Friday, 26 February 2010

Dear So and So: Bosnian edition, part IX

Oh, I have a few things to take aim at today. My pencil is sharp and I am ready to go!


Dear Bosnian Visa Authorities,

We can't renew the registration of our car until we have our visas. Which means that whilst our visa renewal application is STILL sitting in the pile of paper on your desk we can't use our car. This makes me housebound, tetchy and in the mood for a fight. Sort it out or I'm coming over to get rid of some pent up frustration.

Fraught Mummy


Dear Bosnian Car Authorities,

Please tell me that you are joking. Every car has to have a new set of licence plates (often with a new number) every year? Has anyone ever spoken to you about efficiency, conservation, general use of common sense?

Yours, still not knowing how to take a licence plate off our car because we've never had to do it before,

PS - we have to start the process of exporting the car in March. Any chance we could have it imported before then otherwise we are all going to tie ourselves into terrible knots.


Dear Bosnian branch of a fairly major European bank,

Surely supplying bank guarantees is part and parcel of your day to day operations? Isn't that what banks do? And even if it isn't, why is it that you can't supply one for 2 weeks just because the manager has gone on holiday? Ever heard of picking up the phone to ask someone else how to do it?



Dear Nursery,

I don't really approve of how much TV the children watch during their time there, but I do see that you use it constructively so I'm not really complaining. I didn't really approve of you asking everyone to contribute 20KM towards the cost of the TV and DVD player. But all that pales into insignificance compared to how gob smacked I am that said TV and DVD player has disappeared, rumoured by the other mothers to have been taken by the head of the nursery.

Yours, wondering why you don't use your own salary to buy your own TVs,


Dear parents of the Roma kids begging at traffic lights,

I don't have a problem with the way in which you choose to live your life. If you want to stand outside in freezing temperatures hoping for 1KM from the odd car, that is your choice. I do however have a problem with the fact that you children are also hanging out at the traffic lights during times when they should be at school. Give your children an education, then allow them to make a decision what they want to do with their lives.



Dear Boys,

Temperatures. Coughs. It's the first illness we've had in months and you are being pretty brave about it. If we could just fight a little less about who is going to play with the pirate ship that would be tops.

Yours, administering to your fevered brows,
FM xx


Dear Jess,

We don't have a car, so we can't drive to any of the places we usually walk you. We can't take you in a taxi either, so apologies but it is walks on the lead around here for the moment. I do appreciate this makes for a very boring life, trust me we are as keen to get the car back as you are. However, repeated break outs of the garden to go scavenging in the local bins are not welcome and also make you sick. Stop it, or you will be tied up 24/7 like all the other dogs round here.

Yours, in the hope of one day being a top dog in this household,


Dear Banja Luka,

I haven't been to visit for a couple of years and I had forgotten what a pleasant city you are. One question though. Your new government buildings, the ones big enough to house the entire state of Luxembourg and half the UN, seem a little, well, large for what you need them to do. I mean, how many government officials does one statelet need?

Yours, seeing that the ethos of bloated governance runs strong in the Republika Srpska as well as the Federation,


Dear playground,

Now that the snow has gone is there any chance you could open soon? The boys haven't seen a swing for months. And I'm fed up with them substituting our book cases for climbing frames.

In grateful thanks (and with just a modicum of begging)


Dear Little  Brother,

Your Radio 4 comedy show is GREAT. I'm ever so proud of you, again. Much as it pains me to admit it, you being a right royal pain in the proverbial and all that, but you are most talented.

Yours, knowing that there had to be an upside for all the irritants suffered earlier in life,
Big Sis.

PS - for anyone interested, the show is called Earls of the Court, is a 15 minute 'gentle comedy' about Australians in the UK. You can catch it here. And it isn't just me as the biased big sister who likes it, it's had good reviews too.


Anyone else interested in having a go? Pop over to Kat's 3 Bedroom Bungalow and sign up so we can all come and read them. Better than therapy, seriously.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Today I went to Banja Luka ....

