Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Geographical conundrum

Putting Adam to bed last night:

A - Mummy, I love you all the way to the bus station

Me - well, I love you all the way to the nursery

A - I love you all the way to Zvornik

Me - I love you all the way to Sarajevo (this went on for a while with any number of Bosnian towns being mentioned, Mostar, Travnik, Zenica and Doboj all making an appearance)

A - I love you all the way to London

Me - I love you all the way to the Isle of Wight

A - I love you all the way to America

Me - I love you all the way to New York

A - I love you all the way to Oogy Doogy (think this might be an attempt to say Ougadougo, the capital of Burkina Faso which I had thrown in on a previous evening).

Me - I love you all the way to Timbuktu (oh four year old, I have a degree in Geography, I can keep this game going on for ever!)

A - I love you all the way to Timbucthree.

Blown out of the water by the logic of a four year old.

(with a huge acknowledgement to Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney for this game)

Monday, 29 June 2009

A right old chocolatey stodge

Another birthday, another cake disaster. This time it was Dave's birthday and armed with a new recipe that I have baked successfully before in the UK, I set about measuring, mixing, beating and greasing with the boys. I was confident of this cake. Really, I was. I mean, I'd already baked it once and it rose a treat, tasted great and was generally a cake worth eating. Also, it used plain flour (still haven't resolved the self-raising flour issue despite many attempts and associated flops) and all the other ingredients were readily available here. This was a cake that was going to work. I was going to break my Bosnian cake duck.

I felt like I needed this cake to be a success. I can bake cakes, I have baked quite a few in my time. But since we've been in Bosnia I have not managed a one. Also, I've been momentarily depressed that one of the most popular searches that lead visitors to this blog is 'stodgy cakes' which is not quite how I wish to be remembered.

We were hopeful as it went into the oven, but 40 minutes later, the skewer came out clean and the cake was as flat as a pancake, except for a little half hearted attempt at a rise around the edges. More chocolate orange brownie texture than light and fluffy cake. There was only one thing for it. Ice the thing, cover it in M&Ms, fizzy lemon cola bottles and sticky gummy dinosaurs and try to contain the excitement as we wait for Daddy to return so we can sing Happy Birthday. Actually it didn't taste bad, was just a bit - oh alright then very - stodgy. The boys wasted no time in tucking in and tuck in they did, they are mercifully forgiving of cake disasters. There's nothing quite like a birthday party to get excitement levels to a peak and all the adults then had to do was to sit back and watch the effects of large amounts of sugar on small boys. Dave hasn't had a birthday party quite like it for years.

PS - Brits In Blagai - the recipe is coming your way. Please can you try it and see if you have any more success or is it something in the Bosnian flour that is thwarting my attempts (oh, please let it be something in the Bosnian flour and not total incompetence on my part, although I have a terrible feeling that the incompetence may play a large role, sigh).

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Of recycling and plastic bags

An update on how my recycling pledge is going. My mission (which I have chosen to accept) is to not use plastic bags for a week. Results so far.... not good.

Day one - wrote the post about the pledge, was all on a high and feeling good about what I was about to accomplish. Realised that I was 10 minutes late in picking the boys up from nursery. Ran out of the house. Without plastic bags. Totally forgot until in the bakers and no way to balance the number of bread items with 2 toddlers, scooters and greedy dog. I think we could safely say, in the terms of that splendid game Battleships: 'MISS'.

Day two - there are now plastic bags all over the place. In every pocket of every item of clothing I can think of, in the car, tied to the dogs lead and pretty much a few tied to my wrist. Ran into the store and had a sudden panic. Had these plastic bags had raw chicken in them? Our plastic bags are usually used for picking up dog poo so I don't worry too much about the previous contents. But suddenly I was panicking about salmonella. Retreated from store carrying the goods in my hand. Not sure if it is a 'HIT' but wasn't a 'MISS' either.

Day three - HIT! Had bags, bought items and went to put items into said bags. The shop keepers thought I was a bit mad, tried to bag them up for me in order that I could put them into my bag. My Bosnian is improving but doesn't stretch to 'I've made a pledge for the (British) National Recycling week not to use plastic bags, please just give me the goods and I'll sort myself out'. I sort of shrugged, snatched and contributed to the impression that the British family down the road do things a bit differently to everyone else.

Day four - we shall see. I'm on day four now and haven't been near a shop yet. Judging my own performance it has to be said it looks as if I'll be getting up on Sunday. Curses.

In the meantime, I've been thinking a bit more about recycling. The other British bloggers in Bosnia, We Do Adventure, wrote a moving post about the recycling efforts in Mostar a bit of which I shall shamelessly steal now:

"It is true that most Bosnian shopkeepers would be genuinely offended, bemused, or both, if you tried to exit their store without your purchases safely wrapped in a generous selection of carrier bags. I could talk about how these bags end up blowing about the city, adorning trees and shrubs like some exotic form of flora. However, I’m going to lurch off in a slightly different direction.

