Friday, 27 February 2009

strikes and protests

I'm not always right that the Bosnians are too tako je kako je about their lot in life. There are times when they are motivated to protest and we got caught up in one such event yesterday. A factory in Tuzla has just stopped paying salaries (which is not that uncommon here) but also has told the workers that there is no money for their pensions.

Everyone protested. They protested by shutting down all the main roads in the town which caused complete chaos. We happened to be at the junction of one of the roads when the demonstrators very peacefully walked in front of the cars and refused to move. It was obvious we were going nowhere so we got out of the car to watch the proceedings.

Noone was to break the picket line. That was until 2 small boys spotted some Smokis for sale on the other side and made a run for it, with me in hot pursuit. The protesters let us go with a smile before continuing their whistles and shouts.

I don't know what the outcome of the strike was, but sitting on a wall with a packet of Smokis in hand, the boys and I enjoyed the spectacle very much.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

getter tenser

The accusation of a Euro 70million odd fraud against the Bosnian Serb leader has just added to an already very tense political situation in BiH. Turns out there are irregularities in the way in which the charge was bought about whereby all Bosnian Serb representatives were by-passed. In a country that loves conspiracy theories, this is turning into a humdinger. Everyone is nervously watching developments. More on this story from Balkan Insight here and about the conspiracy theories that are circulating here for those interested.


After my whinge about post office employees the postal system shows its other side. We received a wedding invite posted to us the other day. The only correct things in the address are my name (it's an old friend, I'd be upset if they hadn't managed to get that bit right!), the city and the country. The rest is so far wrong was probably copied out of the wrong address book.

The invite took only 2 days longer to arrive than those posted to English address. I'm impressed by that, but still haven't forgiven them for not letting me post my letters on Monday.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Customer Service? Not in Bosnia

The Bosnians have someway to go to learning about customer service. A few recent incidents have bought this home.

Yesterday was a miserable day. Temperature just above freezing so all the snow kind of melting, kind of freezing and outside is a general festival of mud of Glastonbury proportions. I had no idea what to do with the kids, so decided to take them to post some letters which involves going to the post office as there are no postboxes in Tuzla, and then have a ride up and down the escalators at the local shopping centre. There isn't very much to do with kids in Tuzla, a ride on the escalators is as good as it gets on a grey Monday afternoon. The shopping centre isn't very far, so I decided to get them to walk there.

We had one of those mind-altering toddler moments. Luke was unable to move faster than the pace of a drunken snail. Adam was obsessed with a red car that had driven past full of young lads and was full of questions. After I had answered for the 150th time (no exaggeration) that I didn't know where they were going or why they were in a red car and was privately wondering if this is what taking large amounts of drugs was like, we finally arrived. We went to the post office and patiently queued. The boys did a runner, I gave chase and we lost our place in the queue / melee that masquerades as a queue in the post office. They had another attempt to scuttle into the toy shop foiled by their mother. Back to waiting. And so on.

We finally reached the counter at 4.01pm. The post office shuts at 4pm. All I wanted to do was to give the man 3 letters which already had stamps on. He said No. All he had to do was put them in his bag. He glared at me, I glared at him. He said No again. And that was that. There was no way I was going to be able to hand over my letters. I might have said a naughty word.

I told D all about it and he reminded me of the time we were in the supermarket and Adam had accidentally hit a bottle of honey which smashed on the floor. We alerted the staff to what had happened and were promptly marched off to the managers office where we were made to pay for the honey jar. Now, there was no doubt that it was our fault it was broken. I'd have been surprised to be made to pay for it in the UK, after all we do spend a lot of money in the supermarket. But, it wasn't so much that we were made to pay for it, 11KM isn't going to break the bank, it was the feeling that we were criminals as we were marched off. D was so angry with the treatment he actually wrote an email to the head office of the supermarket. No reply to date.

Yes, there are definitely moments that the remnants of the communist system shine through.

