay sane. x

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A post in which it is obvious that I am English

Guess what?



(I'll have you know that these photos were taken at about 11am. It was snowing and really was that dark, has been like this for days. Continued snowing for quite a while as well. Above is the garden. Below, the view from the front door - when I say we live next to a mosque, you can see that we really do live right next door to a mosque... and have grown to love the call to prayer, even at 5am!)

IT SNOWED! And not a light namby pamby dusting of snow either. There's a good foot and a half on the ground and that was from one day of snowing. The forecast for today: Heavy snow. Tomorrow? Heavy snow. Friday? Heavy Snow. That's a whole lot of snow coming our way.
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Being British and therefore not used to snow, I find this fantastically exciting. It looks so pretty! It is proper white fluffy snow, a powder dream for a skier and a snow ball dream for small boys. Although getting ready to go out is a real palaver, what with waterproof trousers, hats, scarves, gloves, snow boots and all, the boys want to spend all afternoon outdoors. So it is snowmen, sledging, snow balls and glowing red cheeks for us all the way. When they tire of that there is always a path that needs clearing or snow to be swept off the car, activities that could have been invented especially for small boys. And there I was thinking what was I going to do with them all winter.
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The Bosnians are not so keen on the snow. They walk around huddled darkly in their coats, hands thrust deep into their pockets, muttering 'zima' (winter) and tsking. They know that snow is a total nightmare in reality. The roads are treacherous, the walkways become ice rinks and it is going to get COLD (max temp forecast for Friday, a balmy -6C). Their kids love it as much as mine do, there were a whole load of them going to nursery on sledges this morning, but the adults know that snow looks pretty for about a whole day before it just becomes a wet, cold misery.
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They know how to deal with it though. There may have been 2 foot or so of snow, but all the buses were out this morning (as opposed to London's efforts in the snow fall last year), every single car has got winter tyres on (by law) and Tuzla, being the city built on salt mines, is never ever going to run out of grit to salt the roads with.
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No doubt, by the end of the week when we are totally snowed in and the boys are bored of being wet and cold, I'll be fed up with it too. But right now, I'm loving it for being so pretty, so Christmassy, so indisputably winter.
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(ps sorry about the lack of gaps between paragraphs, Blogger being a pain and not letting me do it and I've got bored of trying to make it...)

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Dog's Life

During the war here many people couldn't manage to feed their dogs so had to set them free to fend for themselves. This combined with a patchy government strategy for dealing with dogs means that there are a lot of strays around here. Really a lot.

For the past couple of months we've been sort of looking after one of them. Or, more accurately, she sort of attached herself to us, and we couldn't resist her. It's difficult to say what sort of dog she was, bit of German Shepherd certainly, but finer featured and not as big. Either way, she was a real gem of a dog. Calm, even tempered and ever so sweet she played hard with Jess and was calm with the boys. We wormed, ticked and flea-ed her, fed her some proper food and she began to shine. If we went to the shops she would come too, just touching our hands with her nose to let us know that she was there, then she'd wait patiently outside the shop for us to come out before trotting back proudly and beautifully to heel.

She won our confidence over time and I began to trust her. She was allowed to come inside the house in the evenings, but still slept outside. A couple of times we asked if she wanted to get in the car to come for a walk with us, but she didn't fancy that idea much, preferring to do her own thing during the day.

She could get in and out of the garden at will and settled into a routine of heading off to do whatever it is that dogs do in the morning and coming back in the afternoon. Occasionally I'd come across her on the other side of town (having crossed at least 2 major roads to get there). She'd come over to say hello, but again wouldn't want a lift in the car so we'd go our separate ways and she'd come back later that day in time for supper. We tried to block the escape route up, but she would just take it down again, not really wanting to be totally domesticated just yet. In many ways she was living the doggy dream, a house when she wanted it, but also the freedom to do whatever she wanted when she wanted it.

We asked around a bit and the slightly mad, dog obsessed bloke over the road (he of the tendency to put raw bones down the back of his trousers) knew some of her history. He remembered her litter, estimating that she was about 15 months old and had spent her life on the streets. No one owned her or was responsible for her, but he had christened her Belle, so Belle she remained.

We began to talk seriously about whether we were going to adopt her or not. Taking her back to Britain would be no mean feat, Jess is fully PETS passported up, but to get a stray dog onto the scheme would cost a fair bit of money and take a lot of time. We'd have to do things like Fed-Ex blood samples to the UK, that type of thing. But Dave went out one evening with both dogs, neither on the lead, and one stayed to heel the entire way whilst the other expensive pedigree dog that has had years of training had to be hauled out of the neighbours bins at least twice. We weren't sure about having 2 largish dogs in the house, but she was winning us over.

We haven't seen her for over a week now. This is very unusual, she was always one to be back in time for supper. The weather is cold and snowing, she would be looking for some warmth if she could. Maybe she'll turn up one evening looking for a treat, but I doubt it. She may have been hit by a car, the hunters that are occasionally employed to curtail the stray population may have got her. Possibly she found another family to take her in, maybe she just decided to hang out in a pack rather than with some humans. We don't know what has happened to her, probably never will.

I do miss her. Belle. I hope that you'll be back soon, tonight maybe? I desperately hope so, but deep down I doubt it; I think if you could have come back, you'd have been back by now. I hope you are warm and safe somewhere. But most of all I hope you enjoyed your time with us, I hope we made a difference to you. We will never forget you.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Kitchen Blues

There are many things that I will miss about Bosnia when we go, but one of the things that will not have me all dewy eyed with nostalgia will be our kitchen. Words cannot describe how much I hate our kitchen. Sometimes I go to bed cursing it.

I am of course massively spoilt. The kitchen is actually pretty big. There is a fridge the size of a small bathroom (thinking about it, I will miss the fridge. It is nice to have a big fridge). But, in common with a lot of Bosnian kitchens, there is no workspace. You think I'm exaggerating? Have a look at this. This is our entire kitchen and if I was any good at computers I'd draw you a nice arrow pointing out the vodka addled plums by the knives which have just been extracted from the plum vodka and ask for any ideas what to do with them. I digress, but any good ideas welcome in the comment box.


Things to note.

1. Look at the amount of workspace we have. Trust me, it is not very much.

2. There is no dishwasher. This fact in itself doesn't bother me any more. I'm so used to washing up that I actually am not even particularly bothered about having one any more. What does bother me is that there is nowhere to put the stuff that needs to be washed up. I mean obviously it goes in the sink, but once that is full it has to go on the (already tiny) workspace.

3. Hobs are electric. I hate electric hobs. Partly because I am a cook cook cook cookability kind of girl and love my gas hobs for the instant changes in heat, and partly because once you have used a hob it is on and HOT for quite a long time. You can't put pans on it. So you have to put them on the (really pretty tiny now as it is also covered with washing up) workspace.

4. I spend a lot of time whilst I am cooking dancing around with hot pots, sharp knives and muttering/growling that there is nowhere to put them down ANYWHERE! This isn't good for my sanity and doesn't make cooking an enjoyable experience.

5. I'm going to gloss over how close the electric points are to the sink (isn't this illegal and wildly dangerous?), how the drainage board plughole is actually blocked and therefore the water has nowhere to drain to and how the sink doesn't quite fit and therefore water spills everywhere whilst doing said washing up as, well, it is just me being narky and may be due to the fact that I went to bed last night still whinging over the kitchen.