I remember one occasion after a particularly windy day when I should have stopped and photographed a field full of this freakish foliage. It was a truly sobering site, all the more so because it bordered the rubbish dump where many of the young people we know live and work with their families. We put our rubbish in the large bin on our street. They come around and rummage through the bin rescuing anything useful, like bottles for recycling or metal for resale. They are the heroes of recycling in Mostar".

Here in Tuzla there are also many people who go through the rubbish bins looking for anything that can be reused. I have made a new pledge to myself, to separate out anything that might be useful and leave it in a separate bag for them to easily access.

Just in case we should be thinking that the rummaging of rubbish is a Bosnian (or less wealthy country) characteristic, Califlorna also writes about this in her home state in California:

"Here on the Balboa Peninsula, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re all crammed into a tiny space. There’s just not enough room for all the different recycling bins. Newport Beach City Council takes everything away and recycles it. Apparently there’s a big conveyor belt which it all gets dumped onto and sorted. I’d like to think this is more productive as they look through the rubbish and take as much as they can and maybe do a better job. Having been trained to place everything into different categories for recycling, it now feels very strange to put everything into one bin.

The other side of this is that we get people constantly going through our bins looking for items to be recycled. It’s heartbreaking. Families spend their weekends rummaging through all the bins collecting cans and bottles. My neighbour gets cross with them and claims they’re stealing from the city. I can’t get cross. If you need to take your family around, including young children, riffling through filthy rubbish bins, take as much as you need. There needs to be a better way to help. I try and separate out my recyclables so that they don’t need to dig through our rubbish, but they still open the bags, just in case there’s something in there. They don’t realize I’ve gone to the trouble of separating it out for them."

I only mention these blogs as it has served as a wake up call for me. Just because there are no recycling bins or recycling pick ups, does not mean that there is no recycling. So, I'm widening my pledge to include doing more recycling and to get back into sorting out our rubbish. There is a chance I can reclaim my Sunday lie-in after all.

Monday, 22 June 2009


June 22 - 28th is National Recycling week in the UK, and I've been tagged by the amazing Mummy Do That (how much do I wish I could knit as well as she does - sigh) to participate by pledging to do something that reduces my waste or increases my recycling. Recycle Now has suggested a number of pledges (more of which later) with penalties for those not managing to make it, which is linked in together with a blogging meme started by Almost Mrs. Average at the Rubbish Diet.

This kind of neatly teams together with a post that I had been thinking of writing about recycling in Bosnia, so I couldn't resist.

Ah, recycling and Bosnia. Where to start. Well, there isn't any. At least that we have found, although I do hear the odd rumour about a bottle bank in town somewhere and we have been to hunt it down, but to no avail.

However, and there is a big however here, the Bosnians are much much much better at reusing what they have. Most people shop in local markets so the amount of packaging is minimised. We can buy beer in bottles more cheaply if we return the bottles to the brewery down the road later. Everyone fixes everything, no throwing away of old phones, shoes, clothes or anything that might possibly have more life in it. When money is tight, a throw-away culture does not make sense.

That said, I still have to make a pledge.

- I could promise to recycle more, but there isn't anywhere to recycle so I can't.

- I could promise to use my leftovers for lunch the next day, but we already do that so that would be cheating.

- I could promise to go waste free for a day but have a suspicion that would mean saving up all my waste for the following day which isn't really in the spirit of the thing.

- I could promise to compost more, which is a possiblity here and one which I will look into but it isn't the pledge that I have gone for.

So, I've gone for reusing all my plastic bags for a week. And if I fail to do so then I will forgo my Sunday morning lie-in and let Dave have it instead (but let it be known, if he sabotages my efforts all bets are off!).

I also need to tag a few people for this, and thought to take it international (environmental problems are a global issue after all) but would stick to the Britishers amongst us as it is a British initiative. What is it like trying to recycle, reuse and reduce waste in other countries?


We Do Adventure: Can you do any better in the Bosnian context? I think I'll struggle with the free availability of kesa at every store. Is Mostar any better on the recycling front?
Califlorna: How are the Californians doing?
Life In Italy: The Italians?
MissBehaving: In Japan?
Real Motherhood: and how about Turkey?

Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to follow the rules below:
1. Visit Recycle Now and make a pledge
2. Write a post sharing the details of your pledge on your own blog
3. Tag some other bloggers who might also be up for the challenge
4. Come back to this post at The Rubbish Diet and share your pledge with others by placing a link to your pledge in the comment field.

I'm off to the bakers, plastic bag in hand and have stuffed a few plastic bag into every other bag that I carry with me. This is doable, but I must organise myself.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Is that cricket?

Dave loves cricket. Absolutely adores it. Will watch all 5 days of a test match and then watch another 5 the following week. Has seriously been considering going back to the UK for the entire summer this year in order to watch England play Australia in The Ashes series. Sadly for him, he also abhors Sky and refuses point blank to buy any channel they offer, muttering darkly about the evils of media control and using words that are not printable in any way or form. This (and an ability to adhere to principle which I can only admire) means that he has not been able to watch cricket on TV for the past 4 years.

