Thursday, 30 July 2009

Diving, Bosnian style

Whilst Britain watched Tom Daley winning golds at the world championships, the Bosnians have been doing their own special sort of diving.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) of Mostar was destroyed by shelling during the war. It was rebuilt in 2004. A old tradition has the men of Mostar jump from the bridge into the absolutely freezing waters of the Neretva below. They still do it. They are quite mad.

Anyway, last weekend they had a big festival. I've been looking on YouTube to see if there were any clips, but I can only find some old ones, so I've included one here. I particularly like the opportunistic Red Bull advertising; last time we were in Mostar I'm pretty sure it wasn't carved onto the keystone.

PS - this is the first time I have ever managed to upload a video so I'm sharing in the applause for being so technical.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Expat Stalking: A guide

However much we love Bosnia (and despite all the whinging and moaning we do), there is nothing like a conversation with some other people from your own country. Sometimes, it is just a relief to be able to talk to someone who has the same cultural references as you do. Sometimes I just need to know if anyone else finds the way that, for example, the Bosnians insist on having carpet in their kitchens just bizarre or whether it is just me. This means that every now and then there is a need to locate a fellow countryman. Sometimes they just appear, buying a stamp in the post office or strolling around town. Other times they are a bit more difficult to find. But without a doubt, you will notice your fellow citizens when you come across them.

At this point, many people choose to do nothing. After all, apart from the fact you come from the same country you could very well have nothing in common. Others, like me, like to make contact, with behaviour that might just verge on the stalkerish. Having been an expat for a year now, I have observed the different levels of stalking behaviour as follows:

Basic: The ears prick up at the hint of an accent or native tongue fluency. Usually followed by a head swivel because, you never know, you might actually know them. It's a small world after all and there aren't that many English/Yanks/Cameroonians in these parts. Once identification of the owner of said accent has been established it is followed by a good hard stare and swift internal debate about whether to actually approach said owner. Common sense usually gets the upper hand and everyone continues with the daily routine unhindered.

Intermediate: The first steps follow the Basic Level, up to the point when everyone continues their day unmolested. The intermediate expat stalker will however manage to manoeuvre the situation so that they accidentally 'bump into' the owner of the accent, somehow engineering the start of a conversation at which point they can say 'oh whereabouts are you from?' or 'I'm English too' or something along those lines. This is usually followed up by a quick, slightly stilted conversation about the lack of suitable tea bags and the establishment of how long the stalkee is going to be in the area. If they are just here for a holiday then the conversation can be quickly ended, but if they are more permanent then mobile numbers can be exchanged, conversations about the best areas of town to live in started and promises to meet for coffee later. Alternatively the stalkee looks a bit spooked and exits the conversation as quickly as possible without being rude.

Advanced: The advanced level stalker will take the intermediate level one step further. The accidental engineering of a casual bumping into may only occur after a physical pursuit of the stalkee. This can be done on foot around, for example, the supermarket. It may involve jumping off an escalator, running to get onto the down escalator before visiting at least 5 shops before catching sight of their prey. Highly advanced levels may achieve this chase part of the stalk in their cars.

Yesterday we achieved the highly dubious accolade of completion of the advanced expat stalking level. Driving along quite merrily, discussing the merits of Bob Dylan vs. Bob Dylan covers (Adam is a purist, only a true Dylan song will do), I suddenly spotted an English car. Not just an English car but a family sized English car. What else was there to do? I slammed on the brakes, threw a wildly illegal U turn and set off in hot pursuit. Eventually the car stopped (after several light flashes and some fairly demented waving on my part) to reveal a whole bunch of bemused adult Bosnians, one of whom was over from the UK on holiday. I spluttered, vaguely tried to offload some of the blame on the boys - they saw the English car and wanted to say hello - and retreated.

The joy of being English here though is that everyone thinks we are quite dotty anyway, so the odd truly random bit of behaviour only serves to add to our mystique. Maybe.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Bright Lights, Big City

We've been off on a jaunt. The Brit family packed up and for no reason whatsoever other than we felt like it, took off to Sarajevo for the weekend.

It was marvellous. Sarajevo is a great city and a great city to visit with kids. Being Bosnian, they believe in a long leisurely stroll en famille of an evening, with lashings of quality ice-cream, stopping off for the odd drink here and there. At one point we found ourselves, at gone 9.30pm sitting in an outdoor cafe, supping cocktails with the boys racing around the square and everyone having a fine old time. Normal British routine gone to pot, the boys went to bed with us at midnight and even rewarded us by sleeping until 8 (a first!).

Sarajevo was looking lovely. Much of the centre of town is pedestrianised and there were a number of streets with enormous red and yellow Chinese style lanterns hanging above them. The number of hip cafes has exploded there, during summer it is very easy to relax outside, in a beautiful setting with a restful beverage, even with kids in tow. We even found a pirate cafe which, although intended for grown ups, has many useful things to keep small children amused like skeletons, muskets and pictures of ships on the walls. The Bosnians are a very child friendly culture and in quite a few cafes the waiters got on with the important job of amusing our children so we could engage with the important job of enjoying our cold beer in the evening warmth.

