Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Not theologically sound!

It was during his show-stopping performance at Live8 that Robbie Williams suggested the crowd 'get out their hymnbooks' to sing-a-long as he introduced perhaps the finest song he ever co-wrote! You know how it goes: I sit and wait, as an angel contemplates my fate. That, as untheological as it sounds, is what it feels like today. Ben made a sharp intake of breath when I mentioned the Robbie lyrics but all three of us are sitting in the living room waiting.

Sure there are books to read and language to learn, and, yes, that is all happening. But for all of us long-term accomodation is the thing that will help the feeling of getting settled. But it seems this is largely beyond our control, partly due to our inability to communicate in local language and partly due to the fact call them realtors, letting agencies or estate agents they don't seem to exist here, or at least no-one we've talked to uses them. House hunting happens through the papers and the news this morning is that everything in this week's paper has gone already!

And so, with the aforementioned classic freshly, and legally, downloaded from iTunes I shall settle back in the sofa and savour the moment!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Lessons from the collapse.

Since seeing the sorry mess that was the beginning of the restoration of Mostar's Music School I've been pondering the lessons. I should confess I am not a qualified scaffolder. Nevertheless, I have done a bit of rigging in the past. Despite my comment in my video I have combined a rooftop and scaffolding without adding protective headgear into the mix. However, that's not what I've been thinking about.

My thoughts are with a damaged building that stood, albeit in a ruined state, for fifteen years since the conflict only to fall when help for rebuilding arrived. Perhaps you can see where this is going? My suspicion is the Music School frontage was pulled down by scaffolding caught in the wind. In every instance of building renovation we've seen here the scaffolding is secured into the front of the building involved. There is little in the way of bracing, certainly none of the big diagonals I'm used to seeing. It seems that scaffolding is not truly self-supporting instead relying too heavily on the building it's supposed to be helping.

The collapse ruined what looked like brand new scaffolding as well as destroying, rather than helping restore, a local landmark. All this reminds me of something I said when we were packing to leave: it's only help if it's helping. Things that have been damaged do need renovation; they need help to do what they cannot do for themselves. But that help must help, providing support instead of pulling on an already weakened structure. Only then will things be properly restored.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Music School collapses in Mostar



Mostar's Music School building was undergoing restoration. We were shocked to see this as we strolled in to town on Saturday afternoon.

There are rules here too!

Rowan forwarded me something she saw on The Times website. At the risk of breaking number eight I want to comment on the Ten Commandments for bloggers.

  • You shall not put your blog before your integrity
  • You shall not make an idol of your blog
  • You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin
  • Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog
  • Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes
  • You shall not murder someone else's honour, reputation or feelings
  • You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind
  • You shall not steal another person's content
  • You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger
  • You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content

Writing a blog is an interesting process, perhaps you should try it! The question is always: what to type, what not to type? Striking the balance between being honest and open and not sounding judgemental and critical is not always easy. It's great to be entertaining but not at the expense of being truthful. And then there is people's privacy. Stealing someone's story is not on.

So as we negotiate these murky waters we want to write the right thing. Forgive us if you suspect we're leaving gaps. We may be. But it'll be for the reasons outlined above.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Tales from our travels - part 3

There are a great many things we are told that are not true. Perhaps it’s harsh to label them all as lies. Certainly some are merely the result of unbalanced perspective. As our road trip headed south into Belgium and then Germany I began to realise there were great untruths I had fallen for. Britain’s roads are overcrowded. Britain’s motorways always have road-works. Britain’s M25 is really a car park in disguise. These statements are not, in and of themselves, wrong. They are just blinkered; they lack a broader context.

