Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Not in today. Try the CuddleDry site instead.

Monday, 29 March 2010

The home straight

Home. I fly the boys home tomorrow. There'll be playgrounds and Thai food. Lots of family. I'll be able to eavesdrop on conversations in the tube. I'll read the paper, and understand everything including which political party represents what and who the celebrities are*. I'll know what to expect when we pop round to someones house. They'll serve me tea with milk and not look like at me as if I've just stepped off a space ship.

Such an emotive word, home. It signifies so much; safety and security, comfort, acceptance. It is a place where you understand the culture and the culture understands you. It is where you have roots, where you don't have to think. It is like sliding on a well worn glove, it just fits perfectly, it is almost invisible.

Home is a difficult word for an expat. We avoided talking about England as home for a long time. We were living here, in Bosnia. It didn't make sense to refer to our Bosnian house as anything apart from home. But we are not 'at home' in Bosnia. We don't speak the language well enough, the culture isn't our culture, it isn't invisible around us, it doesn't live in our bones. We need to work at being at home in Bosnia. But whilst we were here that is what we did. We didn't want to constantly be looking back to another country. Bosnia and England are very different but we were living in Bosnia so we concentrated upon that. We loved it here. We made it our home as best we could.

Now we are going home though. Really going home. I can feel myself starting to relax already.

*that might not be true. I don't have a clue who any of the celebs are anymore. And what is this Glee thing that people keep talking about anyway?

Friday, 26 March 2010

Becoming Bosnian, Staying English

Signs we have been in Bosnia for a loooong time and there may be some readjustment required before entry back into the UK:

1. When the traffic lights go green, my first instinct is now to hoot the horn, then to put the car in gear.

2. Pedestrians, what are they? (in my defence, if you take the definition of safe driving to be driving in a way that people expect you to, then stopping to let pedestrians cross the road does constitute dangerous driving as people will go into the back of you).

3. When I look out of the window and see some metal poles in the garden opposite, my first thought isn't ooo, look, football goalposts, it is oooo, look, a place to bash carpets.

4. It's 6pm. I've just decided to make the boys burgers for dinner, but we have no mince or buns. But that's ok, because we can nip round the corner to the butcher (open every day until 7pm) and then wander along just a little further to a bakers (open everyday until 10pm). On the way back I'll stop at the little local store to pick up some fresh tomatoes and free range eggs from the chickens in their backyard (open every day until 10pm). Total walking time for the entire round trip. 5 minutes. Total cost, not very much at all. England is going to come as a shock. I'm dreading Tesco's and the thought of the local convenience store veg there is making me feel a bit sick.

5. A no-smoking table? What's that?

6. A coffee in a cafe can last a good 90 minutes. Possibly longer.

7. Activities and meeting up with friends are to be arranged no earlier than the previous day. Any earlier, and the other person will just forget anyway. I've learnt to look at my week, stretching before me with nothing arranged at all and not be scared. I'm a little worried if I look at a week with many activities planned, I'm going to go into controlled chaotic panic.

8. Everything can be mended, fixed, put back together. Throw nothing away. If nothing else then the boys can play with it outside.

9. An obsession with cleaning windows has taken hold. The Bosnians are forever hanging out of high towers to ensure their windows are sparkling. It's quite nice, particularly when compared to the greasy smeared efforts of our house in the UK.

10. On learning that we have to go and see a Bosnian ministry, our first thought is now 'who do we know who might be able to help us' rather than just heading over with hope in our hearts and confidence in the system.

Signs that I will never be a Bosnian however long I stay

1. I do believe that sljivavica (plum brandy, the national drink) is not fit for human consumption. I am now ducking for cover as the Bosnians recoil in horror and start proceedings for our instant deportation.

2. My Bosnian is torture for the listener. But they seem to understand much better when I put on my best James Bond villain accent. Then I have no problems. Well except for the attack of the giggles as I imagine myself a karate chopping, leather wearing, sleek black bob sporting, kick ass kind of girl.

3. I can't wear jeans that tight. I just can't.

4. Dumping rubbish, especially in the parks and areas of beauty is just not acceptable. Smashing bottles all over the place isn't remotely amusing either.

5. I can't take the ticks. The season has started. I now spend my evenings grooming the dog and extracting them from her fur. They are disgusting creatures and meet their doom in a glass of sljivavica (see point 1).

6. When I say no chocolate for the kids, I really mean please don't give them any chocolate. Feeding them sugar out of the sugar bowl isn't acceptable either. Particularly when one has already been car sick that day and we've got a bit of a drive home.

7. I have no idea if food will be served when we go to visit someone. I've lost count of the number of times we've been served up an enormous meal, with multiple courses when all I was expecting was a coffee.

8. I like set meal times. Breakfast at the beginning of the day. Lunch after some morning activities. Dinner when it is getting dark. I have no idea when the Bosnians eat their meals, but it certainly isn't the same schedule as mine!

9. I like my children to go to bed by 8pm at the latest. By 8pm I have had enough of them, and they have had enough of me. Plus I want to have a bath in peace. The thought of them still being up at 10pm and later makes me feel a tad teary.

10. Playgrounds are good things. Playgrounds that are open are better. Playgrounds that aren't built on the thickest gloopiest mud imaginable are better still. Playgrounds with all of these and without nails sticking out of the equipment are best of all. My boys are going to be in seventh heaven when they get back and see their first playground since November. Come to think of it, so will I.