Having felt a bit left out from all the British Mummy Bloggers' get togethers, I decided to arrange one of my own. Well, not a British Mummy Blogger get together in Bosnia as that would be a party of, well, me. No, I arranged to meet a number of people who I have met through this blog which was the closest I could get. First of all we met up with the ever so lovely Brits of Blagai and their irrepressible daughter at the Sarajevo zoo, with its playground, little train and the odd bumper car. The kids hit it off straight away and were off climbing, shouting, laughing, evading their parents and generally loving having another English speaker to create their own toddler world with. The grown ups talked about what annoys us about Bosnia; what we don't get, how can they operate like that and why on earth do they permit... It is not that there is a lot that annoys us, but we don't get much opportunity to offload on other people who understand where we are coming from, so we couldn't resist the opportunity. Barring the odd trip to the Sarajevo hospital A&E (we are told on good authority that it is efficient, works well and you need to a car to get between the different bits of it, but as the whole happy party were reunited in under an hour you have to be impressed at the speed at which they were seen and compare that to some stories we have heard on the NHS) we all had a lovely time that afternoon and are now planning to see if we can get down to the Mostar region for more playtime soon. Sadly for us all, Mostar is a good 6 hour drive away from Tuzla, so we can't just pop in for a cup of (decent) tea.

Next up, I went to meet the other British Bloggers in Bosnia, WeDoAdventure who are also based in Mostar but who had kindly come up to Sarajevo for the afternoon to see me. Dave took care of the kids so we went for a grown up style coffee and gossip. I've been following them since they arrived in Bosnia just after us, it was a treat to meet them in person.

We also managed to squeeze in a coffee with a few other Brits so we could gossip The Ashes, debate whether the Bosnians sell cous cous at all, where we can find English language news for the region and confirm the rumour that Adam peed in the Ambassadors flower pots in the middle of a party. The boys turned their straws into guns and merrily went and found another little boy to create havoc with.

The final stop, in what had already been a real holiday, was to the Baths in Ilidza, on the outskirts of the city. What a find. We hadn't realised it was there, it hadn't been built the last time we went exploring that part of the city. Now there is a whole enormous pool complex, with indoor and outdoor pools, cafes (this is Bosnia, you are never far from a cafe) and, to everyones squeals of excitement including me, water slides! Again, being Bosnia, the old health and safety laws are not so vigorously enforced so 2 small boys are able fling themselves down slides clearly marked age 6 and up. We were there for hours.

Now, back to the same old same old in Tuzla, I'm plotting our next weekend jaunt. As are Adam and Luke, who want to go to Blagai very much indeed and are very taken with this idea of holiday. Ice cream, staying up late, lots of people to play with. Everyones idea of heaven.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Postcards to my family*

Dear Boys,

Please leave my laundry alone. In particular please do not do any of the following:

1. post a felt tip pen into the laundry basket which will then leak bright orange all over my favourite skirt and the only decent white shirt that I have left.
2. Pull over the clothes horse when there is clean drying laundry on it. I know it makes a great den. But I need the laundry clean and dry.
3. Pull it over again when I have already told you not to do it.
4. Throw around clean and dry laundry that is folded ready to be put away.

Thanks for listening to me, I will appreciate it,


Dear Boys,

If you want to go and play with the sprinkler I think this is a great idea. However, you do need to put on swimming stuff if you are going to get wet. This is not a trauma. Moreover, once your swimming stuff is on, do not to take it off before we even get outside, it just makes me cross, particularly if you then run around laughing dementedly.


Dear Jess,

I know that you a are retriever and therefore predisposed to pick things up. But, please don't invade the clean laundry pile to do this. In particular please stop taking guests any of my underwear, or take my underwear outside and scatter it in the garden. Please also stop leaving one sock outside, the Bosnian tradition of taking your shoes off means that I do need to pair socks and I can't do this when one is buried in the flower bed.

Thank you,
The one that feeds you.

Dear Boys,

Mummy is not a climbing frame. Really. I also have a really bad back. So, I'm really not joking when I say that I'm not a climbing frame.

Thank you,

Dear Boys,

Sometimes I can't do the same conversation more than 10 times in any given 15 minute period. So I apologize if my eyes glaze over and go a bit squiffy. When you are an adult you will understand.



Dear Dave,

There is no magic fairy who picks up your clothes and puts them in the laundry basket. It is me. I appreciate this may come as a shock. I'm also the fairy who picks up the stuff that has been dumped in the middle of the floor and puts stuff in the rubbish bin.

Your ever loving wife.

Dear Boys,

Cooking is hard. Cooking dinner that you will both eat is even harder. Cooking a dinner that you will both eat whilst at least one of you is whinging, hanging off my leg and the other is waving the wrong end of a mop in my face is near impossible. Managing to stay calm in this situation is never going to happen.