Britain may wish to lead the world in a great many things but I’m here to burst the bubble on the idea it has the most crowded, congested roads out there. We all know giant centres of population like Delhi get gridlocked but since when did Belgium have so many people! Perhaps it’s just a tribute to the regional bent for bureaucracy that the traffic around Brussels grinds so painfully slowly. Frankfurt was worse. And on through Austria and Slovenia the crowding and road-works continued. However on one thing the UK wins hands down: the use of road cones. Contractors on the M25 will deploy more orange plastic in a hundred metres then we saw in the whole of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina put together. The frugal Bosnians pursue an opposite philosophy, placing a single cone next to a temporary traffic control as their only concession health and safety during road-works. But the key lesson here: too many cars and too little road capacity is not a peculiarly British phenomenon.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Paparazzi shoot van surfing primate!


Rowan spotted it. The van was stopped at lights as we crossed the road. We both reached for our cameras. The lights changed as we hit the pavement, but not before Rowan managed one paparazzi-style snap. And then we stood wondering if we'd really seen what we'd just seen.

What this grainy evidence shows is an as yet not formally identified primate. A cursory glance at Google Images indicates it could be some kind of baboon, although monkey (in the generic sense) paints a clearer picture. The white Mercedes van in question was a mobile advert for a circus, carrying two questionable looking characters and the unidentified mammal chained to the roof! While our furry friend did not seem overly annoyed at his airy advertising role we were slightly surprised. His high-profile position would generate no positive publicity back in the UK.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Tales from our travels - part 2

Dunkirk is more famous as a place for getting off the continent than onto to it. However it’s apparently a cheaper destination than Calais so at 4am our small ferry nosed its way out of Dover into one of the world’s busiest waterways for the short trip across the Channel. It’s been the better part of ten years since I’ve been on a ferry. I never thought I’d use the Tunnel, let alone recommend other to, but it is so quick and easy. But it has no magic. You miss leaving and there’s no great sense of arrival. You can’t walk out on deck at 5am to survey the view and talk to your video camera!

I not sure why I opted for a particularly stodgy English breakfast as we gently swayed across the mercifully calm waters. As last meals go it was particularly poor, although perhaps comfortingly reminiscent of school dinners back in the day before Jamie Oliver got his hands on them! With this laying heavy in my stomach I stretched out on the bench seating in the cafeteria and attempted sleep. Sleep in strange places is much more Rowan’s forte than mine, and with barely an hour left until we docked it was firmly rooted in the token gesture camp. And then it was as my brother had predicted: a new dawn for us as dawn broke over northern France and we began our journey south.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Death And All Of His Friends

"No, I don't want to battle from beginning to end, I don't want a cycle of recycled revenge, I don't want to follow death and all of his friends." I blogged about these Coldplay lyrics before but I mention them again because since our move here we have not been far from death. There are several reasons for that. First was the tragic death of a 30 year-old man from the church we are attending in a car accident, just two days after we arrived. Although we hadn't met him he was a good friend to many of the people we are working with.

Second is the custom here of posting notices announcing deaths on walls and lampposts, A4-sized obituaries carrying a photo of the deceased, clearly showing their religious background. In Mostar they usually either have a green border, for Muslims, or black border, for Catholics. Yesterday as we saw a family sticking another announcement to the wall Rowan observed it makes you realise how many people die all the time.

Lastly, there is the city itself. Still bearing the scars of wars - although encouragingly showing the signs of renewed renovation works - it is hard to look far without imagining the human cost to a legacy of walls pock-marked by bullet holes. Last night we watched Truth in Translation, a piece of musical theatre about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, under the Stari Most. Against this backdrop, its story of torture, abuse and killing was particularly poignant. I was stuck when a key character asked: how can brutal things happen in beautiful places?

Last night Mostar was beautiful and I for one would rather shrink from tales of brutality. Yet up on the Stari Most is a stone that bears the message ‘Don't Forget’. I hope that's don't forget in the 'never again' sense, and not 'don't forgive'. That's for each to decide for themselves but the message of last night's performance was, to rework Coldplay, recycled revenge will only leave us with death and all of his friends. And they have a history of making brutal, bloody messes of beautiful places.

Friday, 19 September 2008

We smell!