Monday, 23 February 2009

General Bosnian news

An article in last weeks Economist (click here) shows quite well the current situation with Bosnia (and other Balkan countries) when it comes to joining the EU. Everyone wants to join, even Serbia has elected a EU facing government. But political situations across the region has led to everyone getting a bit 'stuck' and are not being helped by the global economic situation, which is slowing investments and manufacturing.

Also, Chris Patten not in the running for the High Representative's job, but another Brit is the current front runner. According to general gossip Emyr Jones Parry will be confirmed in the role today. (see here). Good luck to him, he will surely need it. Lajcak, the previous holder of the role, compared the job to flogging a dead horse due to the lack of policial will within the EU to act against the Bosnian politicians.

And it looks as if the Bosnian politicians need a firm hand. This weekend saw an indication of how deeply corruption is embedded into Bosnian life. The Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, and 10 others were accused over the weekend of embezzling something in the region of 74million Euros (see here). Just a mere 74 million. You could buy yourself a new car with that.

As the Economist says, the day to day life goes on without too much trouble masking some of the serious challenges that Bosnia still faces.

Friday, 20 February 2009

In Praise of Smokis

I've just finished reading Rosie Whitehead's book Travels with my Frontline Family about bringing up a young family in the Balkans during the early 1990s whilst her husband covered the various wars in the region at that time. I have to say that I enjoyed it very much, and not just because I can read it and go That is so true! I found that too!

Obviously there are some enormous differences between our experiences. The region is not in major conflict. My husband is not in danger every day unless you count the walk to the office along icy roads. The early nineties did not have the Internet with email, access to Radio 4 and the cricket commentary or Amazon to deliver to your doorstep. It is now pretty much 20 years since communism fell in the region, and although things are still not quite like a capitalist market, they have moved on somewhat from their communism heritage.

But, of all the deep and profound things that she discussed in her book the one thing that really stood out for me was that her family was also obsessed with Smoki Flips. They are a sort of peanutty Wotsit type crisp and they are good in that really really good sort of way. Balkan children have grown up on them for generations and the Bosnians can't believe that we don't have them in England. Come to that, neither can I.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

snowing again

It's done nothing but snow for the past 4 days. For one brief moment it started raining, but then that water froze into a nice layer of ice which is now underneath a whole lot more snow.

For a Fraught Mummy, this means we are back to the winter routines detailed before (see here) but with an added twist. Yesterday I tried it at nursery.

I pick the boys up at 12. It was 1.30 by the time I managed to leave. There were all the usual scraps and battles about putting on the water proof trousers, socks, boots, a layer underneath the coat, the coats itself, let alone hats, gloves, scarves. But this time it was in front of an audience. Such fun! thought the boys. Look how fast we can run away from Mummy. Watch! we can run into a classroom full of sleeping children screaming at the top of our voices. Can you see? we can find a stash of toy guns and run around loudly shooting everyone. Do you think we can make Mummy really cross, especially if we take off our boots after she has put them on? Ah hah! Mummy is trying not to shout but she isn't going to be able to restrain herself if I run into this office and leave my all my clothes there. Oops, she is really shouting now, she'll be in a good mood for the rest of the afternoon. Let's hide and laugh manically, that'll make it all better! Even better - lets go in different directions and both create carnage. She'll love that best of all!

Are there any other Bosnian children creating such havoc? Er, no. It's been bothering me for a while. Why is it that it is always my children creating such chaos whilst the Bosnian children look on and behave beautifully? Obviously lax parenting, poor discipline and too much sugary food. But, I have a new excuse. I've noticed that the Bosnians are canny. None of them appear to more than one child in tow. Certainly not 2 children with only 18 months between them. I don't know if they just have bigger gaps between their kids, manage to leave one at home with Granny, only have one child or what. But, I'm pretty sure that even I could manage if I only had to get one of them dressed at a time. I'd have a fighting chance of retaining control if I only took one child out. It is trying to get the second variable pointing in the right direction and wearing the right amount of clothes at the same time that causes the majority of my problems.

Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

lost in translation

This morning, at nursery, a classic case of things just not translating very well.

I dropped Luke off first with a cuddle, a kiss and as he was steaming off into the classroom, looking around for who to play with, I said to the teacher in English: 'Here comes Trouble!'