Dear Luke,

Please stop switching all the buttons on the washing machine. It is on its last legs as it is. And I don't think I can take another boil wash with clothes that aren't able to do it.


Dear Boys,

I am not as obsessed with laundry as it appears. At least I don't think I am.


Dear Boys,

When I tell you not to do something it is generally because someone is going to get hurt if you carry on. Whilst I appreciate that you need to learn the boundaries and limits, I would prefer it if we didn't need to take trips to the hospital to do so. Also, I'm your Mummy, I love you and I don't want to see you hurt. So, when I say don't do something, don't do it!


PS - for extra bonus points, it is also best not to look at Mummy whilst doing whatever it is that you have just been told not to do. That will really send me off on a whirling she banshee like rant.

Dear Boys,

Carrying on a theme here, when I say DO something, best to do it. Preferably straight away. Certainly I'd prefer it if I didn't have to ask you 30 times before losing the plot to get you to put your shoes on/clean your teeth/sit down for dinner.


Dear Adam,

When you deliberately set out to wind up your brother it has the effect of also winding your mother. Better all round if you don't do it in the first place.



Dear Luke,

If you wake up at 3.30am and insist that Mummy comes to see you and insist that Mummy also stay awake with you until 5.30am then please don't expect Mummy to be happy, bright and full of energy the next day. Particularly if the day is 40C plus. Mummy doesn't get the opportunity to nap in the middle of the day. Best to go back to sleep yourself, 3.30am is the middle of the night whichever way you look at it.

Your very tired Mummy.

Dear Boys,

I'm sorry if I get very grumpy, cross and shout quite a lot. I honestly do try my best to be a good Mummy. I love you both ever so much, you are both the sweetest, cheekiest, loveliest little boys I know. I wake every morning promising myself that I will and do my very very very best for you, be the best Mummy that I can. Some days I succeed, other days I fail miserably. All I can promise is that every day I will keep trying.

All my love and for all time


Dear Dave,

Thank you for everything you do. Even if I don't mention it at the time every time you cook dinner, come home early to rescue me from insanity, take the boys out for an hour to give me a break and doing their bathtimes pretty much every day I deeply deeply appreciate it. This bringing up children lark is tougher than we thought, but I love that we are doing it together and think we are not doing too badly. It is all the more fun for having you as the partner on the ride.

I love you.

PS - I still mean it about the laundry though. x


*with a big acknowledgement to the amazing Kat at 3 Bedroom Bungalow who has a regular Dear So and So feature that I just love. As an aside she is also running a giveaway to celebrate her blogoversary (terrible word that, or is it just me?) which, unlike most bloggy give aways, has something that I quite like - so if you are looking for some really nice diaper/nappy bags then click here and enter.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Jobs I'd never want to do

There are many jobs that I'd never want to do. Before having children wiping another persons bottom and constantly cleaning up other peoples poo was up there. Marketing tobacco would be another. The type of jobs that are either physically or morally just a bit ick.

Radovan Karadzic was arrested a year ago and is currently preparing his defence for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. He was the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the war here, as opposed to Ratko Mladic, who is still at large and was their military leader. This trial, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (known as the ICTY) will be one of the biggest war crimes tribunals since Nuremberg. Expected to start in late August or early September, it will be a media frenzy as many of the events of 1992 to 1995 are relived. The charges carry a particular focus on the siege of Sarajevo and the events in Srebrenica and the media is sure to focus upon them, but many of the other charges relate to other areas of Bosnia.

Most of the people I have spoken to are relieved to see Karadzic go on trial but I should say that we live in Tuzla which is a predominantly Bosniak (that is Bosnian Muslim) area. Were we to be in Banja Luka, the capital of the Bosnian Serb area, it would be a different story.

Despite originally saying that he would defend himself (and muttering something vague about an invisible ally) Karadzic has amalgamated a strong defence team, most of whom are working pro bono.

I understand the need for Karadzic to have a good and a strong defence team. For the trial and its outcomes to be accepted by all sides, they must ensure that there are no loopholes, no ways in which his defenders might be able to say that it was rigged. He must have a fair trial, he must be able to justify his actions and show where he feels the charges are wrong. The tribunals are writing down a history of what happened and for this history to be accepted as the truth they must ensure that all sides are well and fairly represented.

I just don't know if I'd be able to stomach being his lawyer.

(For more on this story see Balkan Insight and also My soda with Radovan, written by one of his defending lawyers)

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Gunning and shunning

Now that we've exhausted the next door neighbour's fruit trees, the boys and I trundled off down the market to pick up some more fruit. The markets here are amazing, full of fresh produce farmed from just down the road. I like to head there whenever I can, but it is more difficult when accompanied by children. Luke has taken to helping himself to handfuls of blueberries (the wild ones, picked from the mountains, much smaller than the ones we get in the UK and sooooo good) as we pass by stalls. Adam likes to examine the peaches, prodding and poking them into peach oblivion.