As you can see by the post, we are not sitting on a flight from Belgrade as was looking likely next week. The boys and I are coming back on Tuesday instead. I'm looking forward to the flight as much as the thought of searching for a bracelet in a bucket of vomit. To get me in the mood of flying with two small children I'm off to read the flying with kids carnival put together by Mellow Mummy. And then I'm stick my head in the sand about moving for a bit longer.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Property Porn

I love me a good Property porn moment. You know those shows when people buy a wreck in the depths of some foreign countryside and then have do it up (with inevitable dramas) to a beautiful house and then proceed to live the good life with their peach orchards and free range chickens. Grand Designs is one of my favourite shows of all time, but any of them will do really.

Since we've been in Bosnia I've been approached by countless TV companies and journalists all wanting to do a similar show in Bosnia. Because, in case you've missed it, Bosnia is apparently the latest property hot spot. Bargains a-plenty to be had. Don't balk at the Balkans as a recent Sunday Times Property section article had it.

Now Bosnia is a wonderful country. It is beautiful, spectacularly so. There are snow-capped mountains, with great skiing and cool, emerald green rivers. There are untouched forests, river gorges, wonderful hiking and mountain biking opportunities (if you are interested in taking a holiday here then have a look at GreenVisions who organise excellent tours). It is very close to the Adriatic Sea and even has its own 12km stretch of coast line near Dubrovnik. The legacies of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires have left some very attractive cities, full of culture. The people are fabulous; funny, irreverent, generous to a fault and full of life. The weather is great, hot, dry summers full of swimming in lakes, barbeques and outside activities. Proper, cold winters with snow, skiing, ice-skating and excellent hot chocolate. It is the perfect place for a Property Porn style programme.

Except it isn't. I wouldn't buy a property in Bosnia. I love the country, I love the people. I've been to a few of this type of house and they are wonderful. But there are many, many factors which would stop me from investing huge amounts of my personal money into a stone farmhouse ruin of a dream.

1. The political situation. Headlines from British Newspapers saying that Bosnia is on the brink of war are probably overblown. Certainly no one I know here seriously expects that the country is going to descend into full-scale conflict again. But, the political situation is here is tense. Very tense. They have been quiet over the winter, but with elections later this year and the nationalists gearing up to try and scare the local population into voting for them, I certainly wouldn't say that it was stable. There is a very real possibility of some isolated violence over the next couple of months.

2. The Bureaucracy: Regular readers of this blog will know how much time, energy and pure levels of pain is taken up dealing with the Bosnian bureaucracy. Really, it is the true definition of purgatory. The extent of the Catch 22 that ensnares unsuspecting victims is jaw dropping. Not to mention expensive. For example, to temporarily import our car we have had to put up a £3000 bank guarantee. This is to ensure that we don't sell it whilst we are here. If we wanted to permanently import it, we would have to pay that amount of money. You can't buy a car here unless you have a residency visa. The police are cracking down on foreigners who live here on their tourist visas, just popping over the border every three months to keep in current. They need to; it is an obligation for them to do so if they want to continue along the road of EU membership.

3. Mines: Landmines were a common feature of the Bosnian war. There have been many areas that have been cleared. Many areas have not. Many of the areas that would be most attractive for potential property buyers (e.g. the areas close to the Croatian coast line) were extensively mined during the war. As a totally random aside, apparently the mines, which have meant that many of the forests and wilder areas of the country have been totally untouched for the past 20 years or so, have been brilliant for the wildlife. Whilst the odd bear or wolf may get blown up, the total lack of mans interference in these areas has led to real benefits for these creatures. I find that fascinating.

4. Planning: Planning has not really been a big feature of the Bosnian development of cities and industry so far. This is changing (Tuzla being very proud of the fact that it has recently bought in some form of planning system to try and create zones for industry rather than the hotch potch that is prevalent now). But, as it stands, a factory can be built almost anywhere. Someone can build a house right on the border line of their property, over looking gardens, looking straight into windows. No one here blinks an eye at that, but coming from a good English 'my home is my castle', I find it a touch unnerving.  I should probably also mention that even if planning laws were implemented, it probably wouldn't stop someone who had the right connections and enough money from totally circumventing them if they wanted to, respect for the rule of law not being what it ought to be at all levels. So, I would be very worried that my Bosnian dream property might find itself right next to a cement factory and there would be nothing that I could do about it.

5. Property Title: As mentioned above, respect for the rule of law isn't as strong in Bosnia as it might be. The issue of property title is also relevant. During the latest war, half the population were displaced. Some have returned. Some haven't. There was a fairly rigorous return of property programme, but I'd not have total confidence that no one else would have claim to that property that was being sold. It is also worth remembering that Bosnia used to be a Communist country, and title to property was not always clear cut.

There are a number of other things that I would worry about. I do find it particularly telling that most of these Property Porn programmes, so keen to sell Bosnia as the next property hotspot, have never actually been to the country. I also find it very revealing that most of the people who have bought here are married to Bosnians or, at the very least, speak the language.