She looked horrified, then worried. 'He isn't trouble!'

Already regretting my choice of words the conversation continued in a mixture of Bosnian and English as I tried to reassure her: 'no no no - it's affectionate. It isn't a bad thing to say!'

'He doesn't have trouble at nursery. He loves it here'

'I know, I know! He must love it here, he looks so happy and is having such fun' (Luke at this point has got hold of a car and with one hand is merrily bashing it on the table making a right old racket whilst stuffing his face with his second breakfast of the day with the other).

'he is always having kisses and cuddles with me and the other teacher and look at all his friends, Toni, Amila. He hasn't got any trouble here'

Really regretting my choice of words now, I try to explain that it doesn't mean anything bad. In fact it actually is a good thing because it means he is confident enough to be a bit naughty which is what toddlers should be.

'so why did you say he was trouble?'

'It's a phrase we use in English, it doesn't mean what it says. It is a good thing.' (Luke by now smearing his breakfast over his hair and starting on his neighbours breakfast)

'Are you having trouble outside of nursery? Any problems with people? You must tell us if you are'

I go back to basics. 'Luke loves the nursery here, he is very happy. I think I just used a phrase that doesn't translate well in Bosnian. He is a very happy boy here and I can see that. I'm sorry for any confusion caused.' (Luke now smearing breakfast over the cupboards and looking every inch a very cheeky toddler who is looking to create all sorts of havoc, which is exactly what a toddler his age should be doing and does show that he is comfortable, happy and confident at nursery).

He isn't trouble. He doesn't have any trouble. He is happy here.

And so on. We went round in circles for a while. I don't think we fully cleared it up. I'm now horrified that they now think that I don't like the nursery, which couldn't be further from the truth. I checked with a translator friend of mine - Bosnian doesn't have an equivalent phrase with the same meaning behind it. In other words, it just doesn't translate.

I think in future I should stick to the simple phrases that mean what they say.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

a tense political situation

Today is the first anniversary of Kosovo's independence. Kosovo, originally a part of Serbia and an enormous part of Serb history and folklore, was populated primarily by ethnic Albanians who didn't want to be a minority in the greater Serb state. Serbia does not recognise the Kosovan state and the atmosphere in the region is strained.

Kosovo doesn't border Bosnia but there are a number of ramifications. Bosnia is split into 2 entities, one of which, the Republika Srpska known as the RS, is primarily populated by Bosnian Serbs. Ultimately, the RS would like to gain independence of its own, creating a separate Bosnian Serb state. The Bosnian Serb politicians see similarities between Kosovo and the RS and continue to push for RS independence, most recently opening a representative office in the EU to the fury of other Bosnian politicians.

It is no surprise that the first anniversary of Kosovan independence should see the head of the Bosnian Serb state calling for greater independence and increased separation from the overall Bosnian state (see article here). It makes an already tense political situation worse, bringing about one of the worst political crises since the end of the war in 1995.

Monday, 16 February 2009

important bits of English culture

Before we moved here we did quite a lot of thinking about the ways in which the boys would be exposed to a new culture and how that might affect them. One of the things we hadn't really thought about before we moved to Bosnia was how the boys would be affected in terms of absorbing English culture.

Some things are no different: we have bought/had sent out enough tea bags to sink a Boston tea ship. The number of CBeebies DVDs that we have here would start a library of their own and I don't think they would be watching anything different if we were in the UK. The toy shops in Bosnia sell all the same sort of stuff - we've found great jigsaws, transformers, Thomas the Tank Engine kit, you name it really. I think they'll have enough cultural references with their peers to not make a difference on their return.

But this weekend I started to wonder about how we will build their cultural identity. This weekend was a big rugby weekend in the UK. England were playing Wales, which is an enormous match at the best of times, particular so this year. If we'd been in the UK we would probably have gone round to someones house and watched it on TV - the adults all participating in that time honoured past-time of shouting really loudly at the TV as England promise much and then proceed to throw it all away.