Earlier this week he casually switched on the TV and nearly fell over in shock and excitement to discover that the TV was showing the 20/20 World Cup live (for the American and non-British readers who don't have a clue what I am talking about, it is a big cricket competition and all terrifically exciting). Not only were they showing it, but it was complete with Bosnian commentary.

Where, we asked ourselves, did they find a Bosnian with enough knowledge of cricket to commentate? They seemed to know what they were talking about - at least we heard cries of 'sest!' and 'cetiri!' in the appropriate places (that meaning six! and four!), and suitable intakes of breath at a disguised googly. Tragically we then let the side down a bit by spending the rest of the evening in an attack of the giggles, imagining the Bosnian translations for 'gosh, is that a pigeon flying over silly mid point?', 'I say, this lemon drizzle cake sent in by Mrs. Miggins of Upper Toddington is jolly good', 'the batsman's Holding, the bowler's Willey' and 'Oh Aggers, do stop it'.

We had to wonder if there was anyone else in this country watching the matches? And we had to remark upon the irony of having to live abroad to watch an English national game live on TV. Dave is waiting with bated breath to see if he will get to see The Ashes after all.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

1 Today

Brits In Bosnia is one year old today. A year ago we hadn't even started packing up our English house. We've come a long way, in many senses, since then.

In a nostalgic mood, I've been looking over some old posts to remind myself of some of the tales (and trials) of the last year and thought I'd highlight my favourite ones here; it is National Recycling Week after all - more about which later, once I've finished popping party poppers and blowing up balloons.

Olympic Dreams: The one where I'm ambushed by the Croatian water polo team on TV during the Olympics. It wasn't pretty then, it's not pretty now.

Boslish / Engian: The one where we discover that names don't always translate

Fireworks and Flowerpots: the one where Adam goes to the Ambassadors Residence for a party and pees in his flower pots.

The Thing About Winter: the one where I look forward to summer as I try to get the kids ready to go out in the snow. Having read it again, I'm not sure I can do another winter here.

Lost in Translation: the one where Luke's teacher and I get in a right old muddle as an English phrase just doesn't translate.

Important bits of English Culture : the one where Adam is introduced to that all important part of English culture - shouting at the TV whilst watching our national team lose.

La La La La Laaaaa: And the award for the Bosnian's favourite comedy show goes unexpectedly to...

Potty Training, It all depends : the one where I start thinking about potty training, and, more importantly, what other people mean by potty trained.

R&R? : The one where I'm preparing (ha ha ha) to fly home with the kids.

That's enough birthday indulgence. I'm off to over-indulge in chocolate cake and hula hoops and then I'll run around manically, screaming at the top of my voice before being sick and declaring it to be the best birthday ever!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

red red tape.. stay close to me

Back to our battle with the never-ending, soul destroying, employment creating Bosnian bureaucracy. Using an unexpected flanking manoeuvre, Bosnian bureaucracy has actually opened up a new front in this war, which is occupying most of my time, much to my enormous irritation.

For once it isn't the visa application that is causing my misery. That is not to say that the process is finished, rather the quagmire continues, involving more police reports, extra notarised documents and vast sums of money. It is too unbelievably dull for words.

No, this little skirmish has come from the boys nursery, where we need to reapply for our places next year. This process includes handing over various documents, including passports and birth certificates and having a health check. I could cry. We're still recovering from the last time we had to go and have our health checked out and that was only 2 months ago. The battle to get them to accept the certificates we got that time is ongoing. But this battle is nothing compared to the battle to get them to accept our birth certificates.

The problem is that in Bosnia your birth certificate is re-validated every 6 months. Yup, every 6 months every single Bosnian must go back to the relevant ministry and get a stamp, or whatever it is that they do to show that they are still, well, born. Because, you know, just maybe they have been born again and not in the religious sense. When I produced my birth certificate, the original one and now 37 years old, their jaws nearly hit the floor. The boys' certificates, looking considerably less dog eared, are also not valid.

They would also like us to produce our ID cards. But of course we are British and therefore don't have ID cards (and long may that remain the case, despite the fact it would make my life here a lot easier). That has caused a fair amount of head scratching and ponderous scratching of chins. No ID cards. Possibly, I said, we could use our passports instead. Well they thought that might be ok but could they get back to me on that one. I await their verdict.

I have filled out the form though. But it was in Bosnian and therefore a bit hit and miss, so I've probably applied for them to be taught in German and only on Tuesdays.

I'll just keep on turning up at nursery. They'll have to let us in in the end.

Monday, 15 June 2009

sometimes it is not the kids who cause the most trouble...