So, obviously, although I'd have you believe that the kitchen looks like the above photo all the time, the reality is more like the picture below:


I'm so glad we are not ever going to have to attempt to cook a Christmas dinner on it. It is one of the world's great mysteries how Bosnian women manage to produce epic feasts at the drop of a hat and still have an immaculately clean kitchen at the end of it.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Missing those Christmas tunes

I've had Christmases abroad but until we moved to Bosnia I had never spent a Christmas in a country which doesn't really celebrate Christmas*. Christmas Day is a normal working day here and I am finding it odd. I hadn't realised how ingrained into my psyche Christmas is and to be somewhere where Christmas doesn't really feature is unsettling. There aren't really any cheesy Christmas movies on TV. That special sort of Christmas smell, the gingery, cinammony, fir tree smell is lacking. I'm missing Christmas carols - hell, I'm even missing Slade and Band Aid.

I'm finding this most difficult around the boys. We may live in Bosnia, but they are English and Christmas is a huge part of their culture. They need to grow up learning about the nativity, getting excited about presents, enjoying the build up, the parties, the preparation and the anticipation of it all. There are no Christmas activities at their nursery, no nativity play, no shepherd's in tea towels, no Mary forgetting her lines and dropping Baby Jesus.

So we're trying to do it alone. They have advent calenders which are eagerly opened every morning. We put up a tree at the weekend, complete with decorated baubles and gaudy lights (note to self: never, ever trust the husband to buy the Christmas lights again - he may have had instructions for simple white ones that don't do all that flashing, but he disregarded it completely and with an evident enjoyment, before conceding somewhat later that night that all the flashing is giving him a headache). We're on a baking binge to try and get that special Christmas smell going throughout the house; this afternoons efforts will be gingerbread men, (but without the golden syrup, hoping honey will prove to be an adequate substitute). Tinsel is all over the place. I've got the radio tuned in to British radio stations to get carols and Christmas songs into their consciousness. We talk a bit about Baby Jesus's birthday, but to be honest they are more interested in Father Christmas.

We had Christmas in Bosnia last year, and loved it, but this year we are driving to Switzerland for the festive season. I'm very much looking forward to it. We will be seeing lots of family, eating food that we don't normally have access to and most importantly for me, having a whole country also engaging in Christmas festivities. I'm quite tired of doing all the Christmas atmosphere myself.

Having been the outsider for a few years, the one trying to celebrate a festival which no one else is really, I have far more empathy for those who are also find themselves in a minority. It is often wonderful, and the experience that we are having of living in a different culture are always fascinating, but sometimes, it is nice to be in sync with the rest of the country.


*this being Bosnia, obviously it is complicated. The Catholic Bosnian Croats celebrate Christmas, but they are concentrated in the south and west of the country. Tuzla is in the Northeast and although there are a some Croats here, it is predominantly Muslim and Serb. The Muslims celebrated Bajram earlier this month, and the Serbs follow the Orthodox calender, celebrating Christmas on January 7th. It isn't totally unChristmassy here; there are Christmas decorations around, the local supermarket Bingo has some really beautiful wooden ones that I am tempted to buy up for keepsakes and there are lights up in the streets but the sense of momentum towards Christmas so obvious in the UK is absent.

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Obviously being in Bosnia we are also missing the panto season. Oh yes we are! This sadly means that we can't sign up for the Great Panto Review 2009 to help raise funds for NACCPO - the National Alliance of Childhood Cancer Parents Organisations who work to support children and young adults with cancer. But I would recommend anyone in the UK to check out the reviews, think about going to see one, and to donate if they can to this small organisation that is entirely dependent upon funds that they raise for its work.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas Cards

Last year I couldn't find any Christmas cards anywhere, so we made the lot. Or rather, given that my boys were more into throwing the paint, I made the lot pretending that they were helping, whilst they ran around demolishing the play room. I remember the afternoon well, it wasn't one of my most enjoyable.

Anyway, I painstakingly crafted about 70 cards, wrote proper messages in them (not just a simple Dear x Happy Christmas Love Brit x but a proper message with news and everything) and spent a small fortune at the post office sending them all off (whilst the boys were taking years off my life by once again demolishing the cardboard cutout displays which is their favourite post office activity).

How many cards were sent to us last year? Four. (You know who you are, and can I just say I love you for it. Thank you! Thank you!)

So this year I've gone on strike. I'm not doing Christmas cards. At least I'm not doing Christmas cards for my usual recipients. This year, the boys and I are going to join the Amnesty International Greeting Cards Campaign and make some cards to send to a few people who have suffered from human rights abuses and who might appreciate a message of support. People for whom a handwritten, personal card means a lot.

So apologies people normally on my Christmas card list. I do wish you a very Happy Christmas and a very exciting, rewarding and enjoyable 2010, and I'll be in touch with you to say that. But this year our Christmas card efforts are going to go to those who will really appreciate it.

Anyone can join in the Amnesty Greeting Cards Campaign. They have listed 32 stories of people around the world who they are highlighting, (four of which have been specifically chosen as part of their youth campaign for children aged 8 and up). These are people who they feel will particularly appreciate personal messages of support. So if you have a spare card, think about sending one too. It will be very much valued and appreciated.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Dear So and So: Bosnian Version Part VII

It's Friday. Time for that moment to write some postcards to the people I have something to say to, and as it has been a while I have a lot to say. Right, who is first in the firing line?

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Dear Jessie,

Although the weather has been filthy these past few weeks, it has been a joy to take you for walks. This is mainly due to the fact that there are no picnickers or people enjoying a quiet lunch in the parks, which means that you can't disappear for hours on end only to be found harassing some poor woman who is frightened of dogs. You would have a lot more fun walks off the lead if you would only learn that picnics are for people and not for dogs.

Your ever watchful owner,
Fraught Mummy

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Dear Bosnian VAT authorities,

Has it ever occurred to you that for a company attempting to sell products outside of Bosnia, the requirement to obtain passport numbers or notarised copies of the investiture documents kills potential sales stone dead. Can you give us one good reason for having to have it? On the off chance you are actually thinking about why companies don't want to invest in Bosnia, I'd recommend starting with this little piece of needless bureaucracy.

Yours, not sad to be leaving the red tape,
FM

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Dear Bosnian Nursery,

I know that we are not really in a Christmas celebrating area, so I'm not expecting Christmassy type things to happen. But if you are going to have a Father Christmas come and visit the kids and hand out toys, doesn't it make sense to have him come before Christmas?

Yours, a little confused,
FM

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Dear Boys,

Given that you are the running, jumping, shouting, wrestling, thumping variety of boy, it did bring a tear to my eye to overhear you telling the other that you loved them. Then to see a voluntary hug nearly had me howling. I don't know if you have decided moments like these are all the more special for their rarity, but my goodness me it was a special one for me.

yours with an extra special hug and kiss from your Mummy,
Mummy xxxx

PS - particularly nice touch to do it as several Bosnian Grannies were walking past, who all smiled approvingly and gave me the rarely obtained look of what lovely children you have. I did like that. x

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Dear Bosnians in the post office

OK people. I know I am British and therefore am born knowing how to queue, but seriously, have you not learnt this skill yet at all? Do you realise how difficult it is for me to stop 2 boys from dismantling the cardboard cut out display whilst running laps of the post office and causing the security guard to threaten to throw us out again, let alone fight for my spot in the queue? If my attention is diverted for one second from elbowing my place to the front it shouldn't mean that I have to get sent to the back of the milling crowd again. Bosnian Grannies, may I take this moment to say - you are the worst offenders!