I feel a bit let down. I'll never be able to see their articles and programmes in the same way now I know the type of issues that they have concealed. What am I going to dream about now, in those idle moments when I envisage myself wafting around in a white floaty dress in a lavender field carrying a wicker basket before heading back to my stone farmhouse with its enormous kitchen, big wooden table with never ending sunshine and beautifully behaved children?  Maybe I'll just aim for having children that aren't dismantling the house. Probably more realistic.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Gallery: Me

Week Four of the Sticky Finger's Gallery. This week's prompt was 'Me'. This one was always going to be difficult, as I have a general rule of not publishing recognisable photos of us. Anyhow, a bit of a search through the old archives (well the archives that I have with me in BiH) came up with a few contenders. I like this one. I like the thought of my life being all calmness, having acres of time to teach a small boy about seaweed and broken shells.

The reality of my life is not so much like that. It's more like this.

This photo is a few years old now. The boys are a lot bigger. They still climb all over me on a regular basis.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Perceptions of Refugees

I've realised that we are leaving really quite soon (still not sure when, thank you BA for informing us of you rescheduled flights in a manner that is neither timely nor helpful). Anyway, I've also realised that I still have quite a lot to say. So, expect quite a few posts over the next week or so. My notebook is brimming with ideas and I want to write them whilst I can look out of the window and see the country, not whilst I'm remembering how it was.
First up is an excerpt from an excellent and surprisingly funny book that I recently finished. Vesna Maric was 16 when she fled the war in Mostar, exchanging it for a life in Northern England. I highly recommend her book, Bluebird, for an insight of what it is like to leave your country and to become a refugee.

One passage really stood out to me, it highlighted much about the Bosnians, but also, more revealingly perhaps, about the British. It takes place as Vesna is about to board the bus that will take them to England, cementing their status as refugees.

"None of us knew exactly where we were going. All that Dragan had told us was to dress down and look as bedraggled as possible, because the previous group, he said, was too dressed up. The British had complained they didn't really look like refugees. Dragan had described it to my mother the week before, over the telephone: 'They looked as if they were dressed for a wedding!' I imagined my vain compatriots in their Italian fashion suits rescued from their homes, lipstick and eye shadow intact, like armour.

The British had, understandably, expected something a little more like 'proper' refugees: people suffering, hardship visible on their faces, clothes torn and wrinkled, children's eyes crusted with tears. Dragan wove through the crowd, closely inspecting everyone's outfits by pinching a shirt, a skirt or a trouser between two fingers, rubbing it to feel its quality, a look of disgust on his face. It seemed we were well below standard. But the unspoken motto of these Bosnian mothers was: 'If we are going to be refugees, let's not advertise our misery, let us at least look good,' and I could understand how they felt. It's not easy suddenly becoming a refugee." (pg. 28)

It sums the Bosnians up perfectly. It doesn't matter how terrible their situation, how difficult their life is, whatever happens they are going to look good. You can see it everywhere today. Whatever their situation, the Bosnians will manage to sew, mend, share, create, borrow, whatever the right clothes and they will look good. Night after night you will see the kids walking down the roads dressed up to the nines. Their hair is immaculate, their make-up flawless. The look is a little over the top for my tastes, but there is no doubt about it, you notice the Bosnians. The men too like to be well groomed, they spend hours tweaking and gelling their hair to its imagined perfection, choosing the right t-shirt, teaming it with the perfect leather jacket.

The only time you don’t see a well turned out Bosnian is if they are working in their gardens, in which case the dress code is tracksuits and wellies. Very sensible if you ask me.

I can understand that there was no way, absolutely no way, in which the Bosnians were going to go to England underdressed. They were going to look good and that was that. To not do so would be to let down their country and their culture.

But it is the British point of view that I find fascinating. The British wanted to help. They organised a bus to spirit people away from the awful conflict. But, they wanted to know that they had helped. They wanted to see traumatised people climbing off that bus, people who had suffered. Their idea of a refugee, someone who had suffered during the war did not include a few well-dressed women with dignity and pride.

Somehow, it seems that once people have had the status of refugee tagged onto them that over-rides any other identity. It matters not that the person had skills, was a Doctor, Engineer, Vet. Nor that they have opinions of their own. Nor that they are an individual with their own thoughts and experiences.

I’m only just restraining myself from starting a rant about the Daily Mail, but it does seem to me that if we can’t see the people who are forced to come to our country for reasons out of their control as people and individuals, but force them to inhabit a role of our perceived notions about refugees, we are guilty of an enormous disservice to those who most need our help.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Why do people not vaccinate their children?

There's a whole epidemic of chicken pox going on at nursery. This doesn't bother me a whole lot; both of mine have already had chicken pox. In fact, Luke had chicken pox when he was 9 weeks old, despite being exclusively breast fed so don't believe those stories that babies will get your antibodies through your breast milk. There is also a rumour of a few cases of measles here too. This doesn't bother me either; both of mine are fully vaccinated against everything.

The Bosnians also believe in vaccination, and have a schedule that is very similar to the British one; the only difference being that the children are also routinely immunised against TB whereas in the UK they inoculate those children they think are more at risk.

Which is why I was so surprised to have a conversation with a parent here that went along the lines of this:

Parent: I'm very worried about the outbreak of measles.
Me: Oh, measles isn't good but if your child has had the vaccine then there should be nothing to worry about.
Parent: We don't believe in vaccinations. Our child hasn't had any.