One of the key aspects of parenting, they say, is to learn from your mistakes. So given an episode from last year, which I even wrote a post about called making your life easier, you would have thought that I would not be making the same mistake again. Dear reader, you would be mistaken.

The story then. It has been hot here. Really pretty hot especially for us Brits who are used to one day of sunshine per year when it might possibly, just maybe, get over 80F / 27C and then we all complain about it for the rest of the year. It has been approaching 100F (that is 38C for the more metric minded amongst you) every day for the past week. The hose has been out in the garden, we have been swimming in the lakes and we are doing everything possible to cool down. Which is why, when Dave suggested that we go get some water pistols I foolishly forgot last years experience and acquiesced.

Adam and I ventured forth, avoided the strikes that are currently gridlocking the traffic in Tuzla, and found 4 water pistols that look like sharks and shoot water miles. We rushed home and I left them to it. For a happy half an hour I could hear shrieks of laughter, the occasional squawk as someone had obviously been hit, and the sounds of taps running. Dave, out there and orchestrating the fun and games, was organising the filling up of buckets of water and helping them re-fill their guns. I embarked on a momentary and unusual domestic goddess moment and got on with such things as marinading chicken, making banana pud for dinner and even cleaning the bathroom.

Eventually I couldn't resist it and popped out to join them. They were wet, but not excessively so. I got blasted pretty quickly, but found a gun and hid behind the car. Years of experience has taught me that my husband is the one to watch in these situations, so I crept towards him planning an ambush. Luke, spotting my ploy, alerted his father (oh traitorous child). I was distracted for one moment. One precious moment. And found myself underneath a bucket of water.

Dave claims he thought I knew he had the bucket and would be watching for him to do it. He also says it was self defence as I was about to attack (with the smallest water pistol of all). He also laughed a lot. Dripping wet, I did the only thing I could. Got hold of the nearest bucket and let loose.

The boys watched eyes as wide as saucers. This, they thought, is a good game. This is how to do it. Look at Mummy go. She can really throw water a long way when she wants to.

And so the fun continued. Obviously there were the occcasional wail as someone got a little too wet, but we did have a lovely time.

As I dropped them off in nursery this morning Adam asked if we could play the water game again this afternoon. I think the key for me now is going to be limiting the throwing around of water to that which comes out of waterpistols, and to reinforce the golden rule of 'not inside the house!'


On a different note - June 15 - 21st is refugee week in the UK and the Red Cross has launched a campaign to encourage people to look beyond the label of 'refugee'. The blog Amila Bosnae has a really nice post on this which includes a video from a woman who had to flee Bosnia as a child in 1995. I really recommend that you read both the post and watch the video and help support the campaign.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Bosnian news

Well, blow me down with a feather. There I am complaining that Bosnia never makes the news in the UK and when I listen to the news on Radio 4 last night (you have to love radio over the internet, the inside of our house sounds just as it did before we left the English shores) the second story was about Bosnia. It seems that the head of the Bosnian Serb army during the conflict here, Ratko Mladic, has been caught on video apparently as recently as last year and this video was aired on Bosnian TV on Wednesday night. Mladic was indicted on various war crimes and genocide charges and has been on the run for the last decade (reportedly in Serbia and rumoured to have been protected by the Serb state until recently).

This being the Balkans, nothing is as straightforward as it first seems. The timing of the release of the video coincides with two things. First the Bosnian Serbs had a June 11th deadline of complying with international community ultimatums which they then proceeded to ignore (more on this from my post earlier this week) and I don't find the release of a video of one of their previous leaders suggesting that the international community are getting closer to finding him entirely coincidental. Second, many believe that it is to put pressure on the country Serbia who are, with the election of a more Western inclined Prime Minister, to shortly have discussions about their route to EU membership. The apprehension of Radovan Karadzic in Belgrade last year by the Serbs (complete with beard, top knot and new career as an alternative medicine practitioner) was probably orchestrated with one eye on their EU credentials.

Either way there is nothing that the Bosnians love more than a good conspiracy theory and everyone is talking about it. Whether they will catch him and whether the war crimes tribunals in The Hague will deliver effective justice is a totally different story

more memes

In a simply fantastic attempt to dodge doing any work this morning and because Desert Island Discs is about to start and I quite fancy listening to it, I'm taking up the "8" tag given to me by the lovely Sparx whose spud has got chicken pox so I hope he is feeling better. (and also It's A Small World After All and Metropolitan Mum - I'm feeling all warm and popular, evidence that I am no longer at school, hooray!)

Here are the rules:
1. Mention the person who tagged you
2. Complete the lists of 8s
3. Tag 8 other bloggers and let them know.