.. and saw this sign

Look and learn Tuzla, look and learn.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Wintertime picnics

Tuzla isn't a big city. It is quite easy to get out of the urban sprawl and up into the hills for some lovely walks and amazing views. One of our favourite spots is up behind the Skver (which is confusingly a roundabout, the laws of which will be a topic for a whole post of its own). We follow the road up, past the houses onto the ridge of a hill. Up here there are more houses are to be found, but these are of the weekend variety. A place where those from Tuzla can come to grow orchards and tend to their vegetables. The houses can be amazing, in fact one is so lovely that I am almost consumed with jealousy everytime I see it. Some are more simple, but all have that most important of things, a place to barbeque (or rostilj). The getting together of lots of people to eat large quantities of meat and drink large quanitities of beer and sljivavica (plum brandy to the uninitiated amongst you) before singing songs about true loves that have abandoned you are a major part of the Bosnian culture.

We usually park the car where the paved road finishes and carry on on foot up a path that always looks English to me. Right at the top, on the edge of a ridge someone has put an old table and benches, together with a fire and a pot for brewing coffee. In the summer it is a lovely spot, with 360 views. The owner has recently planted an orchard but no one seems to mind if you stop there for a bit of a picnic.

We were up there the other day, in the snow.

Don't you just love the coffee pot? I'd love to have the confidence to come up here, start a fire and actually brew myself a cuppa, but I'm far too English for that. Instead, we'll just carry on with our impromptu picnics whenever we get up here and just sit back and enjoy the view.

Friday, 19 February 2010

A mistress of spin

This parenting is a funny old thing. I'm consistently in awe (or rather more accurately slightly scared) of those uber Mummys who have everything under control. You know them, they have whisked up a freshly baked cake, done the ironing and not shouted at their children once that day. The sort of Mummy I'll never be. Well, I can do a cake but the ironing and not shouting thing is well beyond me.

I have however, come to a huge realisation which I feel is going to significantly affect the way I feel about the uber Mummy. Finally, I have realised that it is all about the presentation.

Let me give you an example of a day spent in the Brits household last week to illustrate what I mean.

Up at 7, I took the boys to nursery before settling down to a few hours work at home. Around about 12, I walked over to nursery to pick them up and chatted to the Bosnian Mummys at the nursery gates as the boys played in the playground. On our walk back home we made the most of the snow with snowballs and decided we would make a snow man later. After lunch we had a bit of 'quiet time' as Adam practiced some writing and Luke did some drawing and I prepared a marinade for their supper. Time then to take the dog for a walk in the park. We were out for about 90 minutes or so, the boys returning red cheeked and worn out from all the running about. Decided that we should bake some banana bread together before the boys sloped off to play pirates in the playroom as I cooked dinner. Dave came back from work just as they were finishing supper and he took them upstairs for a bit of a play, father son time type thing, a bath and they finished off the day all clean, tidy, watching a bit of TV in their pyjamas, sipping their milk. Quick story and they were all tucked up and fast asleep.

That's quite an uber Mummy sort of day isn't it? Everything is there: exercise and outdoor time, quiet time, individual play, some form of creativity, play with other children in the morning, cooking from scratch, good bedtime routine. All peaches and cream then in the Brit household.

But although we did indeed do all of the things above, the reality of the day was far more like this

Luke got up at 5.30am. I got into bed with him to try and keep him in bed until 7. It was a long 90 minutes, during which I was regularly battered over the head with a toy car and had to remove his fingers from my nose on more than one occasion. Once everyone was up, the battle to get everyone dressed for nursery commenced. Adam is supposed to be dressing himself now. He was more interested in running around like a looney trying to irritate his brother. First episode of shouting from me. Finally get them out of the door and towards nursery. Phew.

Come home and attempt to work. Faff around, read some blogs, realise that I've wasted the entire morning and have achieved nothing. My own fault, but irritating none the less, feel cross with myself. Walk over to nursery to pick them up, muttering positive mantras about how I will not shout today and be a better mother and generally less grumpy. Let the boys play for a bit in the little playground the nursery has. Within five minutes chaos has erupted, the boys are snatching each other's toys, trying to hit each other and crying. I attempt to withdraw gracefully, but they do not cooperate about putting on fleeces, coats, hats, boots and the other paraphernalia required to go outside in a Bosnian winter. Finally get out of the nursery, feel that my positive mantras have bitten the dust after a mere 5 minutes.

The walk home is slow, agonisingly, mind bendingly slow. Every pile of snow must be examined. Snowballs are thrown. Faces are hit. Tears are shed. Refusal to hold Mummys hand as we near the big road that must be crossed. They start getting silly, run around screaming. Second shouting episode from me. Tempers are lost and not just mine either.