We looked around for people to watch it with, but for some extraordinary reason the game was not on Bosnian TV and noone wanted to watch it with us. We managed to access it via the Internet and D and I watched it on the computer, shouting at the screen as England adhered to form; promised much, threw it all away.

Adam was intrigued by this new routine and wanted to watch. But it became very evident that he had no idea what he was looking at. I realised that he didn't know what the English flag looked like, what our national anthem was, what colours the English play in. He doesn't know of our ancient sporting rivalries, the matches that have a little extra needle. As long as we remain here they won't be exposed to the English national games of rugby and cricket. He will see a lot of football, but he'll believe that the team he should support wears blue (although coming from a family of Chelsea supporters this is probably not such a bad step).

This got me thinking. Maybe we would be doing them a favour. Maybe a life spent not being constantly disappointed by the English teams performance (in football, rugby, cricket, insert name of sport here) would be preferable. But hours spent shouting at a TV screen as England collapse yet again is such an integral part of being English we need to ensure they are exposed to this. The next big rugby game is in 2 weekends time and we shall be watching it, teaching the boys to shout 'come on England' and sing the national anthem.

That said, the Bosnian football team are known for promising much only to spectacularly fail to deliver. Not so different really.

Friday, 13 February 2009

starting to talk

Having just written a post about how the boys are adapting to life in a different language (see post here), it is obvious that this week would be one of great change, particularly for Adam. He has now settled into nursery, trots off quite happily when I drop him off and is full of whose hand he held that day when he comes home, Ema and Melissa being the real favourites. But he hadn't really started communicating with anyone in Bosnian. His teachers said that he talks to the other kids in English and they talk to him in Bosnian. The children all seem to be quite happy with this arrangement and appear to understand each other no problem.

But then this week, I suddenly started to hear him saying more Bosnian words. When his friend, Edo, came round to play I heard Adam say Moje (mine), Pazi (careful) and ovdje (here). Then he started to correct our pronunciation (he does have a point there, it is dreadful). Then the teachers said that he was saying some Bosnian words to the other children in his class.

People overestimate the powers of children to pick up new languages. It is difficult for them and it doesn't happen overnight, particularly if the children are shy. Adam has been in nursery every morning now for nearly 5 months and spent the time laying down the foundations for learning a new language, but it is only now that we can see any audible signs that he is learning Bosnian. I'm incredibly proud of him and looking forward to watching his progress over the next few months.

In the meantime I also heard Edo shouting 'come on!' and 'lets go!' so it looks as if Adam's ambition to teach all the children English is also progressing nicely.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

La la LA laaaaa... la la la la la la

On finding out that we are British, a lot of Bosnians have greeted us with "That's so cool - I LOVE British comedy!" For quite a while we weren't sure what British comedy they meant. Were they talking Mr. Bean (or, heaven help us, Benny Hill) type of British comedy? Is it something more along the lines of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers? Or more modern - maybe The Office? Black Books? Peep Show?

It wasn't until we really got to the bottom of why it is that people always ask us if we have ever been to Peckham that the penny dropped. One of the top Bosnian shows is Only Fools and Horses. Rodney and Del Boy are complete stars here. We couldn't understand it.

The show was on last night so we watched it (instantly transported back to our childhoods and Thatchers Britain). But we did see why the Bosnians like it. The tower blocks of Peckham are not too far removed from the tower blocks of Tuzla where many people live. The apartments are small and whole families live together. The Bosnians, stifled for years with overbearing authority, tend to operate just on the other side of the law, finding a good deal is a national pastime. Trotters Trading is very similar to the businesses that many people have here, or at least many people can understand the thinking behind it. I hadn't thought of it before but Peckham and Tuzla are not too different at all.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Ticked Off

While Britain has been merrily collapsing under the weight of 3cm of snow, Tuzla has seen some unexpectedly warm weather. The temperatures have been about 20C and we've been quite warm enough in just a jacket. Snow seems like a million miles away. Battles with the boys about wearing their gloves seem like a different lifetime. When it gets warmer, it gets hard to imagine that only a few weeks ago we were ensconced in snow and ice.