8 Things I'm looking forward to
1. My second cup of coffee today
2. Swimming in the Pannonian Lakes this weekend
3. Barbeque Saturday night
4. Christmas (a long way away I know, but we are going to Geneva and it will be great)
5. A potty trained Lukey
6. Eating the carrots from our veg patch (they're looking pretty good)
7. Desert Island Discs
8. Our leaking tap being fixed

8 Things I did yesterday
1. Quite a lot of work!
2. Got the hose out for the boys
3. Potty training
4. Got my mobile phone into a shop to be fixed.
5. Invited a load of people round for a barbeque on Saturday
6. Read quite a bit of Jo Whiley's book, My World In Motion which I am really enjoying (just loving this people sending me books to read and to review thing).
7. made homemade cheese burgers which the boys actually ate (this is no mean feat, Adam is VERY fussy)
8. Walked home from nursery with the boys along the unused train track and watched the lizards and then walked the rest of the way home pretending to be dinosaurs

8 Things I wish I could do
1. Get more sleep
2. Potty train faster
3. Train the dog not to try and eat the poo from unpotty trained bottys
4. Be more disciplined in getting down to work
5. Sew properly
6. Be more creative on the cooking front
7. Not shout
8. Speak Bosnian properly

8 favourite fruits
1. Forbidden ones
2. All the others (there really aren't very many that I don't like)

8 Places I'd like to travel
1. Sutjeska National Park (east of Sarajevo)
2. Rafting at the Una Regatta in Bihac
3. Cornwall in the sunshine
4. More of the Croatian Coast please - Korcula and Hvar being special favourites
5. Kenya
6. Anywhere in a camper van
7. Anywhere with a really good playground
8. A decent stint of staying at home

8 Places I've lived
1. London
2. Oxford
3. Cambridge
4. Lebowakgomo, near Pietersberg, South Africa (Paradise Lost in Translation should know all about that one)
5. Granada, Spain
6. Santiago, Chile
7. Freetown, Sierra Leone
8. Tuzla, Bosnia

8 people tagged but who don't have to do it if they aren't also into work avoidance and listening to Desert Island Discs

1. Crazymaisey at Where's your other sock gone?
2. Sandy Calico at Baby Baby
3. Clarey Babble at ClareyBabble
4. Mamma Nut at 4 Nuts in a nutshell
5. Mel Roxx at MelRoxx
6. Zooarchaeologist at Being a Mummy
7. Metropolitan Mum at Metropolitan Mum (this isn't totally mad, I did the meme before she tagged me, honest!)
8. Kathryn at Life in Italy

and a bonus tag because I feel like it to

9. Wife of Bold at WifeOfBold

Take it away.

Ok, that's it. Kirsty Young and Piers Morgan have finished their music choices, I've talked to my Mum on the phone and am having a very pleasant and peaceful Friday morning. Wishing you all the same.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Losing our parking entertainment

It can safely be said that I have truly embraced one aspect of the Bosnian culture. I love the way people park here. The rules seem to be that you can park wherever you can. Is that a piece of pavement the size of my car? Perfect. Is that a piece of pavement not quite the size of my car ? Never mind, if we put the front end of the car in that will do. I have never quite managed to reach the giddy heights of one Bosnian I saw, who parked in the middle of the one way system causing gridlock, but I was secretly impressed at the chutzpah and ability to ignore wildly honking horns.

I can't park for toffee, so to see some of the attempts of other Bosnians makes me feel right at home. To be fair, they probably half squeezed the car into a very small space, but when the neighbouring car departs, it leaves the original car looking very, um, haphazard. Drunken almost.

But all this fun has been ruined. We went into town yesterday for a saunter down the Korzo, bit of an ice-cream and a general smooch around and discovered that the authorities have discovered parking meters. I nearly cried. They've also put up big signs encouraging people to park between the lines and banned people parking on the verges. It's not very expensive (but I did grow up in London so have a distorted view about how much money parking is likely to cost) but it has spoilt all my fun.

It goes without saying it will make the city centre an easier place to negotiate on foot and is a very good thing really. Whether the Bosnians pay any attention to it remains to be seen. I'm not sure they are going to take to it, I've already had to demonstrate the automated machine to 3 Bosnians scratching their heads.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Learning languages

One of the things a break back in the UK allowed me to do was to see how much learning a second language has affected the boys ability to speak English. We spent a lot of time with friends who have similar age children and it was interesting for me to compare their linguistic developments.

Luke appears to have been the most affected. Aged 18 months when we arrived he is now 2 1/2. I've never really heard him say much in Bosnian, but understand from his teachers at nursery that it is at a basic level: Yes, no, won't, don't, mine. In other words all the most useful words for a toddler. His English isn't bad at all, but there is a definite difference between him and his peers. Having said that, after 5 weeks in the UK where he only heard English led to the most remarkable advances in his language skills. Who knows whether this jump was due to occur anyway, or whether being back in England encouraged it.

Adam's English is doing just fine. Now 4, he is eloquent and able to communicate really well. His Bosnian is coming along too, although he won't speak with adults just the other kids. He is a long way from being fluent but we think he understands most of what is going on. The only issue that does seem to have arisen with learning another language is that he appears to have developed a stammer when speaking in English. I need to think about the best tactic to take to encourage him not to stutter as I think he is using it for thinking time rather than because he can't not stammer but I do need to do some research on this one (any advice gratefully received!).