Now, I'm a fan of parental choice. I think that everyone should be able to choose how they want to bring up their children. There is only one parental decision that I have any strong opinion on, and that is that every single child should be vaccinated. These childhood diseases can be killers. They are serious and they can be controlled but to do so everyone needs to inoculate their children.

I'm not really talking about the MMR here (MMR being the combined vaccination for Mumps, Measles and Rubella which was linked to autism in children in the late 1990s, the research of which was later discredited). After all, you can still vaccinate your children separately against these illnesses if you don't want to have the combined vaccine. No I'm talking about those who choose not to immunise their children at all. I simply don't understand this decision.

Is it because most people do immunise their children reducing the likelihood of an epidemic, meaning that some feel they can afford to run the risk of not inoculating their own? But, at the risk of offending a few people, isn't this quite a selfish form of action to take? Everyone else can have the inoculations so we don't have to?

Is it because fit and healthy children can usually throw off these illnesses without long term damage? But some children are not fit and healthy, some are not able to be vaccinated. By allowing the potential of a spread of disease, surely these more susceptible children are being exposed unnecessarily?

Back to the conversation. I spluttered a bit before finally muttering something along the lines of being very pleased that mine were fully vaccinated and headed off. British you see - don't like unnecessary conflict. But the conversation has been playing on my mind for a few weeks now. So I thought I'd bring it out in the open here and see if there is anyone out there who can shed light on why they believe that no vaccinations is a sensible choice. Am I the only one who struggles to see the sense in this course of action?

Friday, 19 March 2010

Dear So and So... the final Bosnian edition?

I just realised that there is a high probability that I will be flying back with the boys to the UK next Friday. That is in SEVEN DAYS. Has the time come yet to panic? Probably. Best not to think about it I feel. Concentrate on thoughts of Thai food and sausages, ignore state of house and the fact that I haven't found yet the suitcases I need to pack the boys stuff. It'll all be alright in the end. Far better idea to get cracking on one of Kat's Dear So and So blog posts. Much more enjoyable. I can always start the packing tomorrow.


Dear Winter,

You are DONE. Dusted. Dispatched. Get ye out of here and don't come back. The snow is melted. The sun is out. The smog and pollution is lifting. As they say around here Dosta Zima! (Enough of winter). We won't miss you.

Don't even think of a final hoorah,
Fraught Mummy.


Dear Car People,

You tried your best. The old yes you have everything you need but what about another sticker on this bit of paper that we haven't told you about before line just didn't cut the mustard. You folded in the end. You have no idea how pleased I am to have the car back. Really didn't know how we were going to get all our stuff back to the UK if you hadn't got bored of us.

Yours, looking pretty mobile

PS - lets not cause us any problems when we have to come and see you in about 2 weeks to sort out the export of the car...


Dear Tuzla Authorities,

Look! It's Spring! The sun is shining! Everyone is out and wants to play outside. Please please please can you open the playground now? Please?

Yours, not above begging,


Dear House,

You are falling apart. The fusing of all the kitchen appliances last night was not what was required. Can you just hold it together for a few more weeks? Then we'll be gone and won't have to worry.

Yours, not very good at DIY


Dear Tuzla Restaurants,

For all this time we didn't believe that any of you did delivery food. But with the failure of kitchen appliances and no way to cook supper the other night we were proved wrong. Not only is there home delivery, but you can do it all online and the pizzas were really good (Pizza Trkacica if anyone interested). Now, if we could just work on the take-away coffee concept...

Yours, enjoying the Bosanska Pizza,


Dear Mosque over the road,

Is your microphone broken? This morning I awoke to hear the call to prayer by all the other mosques but couldn't hear you (and we can't miss it when you get calling). Thinking about it earlier, I can't remember the last time I heard it. Hope you fix it soon, but if you wanted to wait until we've moved that would be fine by me too, it is an early start to the morning for us non-Muslims.

Yours, in peace


Dear friends in Sarajevo,

After I drop the boys off in the UK with my brave and fearless mother (I'm not sure she has totally appreciated what she is taking on) I'm flying back to Sarajevo for a few days. Anyone around Friday April 2nd and fancy a coffee?

Yours, in excitement about a day in the big city without small children to entertain as well,
FM (except I won't be so fraught, more enjoying the swanky bars and cheese cake in the BBI Centar)


Dear Tuzla,

You do look so much better when it isn't winter. The skies are clear, the air is so much less polluted. Everyone is having coffee outside. People are out for a stroll in the evening. Really, the spring and summer is when you are at your best. Can't believe we are going to be leaving you now. We'll miss you.

Yours, feeling a touch emotional, and deeply envious of the fun you guys have coming over the next couple of months,


Dear driver of the car that hit the dog down the road,

You were driving far too fast. And then you hit a dog, breaking its hip or leg. And then you left it there in agony. I hope you are ashamed of yourselves.

Yours, unable to talk with fury,


Dear neighbours,

It was great to see that everyone got together to help this dog, particularly as you are not, in general, a nation of dog lovers. She had shelter, blankets, food and was being kept clean. Particular gratitude to the people who came to take her to the vet, which isn't cheap. The lady in the shop said that you had said that you were going to keep her if the vet could do something for her. I hope she is ok.

Yours, still finding the life that dogs have here difficult to deal with,


Dear Mayor,

Are you building another fountain? Pretty sure that the one thing Tuzla doesn't need is any more fountains.