Yours, tutting in a way that only a British person can,
FM

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Dear Luke,

To wake up at 5.30am, see you with your pyjamas round your ankles, bottom bared, and hear those fateful words 'I did a wee all by myseff' was alarming. To realise that you meant in the loo was thrilling. You are a little superstar.

Lots of Love and hugs
Your ever so proud Mummy

PS - the period from 5.30am to 7am when you systematically stuck your fingers in my ears and nose, singing and whacking me over the head with a water bottle was not quite so thrilling. The next stage is obviously doing a wee all by yourself and then going back to your own bed for more sleep.

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Dear Bosnian Authorities,

We are going home in April. Can you not just extend the visas, car import licence, right to work etc. for 2 months rather than force us to go through the whole rigmarole all over again? Come on, have some pity here! Please? Ok, how about just the car import licence? Just thinking about starting the assault on all the bureaucracy again makes me want to cry.

A big GRRRRR directed at you all,
FM

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Dear Tuzla,

Your new playground is great. Really it is a playground to be proud of (and my goodness me did you need a playground here!). But, did you talk to any Mums before building it? It's just that to reach a lot of the equipment you have to go off the paths, and at this time of year that means heading through Somme-like mud, the kind that doubles the size of your shoes in under one minute. This then gets all over the playground equipment. Any mother in Tuzla could have told you this will happen.

Yours, grumpily that having finally got a playground to go to, it is only occasionally usable this time of year,
FM

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Dear Outside dog,

I have no idea where you go all day. But I did spot you on the other side of town yesterday when I nearly ran you over as you ran out into the traffic. Do be careful.

Yours, ever worrying that you will not be coming back this evening,
FM

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Dear Dave,

It was a cold. I had the same lurgy. It wasn't that bad. Seriously.

Your loving but rolling her eyes at the heavens wife,
FM xx

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Dear tenants of our English house,

I'm not going to write much as you never know who might be reading. But just to say you signed the contract. You must have known you were planning to move out earlier than expected.

Yours, not wanting to be a real pain, but really asking us to not mind if you don't pay a couple of months rental is rather hopeful,
FM

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Dear English School and County Council,

You have been legends in your own time. Thank you for agreeing to take us on, thank you for finding us a place and thank you for not minding too much all the too-ing and fro-ing. I promise to not cause any problems again. Well for at least a couple of months.

Thank you thank you,
FM

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Dear Bosnia,

You know we love you, particularly your people who have just got the best sense of humour and can make me laugh and laugh. But right now, what with the weather, the red tape and all, we are feeling a bit ground down. Can we have a couple of days that remind us how much fun it can be here?

Please?
FM x

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I feel better already. Anyone else wanting to join in can - just remember to head over to see Kat at 3 Bedroom Bungalow and sign up.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

It's a small small world

So, it turns out that in the office next to Dave's works a guy that I once knew at University. Last time we had a conversation was probably somewhere around 1994. Bearing in mind that Bosnia is hardly the worlds most visited destination and Tuzla doesn't top the list of most visited towns in Bosnia, you can understand our surprise at seeing each other. Just goes to show the world can be a very small place indeed.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

**@%%&&!

One of my least favourite things about some Bosnian parents is their propensity to think that teaching their children to swear is funny. Now, I'm no angel on the swearing front, I try to contain my expletives to 'oh blast' or 'ffffffffiddle dee dee!' and similar, but occasionally the ability to stop my mouth moving before the words come out goes missing. I do try hard not to swear in front of my children as I do not think children swearing is in the slightest way funny, cute or amusing.

Most of the time the Bosnian children swearing doesn't really impact me. I mean I can swear a bit in Bosnian, but most of the insults just form a part of the series of sounds that I don't understand. But when Adam comes back from nursery and suddenly yells at Luke 'eat my pooo-see', I suddenly have a problem on my hands.

Luckily for me (and much like Nappy Valley Girl's boys) he is in a real toilet humour phase so has developed this particular insult to be 'eat my poo'. I'm less fussed about this, it is something he could have come up with on his own and as we have discovered that the only way to get him to eat Spag Bol is to tell him that it is made up of worms covered with worm poo, I can see why he is thinking the way he is. I've had a few conversations with him about not saying nasty things to other people, but keen to not draw attention to this particular phrase I'm ignoring it completely and hoping it will soon be forgotten.

I am interested to know though what others have done to stop their children from swearing, and also from any Bosnians who might be able to clarify whether I'm right in thinking that some people think it is funny to teach children to swear and whether they also like to teach them to swear in English.

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And a late shout out for people wanting to check the latest British Mummy Bloggers Carnival - it went up last week over at A Mother's Ramblings, if you haven't already been over there, then skip over to check out the stories from the parenting front line.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Overexcited in Zagreb

Much as we adore Bosnia, we do find that every now and then we need to have a bit of time out. Sometimes it is just nice to go somewhere where you can pay with plastic rather than always having to have cash. Sometimes we like going somewhere which has explicitly child orientated activities or even a cinema. Sometimes we like to go for a walk in parks that aren't covered in broken bottles, rubbish and graffiti. Every now and then we like to get in the car and drive faster than 50mph on a road that has more than one lane each way. So this weekend, we made a break for it, making a dash for the delights of the city of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

We weren't really sure what to expect. I've been to Zagreb before but only to spend an hour or so whilst waiting for a bus out. It's nice. Really nice. Looks and feels a bit like Paris, beautiful European buildings, squares with parks and tree lined avenues. Roads of cafes and some really nice looking shops and bookstores. There's a well developed tram system (hello activities for small boys for the day) and plenty of statues of men on horses with swords (yup, more activities for small boys).

The highlight of my weekend was a trip to Costa Coffee. I'm obviously easily pleased, but there was coffee that I could take away. Look Bosnians, and learn. Coffee, to take away. See? You put it in a cup and take it out of the shop. You could do it if you wanted to. You could also make coffee with hot milk which would be really good too, but I'd settle for a take away coffee venue to start with.

Then there was also the cinema. So good that we went twice. First with the boys to see Ice Age 3 (think it was pretty good but it was in Croatian so I didn't follow it all). It was their first visit to the cinema and it was a good cinema, a proper cinema. With huge seats and popcorn and places to put your drink and everything. They couldn't believe their eyes. The sound was even turned down a bit so it wasn't quite so overwhelming for small people, which is a trick that some English cinemas would do well to learn. In fact the cinema was such a hit that we went back, later in the evening for another film followed by some Thai food. Suffice to say that it was gooooooood. Bosnia doesn't really do Chinese, Thai or Indian food, so this was a taste explosion of the massive scale. The boys were placated with their first ever trip to a McDonald's. They thought the food was ok, but the toys that came with a Happy Meal were too exciting for anything. They are keen to go back to McDonald's as soon as possible. Fortunately for me, Bosnia is the only European country that doesn't have one, so we will not have to suffer the whinges for a McDonald's every time they spot one.

We also found the Zagreb Puppet Theatre, with shows especially for children. We couldn't resist a trip to see the 3 Little Pigs, which was in Croatian but that didn't really matter. The boys loved it; laughing hysterically as the pigs whacked the big bad wolf with sticks, booing and hissing at the wolf whenever he appeared and really enjoying the spectacle. It was rather wonderful, a great first theatre experience for the boys too.

Back home now and time to reflect. We loved Zagreb, found it to be an engaging city, with plenty going on and we'll be keen to squeeze in another visit before we leave the Balkans. But it did highlight how far Bosnia has to go to before it will feel like a country that is about to join Europe. The Croats are almost a part of the EU, the Bosnians haven't even started talks. The Croats feel closely linked in to Europe, the Bosnians don't quite. Bosnia is unmistakeably European, but it really feels like it has some way to go before it feels like the rest of Europe.