We take care to only speak to the kids in English. Partly this is to help clarify for them which language is which. Mainly though it is because our Bosnian is rubbish and we would only teach them how to speak poorly and with a terrible accent. We do lots of reading and have English language DVDs (love CBeebies), but they also have some Bosnian DVDs as well.

The boys are doing so well and I'm incredibly proud of them. They are in a nursery where noone speaks English so they are having to learn Bosnian themselves. I'm pretty confident that if they do fall behind in their linguistic capabilities in English they will rapidly catch up on our return. So, I'm not going to worry about it. If they learn to speak another language whilst they are here then that is amazing, but I'm not going to push them to. After all, if they learn to speak another language whilst they are here then they will be able to communicate with each other without us fully understanding what they are saying. Maybe this isn't such a good plan.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Potty Training.. Round 4

The time has come. The weather is good and I can get clothes washed and dried quickly. The boys can run around outside all day which minimises mopping of floors and washing of sofas. We are not going anywhere for a while (actually given the state of our finances we are probably never going anywhere ever again). He is old enough, he knows what a potty is for, he has been known to use it. He is ready.

The current score is Attempts to Potty Train 3: Successful Attempts to Potty Train 0. Notwithstanding that sad statistic and remembering that it is the final attempt that counts, we are going in again. Luke, prepare to bid those nappies goodbye.

I'm pretty pleased that I am not alone in the bloggy world on doing battles with the nappies. Maternal Tales and Moaning Mum are also in the throes of it. I wish them luck in their venture and a call to arms to share stories of pain together to make me feel better and see the funny side of cleaning up poo smeared all over my clothes, the sofa, the dog. Actually Maternal Tales is pretty good at this already, her tales of poo and cars reminded me not to take any long journeys until Luke is at least 6. See I'm smiling and almost looking forward to it.

Also, the Best of British Mummy Bloggers Carnival is up and ready to go. Head over to Rosie Scribble for all the tales of the best and worst aspects of parenting.

Monday, 8 June 2009

normal service will be briefly interrupted..

I can't write a blog about being in Bosnia without occasionally taking a moment to step outside of the mummy and expat mantle and writing a bit about the situation in Bosnia itself. I tried to set the context of the country in a post back in April (An Uncertain Future) and every now and then put links up to articles about the country in The Economist and other such venerable publications.

When I left the country for the UK 6 weeks ago, the political situation in Bosnia was tense. I kept up with the news, scanned the foreign pages for news of Bosnia and generally kept my ears open. I didn't hear a thing about the country so I figured it was back in its more usual state of tense political stalemate but everyone getting on with their lives just fine.

Back in Bosnia I caught up on what has been happening over the last 5 weeks. Turns out that quite a lot has been going on, none of which had been reported in the UK.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) who are the International presence in Bosnia and are there to make sure that everyone is behaving themselves, sticking to terms of the peace agreement and generally trying to build up useful things like a stable and uncorrupt government have found themselves in deep conflict with the Bosnian Serbs. In a nutshell OHR is trying to realign some powers that the Bosnian Serb government currently has with the central Bosnian government. Anyway, the Bosnian Serbs are up in arms, threatening to declare independence from Bosnia and there is a lot of throwing toys out of prams, rattling the bars of their playpens and general tantrums worthy of a two year old. For a more grown up take on the actual situation Balkan Insight have a couple of articles worth a peek.

Declaring independence from Bosnia is the ultimate threat. This was what the Bosnian Serbs fought much of the war for, and a declaration of independence could well spark another conflict in the region. There are some who think that the whole mess in Bosnia has gone on for so long that independence for the Republika Srpska is the only way forward (the former US Ambassador William Montgomery writing in the New York Times for example). Others such as Marko Hoare suggest this is allowing the architects of ethnic cleansing to achieve their genocidal aims.

Anyway, the point of this post is not so much a lesson on the Bosnian political situation. More it is to say that I cannot believe that there is so little media coverage of the situation in the Western press. The situation here is tense, very tense. There is a very real possibility that the region could sink back into conflict, and no one is really paying attention. Bosnia is not in the depths of Africa or the mountains of Asia. It is European, it is in Europe. It is just east of Italy, it is north of Greece and is just south of Hungary. The Europeans are in charge of Bosnia (they run the councils that control OHR) and seem incapable of sorting out the situation. The Americans have more influence and clout (Vice President Biden came to speak at the Bosnian parliament and tried bashing a few heads together to try and start some form of cooperation between the different leaders) but see Bosnia as a European issue (for more on this have a look at this recent Economist article). Nobody seems to be getting anywhere, and the situation goes on and on to the huge detriment of the Bosnian people.