The return of warmer weather is not all good news though. We had been enjoying a bit of a break in the attack of the ticks on Jessie since it has been cold, but we found one on her last night. We get less stressed about it now, we have a nifty tick removal implement which gets them critters out, then the blood thirsty, revolting sucker is left to die in a glass of slivovica which does the trick. It does mean that we have to be careful with the boys running through the undergrowth though and is a reminder that even during the summer we will have to walk with long trousers and boots to stop the odious things attaching themselves to us.

In the meantime, the temperature has done that Tuzla thing and dropped from 20C to freezing overnight. May the cold snap get rid of them all.

Monday, 9 February 2009

swimming, splashing and building

It may be winter in Tuzla, so swimming in the outdoor lakes is out (even for us hearty Brits), but that doesn't mean that there is no swimming at all. The Hotel Tuzla, a communist beast of a hotel if ever I saw one, has got a pool that really isn't bad at all. 25m, not too busy, not too chlorinated, it is a pool that you could do laps in no trouble at all (pictures of pool and associated bevy of beauties here - but a heads up for those surfing the Hotel Tuzla website, don't be fooled by pictures of lovely clay tennis courts - they are in Tuzla, but are not a part of the Hotel Tuzla complex).

We took the boys there on Sunday. Sadly, no laps for us, more standing in the shallow end getting cold while the boys in their armbands splash around having a splendid time. It does tire them out though, to the extent that both boys had a nap in the afternoon at the same time - a state otherwise known as nirvana to us fraught mummies.

We hadn't been swimming for a while as the hotel has been undergoing pretty extensive renovations which have now reached the changing areas of the pool. These are much needed and I'm looking forward to seeing the end result.

On the way home it struck us that there really is a lot of renovation and innovation going on in Tuzla at the moment. Squares in the centre of town which were car parks are becoming places to sit with cafes and benches. Dilapidated buildings are becoming brand new, smart attractive buildings. The saltwater lakes now have a series of waterfalls with pools in which you can sit. The old, tired zoo is becoming a cracking playground. The football stadium has got renovations going on all around it. There is talk of putting a part of the ring road underground, which would allow a huge green park to connect the centre of town to the Panonica Lakes and Slana Banja. I almost want to ask "Is Tuzla becoming "up and coming"? I may have to completely revise my perceptions of the city.

The citizens of Tuzla are proud of their mayor, who does appear to be doing a great job in improving the city. They are also proud of their non-nationalistic attitude and Tuzla is one of the few cities in Bosnia that doesn't elect nationalist politicians, one of the major reasons why Bosnia has got itself stuck in a bog of political fug (see article here for more on this if interested). I hope other Bosnians look at Tuzla for an example of what can happen when effective politicians are elected to power.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Help a tourist day in Tuzla

Our British car is still looking very British with GB stickers and licence plates all over it (not to mention the right hand drive aspect of the car). Whilst foreign cars are very common in Tuzla (Austrian, Dutch, French and Italian being the most popular) the British cars are few and far between. I have seen one other, a bright blue Smart car, we waved at each other in a moment of solidarity.

Anyhow, driving a British car makes us a bit conspicuous. People tend to notice us, especially the police. Driving to nursery today we came to their attention. I was indicating to turn left and waiting for a gap in the traffic. There weren't any so we waited for quite a while. Now, I grew up and learnt how to drive in London, busy roads are not a problem; if there is a gap in traffic I will take it. Trust me, there weren't any gaps in the traffic which would enable me to safely make the turn but I'm happy to wait.

The local traffic policeman couldn't take the incompetent cautious English driver any longer. He put down his coffee, strode across the road, stopped the oncoming traffic and waved us across, giving us a little wave as he did so. The boys were impressed and are now on the lookout for more policemen to wave to. Job done, he went back across the road to finish his coffee.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Guest Post - How to set up a company in Bosnia

D has finally negotiated the labyrinthine red tape surrounding setting up a company in Bosnia and is now officially registered, with a bank account and an employee. He started the process in August. Along the way he's learnt a few lessons. Things like the employer needs to pay 60-70% in taxes to the government on top of an employees salary - that makes employing someone a whole lot more expensive. Things like it takes 3 people to check an office 20m sq. Anyway, if anyone is thinking of setting up a company in Bosnia they would do well to read the following post - written by the man himself.