PS - if anyone fancies a trip to Zagreb (which I would highly recommend it and I know BA fly direct for about £60 which isn't bad!) can I recommend the AB Centrum apartments right in the centre of town, who are not only child but also pet friendly and pretty good value to boot.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Bangers and Festivals

Woke up this morning to an cavalcade of bangs and crashes and the realisation that there were a lot of people out on the streets at a relatively early stage of the day. This being Bosnia and all, I was out of bed pretty sharpish, before remembering that today is Kurbam Bajram, the Bosnian Muslim festival of Eid Al Adha. Muslim tradition asks for an animal to be sacrificed and the meat shared between friends, neighbours with a certain amount donated to the poor. So, having been to the mosque and setting off a lot of bangers in the street everyone was heading home to cook epic amounts of meat and will be spending the next couple of days visiting their family and neighbours to share said meat. This Bajram goes on for four days, so there's a whole lot of meat to be eaten, even by Bosnian standards. Then, much like Halloween, many Bosnian children are allowed to come and knock on doors to ask for money or sweets to help their celebrations.

Bajram is one of those festivals, like Easter, that moves about a bit during the year and it always seems to take people by surprise. At least this year I had some forewarning about the closure of the boys nursery. So, with two energetic little lads requiring some attention from their mother and bags to be packed for our weekend away in Zagreb (it has a cinema!), I've opted for the short cut and dug about in the Brits In Bosnia backlog to find the post I wrote last year at this time. Now if I can just stop the boys getting hold of any bangers...

"One of things that I always forget about 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."

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Fame of a sort

We are achieving a certain amount of notoriety here.

A very dear friend of mine is an teacher at the English Department in the local University. She was talking to her relatively new students about native English speakers in Tuzla (there aren't many of us). She mentioned that there was an English family with two small boys and a dog in town and asked if anyone knew us.

There was a silence. No one put there hand up. Then one girl ventured: 'we don't actually know them, but we have heard them quite a lot.'

Curse those beautifully behaved Bosnian children who stand silently and watch as my two demolish the window displays in shoe stores. Damn those sensible Bosnian women who sensibly have a big gap between their children so have never had to run the 2 toddler through the market stalls selling toy guns gauntlet. Evil glares to the supermarket who not only insist on having their toy section right at the entrance to the store immediately reducing the visit to 'no you can't have 85 million toys' but who also have trolleys that will tip over if the boys stand on the side and jump, as we have discovered to our detriment - twice. Grrrrr to my boys who insist on going really fast on their scooters, forcing me to run after them, dragging a reluctant dog on the lead, shrieking 'too far! too far! STOP!!!' every time we take them out.

I'm never going to town again.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Coming Home

Given the topic of quite a few of my most recent posts, regular readers might be forgiven for thinking that this is going to be another post about football. But it isn't. It is about us. We have made a decision and we are going to go home. Back to the UK. Moving back for good. Our Bosnian adventure is coming to an end at some point this April.

There were so many reasons to stay and so many reasons to leave, too many to post about now. We will be ever so sad to go, but will also be excited to go back home too. I'm feeling quite conflicted about it all. Some days I'm thrilled, other days I think we are making a big mistake. The timing will be awful, we will have just struggled through another bitter Bosnian winter (the tough time to be here) and will be leaving just as summer appears, which is when Bosnia is at its most fun. I have every confidence that the British summer will once again be miserable, grey and full of rain and we will spend most of the summer watching the sun baked Tuzla weather forecasts and thinking, we should have been there - Swimming in the lakes, cooking BBQs, spending all day outside in the sunshine!. Some days I look around and think we've just started to really settle down here, we are enjoying ourselves and the adventure, so why are we moving now? Others I mutter darkly that the moving day can't come a day too soon.

I find it more than interesting that since we have decided to leave, I have started talking about England as home. Before the decision home meant here, Bosnia. If we talked about England then we called it England, Britain or the UK (but never that ghastly word 'Blighty' which I loathe with a passion usually reserved for those who don't pick up dog poo in playgrounds). Now we are going back, there has been a shift in how I feel about the place. Now I feel that we are going to go back home. I do hope that over the next 5 months this doesn't mean that I lose the sense of being at home in Bosnia.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Football Dreams

The footballing dream is over. On Wednesday night, the Portuguese beat Bosnia 0-1 and are the ones who will be packing their bags to go to South Africa in the summer. The Bosnians were expecting it after their earlier defeat on Saturday, but are none the less devastated. Being English and therefore with some experience of being dumped out of important football tournaments by the Portuguese, I feel their pain.

I went to the game. My goodness me was I excited. I absolutely LOVE big important games like this one. The games when people don't sleep the night before because they are so nervous. The games when everyone comes together, whether they like football or not. The games when suddenly everyone appears clad in the country colours (blue and yellow in Bosnia's case). Even in areas where people don't really support Bosnia, there was a sense of support for the team.

Bosnia play their home games in the western industrial town of Zenica. They could play in the 35,000 seater stadium in Sarajevo but prefer the smaller 16,000 seater of Biljino Polje where they have a fearsome record. I could see why, the stadium was full of passionate Bosnians. I couldn't see a single Portuguese fan. Right up until the point when Portugal scored and the whole stadium went totally silent bar about 100 men clad in red and yellow corralled right up in the corner. At that point the Bosnians knew it was over.

I wanted to write a more thoughtful post. A post that talked about how all is not well with Balkan Football. A post that said how much the Bosnian fans hate the people who work in the Bosnian FA, believing them to be utterly corrupt. A post about how fans have been killed here in the past 2 months, purely for supporting their team. First, the Toulouse fan from France who was attacked by Partizan supporters in Belgrade and then the supporter of the predominantly Muslim Sarajevo FK club, who was shot when his team travelled to the Bosnian Croat town of Siroki Brijeg (and as aside I wanted to comment on how the man responsible for the shooting was arrested, put into a secure jail and escaping from its centre just hours later as a story that is so typically Balkan it should be a case study). A post about how links between some football fan groups and far right nationalist groups caused the Pride March in Belgrade to be cancelled as police couldn't guarantee the safety of the march participants.

But this is not the time. Somehow it doesn't feel right to point out the negative aspects of football at this precise moment in time. Instead, I will leave you with a video of the Bosnian fans before the game, singing their unofficial anthem, the '3 Lions' equivalent as it were (apologies for the quality, I'm no cameraman). Ah hem. 2 days later, I'm still trying to upload the video of the Bosnians singing 'ale ale ale igraj Bosno ne daj se' in full and optimistic voice, but it isn't working. Technology defeats me again. People who do want to see more of the game should head over to We Do Adventure, the other Brits in Bosnia who were also at the game and who are far more proficient at taking (and uploading) vidoes than I am.

A final note to the Bosnians from a Brit, used to experiencing defeat and disappointment at football. There is always next time. Hajmo Bosno!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The X Factor (and children's hospitals)

Just a short note from me today. I went to watch Bosnia play Portugal at football last night and didn't get back until very late indeed last night. I was then ambushed by two energetic boys very early indeed this morning. I can scarcely raise my head out of my coffee cup, let alone string together a coherent sentence. But there is something very important that I wanted to say before I pull the covers over back over my head and continue trying to ignore the forces of nature surrounding me.