Rowan was only commenting earlier today on how well we had done to avoid the smell of smoke. She spoke too soon. Tonight we went out to meet some friends and ended up having coffee in a room where the smoke hung thick and blue, punctuated by blasts of fresh air only when a new customer opened the door. Such an environment would now be unthinkable in a nanny state bossed by Brussels but Bosnia Herzegovina is beyond the legislative reach of that particular breed of beaurocrat.

So we smell. A few years back you could have sat in the non-smoking section of a restaurant in the UK and come home smelling the same. (Most non-smoking sections were a painfully futile exercise - remember?) Had we moved here back then we'd probably not have noticed. But leaving a smoke-free England makes the contrast particularly marked. We're told there is a general fear of drafts so as winter sets in we will have to acclimatise quickly. Here's to stuffy, smoky, social outings!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Tales from our travels - part 1

I need to tell tales from our travels before I forget. I know we made the road trip movie but that doesn't go so far as to even scratch the surface of the real experience - sorry! The trip could have been a feature film, although probably more art-house movie than box-office blockbuster. So I'm going to attempt to tell a few select tales here over the next couple of weeks. I will attempt to be truthful and not to embellish the story, but then there was that favourite quote from 'A Knight's Tale': I'm a writer, I give the truth scope!

Starting at the beginning has long been recognised as the very best place to start and I shall take as my beginning the moment I laid eyes on Boris's van. It was then that leaving was a truly imminent reality. All I knew up to that point was Boris has a long wheel base, hi-top van. No make or model. What appeared on my parents drive was an all-too-familiar white Transit - I've driven a similar one around Europe - with some very unfamiliar modifications.

It may surprise some people to read there are times I don't enjoy drawing attention to myself. In my mind this trip was to be one of those times. But there is no way to be inconspicuous in a van with a skull covering the Ford emblem on its grill, sporting haunted house and skeleton graphics on its sides and flying the Jolly Roger from between its back doors! We would be doing adventure. We began to load.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Looking around Stari Grad, Mostar



It was a sunny day today so what better than to have a look round the Stari Grad - old town - in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The way to a man's heart...

We all know the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. We also know that if a man's heart is not in something he's very unlikely to motivate himself in regard to that thing. Today these two thoughts collided in my life in the most unsavoury of ways.

But first the back story, given mainly because I was recently mocked by a friend for always giving the most elaborate back stories before telling the simplest of anecdotes! The back story is that I have long lectured Rowan on the biblical injunction to eat what is set before you. While I don't claim to be exactly excited by this instruction I do believe it to be important, particularly in a cross-cultural context. I always do my best to abide by it.

Fast forward to lunchtime today: we're sitting outside a pizza restaurant, almost overlooking the Neretva. The A5 piece of bright yellow photocopied paper that was the menu was safely secured against the breeze under the heavy glass ash-tray. Rowan scanned the menu for something she recognised and ordered a four-cheeses pizza. I decided to opt for the more intuitive approach and ordered 'SRDELA' (toppings: kečap, sir, srdela slana, majoneza, origano, masline.) Why? Just because it felt like the right option.

So if you haven't already copied all that lot into Google let me enlighten you. I inadvertently ordered a salted sardine pizza! Yes, it was disgusting, at least to my taste, but, yes, I ate what was set before me. And then I came home to learn pizza toppings so as to never repeat this error. Heart motivation is indeed stomach activated.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Some thoughts on footwear

My brother is big into trainers, or sneakers to the Americans. He once held the esteemed position of 'shoe guru' at Allsports. So naturally it was him I turned to for advice when I saw a very interesting pair of shoes in TkMaxx a few days before our departure. They're a Nike Air Max 90 boot, with almost a platform sole. I was um-ing and ah-ing about the purchase when a friend conveniently happened by and purchased them as a leaving gift for me. The good news is they have been immediately put to use protecting my feet from the rivers and lakes that form in Mostar's streets when the heavens open. Rowan has been similarly blessed by the Rocket Dog boots that were a leaving gift from our church.