Finally get the boys back home. Feed them lunch. Get them to sit quietly at the table as I try to make the marinade for dinner. Luke insists on using felt tip pens as missiles. Is really pleased when he remembers if he fires them at the wall when they don't have a cap on, they leave a mark. I stop that activity sharpish and he continues dumping all the pens onto the ground. Adam in the meantime is doing his writing nicely, right up until the point that Luke starts scribbling on his book. General fight. I stick them out of the kitchen, tell them to read a book or something, and finish up as fast as I can.

Head to the park having had yet another battle getting them ready to go out. We appear to be on a go slow by the boys. It takes us about 45 minutes to walk less than 100m. More snowballs thrown, more faces hit, more tears shed. The dog, bored senseless by the snail pace of the group takes off. Is last seen heading to the boundary of the park. I grab the boys and drag them along as we go to try and find her. Surely that isn't her? Breaking into someones house? Oh it is. Leave the boys with instructions to 'STAY THERE', and go and haul her out, apologising with everything I have to the old woman who is rightfully pretty cross at having a great big damp retriever piling into her front room. The boys are LOVING this. They start shouting 'bloody dog', obviously just learnt from me. I thank my lucky stars I was relatively refined with my language, it could have been a lot worse.

I drag everyone home. Am fed up. There are more snowballs, more tears. Everyone cold and wet and pretty miserable. Decide baking is the way forward. Get everything ready, the boys are fighting over who is going to play with Thomas. Leave them to it, rationalise this is all part of them learning how to negotiate. Eventually they come in. We pour out the ingredients. A wooden spoon is waved, a large amount of sticky mess hits the wall. As I pour the ingredients I realise that it doesn't look quite right. Realise too late that one of my little angels has switched the weighing thing from grams to lbs. What I weigh out to be 100g is actually 1.00 lbs which is not the same at all. This has been switched halfway through the process. I have no idea what is right and what isn't. Decide to lob a bit more of what I thought looked a little less than usual in. Stick the goo into the oven.

Too late, I remember that I need the oven to make their dinner. Look at my marinade. Stick it in the fridge for another day. Look in the fridge to see what else we have. Result, I can cobble together another dinner, but it is not one that Adam, a fussy eater to say the least, will eat without a fight. Wonder if I'm up for the fight. Decide that he doesn't have a choice we haven't got anything else to eat. I cook the dinner, they play (pretty nicely, bless them). Dinner is served. Anticipated fight begins and goes on for a while. I forget to take the banana bread out. The sticky goo is now burnt sticky goo. They have it for pudding anyway.

Just as they are finishing, Dave comes home. We all shout 'DADDY!' with relief. I hiss at him that I've had enough, he has to take them up for a bath RIGHT NOW. He gives me a look that says 'but they are being such angels'. I scowl, stick my hackles up and start growling. Besides, I still have to clean up the sticky goo mess.

Do the washing up in peace and quiet and listen to Radio 4. Feel a lot less stressed. Sounds like they are all having a wonderful time upstairs. Head up to join in stories. Realise that a tornado has hit. Every single bed has been stripped and the sheets are draped all over the cupboards. The question 'what are you doing???!!!' was met with a simple 'we're making camps'. I growl a bit more about the sense of doing this right before bedtime and remake all the beds. Then, at last, after what seems like the longest afternoon on earth, they are in bed and entering the land of nod.

Downstairs for a large glass of wine. And possibly another large glass of wine. And a reflection that this uber Mummy thing is probably all in the way that you present the activities. Spin it right and I too could look competent. So now, when I'm confronted with someone talking about all the amazing things that they do with their children all day everyday, I remember that from the outside, my days could look like that too. More importantly, I've realised that their days are probably very like mine in reality. Somehow that makes me feel a lot better.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Accidentally causing offence

Why is it that when learning a new language, the only words that are easily remembered are the swear words? Which means of course that you are left with a load of ways to be rude to people, admittedly helpful whilst driving in Bosnia but not ideal when you are trying to exchange pleasantries and ingratiate yourself into the nursery gate club.

The thing that I have noticed is that not only do I know the swear words, but I frequently get them muddled up with other, every day words. So I’ll be chattering away, massacring their language in a very British way with everyone smiling indulgently at my efforts and then, suddenly, their eyebrows fly through the roof and I realise that once again my Bosnian Tourettes syndrome has struck.