Not living in the UK, the X Factor (the British version of American Idol to you American readers out there) has somewhat passed me by. I mean I've heard of this thing called Jedward but don't actually know anything else about it. But, I do know that if you buy the X-Factor single, You Are Not Alone recorded by all 12 of the finalists, then Sony will dontate all of the profits to the children's hospital at Great Ormond St. and that, people, is a very good thing.

Anyone who watched X Factor on Sunday night will have seen Oscar's video highlighting why the Great Ormond Street Hospital needs your support, and will know that Oscar really was the star of the show!

Great Ormond St. Hospital are really hoping that the single will top the charts this weekend. For not only are they in need of the money that such a feat will raise, they also desparately need to raise awareness of just how much they rely upon the public's support to continue their incredible work. So what are you waiting for? You can download it here. It's only 79p.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Too. Much. Noise.

I've got a headache. I'm pretty sure it comes from having 2 small boys (occasionally 3) running, jumping, shouting, climbing and screaming all afternoon. Then there is the background noise of the radio, the odd bit of TV, me shouting (at the boys, the dog, whoever comes within my radar at the wrong time). Even the neighbours are getting in on the loud act and the warmish weather means open windows and taking a full hit of turbofolk. Basically, this house is full of noise. Lots of loud competing noise, wherever you go, ALL THE TIME. Even a quiet trip to the loo is accompanied by hammering on the door and screeches of 'Muuuummmmmeeeeeeee whatyadoooooing?' if I'm lucky whereas if I'm less fortunate I'll be blitzed with a simple 'arrghghghghhhhhhh Adam did it!'. I am seriously contemplating buying and wearing earplugs and I'm not exaggerating for effect. I need to do something to protect the frazzled synapses in my overwrought brain.

But it has occurred to me that the music that I crave to listen to has changed. Poppy music is out, too inane and loud. Anything heavier is too, well, heavy. The angsty stuff is just all too much and I haven't any patience for anything without a tune. What I am craving, in these times of much noise, is very, very simple music with one instrument maximum. So, if anyone else is finding themselves overwhelmed with noise, I highly recommend taking a moment to listen to this, a prelude of Bach's for the 'cello. I'm finding it to be most calming at the moment. With Christmas coming up, this is A Good Thing.


Monday, 16 November 2009

In the News

Having spent most of the last year saying 'I can't believe Bosnia isn't in the news more! Look at what is going on here people, it is serious stuff!', I now find that I can't escape it.

Last week Radio 4 went Bosnia mad, sending its presenter Ed Stourton out to Sarajevo and Banja Luka. He did a couple of reports, including one from the annual British Embassy Guy Fawkes fireworks party in Sarajevo*. Interested parties can listen to them here: Wednesdays report was at 7.20 from Banja Luka, Thursday's reports were at 7:32 (on ethnic tensions and violence) and 8:33 (interview with the former High Representative here, Paddy Ashdown) and Friday's was at 8:45 (main topic, Tito).

Then, as I tapped away at my keyboard, Midweek ambushed me with a piece featuring Jayne Torvill talking about that Olympic Gold win in Sarajevo in 1984 and her subsequent trip back there to stand on the spot where she and Christopher Dean had started their Bolero routine after the war.

I suppose this new attention isn't surprising. There is an awful lot going on at the moment. There are the shenanigans of Karadzic's trial (latest, he has been told he cannot represent himself, has been given some lawyers, has refused to pay them, trial has been postponed to March 2010: This one will run and run). Then Karadzic's deputy during the war, Biljana Plavsic, who voluntarily surrendered herself to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, pleaded guilty to several lesser charges (the more serious charge of genocide being dropped) and was released after serving only seven years. The Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, firmly nailed his colours to the mast (again) by flying out the Republika Srpska jet to pick her up and fly her back to Belgrade. Not often you get political leaders going out of their way to associate themselves with those convicted of crimes against humanity.

The real issue at the moment though is not the war crimes tribunals but the talks in Butmir designed to bring about some form of constitional reform and pave the way for the strong international community presence that still overseas the Bosnian political scene to finally leave the country.

In 1995, when the conflict was still raging, the only way that anyone could see to stop the violence was to split the country into two, and to install an all powerful High Representative to ensure that the peace was kept. It did the trick, the violence stopped. By now, 14 years after the war came to a halt, many people feel that these two things keep Bosnia in a permanent state of perilous peace and are preventing the country from moving forward to develop into a stable, prosperous, potential candidate for the EU.

These talks, at Butmir, are trying to gain some form of agreement on constitional reform and then the closure of OHR (the Office of the High Representative), but there doesn't seem to be any agreement in sight. The politicians are posturing, rattling sabres and the international community is wagging its finger but nothing much seems to be actually happening. For a far better summary of what is actually going on it is worth looking at the International Crisis Groups report 'Bosnia's Dual Crisis' published last Thursday.

But why then sudden attention by the Western media? I don't think anything in particular has changed. Instead, I suspect the Western politicos are playing a canny game. By raising the possibility of a return to conflict in Bosnia, the so-called 'Heart of Europe', those involved in handling the negotiations are hauling Bosnia back up the international agenda. Headlines from the Daily Telegraph saying that Bosnia is on the brink of civil war are forcing Europe to look again at Bosnia and sending a strong signal to the Bosnian politicians: 'You may think that we are preoccupied with Afganistan and Iraq but you will not be able to skate under the radar. We are watching you carefully.' With the next set of elections in BiH approaching, this is indeed a welcome thing.



* Yes this is the same Guy Fawkes party that we couldn't go to because the car was still lost in the red tape of the police department and trapped in Tuzla. Yes, this is also the same Guy Fawkes Fireworks party that we didn't think we'd ever be invited back to following the now infamous incident from last years party concerning the Ambassador, the flower pot and the just potty trained small boy.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Football Mania

Tomorrow is the day. For it is the day that Bosnia will take on Portugal in the first leg of the World Cup Qualifiers. Should Bosnia beat Portugal they will be going to South Africa, their first ever appearance at a major football tournament.

The country (at least the part of the country that supports Bosnia) is so excited it can hardly breathe. They do fancy their chances. Not only are Portugal without the ghastly Christiano Ronaldo but Bosnia’s brilliant duo of Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic are on fire. And totally brilliant. I might just be a little bit in love. Ok, I clearly need to get out more, neither would make Insomniac Mummy's Hot Or Not? Feature, but if they beat the Portuguese tomorrow night, they will be considered the hottest thing in the history of smokingly hot things. On fire indeed.

We'll be out and about watching the match in the squares and the cafes of Tuzla, along with pretty much everyone else. Even the parts of the country that support Serbia or Croatia will be watching with interest. Serbia has already qualified, Croatia is out. Much as many of the Bosnian Serbs or Croats might not actually support Bosnia, most would like to see the team do well.

So spare them a thought on Saturday, maybe even give them a cheer. It would be such a boost in a country that could really do with some positive news.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Christmas Decorations (snigger snigger)

Although Tuzla is a predominantly Muslim city, there are a fair number of Catholic Croats here, so Christmas does feature a bit and the stores have just started to get out their Christmas decorations. I have to admit that I find them a bit random and not totally to my taste. So, you can imagine how excited I was to come across a Christmas set of cookie cutters. 'YES!' I thought to myself 'we can make biscuits and decorations for the tree! Perfect!. Here they are, our new cookie cutters all nicely looped together on a special metal holder, looking good (ps how do you like the view through our kitchen window - full of rain today, but it was snowing yesterday, which would have made a much more Christmassy picture).


Here are the individual cutters. A Christmas tree. Looking fine and most Christmassy.



A shooting star and a moon. Pretty cool.