Yours, liking the fountains that are here but feeling there are probably enough,

PS - Tuzla also has enough hairdressers, driving schools, betting shops and cafes. Just in case you were wondering.


Dear Boys,

It is spring! How exciting is that? So now we can go outside and play football and draw rockets, go exploring in the woods in Slana Banja whilst fighting dragons and making up stories of whispering armies leading us through the canyons. I've got some new chalks for us, let's play hopscotch this afternoon. And I promise you that you will see a playground in the next two weeks. Life doesn't get more exciting than this. Oh yes it can, you can also have sausages and baked beans for supper in the next two weeks too.

Much love and kisses
Mummy xxxx


Fancy a go yourself? Make sure you head on over to Kat's to sign up so we can all come and read them.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Gallery: Black and White

I know, I know. These are different photos to the ones I had up earlier. I suddenly decided that I liked these ones more - still the same day, still the same run down. So it is a bit less of the WHITE and a bit more of the Black & White. That's the joy of it being my blog. I can do what I want. Hoorah!

Date: Christmas Day, 2008
Place: Jahorina Mountain, Sarajevo

My family came to Bosnia for Christmas 2008 and we decided to stay in Jahorina, just outside of Sarajevo. Being Christmas Day and all, we'd had an early start. The boys were so excited, and had opened the stocking presents with enthusiasm. Then there was sudden quiet, they were totally engrossed in their new toys. Mum looked at me and Dave and told us to take the opportunity and get out there; the boys were going to be easy to look after for the next hour or so and we weren't going to get a better chance that this to get some skiing in.

So we did. We were almost the first up the mountain that morning. At the top of the mountain it was a beautiful day, but freezing cold. Above the clouds, it was clear and we could see for miles. It had snowed over night and we choose a route that no one had skied yet. The snow was amazing, beautifully light and powdery, heaven on earth for the snowboarding Dave and pretty fun for me on my two skis. We raced each other down the mountain. We ski at about the same speed, are around the same standard and are both very competitive. We hadn't had so much fun in ages. It was cold, exhilarating, life affirming.

About half way down the mountain we hit the clouds. Everything went white. Dave took a tumble. Too busy laughing at him, I wasn't concentrating on what I was doing and down I went too. Served me right, Dave enjoyed it enormously.

We managed a couple of runs before putting our parent hats back on and returning our grown up responsible selves. But I'll always remember that Christmas morning, when we got to spend some time together, just the two of us, doing something we adore, having so much fun and feeling so alive.

(Week No. 3 of Sticky Fingers' Gallery prompt of COLOUR. There are some amazing pictures there, go and have a look).

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A House of Cards

When planning to move, particularly when planning to move country, there is a lot of organisation and administration. Many, many jobs need to be undertaken, often in a particular order. It takes time and effort to bring the whole lot together.

The way we have tended to do it is to create one definite date and then build the move around it. With one definite in place, it is easier to know when things must be done by, what order they need to be done in and you can guage at what stage you should be at which time in the weeks coming up to the move.

For us, the move home is rapidly approaching. I will be flying back to the UK with the boys at the end of March and leaving them with my very brave mother whilst flying back to Bosnia in order to pack up the car and drive our wordly possessions back (if it doesn't fit in the car, it ain't coming). We booked the flights a while back and have since been building the elaborate administrative structures around that definite date to ensure that we get ourselves back. Vets have been booked to comply with the very stringent UK PETS scheme legislation for bringing animals into the country. Favours have been called in. People have rearranged their own schedules to accomodate us. Notice has been given on the house. Notice has been given our UK house. Places have been booked to stay.

And then the workers at BA announce that they will be on strike the day that we are booked. Our flight, from Belgrade, is one of those that will be affected. Our definite just became a hopefully, if you are lucky.

And down tumbles the house of cards.

PS - if you happen to see me, don't mention those poor misunderstood, underpaid, overworked BA staff. I might just spit venom and start shooting lasers from my eyes.

If that image of a venom spitting, laser eyed shooting fraught Mummy was a bit scary for you this early in the morning, head over to Baby Baby for the most recent Best of British Mummy Bloggers Carnival - there are 70 posts there, you'll find something you'll want to read.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Hack, hack, splutter, splutter

To say the Bosnians are a nation of smokers is probably an understatement. The Bosnians are a nation of enthusiastic smokers. Everyone smokes. Everyone. I can count on one hand the number of Bosnians I know who don't smoke.

It isn't so bad in the summer, everyone spends all the time outdoors so, fag ends and cigarette packets detritus apart, you don't notice it so much. But in winter, when everyone is inside with the windows tightly closed, oh lordy me, it is awful. The Bosnians smoke everywhere, restaurants, offices, buses, bars, cafes, you name it. People look in amazement when I ask them to not smoke inside our house but to go outside for their cigarette. The Americans and Europeans amongst you have probably forgotten what it is like to walk into a restaurant and be hit by a wall of cheap cigarette smoke and how horrible it is to eat your meal whilst also breathing in the fumes of the smokers next door to you. It is so ingrained, so presumed that you will be a smoker, that one friend of mine was given this piece of post-natal advice by her doctor 'Try not to smoke for 10 minutes before and after feeding your baby'.