Here’s the process I went through to setup a business in Tuzla (in the Federation). For most of the steps I was following advice given by either the business centre where I was renting office space, the notary, or the accountant.

Step 1.
Get an accountant. I didn’t bother for a couple of months and it caused all sorts of issues. Ideally get a recommendation from someone, I ended up using the accountants that also worked for the business centre. For a small company 1-5 employees with a few transactions a month the fees seem to be around 250KM a month.

Step 2.
You will need to visit a Notary to prepare all your documents. I paid around 900KM for all my documents but I don’t know if that was a good price. It normally takes only a couple of days for the documents to be prepared. If you want the Bosnian company to be owned by another company you will need notarized documentation that show that you have authorization to act on the parent company’s behalf.

Note: Get used to visiting the notary. Almost all documents that you submit for applications, from opening personal bank accounts to work registration, will require notarized copies of documents such as your passport. Why they can’t take their own copy of the passport I don’t know, it’s very frustrating, time consuming and costly.

Step 3.
You will need to deposit 2,000KM into a bank account for the company’s initial capital.

Step 4.
You will need to pay around 1,000KM in various state and federal taxes. The notary should advise you on what needs to be paid.

Step 5.
You will need to get approval from Sarajevo to start your company. The notary will provide you with the documents to send.

Step 6.
It normally takes 1-2 weeks for the company to be approved. Unless you employ an agent to act on your behalf you will need to pick up the documents from Sarajevo in person.

Step 7.
You then need to get approval from the local Tuzla court which takes another week. In my case they wanted to remove one of the permitted activities for the company which required me going to the notary to get an official document removing the listed activity.

Step 8.
You need to get a company stamp. Whenever you sign a company document you will also use your stamp. The stamp is very important and if you lose it you need to notify the authorities.

Step 9.
You need to register the office lease with the tax department, they will need notarized copies of the office lease and will stamp the back of your lease agreement.

Step 10.
You next need a statistics number (company ID number), which again involves providing notarised copies of the office leases (with the tax department stamp) and other notarized documents used for registering the company. This took about a week.

Step 11.
You can then open your company bank account. Again this will require notarised copies of the various documents showing the company registration and your identification.

Step 12.
You then need to arrange for the municipality to come around and check your offices are fit for the business purpose. From the date of application to the first time they were available to visit was around 3 weeks. (In my situation they sent 3 people to check that an office of 20 square meters in size was suitable for writing software.) It’s then another couple of weeks before the documentation arrives.

Step 13.
You are now allowed to employ someone. But you cannot register them for social security or health care until the director of the company is registered. This is something the accountant can help you out with.

I started the process in mid-August and finished around mid-Jan. It could have probably been done a little quicker if I had really pushed but not much.

Other things to be aware of:

- As a foreign person working for the company you need to pay yourself at least the average wage, which is currently 800KM. The employer social security tax is then another 60-70% on top of that.
- Once the company has been registered (Step 7) you will need to be paying yourself and state taxes.
- Your accountant will need to file a tax return for the company bi-annually (Jan-June and July-Dec).

The next step is to get temporary residence status (issued for one year) for that you need notarized copies of:

- Passport
- White card (visitor permit issued by police)
- University degree translated by a court interpreter.
- Company registration documents
- Contract for lease of office
- Company ID document
- Permit for technical use of offices
- 2 x 100KM fees paid to Canton and Biro

Once you have permission to stay you need to leave the country and come back in then register with the police (you may need to have a police report from home).

different ways of learning

Just starting now to really see some of the differences in the educational system between Britain and Bosnia. I was talking to Adam's teacher yesterday who said that Adam wasn't very good at colouring in. Seems that he just doesn't want to colour in, stick collages, whatever - between the lines. I looked at all the pictures by other children stuck up around the nursery and sure enough they were all beautifully executed with not a mark, not a sticky piece of cotton wool, not a piece of glitter outside of the lines.