A bell and a star. I'm liking it, I'm liking it. We can do something with these.


And finally, the last cookie cutter in the Christmas pack which somewhat took me by surprise. After all, I did think that the whole point of Christmas was that there wasn't one of these.


Heh heh heh.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Makeovers

I've been in a bit of a bleh recently. Call it the arrival of winter with cold and mud and the need to be inside a lot more. Call it having a lot of work to do and not the energy or impetus to get started. Call it the arrival of the annual winter shoe dilemma - summer sandals so easy, winter shoes, well, I never find any that I like and actually want to wear. Anyhow, I decided that I needed a new look. A make-over. Something to lift me out of the blahs and into the yays! As I can't fit into any of the clothes that they sell here (being just ever so slightly larger than the microscopic size 8 (US 4) that all Bosnian women appear to be), a new look for my blog is the closest that I get to a new image. So, here we are, unveiling it now. Do you like it?

I've also been busy hosting people who are new to Bosnia over the last week. They were surprised by the country, it wasn't anything like they thought it would be. I suspect they were expecting something from TV in the early 1990s; refugees, mud and bad early 1990s haircuts (conveniently forgetting their own bad early 1990s haircuts) and big men in uniforms. But the war finished nearly 14 years ago and Bosnians have gone back to their proper lives. The country is far removed from its war time image. I feel that perhaps it is not just me needing an image overhaul. So, to celebrate the new Brits In Bosnia look is my attempt to reset a (very) few people's perception of the country I present 5 things about Bosnia that may surprise you with apologies to readers in Bosnia who already know all of this (and please do add comments should you feel that I have missed anything out).

1. The Bosnians are glamorous. Not just a little bit glamorous but really, really glamorous. They have style (a tad Russian Oligarch girlfriend for my liking if I am being brutally honest) and they are not afraid to dress up. The women are slim, tall with legs that go on for months. They are made up, coiffured (it is not for nothing that there are more hairdressers near us than, well, anything else). They walk with elegance and they are out to be seen. The men are also pretty groomed. No one goes out without looking their best. This makes it interesting for me at picking the boys up from nursery. The other Mummys are yummy. Very yummy. I'm usually wondering what happened to my hair brush, have just about found a pair of matching shoes and have some of yesterdays dinner smeared onto my clothes somewhere. I so let the side down. Luckily I get away with it for being British and perpetuating the idea that we are a nation of bad food and slightly bizarre characters.

2. There may well be areas of the country which are predominantly Muslim, but this is not a state dominated by Islam. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a fully covered woman in Bosnia. There are a fair few who wear a headscarf and who also have the most amazingly beautiful clothes and always look amazing (see point 1 above). Most people seem to be Muslim in the same way that I am Christian, in other words it informs my culture but not very active on the actually going to worship front. Alcohol is widely available and consumed freely and with enthusiasm by pretty much everyone, Muslim or not. The Bosnians don't go in for the enormous mosques prevalent in the Middle East, their mosques are small, intimate, very much for local communities and terribly pretty.

3. It is a beautiful country. There are rivers, forests and mountains and huge areas of natural space that have been virtually untouched. It has the last remaining primeval forest in Europe. It really is a place to go if you want get out, into the wilderness. All I can say is that you should go and look at the website for Green Visions who organise eco-tours of BiH (and lobby the Bosnian politicians to encourage them to protect their natural environment). There is Olympic standard skiing here, on 2 different mountains; Jahorina and Bjelasnica both only 20 minutes from Sarajevo. The natural parks are spectacular, the rivers wild, the country green.

4. Sarajevo is a great city. It has a world famous film festival every August. It has jazz festivals, winter festivals and music festivals. It is so great that it has actually been names as one of the Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2010 Top 10 Cities. Whilst we are talking top 10 lists, eating lamb off the spit over looking the emerald green Neretva river just outside of Jablanica has also been claimed to be one of the top 10 dining experiences you will ever have. I can't find that list now, but I promise you, the lamb is awesome. Tuzla, you know I love you, but I can't quite put you as one of the top 10 list of anything, but your new Square which some people have claimed will be one of the most visited squares in Europe is pretty good. I have to say you have some competition with that particular claim, but no doubt about it, trg Sloboda* is a fine place to watch the Tuzlans go by, strutting their stuff and looking most fine.

5. Bosnia is European. It was obviously strongly influenced by the Ottoman Empire and as such there are a number of times when the country looks almost Turkish, but the buildings are Austro Hungarian. The country looks and feels like Europe. Eastern Europe certainly, especially when you find yourself in an area with a particularly communist feel to it, but it is most definitely and unmistakenly Europe.


*I think this is a web cam for trg Sloboda. If you click on it and happen to see 2 small boys on scooters and a particularly harassed bag lady pursuing them, that is probably us. We'll try to wave.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Lost in Translation

A little while back The Potty Diaries ran a great post detailing the differences between what you say and what you mean. You know those times when you say 'no problem' when actually it is been a massive pain in the backside or 'no, really, it's fine' when it so isn't.

These Lost In Translation moments are just magnified when you have children ('come along now darling!' actually meaning we've been here looking at that squished bug for 20 minutes and we have to get home pretty soon as I've something in the oven and my brain is contorting with having the same conversation with a toddler 50 times in the last 10 minutes). And then there are the misunderstandings that come from not actually speaking the language of the country in which you live moments too.

Anyhow, here are a few of my what I said and what it actually meant moments. Feel free to add some of your own.

To my children: 'it's ok, I'll take your back pack for you' = can you not see how much I'm already carrying? I've got 2 scooters, a back pack, my bag, a dog on a lead and I need 2 hands free to hold you two whilst crossing the road. Why didn't you leave your sodding backpack in the car like I told you to?

To the local police force who have just pulled me over: 'ne razumijem (I don't understand)' = I understand you well enough but if you want to pull over a car with English Licence plates for no reason whatsoever then you had better be able to speak enough English to explain why.

To my children: 'Won't playing Snakes and Ladders be such fun!' = I hate this bloody game. It is one of the most dull board games ever invented. I can't wait for you to be old enough to get involved in some decent board games and play cards properly too. Then we'll have fun.

To Nursery: 'Oh, so you've changed Luke's trousers because they got a tiny microscopic splash of water on them?' = Have you not seen my laundry pile??? These trousers aren't even wet. There is a one outfit of clothes per day rule in this house, however dirty they get, unless there is vomit, poo or are totally sodden. This doesn't even come close to qualifying!

To the ladies in the bakers: 'Ha ha ha!' = I have absolutely no idea what you just said. But you were definitely just talking about my husband, and I think you mentioned sex so I totally don't want to know what you are asking. I'll just smile, laugh a bit and hope to get out of here before you try to continue this conversation.

To any visitors: 'I think we've run out of Poppadoms' = They are ours! All ours! We don't hand them out to anyone, particularly those who might not appreciate how nice they are. Get your mitts off them and don't even think about coming close to the mango chutney.

To my children: 'What happened in here?' = Bloody Hell! it looks like a bomb exploded in here! How is it possible to make so much mess in the time it took me to pop to the loo. I should have known you were up to something when I wasn't disturbed for the whole loo moment. How on earth am I going to get nail varnish off the walls?

To the Primary Schools Admissions Teams in the UK: 'Yes, I know that we applied last year for entry this year, but the situation has changed and we don't actually live in the UK at the moment and I am informing you of our future plans.' = Are you seriously telling me that every person who has ever had a child that was sent to primary school has only ever moved house over the summer and has never been in a different school system? Life has a tendency not to fit in with your regulations so just deal with it and be thankful that I am calling you early to discuss this rather than phoning you and wanting a place in the next month. By the way, is being particularly difficult and a real jobsworth a prerequisite to employment in the council or have I just been unlucky in my dealings with you all?