In particular there are 3 pairs of words that I cannot get straight in my head. First up are the words for eat (jede) and fuck (jebi). I’ll be chattering away and in my head, as I’m approaching the point at which I want to say ‘eat’ my mind will go blank and all I can do is think jede/jebi? Jede/jebi? Panicked I usually plump for the wrong one.

Then there is the write/piss combination (pisati/pišati (pronounced pishati)). This one is further confused by the fact that when conjugating the verb (ooo, get me, a real life linguist using words like conjugating and verbs as if I know what that means) they merge into each other. Pisati becomes pišem (pishem – I write) which just is remarkably similar to pišam (prounounced pisham meaning I piss).

My last set of words that I cannot get straight in my head is probably the worst. I want to say that we walk. This is something that we do a lot of, I mean we have a dog and there isn’t much else that I can do with 2 small boys that is guaranteed to tire them out. So we walk every day. Without fail. Come rain or shine. And every day I normally have to say to someone that we are going to go for a walk. The verb for walk is šetati (shetati). What I always find myself saying is ševiti (shjeviti). I still don’t know what it means, but when I say it people gasp, cover their mouths, widen their eyes and I know I’ve strayed into the really offensive territory, yet again.

We all know that  it is easy to accidentally offend, especially in these days of remote communication. Messages sent by email, twitter etc. don't have the body language to allow the recipient to see that it was not intended the way in which it came across. It just so happens that I don't need to be remote to cause accidental offence and I need the body language so that people can see my foul mouth is just a combination of a mind going blank (again) and a complete inability to rise above being given the leaway to be able to swear in polite society and get away with it.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Sunshine and Cake

Sunshine and cake. Does life get much better? If only there was a bit more sunshine and cake going on around here. The sunshine factor is significantly lacking, our lives more dominated by snow, ice, grey, ice, snow, ice, slush, ice, slipping, ice (do I need to continue?). And there is never enough cake.

So I was thrilled to be given a few awards full of sunshine and full of cake to brighten up my day.

So thank you Young and Younger and Battleplan for my sunshine award

and thank you to Fanciful Alice for this cake award

The rules for these are pretty straightforward, mention the blogger who awarded it to you and select a few other bloggers to pass it onto. But, I don't know who has what, so I'm awarding the award of their choice to the following:

Balancing Books whilst Herding Cats (don't you just think that is one of the best blog names ever?)
Footballers Knees (another contender for best blog name ever)
Young and Younger
E Ora?
Tattie Weasel
Single Parenthood: Tales from the Frontline
mostleast (who is giving up impatience for Lent, how brave is that?!)
Bitchin Wives Club
Lady Mama
Notes from Lapland
Mummy Do That!
Very Bored in Catalunya
Diapers & Dragons

The latest Best of British Mummy Bloggers Carnival is up at Alpha Mummy - head over there for 25 posts of all different aspects of being a parent.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Olympic spirit

Watching the Winter Olympics (or as Dave put it, 'the celebration of how many different ways you can slide about of some form of frozen water') has become the new favourite pastime in the Brit household. Mainly because watching the female speed skaters makes me feel a lot better about the size of my thighs, which is no mean feat, but it is also the one show in which my husband will join in the 'what on earth are they wearing?!?' conversation. We're finding it compulsive. For the record, the Canadian female speed skating outfit with the cling film effect around the tops of their legs was unanimously voted NOT GOOD.

As a Brit there is really only one defining winter Olympic moment. It might, in fact, be our only Winter Olympic moment, but it is a great one. In 1984 the ice dancers, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, clad in purple floated their way through their Bolero routine and to a perfect score for artistic impression, a feat yet to be equalled. I just watched it again, it is still wonderful.

The 1984 Olympics were considered to be a great triumph. They were feted for their diversity, their encompassing nature and lived up to the Olympic ideals of competition without politics, religion or racism. The residents of the host city were celebrated for their kindness and generosity.

The venue?


8 years later the city was under seige, the Olympic venues were destroyed, the ski slopes and luge runs were mined, the seats in the stadiums used to make coffins for those killed during the conflict.

So much for a lasting Olympic spirit.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Catch Me If You Can...