But, the biggest drama of going to the market is at the entrance. For there, beckoning like a siren to lovesick sailors, is a toy stall. They don't sell just any toys. Oh no, they sell toy guns. Can there be anything more enticing to boys aged 2 and 4? To pass this stall requires strength, dragging, screaming, pleading and general maternal trauma and perseverance. Last time we went Luke got hold of one stand, full of guns, and pulled it over. There were tears all round.

Like all good middle class families today, the boys don't have any toy guns. That is not to say that guns do not feature in the Brits household (and have posted before about this here). Everything that can possibly be made into a gun is. Sticks (ones with little nodules that can be used as triggers are especially prized). The broom. Lego. Meccano. Kifla (a sort of crescent shaped Bosnian bread roll). In fact anything that can be pointed is also capable of being fired, usually accompanied by some form of rat-a-tat-tat noise. Luke hasn't quite got the hang of rat-a-tat-tat yet, he sounds more like some form of farting bear with a stomach problem but I get his intent.

So having braved the gun stall and all its associated dramas yesterday afternoon we were wandering back through the car park when Adam spotted a toy gun on the ground. It was broken into quite a few pieces which he carefully picked up and secreted away in his pockets. When we got home he tucked in under a chair and spent most of the afternoon working out how he could put it back together. I was actually very impressed, he really had worked it out and pretty much fixed it, so I put some tape over it to keep it together for him and he is now the proud owner of his first gun.

I'm not looking forward to going back to England and being the one responsible for introducing all the other kids to guns. We're going to be ostracized for life.

In other news the latest Best of British Blogging Carnival is up over at Rebel Mothers, so head on over for more tales from the parenting frontline.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Allotment Jealousy

Our fledgling allotment in the corner of the garden is coming along pretty well. There are some tomato plants that definitely look as if they are going to yield some tomatoes. The carrots are growing. The rosemary, basil and parsley are going great guns. Even the peppers (or was it chillies, I can't remember) are getting bigger. The boys and I spend quite a lot of time pootling about down there, pulling up things that we hope are weeds and spraying water over the plants and, usually, each other. Adam is getting quite into it, proudly showing everyone which plants are the tomato ones and where the tomatoes are growing. The onions didn't make it, but I think that has more to do with our dog, Jess (who is on a strict diet at the moment) looking for food than them not actually growing.

But we have noticed, pleased as I am with our little patch, that it is nothing compared to our neighbours. They have great squares of vegetables with walkways between the beds. Their plants are neatly lined out in lines and not a weed to be seen. They have apple, cherry and plum trees. Their strawberries looked amazing, and their raspberries were pretty good too. I spend quite a lot of time standing by their fence looking at their garden in awe. Their beds are probably measured out to perfection and the odd millimetre difference would be noticed.

It's not all jealousy though. The cherries and raspberries overhang our garden and are ours, all ours. The great British tradition of scrumping* is developing strongly in this corner of a foreign field.

*for American readers. I just looked up the definition of scrumping and discovered that it means something else entirely over where y'all live. To avoid confusion and thinking that I'm up to something entirely inappropriate, the British meaning of scrumping is the art of stealing fruit (usually apples) from orchards and gardens that don't belong to you.

My World In Motion, Jo Whiley

The nice people at Virgin have been sending me more books to read. Can I just say that I love the nice people at Virgin, they have yet to send me a book that I haven't liked.

The most recent to land on my doormat was the autobiography of the BBC Radio 1 DJ, Jo Whiley, My World In Motion. I've always liked Jo Whiley, she comes across as a genuinely nice person who I'd like to have a cup of tea with. Her radio show, The Live Lounge, is particularly brilliant, where bands are given the opportunity to do covers of songs that are way outside their normal repertoire. So, for example, getting Will Young to cover Outkast's Hey Ya! giving the song a completely different feel. We have some of the Live Lounge albums here, and love them.

She is a mother of 4, very close to her family, deeply in love with her husband as well as being a very highly regarded DJ and passionate about live music and the summertime festivals, particularly Glastonbury. Her book is organised to reflect these different areas of her life so the chapters are headed: Sister, DJ, Wife, Festival Lover and Mother each coming with a play list to reflect that side of her life. I enjoyed this way of looking at a life, it reflects the multi-faceted side of her life as a working mother. Occasionally it made for repetitive reading, as obviously in real life these different areas are not mutually exclusive.

She writes best when writing about her true passions, music and family. The chapter on her sister, who suffers from Cri du Chat syndrome leaving her with severe learning difficulties was fascinating and she manages to portray the person who her sister actually is as opposed to purely being someone afflicted with a chromosonal disorder. Jo's passion for festivals also shines through, and I enjoyed her descriptions of trying to work at Glastonbury, her friendship with the (wonderful) John Peel and trying to do it all with small children in tow, somewhere in the mud.