Now the Bosnians know that smoking is not good for you and that it is an unpleasant habit for those of us who aren't smokers. But much like 1970s Britain, that is just seen as tough luck on the non-smokers. There are some no smoking areas. The boys' nursery is mainly non-smoking (but there is still quite a bit of puffing going on in the offices behind closed doors). The Mercator shopping centre (but you can smoke in the cafes there). Some offices, but not many. I can't think of any others.

I the 2 years we've been here, I've sort of got used to it. That isn't to say that I don't notice it anymore, because I do, especially in the winter, but that I expect it and am ready to deal with it. Which is why I was surprised to see this headline saying that the Croatians are bringing in a smoking ban in bars with effect from April 9th. The Croatians love their smoking as much as the Bosnians do  (actually the whole of the Balkans love a good cigarette moment). The timing of this ban is clever. The weather is improving and most people will be able to sit outside and smoke so it won't really bite until the winter hits. But it does show that the Balkans are changing. Croatia, being the most European looking, is the first to move. The others will follow. They will have to.

And whilst most Bosnians roar with laughter at the thought of a smoking ban, there are signs of change. The other day I went for a meeting, myself and 3 other Bosnians. Not one person in the group had a cigarette. I had to check I was still in the right country. I was. It was the first time I had ever had a meeting with more than one Bosnian that hadn't involved a cigarette. I know more non-smokers (and ex-smokers) here than I ever did before. As I say to the Bosnians who say 'we'll never have a ban here', we never thought we would in the UK either. But we do, and it will happen in the Balkans too. Maybe not tomorrow, but it will.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A Tribute to Mothers... our mothers. The Gratitude Tag

A while back I wrote a post about taking my boys ice-skating and how much they enjoyed it and how much I hated it. That post really struck a chord with that lovely Hong Kong blogger, Bloomin Marvelous, who wrote a post about how we don't really appreciate what our mothers did for us until we become mothers ourselves. She has a point. I had no idea how often my Mum had been up during the night, cleaned up vile smelling substances, counted to ten in her head before tackling some dreadful behaviour, stood freezing in thigh deep Arctic waters willing us to learn how to swim, until I had to do it all myself.

Bloomin Marvelous also tagged me in her Gratitude Tag to write a bit about my mother, to celebrate her and say why she is so amazing. And in the run up to Mother's Day I thought I should finally take her up on it. For much as Mother's Day is all about me in this household, it is a chance to say thanks to my Mum and sorry that I won't be there this year to join you all. Next year, I promise.

Both Mum and Dad had, shall we say, less than conventional upbringings. But somehow, they have created a really strong, close family. I can't underestimate how difficult this must have been. Everyone says that you will replicate the mistakes of your parents, but Mum didn't. She made her own decisions and created her own path and my brothers and I have been the incredibly fortunate beneficiaries of that. There was nothing that she wouldn't do for us growing up. She was always there, listening, helping, teaching. We moved about a bit, lived in other countries but Mum didn't falter. She went to another culture and carried on, creating and nuturing her family, whatever the differences and difficulties that the outside world had to throw at her. Now I am living in another culture I know how difficult that is. She did an amazing job.

She wasn't afraid to buck the system. Taking my brother and I out of school for a month because we had an opportunity to go to Africa. The school weren't happy, Mum said 'stuff them'. I remember more from that trip today than from all the rest of my primary school days put together. It was the right decision.

She's glamorous too, my Mum. I mean, she looks amazing. She has great style, I'm envious of her clothes. She's too small for me to borrow many of her clothes but if I could, I would. She is the most likely person to tell me of a new clothes shop find, or an amazing shoe shop. Most people are worried if they dress like their mothers. Me? Well I'm just thrilled if I manage to pull off that look.

Now I'm an adult. Well, there is noone else who will listen to me whitter on about my children for hours on end and still sound interested at the end of it all. No one else will sit for hours looking at different clothes on websites talking about what will suit me and when will I wear it. I'm incredibly lucky, my mother is amazing. If I can do half as good a job as her then I will be so proud with what I have achieved.

So Mum, Happy Mother's Day and I don't have the words to say how much I love you. Thank you for everything.

I offer this tag up to anyone that wants to take it up, but in particular, if they fancy it:

A Modern Dilemma
London City Mum
Mid Atlantic English
Single Parenthood, Tales from the Frontline
Notes from Lapland

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Gallery: FIVE

This weeks prompt from Sticky Fingers' Gallery was a number, to be used in any way we wish. An age for example. A number. Whatever comes to mind.

I chose the number 5, for these 5 members of my family settling down for a 5pm tea after a long English sea side afternoon. We'd built sandcastles and eaten ice cream. Uncle Will had threatened to throw the boys in the water and they ran away screaming with terror and delight at the prospect. As memory serves me Uncle Will ended up in the drink, dumped there by his sister (er, me) and his girlfriend. There had been rock pooling and some game involving a bat and a ball and rules that remain unknown. And at 5pm, vibrant with windburn and fresh air, we'd gone back to the beach hut, settled in for a lovely cup of tea with some lemon drizzle cake and enjoyed the view.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Women's Day and special post surprises

Yesterday was International Women's Day. It always takes me by surprise here, for us Brits don't really celebrate it. The Bosnians however, they go to town. It is huge here. You couldn't move yesterday for men carrying flowers and trinkets off to see their mother, wife, sister to say thank you, you are appreciated. Every single person I met yesterday wished me luck and gave me a big kiss, occasionally a little alarming but all very genuine. It seems that the popularity of Woman's Day is not limited to Bosnia either, the fascinating Paradise Lost in Translation blogging from Albania wrote about it yesterday in her post Women's Day which is well worth a read.