... for I'm off a-wandering the blogosphere. That very lovely BabyRambles has just been over to interview me for her regular Friday Blogger on the Spot feature. We checked into a 4 star hotel (yes, there is one in Tuzla, oh disbelievers), grabbed a coffee, watched the Bosnians strutting their most finest stuff and had a right old natter*. And the resulting interview has just been posted, so go and have a read over there. What are you still doing here?

*ok, in reality we might have just been quite active on the email front, but it could have happened. Bosnia isn't that far from the UK - a 2 1/2 hour flight. Almost doable in a day! Although probably not with her 2 toddlers and baby in tow.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cultural Confusions part 1: The Bosnian Grannys and me.

Being an English family in Tuzla we are fairly conspicuous. There aren't very many English families in Tuzla. In fact, I think it is just us. As such, there isn't a big expat circle to become a part of. Whilst this does occasionally make things more difficult, on the whole I prefer it this way. It meant that I didn't have any options, I had to get stuck in and involved in Bosnian life and this has, by and large, been wonderful. Bemusing most of the time, but pretty fun.

In particular it has bought me into regular contact with that very specific breed of Bosnian, the Granny. The Bosnian Granny (henceforth known as the BG) is a force to be reckoned with, particularly in any queue in the post office. Generally fairly sturdy and well wrapped up whatever the weather, nothing escapes her beady eye. Absolutely nothing. If there was ever to be a World Championships in gossip, the BG would win. Hands down. The rest of us, skilled as we may think we are in being able to pass on information about other people, are mere amateurs, school children in comparison. The BGs talk about everything, from the clothes you wear, to the time you go to bed, the behaviour of your children, to how they don't like to gossip but..., to how often you throw out your rubbish. There is nothing they don't know. We are obvious targets to speculate about and apparently they are fascinated by us. But I know that we are far from the only people being discussed, so it doesn't really bother me that much. They are enormously generous, always asking us over, stuffing us with food, never letting us go home without a bottle of homemade grape juice, some cake, a bit of pie and no doubt then analysing in detail how well my boys ate their food, our manners and how different we are.

I come into contact with the BGs a lot. Bosnian culture remains very family orientated. Many people continue to live at the same place as their parents/in laws after they get married, the Bosnians simply building another apartment as another story on top of their houses. Sometimes I envy this; the family all gets together for a coffee in the morning; aunts, uncles, other children all pitch in together for a big melee of people to hang out with. There's always someone around. What it does mean though is that the BG is often very actively involved in childcare, whilst the Mums go out to work. So the nursery gates are full of BGs gathered to chitchat whilst waiting for their grandchildren. They always involve me in their conversations; I don't often have much of an idea what they are talking about. They then pick up their immaculately dressed grandchild, who trots over straight away, leaving me chasing my two far from immaculate boys, trying to hold one down whilst getting boots on the other and stopping them from dismantling the climbing frame. The BG, who fully subscribes to the point of view that it takes a village to raise a child, has no qualms in stepping in to tell my two off (inevitably leading to tears, my boys not totally comfortable with being grabbed by a woman they have never met before and on the receiving end of a sharp volley of Bosnian). It took me a while to get over the 'leave my children alone' impulse - the English just don't tend to interfere like that. I have had to learn to not take it personally and the boys have learnt that if they run around in the supermarket, a BG will get on their case.

The BG's always have their children wrapped up warmly in layer upon layer of clothes, to me they look absolutely boiling. Mine are fully wrapped up at the moment, it is deep winter after all. But once in warms up, I don't tuck their tops into their trousers and they wear as few layers as I can get away with; my washing machine stuggles enough with the laundry pile as it is. The BGs look on at my boys in horror. 'That child is naked' one BG memorably hissed at me. 'Which child?' I wondered? Mine was the only child in the vicinity. His top wasn't tucked in. Ah, that will be my child then.