Jo's been very successful in a very male dominated world and has also had 4 children and built a close and loving family. Reading about how she balances it all was interesting, although she is fortunate to have her parents available to help out with childcare, neatly avoiding the childcare angst that most other working mothers feel.

My one criticism of the book is that everyone seems so nice. Sure there are disagreements but there is always a valid reason for them. Everyone, and by this I mean all the most famous bands over the past 15 years or so, are lovely, charming and lots of fun. Surely there must have been more spats and catty bust ups? But probably not around Jo, she just seems too, well, nice for that to happen around her.

Worth a read? Definitely, if only to read the life story of someone who had a passion about something, and with an element of luck and a lot of talent has managed to combine her passion with a career and a family. Jo herself admits that she has been fortunate but I'm just thrilled to know that it is possible and it is a testiment of how her personality that I find myself thinking 'good for you Jo' rather than being consumed with jealousy at how she has managed to pull it all off.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Super Nanny lessons

As the parent of any toddler knows, there are a few golden rules that you (try to) follow.

The first is that if you make a threat then you must be able to carry it out. So, when you say to your adorable offspring in their least adorable state 'if you do that again then we won't be going to the playground' you must be able to not go to the playground if they continue to spit yogurt drink all over their brother. This punishment can often be as much a punishment for the parent as it is for the child, to not go to the playground will obviously entail a screaming tantruming child who wants to go out, is now corralled at home with a parent who now has to deal with the little angel and has to find something else to do to fill the afternoon. The key here is obviously to find a better punishment, but I'm drifting off point.

If you don't carry out your threat you lose all legitimacy and, in the words of the great Potty Mummy you are toast. The kids have you were they want you. They don't need to listen to what you say, they know you don't mean it.

So, us lowly mums have a lesson for the International Community present in Bosnia. When you say to the Bosnian Politicians, you are all very very naughty and you must do what I say or else, you need to have an 'or else' or the Bosnian politicians will consider that you, too, are toast. Or at least irrelevant and will laugh at you when you get all cross and huffy. Trust me, there is nothing worse than being laughed at when you are cross and huffy.

It isn't surprising then that the role of the International Community here is being questioned, with quite a few people pushing to close OHR. Without teeth, without the ability to do the 'or else' (or even have an idea of what the 'or else' will be) it doesn't appear to have a whole lot of relevency.

But, the political situation here is still ever so tense. The situation has not improved with yesterday's decision to allow Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro visa free travel in the EU, but not Bosnia or Albania. As the Bosnian Croats mainly have Croatian passports (and visa free travel) and the Bosnian Serbs can legally obtain Serbian passports (and therefore are about to get visa free travel), the only group of people this is affecting is the Bosniaks (also known as Bosnian Muslims). There is a concern that isolating Europe's Islamic population in this way will lead to increased tension in the region (as detailed by the European Stability Initiatives report here). Some people here are questioning why it is that the victims of war crimes, such as Srebrenica, are to be denied visa free travel, while the perpetrators, by stint of their passports, will be able to travel freely (see the Balkan Insight article, but a few people I've spoken here have said the same thing). It should also be said that Serbia did meet the requirements laid out by the EU for visa free travel, and Bosnia has yet to do so, although the difference between the two countries is very slight indeed.

So, with an already tense political situation, decisions being made that will only make it even more so, it is important to think through what exactly an international presence here in Bosnia is designed to do. OHR (the international community organisation here in Bosnia) thinks of itself as stabilizers for kids learning to use a bicycle. Others say having the stabilizers stops the kids from learning how to balance. Either way, as all parents can tell you, if you want respect you must be prepared to be unpopular and carry through clearly defined threats. Otherwise you become an irrelevancy. In the decision of having an international community presence or not, the choice of having an irrelevent one is the least attractive of all.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Laundry Life

At last, summer has really begun. Having had weeks of unseasonal rain (the endurance of which is made worse by constantly hearing about the unseasonal heatwave back in the UK), we are now on full scale sunshine, temperatures in the mid 30s and a confidence that tomorrow will be the same.

In this household the arrival of serious sunshine also marks the arrival of serious washing. We don't have a dryer (never have actually, even in England) so I need to make the most of the ability to get stuff dry fast. The past few days the washing machine has been humming. Quite often it has been humming with nothing in it, as Luke has discovered how to turn it on. This is not a good thing; although I'm obviously encouraging his ability to separate whites from delicates and load them up, I am now living in fear of the unexpected boil wash.

Anyway, I digress. The washing. Or, more accurately, the washing basket. Readers, let it be known, I've seen the bottom of the washing basket! For quite a long time I thought there was no such thing. I mean, I haven't seen it for years. I had started to believe that the laundry basket is a bottomless pit. Worse, it is some weird Dungeons and Dragons portal thing, where new bits of material are constantly being fed in the basket to ensure its mysterious depths lie untouched. But today, as I type, it is bare and incidentally, a rather grubby white. Can I just mention here in a rare moment of housewifely proudness (I don't have much to proud of on this front so allow me just a touch of self congratulation) not only have I washed all the bedding and sofa covers, I've even washed the curtains. And that weird thing that no one knows what it is that has lived in the washing basket for years. I've washed the lot.