Needless to say Woman's Day didn't have that much of an impact in our house. The boys gave me some chocolate that nursery had given them to give to me, and promptly ate it themselves when I wasn't looking. Dave muttered something about manufactured holidays. Ah well. I didn't care, because my very first Secret Post Club parcel had arrived, from that irrepressible Rosie Scribble. It had all sorts in it, things to pamper myself with (very exciting), things to keep the boys occupied whilst I did so (very exciting) and a post card of my home town to remind us what we are missing. It's very beautiful, my home town, and as yesterday was grey, miserable, pollution filled and generally vile in Tuzla it was a real treat to be reminded of what we are going back to. So a huge thank you to Rosie for lightening up my day and not making me feel so left out as everyone else received their Women's Day gifts.

For those who don't know about it the Secret Post Club was started by Heather at Notes From Lapland. Anyone can join. These are the rules:

  • You will be matched to both a sender and a receiver each month.
  • On the 1st of the month I'll send you an email with the details of the person to whom you need to send something.
  • You won't know who is posting you a parcel until it arrives - please don't spoil the surprise by telling the recipient or dropping hints and clues before it gets there.
I love this idea. Surprise parcels? For me? With handwritten addresses and everything? Sign me up. You can join to if you want, click here for more information.

I have enjoyed making my parcels too. Last month Battling On was the surprisingly early recipient of a Bosnian parcel, the post taking only 3 days to get from Tuzla to the UK which is a new record. She wrote about it here.

This month I've been hunting around Tuzla and came across a very interesting centre which uses art as a way to help people deal with the trauma they suffered during the war. Sadly I could only buy some very small pieces of art that they've done as it was the only things that would fit into an envelope but they do amazing decorations on windows and bottles, large canvasses and the artists who participate find their work very helpful. I hope that my recipient likes it, the parcel was posted yesterday. Here's hoping it gets to the UK before we do.

Monday, 8 March 2010

British politics, a dirty, dirty game.

I wasn’t going to write much about the resumption of Karadzic’s trial last week. It was all going to be fairly predictable and it was. The trial began on Monday which happened to also be a Bosnian National Holiday, their Independence Day, a fact not lost on the Serbs*. Karadzic asked for (and got) more time to prepare, but not before he managed to go on for two days in a speech designed more to remind the Bosnian Serbs of their greatness and less to prepare for his defence. He denied everything, calling the seige of Sarajevo and the events in Srebrenica myths and then called the war ‘just and holy’. I mean holy? Really? I’ve heard many opinions as to why Bosnia imploded in the early 1990s, but religion is most certainly not one of them. Most people I know here couldn't even be bothered to listen to what he had to say, it was all so predictable.

Of far more interest is what else was going on around that day.

For some time, the EU has been trying to encourage Serbia onto the road of EU integration. The biggest obstacle in its path to full membership has been its failure to bring about the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the leader of the Bosnian Serb forces during the war. Everyone thinks Serbia knows exactly where he is. Serbia say they are doing all they can to find him, but he never seems to be found. Either way, every now and then the EU feels that they need to throw Serbia a bone, something to make them remember that they do want to join the EU and to encourage them to continue behaving themselves.

So on the very same day that the Bosnian Serb Karadzic’s trial restarts, Serbia asks Britain to arrest a Bosnian Muslim whom they regard as a War Criminal. Britain, to its eternal shame, did so, arresting Ejup Ganic as Heathrow and detaining him as a prisoner. Ejup Ganic, the Bosniak Vice-President during the war, has already been investigated by the ICTY in The Hague, but no indictments were made, nor formal charges bought.

Essentially the charges revolve around Ganic's role in protecting Sarajevo from the JNA (the Yugoslav army, which essentially became the Bosnian Serb army, as the Bosniak's had to create their own armed forces to defend themselves from agression, particularly difficult as there was an international arms embargo on the region, so they could not buy the weapons that they needed to defend themselves against the heavily armed Serbs). For more information I recommend you read this article by the London based Bosnian Institute,  this post by Marko Attila Hoare**,  this by Amila Bosnae and finally this by the Srebrenica Genocide Blog (read the comments too)

The British Government has said that it was "just a case of the judicial authorities following their legal obligations" and they were not making a political statement at all. Try telling that to the thousands of protesters outside of the British Embassy in Sarajevo on Friday. They, like pretty much everyone else, see it as a way of appeasing Serbia for the trial of Karadzic.

Sometimes I'm ashamed of my country. They couldn't even get the right country. The arrest warrant for Ejup Ganic's arrest talks of crimes committed in Sarajevo in Serbia. Ethical Foreign Policy? The Bosnians are right to be furious. In the meantime we've been advised, as British citizens, to keep our heads down.

*The Serbs did not want independence, they were essentially fighting against Bosnia’s cessation from the then Yugoslavia. They don’t celebrate Bosnia’s Independence Day.