To the Bosnian Authorities: 'which piece of paper is it that you need stamped again?' = **%%*^&E$$$*&$*$*&"&£*&£$(%$(£&!

To my children: 'No you can't have any chocolate, it's just before dinner and it isn't good for you' = it's mine, all mine.

To Adam: 'Yes, vegetables are really good for you, they are what Sporticus likes to eat. No, there aren't any vegetables in this tomato sauce' = There so are veggies in that sauce, but I have blitzed them into a creamy state in a hopeless attempt to get something healthy into you, but you don't appear to be buying into this idea. Just eat the bloody food will you, it does actually taste really good. Thank God for Lukey tucking into his no problem otherwise I really would be worrying about my ability to cook anything at all.

To Dave: 'I think I'm just a bit tired.' = I'm absolutely shattered and am hoping that is why I am behaving like a total witch rather than because I am a total witch.

To the boys: 'Just do what I say' = just do what I say. Preferably RIGHT NOW, before I have to ask you for the thousandth time in 5 minutes and before I lose the plot completely. Generally it is to stop you from hurting yourself, your brother or me, occasionally it is to stop you breaking something that isn't ours. But life would be a lot easier if you just did it. First time of asking.

Anyone else got some to add?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Red Red Tape Series

There aren't many things that I can say that I am an expert on. My chocolate brownies are really awesome (email me for the recipe). I have a specialised knowledge of which toys can be thrown furthest and do the most damage to the walls. I am extremely good at getting the maximum discounts in any sales that TOAST do (80% off people, expect nothing less). And now I have a new speciality: Bosnian Bureaucracy. Or more specifically Bosnian bureaucracy pertaining to expats. In Tuzla. It's a skill I shall be adding to my CV.

Dave keeps mentioning that I ought to write a post detailing the steps that need to be taken to obtain visas and import cars into this country. We would have found something like that really useful. But the thing is, it just doesn't make for very interesting reading. There is only so many times that I can write about the times we went to the police station and had to wait for hours and the boys went a bit loopy and ran dementedly up and down the corridors only to be told off by grumpy men who have nothing better to do than drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. There isn't much of a post in we took every single piece of documentation that we have to the notary and parted with a lot of money to get something stamped, only to have to do it again for a different ministry 2 weeks later. There have been some real high (low) lights of this process; our trip to the hospital to get the medical tests and the battle with the bureaucrats over our birth certificates both merited posts all of their own.

The most recent clash with the system has been getting our car temporarily imported. This has involved a trip to the nearest border (and associated 3 hour wait), a separate trip to a specialised import place which showed me a whole new part of Tuzla that I never even knew existed and surrendering all our documents to the police whilst we wait for the final licence plates to arrive (and being told that we are not to drive the car outside of Tuzla town until we get the documents back). We worked out the other day that it would have cost us less money AND taken less time to drive to the UK, re-register the car there and drive back to Tuzla. And we could have loaded the car up with chocolate hobnobs and mango chutney whilst we were at it.

Finally though, finally, we have heard that our new Bosnian plates are ready. I just have to go and pick them up. And that will be it. We have all the documentation that we need. It has only taken us 15 months of constant work to do it, but we defeated them in the end. This was great news and we may have been spotted dancing about the house last night singing Red Red Tape in the style of UB40, whilst waving around glasses of the more appropriate red wine in excitement. I'm not holding my breath just yet, we still need to get the actual plates on the car and there is always the Bosnian capacity to throw a final spanner into the works just when you think you have made it, but we are hopeful, nay giddy with excitement at the prospect of reaching the end of this road.

Everything expires in February. We have to start the whole process again after Christmas.

PS - if anyone reading this does want more information on importing a car into Bosnia, obtaining a Bosnian Residency Visa, setting up a company in BiH feel free to email me. We feel your pain already.

Monday, 2 November 2009

To blog or not to blog.

Life as an expat can be a lonely one. Particularly if you are at home with 2 small children to look after for much of the day and don't totally understand the culture in which you find yourself. Even more so if, although you speak Bosnian up to a point, it is nowhere near the standard needed for anyone to enjoy a relaxing conversation with you without having to concentrate very hard and wincing occasionally. There aren't many other expats in Tuzla, let alone expat families, let alone expat families with 2 children in the same age range as my two.

It is safe to say that I spend a lot of time on my own with my boys. There isn't much else to do around here, so we are at home at home. Organised activities for children are few and far between. No playgroups, music classes or jungle gyms for us here (at least that I have been able to find out about). The playgrounds are tiny and badly maintained and inevitably just a bit scary for a mother with two adventurous climbing little boys. We've just entered the season of mud meaning that every time we go out there is a World War 1 battlefield mudfest outside (and shortly afterwards inside too). We do know other people, Bosnians, with similar aged children but they all work full time, making arranging play dates difficult to do during the week. Other friends, without kids of their own, also come round on a fairly regular basis and we do really enjoy it, but nothing is quite like having other children of a similar age for the boys to play with.

Every now and then I read a post with envy, people say things like 'for once, we didn't have any organised play activities this afternoon'. I am desperate for some organised play activity, it would be wonderful. Organised play activities serve many purposes. We get out of the house. There are other adults there. The boys get a chance to do something different. And when we get back to the house, there are all the toys etc. that haven't been played with for a while so are interesting again.

Anyway, this isn't intended to be a post that waffles on forever about how hard it is not to have other Mummy mates. I've actually got used to it. We all have. I'm much better and more resourceful and working out things for us to do during the week, and the boys are that much older making it easier for me to find things for us to do too. No, what this post is all about is the importance of blogging to someone who is quite isolated, like me.

There has been a whole load of stuff written in the last week about Mummy Blogging. Is it too competitive? Too commercial? People are not enjoying their blogs, agonising over whether accepting advertising and reviews is selling out or not. So I wanted to wade in with my size 10s (actually size 7 and currently clad in some rather funky flower print trainers which I like very much, but I digress) and stick up a great big banner and shout from the rooftops 'WHAT MAKES BLOGGING BRILLIANT IS THE COMMUNITY!'.

I started blogging in June 2008, primarily to keep family and friends up to date with what we are up to, and to stop having to write the same emails to different people over and over again. This is my 280th post. I found that I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. Eventually I found the British Mummy Bloggers group and joined it out of interest. Suddenly there were all these other Mummys, writing, online about their experiences. I found myself potty training alongside Maternal Tales and Moaning Mum. It was wonderful to be able to share poo horror stories with them and get some support to push through the worst of that particularly joyous time of bringing up children. Now I'm trying to stop everyone peeing outside all the time (triggered by the wee race the boys had over the fence as a funeral cortege was making their dignified procession from the mosque next to our house) and am finding that Single Parent Dad has got similar problems. Some bloggers have got terrific ideas for things to do, Zoe Toft providing the idea for today's activity, making penguins.

I also found that the blogging community engages in blogs by leaving comments. I know that some of my family and friends read it (Mum tends to call me up after reading in order to discuss the days post, my mother in law amazes her son by knowing more about what the boys are up to than he does), but they tend not to comment. It is the other bloggers who comment and start a bit of a dialogue. For me, who can be feeling very alone and far away, this dialogue, two way conversation and individual connection to others is immensely rewarding. I read their blogs, they (occasionally) come and read mine. I know what is happening in their lives. It is my coffee moment, the time when I share experiences and feel a part of a community.