The only problem? If I believed in ironing, the ironing pile would be it. Fortunately I don't so I'm just trying to put all the clothes away. Turns out that we don't have enough cupboard space. Seems we need the laundry basket to maintain the household equilibrium. Better get back to my more usual slovenly ways quick sharp. Clearly I need to read more of There's More to Life than Laundry, who has decided to forsake the bottom of the laundry basket to sail from the UK to Brazil in the Round the World Clipper Race. She has young kids too. I have no excuse!

On a different note, I have to give a talk to the best and brightest of Tuzla's university and final year high school students. I can talk about anything I want. Any ideas? What would you talk to seriously bright young people, who will help shape Bosnia's future about? A big part of me wants to stand on desks and shout carpe diem! but I don't think my oratory talents can match Robin Williams, and the talk is in the Medresa school so requires a modicum of decorum. Suggestions gratefully received in the comment box.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Missing some Mummy Friends

Way back when, before we moved to Bosnia, I identified the development of a Mummy Network in Bosnia as pretty vital to how we managed to settle in (and even wrote a post about it: All Hail the Mother's Union). Having friends with similarish age children is such a life saver on those days when nothing is quite going to plan. It also allows everyone the opportunity to get out, behave better and have a change of scene. Before we left I was really really worried about how I would cope without one.

I still haven't developed one. I have many friends here (dear friends, wonderful friends) but they don't have children. I have a few friends with children, but they work full time and aren't around at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon. The Bosnians, with their much tighter familial network often are able to have their grandmothers help out with childcare. There isn't really any form of toddler group and although I thought long and hard about setting one up, and even spoke to a few people about it, I just don't think it would take off here. Similarly, there aren't any toddler music classes or any of those other types of activities that can bring together Mummys of similarly aged kids. Once the children get to the age of 6 or so the number of available classes takes off, there is tennis, karate, music, swimming, you name it. But they are more of the turn up and drop your children off variety which doesn't help with the trying to make new Mummy friends.

No, those afternoons, once I have picked the boys up from nursery are all mine. Occasionally one of Adam's friends comes over. He is looked after by his 16 year old sister who also comes too. She is lovely, but she is also 16. I'm 2 years younger than her mother. It took us a while, but we are now friends, we've worked out how to while away the afternoon together whilst the boys destroy the house. We have never been invited to their house and I don't want to push it. She has no phone so I have no idea when they are coming, nor can I contact them to say 'hey, I've a great idea, lets go and do xyz this afternoon.'

But on many, many afternoons, we have no company. There is little specific child orientated activity here in Tuzla (the Bosnians being much more about activities that the whole family can be involved in, which is obviously wonderful, but an occasional child focused activity would also be wonderful). I'm left to my own devices with the boys. Boys who, at nursery have been sitting down and colouring in and doing all those industrious, shall we say peaceful activities. Boys who on leaving nursery are like corks coming out of a bottle. They want to run. They want to shout. They want to climb. They want to wave swords around, make guns out of sticks and wrestle.

It is exhausting. They do not want to sit down and colour or glue or make things with Duplo. When I try to do this type of activity it inevitably ends in things being thrown across the room. I've not quite given up, but I do look for activities that can accommodate a good throw or can be done outside where mess doesn't matter quite so much. We do a lot of kicking balls and running races and dragon hunting. I get them on their scooters (what a god send they are) and we scoot and scoot and scoot as I try to burn off some of their energy.

But it can be lonely. So intensely, frustratingly, tear inducing lonely. They are sweet boys, wonderful little lads. But they are toddlers. They fight and have tantrums. They can't quite reason or think ahead. They don't want to let me listen to the radio for 10 minutes. They, or at least one of them, requires attention all the time. And there is nowhere for me to go when it all gets too much.

There have been some long, long afternoons when all my friends are at work and I've had to call Dave and beg him to come back before I totally lose the plot. Or at least come out for a coffee with us so I can have a conversation with someone about something that makes some form of sense.

But a year on, I'm kind of getting used to it. I miss the Mothers Network at home. My goodness me how I miss it. But I'm much better at developing things to do with the boys here than I used to be. I can stretch an activity to last for hours. The boys are older and are much more able to play together than they used to be. But I'm still sitting here, on a Monday morning, with nothing planned for this week, and feeling slightly panicky about it.

Friday, 10 July 2009

14 years ago

Bosnia in July is a lovely place to be. It's pretty warm, the ice cream is good, there are lakes to swim in and barbecues to be had. The Bosnians love the summer. Everyone is out, walking, laughing, drinking coffee and/or beer and having fun.