The more biblically minded among you may already be thinking 'Ephesians' when I mentioned footwear and so lets go there: For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. As important as keeping physical feet dry in wet weather is, keeping peace in our hearts is more important. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. That's a verse that played over and over in my mind as we sat through a couple of tense border crossings!

There have been challenges and changes to plans even since we've arrived, as well as plenty of rain. So if we wake again to rain it won't just be our fancy footwear that we'll be reaching for!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Our Great Travel Story



Just a glimpse into the adventure that was our road trip to Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina.

Thanks to Boris and Jamie for being part of an unforgettable journey!

And finally...

Finally I get to type a post from Mostar! This week has been a wild ride through Europe but we have arrived. There is a fine story to be told about our adventures but it'll take a day or two to let the dust settle and construct a coherent narrative. For now it is enough to say things did not go as expected, although in no way does that mean they went badly. And it was certainly not boring!

We have brought the rain with us, which is a mixed blessing. We don't have to attempt sleep in choking heat but we do have to negotiate the lakes and rivers that pass for streets. When the clouds roll in he whole city disappears under a grey blanket. As our temporary accommodation is halfway up the east side we get a good view of this. We'll also get fit climbing the stairs that lead up there from town.

We've already been asked several times what it feels like to have arrived. I don't think either of us has a particularly good answer to that. It is nice to arrive (isn't nice such a horrible word?) but the full impact of leaving had yet to hit. I guess we're still in travel limbo, a state of suspended animation! Perhaps we're just too tired to feel much or think straight. I'm sure we'll be back with something more intelligent in a day or two.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Be careful what you call things!

WeDoAdventure is what we've called this blog, our YouTube channel and our Facebook group. We'll, we're doing adventure as we travel across Europe. Tonight we were supposed to be in Mostar, unpacking boxes in our new apartment. I'm actually sitting in an Austrian guest house trying to recover from the fact England have just thrashed Croatia in their World Cup qualifier in Zagreb! (We'll be in Zagreb tomorrow.)

So the moral of the story is be careful what you call things. My question is: do I really want adventure? I think the answer is 'yes' - I don't have much option right now! But either way the last 48 hours have highlighted how is easy it is to live an unadenturous life (and I've been guilty of that) and how easy it is to make choices that invite adventure.

There's a tale to tell from our travels, but that will be editted later. Until then enjoy this short vlog from somewhere near the PEZ factory!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Today is the day!

Yes, this is it. After a false start - we had arranged to leave yesterday - we will be packing a van at 10pm tonight ahead of a midnight departure. I'm particularly excited our van driver has booked a ferry crossing. Since we discovered how quick and easy the tunnel is it's been years since we've set sail (metaphorically) for foreign shores. I'm just hoping the weather is nice to us as heavy swells and stuffy diesel-smelling environments don't mix well in my experience!

So before we go a few thanks. Thanks to my parents for putting us up over the last couple of days - and putting up with all our clutter and the constant stream of friends we kept inviting over! Thanks to the friends for coming over, particularly those sitting downstairs waiting to say goodbye while I type this!

And with that I'll leave you with a video I made earlier :)


Monday, 1 September 2008

Get out!

So today is the day we're gonna try to move everything out of our house - certainly everything we're taking with us. That should be fun! The light at the end of the tunnel is the promise of being taken out to dinner tonight. However that's also an immovable bookend to the day that means procrastination is no longer an option!

But before I dash off to pack yet more boxes and ferry them over to my parent's house I want to say thanks to everyone who turned out for our leaving party on Saturday. It was a great afternoon and evening. (Below is a short video my brother made to commemorate the occasion.) Thanks also to everyone who gave us cards and gifts. It seems rude to single one out for a special mention but I think you'll understand why.

A handmade card from Joshua (6, I think!) read:

"I hope you have a nice long holiday is bosneeu hertergoveener"

As perfect as it is priceless!