** the picture that Hoare uses in his post is of an event in Tuzla. Tuzla did manage to repel the JNA army and as such was spared the worst of the ethnic cleansing that afflicted the rest of north eastern Bosnia. This picture freaks me out though. Brcanska Malta is where I go scooting with the boys. I know it well. But every time we go there I find that I can see the burning tanks in the middle of the road.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

If I pretend not to notice then it isn't happening

We had an unexpectedly late night last night. Blame Risk. The taking over the world board game. Apparently we are all evil dictators at heart, and you can never trust anyone, they will always betray you.

But it was a late one. 2am late. The kind of late that I never do any more. Of course, the boys were up at 6am. Of course, it is my day to get up with them.

I'm in denial. The house has the detritus of a global domination campaign all over it; bags of crisps, cold pizza (homemade thank you very much), peanuts, bottles of beer. That classy sort of look. There is no noise from the boys. Actually, that isn't totally true. There is a sort of crisp crackling, muffled giggling. I strongly suspect that they are hiding in the cupboards having laid their hands on some forbidden ill-found goodies.

If I don't notice it then it can't be happening, right? What's so wrong with crisps for breakfast anyway?

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Carless and Cross

We are currently without the use of our car. There's nothing wrong with it, we just aren't allowed to drive it at the moment because we haven't been able to register it for this year. We haven't been able to do that because our visa hasn't been extended yet. So we are waiting for someone in Sarajevo to stamp a bit of paper and send it back to Tuzla. This will, apparently, have to be done in the next 6 weeks. Because apparently it is really time consuming to stamp a piece of paper and pop it in the post.

So our perfectly serviceable car sits in the drive mocking us, as we become acquainted with the Tuzla cabs, buses and I drag the boys kicking and screaming through the rain on foot. It isn't that much of a problem, we walk to and from nursery, we shop in local shops and the cabs are frequent and cheap. But it is getting me down not being able to use the car. We can't take the dog for proper walks as there is nowhere within walkable distance to let her off the lead. I hadn't realised what an important part of my day the dog walk was. Not only did it exercise dog, but it took the brunt of the energy levels off the boys, killed an hour and a half of the afternoon and kept everyone excited with changes of scene.

I feel trapped. The weather is horrid, we are stuck in the house and all have a bad case of cabin fever. I can't do any more jigsaws, bake any more cakes, glue any more bits of paper. I'm bored of it. And so are the boys. We want to go and fight dragons in the woods, track dinosaurs, practice throwing and run down hills too fast.

Think I might go shout at some Bosnian officials later. It won't do any good but it might help me rid myself of some intense frustration.

*******   Update  *********

Just when I thought I couldn't get any grumpier... the circuit in the kitchen keeps fusing which is shorting the radio and FAR more seriously is preventing the kettle from brewing a cup of tea. And it's snowing. I am officially cross. There might be stomping involved and behaviour of which my 3 year old is embarrassed.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Sticky Fingers Gallery: Beauty

That ever so clever Tara over at Sticky Fingers has had a fantastic idea that really appeals to me.

"Every week I will give you a prompt, an idea, a notion and you go out and take a photograph using that prompt. Or just use a photo you already have.

The prompt could be one word, an object, an idea, a phrase, anything, and you have to post a picture which you feel represents that prompt.
Post it on your blog and write about it."

This weeks theme is beauty. Here's my entry:

I've chosen it because of the light, the colours and the way that, on a dank and depressing, drizzly March day it is making me feel golden.

This was taken last November in the midst of one of the most beautiful Autumns I can remember. We were walking in Zlaca, an area about 45 minutes outside of Tuzla (near Banovici). There was noone else there, we picnicked, the dog swam, we climbed hills, we enjoyed the clear skies and golden colours. It was a beautiful day.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Knowing where we are

When we getting ready to come out to Bosnia we looked into the possibility of getting a GPS system for the car. Or more accurately Dave looked into it, being a fully signed up technophobe I muttered something about being able to map read just fine thank you and what a waste of money.

Anyway, at the time it turned out that Bosnia was a bit of a black hole GPS-wise. Perhaps it was the abundance of military bases which made it difficult for them to put the information on the map. Perhaps it was the mountainous terrain. I have no idea. But what happened was you would be piling along the road in Croatia with lots of info, turn right to go into Bosnia and nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch. According to GPS when you enter Bosnia you have fallen off the end of the world.

The technophobe in me loves this. I hate GPS. I love maps. I like trying to develop my sense of direction using my own noggin. It isn't difficult in Tuzla. Tuzla is a city in a valley. You are either going east-west along the valley floor or up the hills in a northern or southerly direction. Sure the roads on the hills get a bit random and windy but you usually come out somewhere you know. As long as you don't hit the dirt tracks at which point it is time to turn around and come back down again.

Last night we went to some friends for dinner. They were fresh back from Italy bearing cheeses, wines, meats, chocolates. It was a gourmet extravaganza and we celebrated the fine foods by drinking far too much fine prosecco and chianti. Weaving our way home was taking far too long so we decided to get a cab back.

Readers, Bosnia has arrived. For the cab had GPS. And not just a GPS for show either. It worked. With all the roads and everything. Not that the journey home is especially difficult, nor I imagine are any of the routes the cabbie takes. But he had his GPS on. And Bosnia takes another step towards catching up with the rest of Europe.