But July is a poignant time here, particularly in this part of Bosnia. It was on some July days 14 years ago, not dissimilar to the day today, that 8,000 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica were killed, despite being in a UN protected enclave. Srebrenica is not far from Tuzla, maybe 2 hours by car, and it was to Tuzla that those men trying to escape were trying to reach. Many people from Srebrenica still live in Tuzla, not wishing to return to their old homes. Every month, the women of Srebrenica walk through Tuzla to highlight their plight.

The anniversary of the events at Srebrenica falls tomorrow. Some 530 bodies, exumed from mass graves and identified through their DNA will be buried in the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial in Potocari. An estimated 2,500 are walking to Srebrenica on a Peace March, their arrival timed to coincide with the burials. Thousands more will go to Srebrenica for the memorial service itself, returning from all over the world.

I'm no expert on Srebrenica. There is nothing in my experiences that can remotely compare to what those of Srebrenica have endured. I can't write anything that adds to what has been written or doesn't just state the bloody obvious of how on earth did this happen? But I can't write a blog about being in Bosnia and not acknowledge this anniversary.

Thursday, 9 July 2009


It was a time we never thought would come. Invited to a barbecue last night, we thought to have (yet another) go at baking something that might be acceptable to take along to a gathering of people, you know grown up people who might not be quite so accepting of the great chocolatey stodgefest that most of our cake baking attempts of late have resembled.

This time round, banana and chocolate chip muffins. Adam mixed and beat and I measured and poured. Into the oven they went and (Handel type Messiah music here) Halleluia! they rose. We took them to the party, heads held high and they were a real hit. People want the recipe and everything. We are cake making gurus. We are, in fact, Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart.

Sadly the muffins are too late to enter the Great Blogger Muffin Off held a few months ago. But they'd have won. Truly they would have done. And for all those in Bosnia who let me know that they can't get their cakes to rise either (thank you for that, you have no idea how much better it makes me feel to know that it isn't just me struggling with the baking here!), try them. If we can get them to work, they must be pretty infallible.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Best of British Mummy Bloggers Carnival!

This being the summer and all, the Best of British Mummy (and Daddy) Blogging Carnival has got out its passport, packed its bags with suntan lotion, a very flattering swimsuit, the odd sarong and some glamorous strappy sandals and gone abroad. Not to the most obvious of holiday destinations, admittedly, but welcome to Bosnia. We’re sitting on the terrace, sipping a chilled white wine (some brave souls might be sampling the local slivovica or plum brandy but it is too strong for me) and chitchatting about the best tales of parenthood told on Mummy and Daddy blogs over the last month.

Grab a glass, get into the holiday spirit and let us begin:

To make us laugh, cry, sigh and nod our heads in empathy we have:

Perfectly Happy Mum writes a letter to her old boss in which she describes her feelings about his attitude towards her during her pregnancy and return to work post baby.

Yummy Mammy has a set back in court which breaks her heart. You should all read this post, it will make you think and causes much discussion on the terrace as people try to work out what we can do to help.

Four Down Mum to Go (mother to FOUR boys, how does she make it throught the day, let alone write a blog?) writes a wonderful post about how she feels about the love between a mother and her boys in Love Is...

Half Mum Half Biscuit isn't sure about meeting her exes new girlfriend in Isn't the Mind Weird?

Maternal Tales claiming that this will be the last ever poo story in Poo Stories RIP. We do hope not.

Battling with Sanity also recounts a poo based story in curls and crying and as mother of a recently potty trained toddler, I feel her pain

Sticking on the poo story tack (and fortuitously following on from my last post) is Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy?, whose husband requires a long receipt...

Mummy Do That isn't quite at the poo story stage of potty training yet, but can't believe that it might be that time already

Sandy Calico has quite a day travelling the full spectrum of mummy emotions (don’t worry, Sandy, the terrace is nodding in agreement, we have all been there) before singing live at a gig (the terrace is extremely impressed, few of us have been there!)

Being a Mummy has a VERY long afternoon as a very cherished possession has an unexpected adventure in The Longest Ten Minutes of My Life

Lush Wife has an afternoon of freedom and a freebie lunch with a new breed of journalists which differed somewhat to the freebie lunches when she was a ‘mere hackette’ in Don't Know They're Born

The Potty Diaries are featured in The Times Alpha Mummy site, but her husbands eye is caught by other things in Love and Marriage

A Modern Mother peruses the sights of the Henley Royal Regatta, a post to make any stressed mummy sit back and smile in Whatever Rows Your Boat

MammaPo is so proud of her daughter who demonstrates such character in her sports day in Sack Queen

Wife of Bold has also been cheering on her daughter at her sports day, reminding her competitive husband that it is not about the winning

Supply and Demands wonders why any of us adults would put ourselves through the competitive misery of sports day 30 years after we last HAD to do it

ClareyBabbling has quite a surprise at the vets in Balls!

Tattie Weasle has a novel idea for getting her boys to share in Are You a Saint Mummy (or why I will never be canonised).

