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


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.