Then there is the chocolate issue. No BG is ever to be found without a bar of chocolate hidden in her bag, to be bought out whenever in contact with any children. My two, for who chocolate is a rare treat, love this aspect of Bosnian culture. They are present in a flash, suddenly all beautifully behaved, looking like little angels and waiting to be given the next sugar laden candy. Being the one who then has to deal with the inevitable sugar rush and less than angelic manic behaviour that will always follow, I'm less of a fan of this custom. However, I recently had a 'eureka' moment of understand finally realising that this chocolate thing is just a part of the BG assessment of my parenting. Usually in these situations I become very English and end up muttering something like 'gosh, thanks, how generous', wait until the BG is out of sight and then confiscate the enormous bar of chocolate from the boys sticky, sugary hands. I now realise that the correct response is to say, even insist, to the BG that the boys are not to be given chocolate and prevent the kids (despite protestations from the BG to the contrary) from laying their little paws on it. I only realised this the other day, when one particular BG who is a right terror for dishing out the candy and therefore adored by my boys, happened to bring her own grandson along. He was offered chocolate. She didn't let him have any. They offered again, she took it away. There was no way that this BG was going to let any chocolate anywhere near her precious boy's hopeful mouth. 'It isn't good for him' she offered to me as an explanation, leaving me spluttering and open mouthed in shock.

Ah hah, I thought, now I get it. So now there's a bar of chocolate that has taken up residence permanently in my pocket for the next time I meet them. I'll make sure the little boy gets some.  I might even stop him running around the supermarket and untuck his top whilst I'm at it. Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Not here today, over there instead

Today I'm dodging flash photography and wondering whether my shades will do an adequate job in covering up my jet lagged eyes as I dodge the media scrum at Heathrow. Oh, ok, not quite. But I have been interviewed as for the Favourite Mummy Blogger spot for the My Child website - so go and have a read here. I'm off for a read as I'd had a few glasses of wine when I was answering the questions so I've no idea what rubbish I've been prattling on about. Ah hem.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Of mosques, medresas and beer

Given that we live less than 20 metres from a mosque, I am embarrassed at how little I know about the Islamic religion and practices. But it has struck me that the Bosnian way of being a Muslim isn't anything like the impressions of Islam that you can get from the media.

Bosnia's Muslim community is a legacy of the Ottoman occupation and as such, the Bosnian Islamic tradition echoes that of Turkey. It is the most Western country to have a (narrow) Islamic majority and the only European country apart from Turkey to have such a preponderance of Muslims.

Having said that, the Muslims here appear to have found their own way to practice their religion, which seems far removed from the Middle East. Here the mosques are small, intimate, cosy affairs. Not for the Bosnians the ritzy, glitzy, enormous buildings occasionally seen further east. Drinking alcohol is common amongst the Muslims here, a beer, some sljivovica, all quite normal almost expected.

Nor are the women covered up. In all my time here (approaching 3 years in total) I have only ever seen 2 women that have been fully covered, one in Tuzla, the other in the airport in Sarajevo and they really stood out. Quite a few women do wear headscarves. But in the rural areas, older women tend to wear headscarves whether they are Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox and seldom have I seen a rural younger woman in one. In the cities the younger Muslim girls often do wear headscarves and appropriate dress and my goodness me do they look glamorous. But many Muslim girls do not and there is no tension surrounding their decision. One look at the lakes in Tuzla in the summer and you will understand that this is a region that leans far more towards Europe than conservative Islam: the bikinis on display are spectacular.

There is a Medresa school in Tuzla (in other words, an Islamic school) as there are throughout Bosnia. But these Medresas are not the fundamentalist schools that concern people in other countries. The Tuzla Medresa is acknowledged to be one of the top schools in Tuzla, and runs regular courses during the summer which are attended by students of all religions and backgrounds. Friends of mine who teach there talk about how exceptional the facilities are.

That is not to say that there are no radical Islamists in Bosnia. There is an extremist sect, the Wahhabi, who number about 4,000 in total, but they tend to live in remote villages. Last week, one such village was raided by the Bosnian police and several of its members were arrested on suspicion of planning to use force to bring about change in the constitutional order. But the Wahhabi are unusual in Bosnia, in reality they probably number less than the number of extremist Muslims in the UK. They are closely watched by the police and many of the Bosnian Muslims make efforts to distance themselves from them.

Most of my Muslim friends are Muslim in the way that I am Christian. In other words, it informs my cultural background and heritage, but the actual practicing of the religion? Well that is probably best described as patchy. Here mosques say that people come during Ramadan, but outside of that, not so much. Perhaps on a Friday. Or for a funeral. They know how to pray, much as I can recite the Lord's prayer without too much trouble. They seem to pick up the aspects of religion that they want, when they want and put them to one side when it doesn't suit them. Another friend of mine put many Bosnian Muslims attitude towards their religion well - 'we'll never make good Muslims' he said 'we like too much being able to drink beer and chase scantily clad women'.