So, although I can see why people might feel that blogging is little like the old school playground where there are a few big cool kids who know everyone, who might come and talk to you or who might not. But, these kids are now all grown-up, and don't behave like kids can do. I have found the community to be kind and immensely supportive. I can see why people find blogging competitive or have a perception that it is all about the freebies (or looking down on those who take up the freebie offers). But like all things, blogging is what you make of it. I know why I blog, it is because I love that community, I love feeling connected to other people and I really enjoy writing my posts. The freebies, well no one wants to send them to Bosnia anyway, and as Susanna in A Modern Mother mentioned in her post on the topic, no one is going to get rich blogging. The 'best of' lists? Always nice to be mentioned but they don't actually mean anything.

This is not to say that I haven't had my moments wondering what the hell I am doing with this blog. It is time consuming and I have more than enough work to do as it is. Then there is the on-going identity crisis: am I a Mummy blog? An expat blog? A blog about Bosnia? Who knows, who cares? I am what I feel like being at that particular moment. I enjoy blogging, I enjoy writing about what I want to write about and I enjoy the feeling of being a part of a community. I hope that the others who are in more of a quandary will find their way to enjoy their blogs too.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Dear So and So: Bosnian Version Part VI

It's been a while since my last Dear So and So, but it is a miserable dank damp day outside and writing some always cheer me up. So, my pen is out, I have postcards with pretty pictures of Tuzla assembled and away we go.

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Dear Outside Dog,

I have no idea where you go all day, but I'm always pleased to feel you curling around my legs at dinner time as I tend to worry that you have become today's road kill. Everyone else teases me for making you a hot water bottle every night to keep you warm, but I think you like it. You'll never be an inside dog, your stray mentality is too strongly entrenched, but I love having you around. Plus you are a much better guard dog than that great big wussy Golden Retriever that lives here all the time.

Yours, with an extra large piece of off-cut meat,
Fraught Mummy x

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Dear Adam,

You are ever so clever for putting on your PJ's all by yourself. But was it totally necessary to announce straight afterwards that 'I don't need Mummy any more' . Daggers to the heart. Ice cold daggers.

Your suddenly panicking about my big growing up boy Mummy xxx

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Dear PhD Supervisor,

I'm looking forward to you coming out to visit next week. Obviously I have been doing far too much blogging and not nearly enough work, but I'm hoping by dazzling you with Bosnia you might not notice. But, if you don't bring a box of tea bags with you, you do run a strong risk of being left to fend for yourself on a snowy mountainous road in the Republika Srpska. Just saying.

Your errant student,
FM

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Dear Bosnian Car Import authorities,

There is no other way to say this. I have said it to you many times. So here we go again. THE BRITISH CAR AUTHORITIES DON'T ISSUE CAR EXPORT CERTIFICATES. This doesn't change however much you ask me for it. We are only trying to temporarily import the car. You have got 6,000KM of my money held hostage until we re-export it. I have spent HOURS of my life hanging around several different customs offices trying to keep small children amused and out of trouble. Trust me, if we didn't HAVE to import the car, we wouldn't be. So give us the bloody Bosnian plates and I'll keep out of your hair until we leave the country.

Yours, seriously blowing a gasket and with a genuine worry for my blood pressure,
FM

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Dear Tuzla Police,

Given the difficulties we are having in trying to comply with your laws (see previous postcard) was it really necessary to order that the car is only able to drive within the confines of the city of Tuzla? We can't even go to visit some friends in the countryside 15 minutes drive away. How long is this going to go on for? I've got myself some serious cabin fever going on. Please can someone give us the goddamn bloody licence plates!

Yours, having taken to hissing at the police station every time we drive past,
FM

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Dear Market Stall holders,

I know that there are pumpkins here, because I can see them growing everywhere. I also know that most people only grow them to feed the pigs. But as it is very very nearly Halloween and I'd like to spend the afternoon carving pumpkins with the boys, could you please just find one or two to sell to us?

Yours, wanting to be all scary and spooky,
FM

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To all those PR people who write to me offering products to review,

It is always nice to receive an offer for something to review, and I always have a good look to see whether I want to do it. But, if I reply that I'm game, to then decide that you can't post the article to Bosnia is a bit poor. It shouldn't come as a total surprise that I'm based in Bosnia, did you look at the blog name before contacting me? And comments that you are worried about things getting lost in the post are such garbage - last time I looked it wasn't the Bosnian Postal system that was on strike.

Yours, confident that my postcards will reach you,
FM

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Dear smart Bosnian clothing stores in the centre of town,

How can you charge so much for your clothes? My eyes water every time I see your prices, they'd be expensive in the UK, let alone here. And your sales are rubbish. 10% simply doesn't constitute a sale. I'm looking for 50% at least.

Yours, still needing another jumper,
FM

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Dear cheaper Bosnian clothing stores,

You totally believe in pile em high and sell them cheap (or at least cheaper). But trying to find something that fits my children when I can't see my children as they have disappeared under the piles of strewn about clothing is very tricky.

Yours, unable to take the pressure of stopping the boys manically jumping on everything in your stores, FM

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Dear Boys,

I've really been enjoying the last couple of days with you. The fighting doesn't seem as bad, the screaming and shrieking a bit less frequent and we've come up with some good games. My favourite has been wriggling around on the floor with straws in our mouths pretending to be divers. I'm starting to feel a bit less freaked about the long, cold, dark winter months ahead. You two, well you two are absolutely great.

Love you so much,
Mummy xxx

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Want a go yourself? Head on over to Kat's 3 Bedroom Bungalow to add your name to the list. It's like therapy but better.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Happy Machines

The other weekend we spent a very pleasant afternoon in the company of a Happy Machine (a Bosnian still for making plum brandy for the uninitiated amongst you). It was rather late in the year as everyone felt a little guilty about making very strong alcohol during Ramadan, but no one seemed to be having too much guilt about drinking large quantities of the stuff immediately afterwards.

The men sat around stirring the plums, sterilizing the machine, bringing it all to the boil, watching it condense down, measuring the alcohol content with a whizzy little gadget that floats in the liquor and tasting it all to make sure it was all ok. We could see which the most important aspect of the process was judging by the amount of time spent tasting the output. The rest of us ate large quantities of food, the kids ran riot outside and life was good.

This brewing of the sljiva is an integral part of Bosnian culture (Muslims many of them may be, teetotal Muslims they are not). It is one of the autumnal rituals. The rumours that are running rife that the EU would ban the Happy Machines (bah humbug to the miserable fun stealing Brussels bureaucrats) are seriously testing Bosnians desire to join the Europe. I think most sane countries have banned the stills years ago, but this doesn't appear to deter the Bosnians. Apparently those who have emigrated to other European countries still manage to get their fix, just making sure the brewing happens indoors behind drawn curtains.

Dave loves this part of being in Bosnia. He looks forward to a Happy Machine afternoon, even though he doesn't really like the end result. I hadn't really paid much attention to this interest, right up the point I discovered him in the supermarket supposedly shopping for milk and cheese gazing covetously at and seriously considering buying a brand new still. A snip at only 2,400KM (1,200Euros).

Happily we remain Happy Machine-less after some fast talking on my part and a reality check on the state of our bank account on his. May we go to many more afternoons where the brandy is brewed, but I'm not Bosnian enough to want it happening in my garage.


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If you've had enough sljiva and are feeling brave enough, then make straight for the brilliant Hot Cross Mum's Halloween Best of British Mummy Blogging Carnival