Now, I'm no expert in English nursery approaches, but I can't remember Adam ever being asked to do anything between the lines. I'm pretty sure that they took the approach that the child should create whatever he wanted, they viewed colouring in between the lines as limiting their creativity - or something like that. Anyway, Adam has obviously taken the decision not to be constrained by lines and draws his own thing, ignoring whatever car, sheep, cloud is on the paper underneath his efforts.

I feel that this is a difference which will continue throughout the educational system. The British system is about developing a child's creativity and the Bosnian system is, as I understand it, more about learning the facts by rote. This is something that we shall have to bear in mind when thinking about moving the boys between systems.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

stodgy cakes

Yesterday was a nadir in my cake making days. Usually I can bake cakes. I mean, they are not going to win me prizes at the local village fete, but I can add some combination of eggs, butter, sugar, flour and occasionally milk, chocolate and other yummy stuff to make something relatively palatable. Making cakes with the boys is a regular afternoon activity, best done the day before the cleaner comes. We all enjoy it, flour and eggs go everywhere, and sticky fingers create havoc, but it is a great rainy day moment, and there are a lot of rainy days right now so we have been doing a lot of baking.

Yesterdays effort, in theory a Nigella Lawson buttermilk cake (so easy it said on the recipe), ended up with the consistency of a stodgy flan and for the first time ever, had to go into the bin. I cannot work out why I can't get the cakes to work. Possibly the oven is not as hot as I think it is. Possibly my scales are very inaccurate (they are very inaccurate, but so were my English ones). I can't get to grips with the different types of flour here, but do feel that I know what plain flour is. The baking powder and bicarb of soda has been bought from England so should behave like normal. I have no idea.

Then, relief. I've been in contact with another Brit in Bosnia who is also struggling with cake making here. She can't work out the flour situation either and also has only about 5 recipes per recipe book that are usable out here. It's not just me! Phew! So, as long as we stick to chocolate brownies which don't need to rise then we should be ok. I'll just have to keep the Victoria sponge attempts on hold until we go home.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

becoming bilingual?

I've been meaning to write a post for a while about the boys and how they are coping with learning a second language. It is obviously a gradual process which means that there is not often an event about which I can write here. Now we have been here for 6 months (6 months!) and the boys have been in nursery for 4, I feel that I can sit back and take stock.

Many people, Bosnian and English, said on our arrival that children are like sponges with language and that they would pick it up no problem and even that they'll be fluent by Christmas. Obviously that is not entirely true. Children do have more of an ear for languages, and they will have a far better accent than we will ever manage, but that doesn't necessarily make the process of learning a new language any easier.

With two very different children, at two different levels of speaking ability, we are finding that we are watching two different routes to learning Bosnian.

Luke joined nursery at 20 months with a few words of English, really only intelligible to his adoring parents. He's quite a robust lad, and after a little trouble settling in has totally adapted to nursery life. His English language has improved enormously over the last few months - as you would expect as a toddler approaches 2. This is a relief to us as we did worry that introducing him to another language would affect his ability to learn English. I talked to his teachers yesterday about how much Bosnian he has learnt. They were unsure. They are pretty sure that he understands them and can certainly follow basic commands in Bosnian. But he doesn't really say anything, although he will mimic back to them what they have just said. He's quite happy to give it a go and enjoys the pleasure with which his attempts to talk Bosnian brings.

Adam, is a different soul. At 3 1/2, is a shy lad. He has never been one to put himself forward or rush to join in. He has always been happier on the outskirts of the group until he knows everyone well. In English he has always been able to express himself pretty well, with a pretty wide vocabulary and full sentences. He found nursery far more difficult to adapt to than Luke. He went from being fully understood and a part of a gang of mates at his old nursery to being the outsider, whom noone understands. It has taken a while but I think he is fully settled there now, but I'm not sure how much he actually enjoys it there. His teachers also say that he understands basic commands in Bosnian, but that he doesn't speak it at all. Not a word. He talks to the other children in English and they talk to him in Bosnian, and they all seem quite happy about that. He is not one to give it a go. Won't speak even words that we know he knows. We don't push him, he can speak or not speak as he wants to. He has also developed his own made up language, full of random sounds. Apparently this is a common path to learning a second language, in theory this means he is practising the sounds of the new language in preparation for the next stage of starting to talk it. We shall see.