I find it fascinating that a European country has developed its own Islamic traditions and is happy that they are able to be both European and Muslim with no tensions in that. When a country that has a tolerant reputation such as Switzerland, votes to ban minarets being built and other countries are struggling with the juxtaposition of Islam in Europe, could it be that the continent should be looking to Bosnia to learn some lessons about how being Muslim and being European are not concepts that are mutually exclusive?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Food that shouldn't taste this good

Sometimes a situation leads to something becoming so much greater, more pleasurable than it actually is. To clarify with an example: when you have spent a few hours tramping up a cold wet mountain, the piece of melted chocolate that has solidified in an odd shape with all the weird white streaks that previously melted chocolate has will be the most delicious piece of chocolate you have ever eaten. Swiss chocolates have nothing on this squashed bit of Dairy Milk.

I had an example of this the other day. I had to go to Zvornik, a town right on the border about an hour's drive from Tuzla. This isn't normally a problem; I go to Zvornik quite a lot. It is a bit like hopping on the M4 to for a couple of exits, except it is more like the B4324. It's quite a pretty route, and just before you get to Zvornik you go through a range of forested hills and then you emerge, blinking, to see the Drina river flowing gently north and the Drina Valley stretching out before you.

This week it has been snowing, as is quite normal in February here. Everyone is equipped to deal with the snow so all the cars have winter tyres and carry snow chains by law, and pretty much everyone has a couple of rugs and emergency bits of food kept around their car somewhere. Just in case. Last year we forgot about our secret stash under the passenger seat and discovered it half way through the summer when the temperatures were 40C plus and all the chocolate had melted.

On this particular evening we had been to Zvornik and were on our way home.  It had already been a long afternoon, much coffee had been drunk which was making me a little more jittery than desirable. I was looking forward to getting home for some supper and a cosy glass of wine in front of an episode of The Wire, but it had started snowing again. The road hadn't really been gritted and it was very slippery. We could barely see out of the windscreen and were having to drive at about 15 mph. We were in the hills and it was very dark. Occasionally a car would flash past, a bus even came thundering around the corner at one point, but everyone was taking it pretty carefully and there were very few cars around. It's difficult to see the lines on the road at the best of times, but covered with snow it was impossible. Couldn't see the edge of the road either. We were moving so slowly that it wasn't really scary, more an acceptance that this journey home was going to be a long, dark, snowy slog. We carried on edging our way through the mountains, right up to the point we lost our grip on the road and the car set off on a gentle pirouette and turned a graceful 360.

We were lucky, nothing was on the road and we didn't come off it. We were going so slowly that we were not physically in danger but it would have been a real disaster if we'd slipped off the road and not been able to get on it again. We edged off again, taking it really carefully. But the combination of far too much coffee earlier and a lunch time that was now a distant memory and I was starting to feel a bit faint and in dire need of some food. A search of the car proved fruitful. I had been given a few days before some zeljanica (spinach pie) made by a friend's mother, complete with feta cheese. I'd eaten them hot, they had been wonderful, but that was a couple of days earlier. Now they were freezing cold. But they were without a doubt the most wonderful, delicious, satisfying meal I'd ever eaten. A small piece of me flew to heaven for a little while as we pulled over and sat munching on our stale spinach pie.

We set off again. It took us approaching 3 hours to get home. But I will never forget how wonderful it was to be sitting on the side of the road eating good, although not quite how it should have been served, food.

How about you? What food that shouldn't be good somehow became a deliciously memorable meal because of the situation you were in?

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Shiny Happy Things

I'm getting progressively more hopeless at keeping up with my blogging etiquette. I've been tagged hither and tither and I can't remember who tagged me or what for. So, in a vain attempt to try and get back on top of it all, I'm sort of doing a meme that I look the look of, but can't remember if I've been tagged for it or not.

But first apologies to Muddling Along Mummy who wanted to see pictures of my wedding dress as part of the wedding dress meme - I've looked but it appears that we didn't bring any pictures of our wedding out to Bosnia with us. Can't think why as it was a cracking day and we had a wonderful time and I blogged more about it on our 5th wedding anniversary last October.