The politicians and the media are focused upon how to extract ourselves from the quagmire of Afghanistan and Iraq, and rightly so. But, by ignoring Bosnia today they are both failing to learn useful lessons which could help them. Furthermore, if I was a suppressed Iraqi insurgent, the lesson I'd be learning would be if I kept quiet for a couple of years and waited for the next crisis to crop up somewhere else, I'd be able to do pretty much whatever I wanted as no one would be looking.

Normal service with tales of small children and cultural misunderstandings will be resumed in the next post. Thank you for bearing with me.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

driving me mad?

In the last month I have gone from driving a righthand drive car on the right (a British car in Bosnia) to a righthand automatic on the left (in England) to a lefthand drive car on the right in the States, back to the righthand on the left in England, to a lefthand drive car on the right (a hire car in Bosnia) and finally back to our trusty old manual righthand drive Ford Mondeo Estate on the right.

Confused? If I see a roundabout I may well drive over the middle of it.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The really important things to bring back from home

I'm still unpacking. It takes forever and is one of my least favourite activities. But, as I try and create some form of order in the chaos it has struck me that what I have actually bought home from the UK is nothing like what I expected to bring home. Utterly food obsessed, I thought my bags would be stuffed full of things like marmite, mango chutney, popadoms, pine nuts, chocolate hobnobs and PG Tips and all those other things that we can't get hold of out here.

But when push came to shove, and I realised that we didn't have enough space to bring back everything that I thought we would it was the important stuff that stayed in.

- marmite and teabags. Obviously. But these were really the only foodstuffs that made the cull.
- childrens suncream. Althought the weather here is currently dreadful and we can only look at the English summer going on and weep, it will get hot here. Last year we couldn't find any childrens suncream that wasn't very thick and gloopy so I bought some back.
- new clothes. The clothes in Bosnia are surprisingly expensive, especially children's ones. It is far cheaper to buy them in the UK and bring them back, particularly when the second hand shops around my parents house are so great . I may have also snuck a few new clothes for me in when Dave wasn't looking.
- Calpol and Calprufen. We have enough to sink a small battleship. You can get similar in Bosnia, but I feel it is safer to stick with what I know. I know how many times I can give it to them, how much, that it is safe to alternate the two and that if it doesn't bring their temperatures down that we need to go to the doctors. When their temperatures soar, I don't want to be worrying that I haven't quite got it right on the medicinal front.
- a few English language books.
- a few box set DVDs. We really don't watch the local TV that often. We have no idea what is on, or when it will be on. So, we prefer to watch an episode of a show that we know we like, although what we will do when we finish The Sopranos I have no idea.
- many many many childrens DVDs. I can't take the childrens tv here, Cartoon Network is dreadful and even Adam says that the cartoons aren't very good. This way CBeebies still works its magic and I can take comfort in the fact that it is vaguely educational.

So alas, no room for the mango chutney. I'm still not sure if leaving it behind was a mistake.

Awards and the like

Having been on holiday and spending my time skipping around in a carefree fashion I have been a bit remiss in keeping up with the various bloggy bits and pieces, links and the like. So, a post here, dedicated to getting my blog back on track.

First up: Those very lovely people at Totsy's Place have put together a list of the top 100 British parenting blogs, using some quite technical type parameters that I don't understand. But, it is a great resource if you are looking for some new parenting blogs to read. And while you are there have a look at Number 71... (cue contained squeaks of excitement).
Then I've also been given a couple of awards. I do find these a little like chain letters, which I was never very good at, but I love it when other people get them as they often link to some other blogs that I haven't discovered yet so I feel I should pass them on. And, I can't deny that I get a bit of a thrill on receiving an award. Since growing out of swimming badges rather a long time ago I haven't received many so I'm going to display them with some pride as the equivelent of sewing them onto my swimming costume.

The very lovely Emily at Maternal Tales from the South Coast has awarded me the Your Blog is Fucking Fabulous for which I must list 5 obsessions and then pass onto 5 blogs. Like her, I get a bit of a childish thrill about swearing in inappropriate places, although I do try to limit it in front of the children. The only exception is when dealing with ticks, of which there are many around here. The boys now think that fucking ticks is the name of the animal. As in there are cats, dogs, pigs, sheep, horses, monkeys and fucking ticks. Sums up how I feel about the creatures. Anyway, I digress. My current 5 obsessions are required:

1. dealing with the fucking ticks.

2. blogging - I dare not get involved with twitter or anything else, I already spend far too much time on the computer

3. Bosnian coffee - so good. Strong, dark and gets me up and running. I can only have one cup a day though or I am up all night.

4.Chocolate cakes - Adam's birthday has just been and for the last 6 months he has been talking about how he wanted a chocolate cake for his birthday. It has taken me this long to get the right one, but it was worth waiting for.

5. My children - of course, but I really am!

Then I must select 5 fucking fabulous bloggers to pass this onto. So, without much ado:

We Do Adventure: The other English blogger living in Bosnia

Bad Mommy Moments: Always makes me smile

Diapers and Dragons: Just love the name

4 down mum to go: Don't know how she does it.