Little Garden Helpers have been busy planting seeds with the help of Garden Cow

The New Mummy discovers all those moments that her baby thinks she is an Evil Mummy (and this mummy would add that the Evil Mummy moments only get more frequent as they get older, and mine are nowhere near teenagers yet!)

It's a small world after all have got the travelling bug, and learn a short history lesson from their trip to the Tower of London - much of which they would like to teach Boris!

Cafe Bebe is enjoying funny cuddles with her little girl

Yummy Mummy Tips has a very blonde day in Amsterdam airport

The To Do list of the Dulwich Divorcee remains frighteningly long, we just hope the teachers make it through in one piece.

Jo Beaufoix is getting rid of some steam with a word or two about Psychopaths and Solicitors

Dancin Fairy is just wondering what is actually needed by a new Mummy in Because My Last Request Worked So Well and is deep in conversation with Grown KTP, who tries to give some ideas in her Best and Worst of Baby Products post

The terrace is absolutely full now, sadly, we only have space for 25 and we've already packed more in than that. I hope that the people who couldn't make it are not too disappointed.

The evening draws to a close. All that remains is to clean up the debris and to make a date for the next one. Rebel Mother is up for the hosting challenge on 21st July. If you want an invite send her a link to your best post at rebelmother (at) googlemail (dot) com. I'm looking forward to it already.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Driving me potty no longer

Attempts to potty train: 4. Successful attempts to potty train: ONE! And that one is the one that counts. Remarkably this last attempt was surprisingly easy, a fairly smooth transition to not wearing nappies, one or two accidents and that was it. He now asks for his potty or to do a ‘standing up wee Mummy’ (the joys of having an elder brother) and he hasn’t had an accident in over three weeks now.

The standing up wee aspect is interesting. Outside, when you can get their trousers down, stick a knee in his back to encourage the thrusting forward of hips and help with guidance of the pee stream it works well. Inside the house is a different story; he is just not quite tall enough to use the loos at home for a standing up wee, which means that I need to do an interesting lift and hover manoeuvre, doing wonders for my biceps but I can’t help with the pee stream guidance aspect of the process. But who cares? He isn’t in nappies and the wee ain’t in his pants.

The ease of this attempt of potty training makes me think two things. First, the attempts made before were just too early for him, he wasn’t quite ready. Secondly, these attempts were all part of the overall process and contributed to this, more recent and relatively stressfree attempt. I couldn't care less now though, Luke has done it, he is a total superstar and I’m so proud of him.

Only one interesting story to report. A few days ago he had a quiet moment on his potty, happily reading his book, so I left him to it. When he appeared there was strong evidence that he had done a poo. He was very pleased with himself. A bottom needed wiping. There were signs of a poo having been in the potty. But there was no poo. Anywhere. I looked high, I looked low but couldn’t find anything. I’ve been wandering through the house delicately sniffing any areas which might be capable of concealing poo. But nothing. Absolutely nista. Not a sniff.

The poo is still M.I.A. I will be doing a more thorough search before the cleaner comes but I don’t think I’ll locate anything. The dog was spotted, contentedly licking her lips just afterwards. I’m not saying anything, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Officially Residents of Bosnia & Herzegovina

We did it! We have successfully negotiated the complex labyrinthine procedures that make up getting a residency visa here. Admittedly it is only temporary. Also admittedly mine hasn't actually come through yet but it should just be a formality.

So, this is a process that started back in mid August last year. It has involved a lot of visits to the police station, a visit to the hospital for a fun family day out, a lot of visits to the Advocat, many visits to official court translators and a lot of money (100KM / £40ish to translate a wedding certificate the most recent example).

So, now we don't have to go to Serbia every three months. We don't need to go back to the police station every 3 months. We can do things like import our car.

The kicker? It is only temporary. It expires February 2010 when we shall have to do most of the admin all over again if we want to stay any longer. Better make a start.

Want more expat mummy stories? The Expat Mums Blog site, a blog written by expat parents for expat parents is holding a carnival today - head on over there for more tales of bringing up kids in another country.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

We can watch the cricket? Really? Promise?

(very nearly entitled A Post especially for Anonymous of Sarajevo)

Given our total overexcitement of being able to watch most of the 20 20 Cricket series last month, you can imagine the excitement in the Brits In Bosnia household when it was discovered that not only can we watch the Ashes (the England vs. Australia cricket for the non-Brits amongst you), we can even watch it live.

No, Eurosport has not suddenly decided to broadcast it (for some bizarre reason 5 x 5 days of cricket was not top of their list to show in Bosnia). It turns out that you can watch the games live, online, for a small fee, if you live somewhere where the English Cricket Board hasn't sold the rights of the games to. So, to the fellow Brits in Bosnia, if you want to watch the matches or their highlights, ECBTv is where to go.

We will be watching far more of the cricket here than we would be able to in the UK, given that we refuse to pay Sky for the priviledge. The summer working schedule has just been thrown out of the window.