That said, I do listen to my two talking between themselves and hear the odd Bosnian word creeping in. Most obviously, like all true toddlers Nemoj! Necu! Ne! (Don't, Won't and No). Also I've heard them say polako, ovdje, gore (careful, here, up) and other such words. Research seems to suggest that they won't really start to talk Bosnian until they have been at nursery for about 6 months, possibly longer.

So, they are learning. It isn't easy for them. And I can't imagine what it must be like to spend 3 hours a day in an environment where I don't understand what is going on. But I think, after nearly 4 months at nursery, they have done the hard part.

And just in case I was worrying that Adam doesn't talk to any of the children at nursery, new evidence proves that he does. We went to the smart supermarket the other day, the Waitrose of Tuzla. Halfway down the coffee aisle, he suddenly stopped and shouted really loudly, and in Bosnian, F**K! He didn't learn that from the teachers.

For anyone interested in looking at some research written by people who are far more qualified than me to talk about this type of stuff some good places to start are here and here.

Britain in snow

I'm listening to Radio 4 debating why it is that Britain is totally unable to cope with snow. They are mainly concentrating upon whether there are enough gritters, did the authorities do enough to clear the roads and so on. I can't help but feel that they are missing the point. The Bosnians get swamped by snow on a regular basis, and although they are pretty good on the gritting front they are not perfect. The big difference is that every single car must have winter tyres (and carry snow chains) during the winter months so the cars are able to cope with wintry conditions far better. I can't see the British public buying that as a solution though.

Monday, 2 February 2009

potty training...

It's back to life back to reality for the kids as they were officially classed well enough to go back to nursery, leaving me with a packet of tylolhot and some ibuprofen to get through the morning.

For Luke this means a restarting to potty training. Now he is 2 the Bosnians believe that he is more than ready to use the potty, so at nursery that is what he does. They are right, he probably is ready to start potty training. The thing is, I'm not. It is so much more difficult to do during the winter. Dealing with accidents is not too bad during the summer, but not feasible on a winter time dog walk with 2 pairs of trousers and some waterproofs on as well.

However, potty training has started at nursery, and I need to reinforce the lessons being taught, so potty training we must go. I will have to adapt to a more gradual training process than the from today there are to be no more nappies ever process I used with Adam (British Mummys won't be surprised to know that this is a Gina Ford recommendation). But it is a process that must be gone through and I am not particularly looking forward to it.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

cough, splutter, hack, hack

Ok, there is one thing worse than looking after sick children when you are sick. It is looking after well children when you are sick. The boys are up and running at full speed. They are bored of the TV, snakes and ladders and making train tracks. They want to do stuff, fun stuff, stuff that involves balls, running, screaming loudly and jumping on each other. I want to crawl back under the duvet and drink Lemsip (or my new discovery Hot Tylenol). Rock on Monday. They are going to nursery to soak up some of that excess energy.

Although we took the boys to the Doctor, both D and I are not that keen on going ourselves. We are a little worried at the casualness at which antibiotics are subscribed. Adam did have a bonafide ear infection for which I can see that antibiotics are necessary but D was given precautionary antibiotics just in case the lurgy got any worse. We have also been taken aback by the lack of instructions regarding the antibiotics. I'm used to knowing exactly how much to take and for how long. Here we've just been given a bottle and told to get on with it. We've enlisted the help of GP friends back in the UK and the internet to make sense of the 5 different types of medicine we now have on our shelves.

Still everyone is on the road to recovery, and not a moment too soon. It doesn't take away from the fact that since we have been in Bosnia we have been remarkably well - only 2 viruses in 6 months. This is a family record which I am delighted about and a considerable improvement to our more usual sickly state in the UK.