Then a big thank you to Gooner Jamie at the Life and Times of a HouseHusband (if you haven't read his blog go and do so immediately, it is brilliant and will make you laugh) for a tag for something, you are going to get an entry to Rosie Scribbles Shiny Happy Things - because that is what I feel like today. You have to blog about something that always makes you smile, makes you happy.

I like nothing more than a real feel good movie and Mamma Mia was right up my street, I adored it. I made my culture snob brothers watch it last Christmas Eve, I don't think they have forgiven me yet. But, not happy with inflicting pain and misery on them, I have now taken to playing it to my boys to encourage them to release their inner Abba, to not feel silly about leaping around the room looking ridiculous. Adam has clearly got some taste and rolls his eyes every time I put the DVD on. Luke, bless his cotton socks, humours his mother and does all the moves, from pointing at the screen, to the air guitar riffs and whooping with appreciation. The song we all like the best is Dancing Queen. And even my super cool 4 year old, lounging in disdain on the chair, will laugh as Julie Walters gets stuck sliding down the bannisters. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Dancing Queen and defy you not to smile at least once whilst you are watching it.

I've also been tagged by Sandy at Baby Baby in the welcome people meme, so I'm sort of mixing and matching and am going to tag a few blogs that are new to me, and encourage everyone to go and have a read of them too.

Last of the Mojitos
Mothers Ruin
Chic Mama
Mum's Gone To....
No Wine on Wednesdays
Young and Younger

I know I'm missing some tags. In particular I feel that Laura at Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy tagged me, but I can't find it. So really, I apologise if I've missed you out, a sign of a brain addled by too much indoor time with 2 energetic boys. Where's that DVD player, it must be time to make them dance to Abba again.  YOU CAN DANCE! YOU CAN JIVE! HAVING THE TIME OF OUR LIFE DO DO DOOOOO

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Take a moment for a coffee

Take some good coffee (Doncafe, the red packet being my preferred version, I am far too much of a wuss to go for the super strong green packet) and a Bosnian coffee maker thing that has a name but it escapes me right now.

Put one tablespoon per person into the coffee maker thing

Heat up the coffee a little. When you can smell it add some boiling water

Wait a while, but pay attention. The coffee will soon start to bubble up. If you aren't paying attention it will go all over the hobs.

Take off the heat and add just a tiny bit more water

This will lead to a creamy sort of froth that looks as if you have added milk.

Let stand for a little while. Then pour into a cup


If you are Bosnian you will have already added a fair amount of sugar at the beginning of the process with the coffee. You can now also dip a sugar cube into the coffee as well, or even a Bosnian Delight (same as a Turkish Delight). Take your coffee over to the computer and head over to Insomniac Mummys Best of British Parent Bloggers Carnival, for a moment of peace.

Monday, 1 February 2010


I now have my answer for the question that all teenagers hurl at their parents at some point 'What did you ever do for me anyway?'

All last week Adam's nursery has foregone normal morning nursery activities and headed down to the ice rink that opens every winter in Tuzla's central park, Slana Banja. I wasn't sure how he would take to it, he's not a big into making a fool of himself, falling over or doing things that he doesn't already know how to do. Ice Skating ticks all of these boxes, I was not expecting a success. To my enormous surprise he loved it. Adored it. Couldn't wait to get back onto the rink. He harrassed, harangued and battered his beaten down mother over the head until I agreed that we could go en famille at the weekend.

So en famille we did. Outdoor gear on, skates on, a relatively small amount of money parted with (a massive 3KM (£1ish) per person) and we were off. Well, sort of off. More gripping onto the side of the rink in sheer terror (me) as I try to support Luke who is jumping up and down shouting 'wheeeee wheeeee' and then 'faster Mummy faster!' as Dave and Adam disappear gliding gracefully over the ice. Then we swap children, Adam grabs my hand and pulls me straight off balance.

It led to 20minutes of sheer purgatory for me. Holding up Luke who was clearly having the most wonderful time, as we tottered around, it was all I could do to pray I wasn't going to fall down squashing a small child and slicing off his fingers in the process. That position, the slightly hunched over incredibly uncomfortable one known to all mothers, is a killer on the old, not too good at the best of times, back. The cold toes, the crippling boots, the aching muscles, good Lord I hated every minute. The boys adored it, can't wait to do it again. Obviously, we will go again. But I will remember this, and when they ask me what did I ever do for them in that teenage-ery huffing pouting fashion, I'll be able to say - I took you ice skating.