Cafe Bebe: Go and look at the photos of the cakes

Next up - the Lemonade Award awarded by the Metropolitan Mum, another expat mummy. Fortunately I don't need to do anything for this one, simply award it to a few blogs to say thank you. So with no further ado, here are some mummys who are also trying to bring up children in a country that is not their own:

Bloomin Marvelous


Paradise Lost in Translation

Wife in HK

Life in Italy

And that is that. Phew. Took me far longer than I thought it would, but I do now know how to put pictures onto my blog, which is a valuable skill I feel.

Monday, 1 June 2009

flying with children, flying without them

We're back. 5 weeks break in the UK has whizzed by, but it was time to go home. So we packed up the most enormous number of bags and boxes and got ourselves in Heathrow to catch a flight to Budapest, another to Sarajevo and then drove a further 3 hours to get back to Tuzla.

So much travelling in the last couple of weeks, both with and without the kids, was a stark reminder of how different the whole flight experience is when you are in charge of small children.

1. Inflight Entertainment

Without children - it may have been cramped and crowded mayhem on the flight to New York, but we could read and watch movies (and I did watch quite a few). Bliss. Total, unadultered bliss. I may have been a bit overexcited about the whole experience.

With children - walking up and down the aisles endlessly desperately scanning the faces for sympathetic passengers or anyone who might also have a child. Trying to keep them out of the galley area. A lot of Room on the Broom and Sir. Charlie Stinky Socks stories (with appropriate soundtrack at high volume).

2. Conversations

Without Children - would you prefer the beef or the chicken darling? Which film are you going to watch? Please pass me the second half of the newspaper. Shall we go to MOMA on Friday? Do you think we'll have time to go to the theatre?

With Children - It would be a good idea if you went to the loo now before we got on the plane. Please stop kicking the seat of the woman in front. Don't stand up on you chair. Keep your seat belt done up - and the table up too! Shhhh. Look at all the tiny cars and houses down there. I don't think sweetle beatles live in the airplane wings. Stop hitting your brother. You can't need to go to the loo again. Don't press the alarm button in the loo. I don't know what that button does. Sit still. I know we've been flying for a long time, but we still have quite a long time to go. What about some drawing? I've got some stickers for you. I don't think they want you to put stickers on there.

Then with David, conveniently seated away from the mayhem as the airlines couldn't seat us all together - We are swapping seats. It is your turn right now! No you can't finish the article you are reading.

3. Going to the loo

Without children - whenever I wanted. On my own. In under 10 minutes.

With children - always with at least one, occasionally two in tow. Not to mention any bags which also need to be shoved into the cramped cubicle. Any event accompanied by a commentary informing the whole of the ladies that Mummy has just done a wee. Inevitably an attempt is made to open the door, leaving Mummy exposed with trousers around her ankles. Once or twice they have a success. Inevitably there is some water spraying around the sinks, soap splashed all over the place and then a fight over who is going to put their hands in the dryer first.

4. Waiting at the terminal

Without children - time for an elegant, relaxed coffee. Possibly with paper. Able to move fast when the flight is called. Even if we are still horrendously late for the flight, we can still peg it to get there on time.

With children - impromptu wrestling match and lots of running around as I try to exhaust the activity impulses for a few hours. Rolling around on the floor always attracts disapproving looks from other adults, although those with children often join us. Have to move as soon as the flight is called and we will still be the last there as Luke will inevitably be drawn to some rubbish bin and have to be prized away screaming. If they make us take our shoes off, at least one shoe will disappear for some time and at least one child will make a break for it whilst I am trying to put my shoes back on.

5. Food

Without children - it arrives, we eat it with a glass of wine or so, have a coffee afterwards. Not the greatest meal I've ever had but not the worst either. All is well.

With children - it arrives. They take one bite and hate it. I don't blame them for this, airlines do insist on providing absurdly strongly flavoured cheese and onion sandwiches which kids are never going to go for. They do eat the chocolate thing provided though and then go a bit nuts. I try to cram some apples into them, or maybe a prepacked sandwich but they don't go for this. It leads to a day of appalling eating and stomach aches later.

6. On arrival

Without children - thanking everyone that we don't have kids with us, we wait patiently in the immigration queue. Once through, pick up luggage and decide to catch the subway into the city as there is horrendous traffic. Proceed smoothly with no problems.

With children - children, released from sitting down quietly, race around like demons, respecting no queue or the immigration desks. Just as we get to the front, one will need a wee really desperately and we will have to negotiate vaguely keeping our place. Contemplate getting the bus back home to Tuzla. This will mean getting taxis (notice the plural, we were never going to be able to get all our stuff into one taxi) to the bus station and then a 3 hour bus ride. Abandon idea rapidly and rent a car instead.

We're pleased to be back home, and actually the journey back wasn't as bad as it could have been. However, we're not about to repeat the experience anytime soon and I need a holiday to recover.