Friday, 31 October 2008
Down in the city last night I tried to see if I could remember anything. I know I’d been to the port before. Although it looked like the pictures it didn’t seem that familiar. On the main street I tried to work out which building was once a sparse shop where I bought a post card or two. Gone is the communist austerity. The street sports shops that would grace a swanky district in any cosmopolitan city. In an expensive bookstore I afforded myself the opportunity of buying an English-language magazine. Well almost, it was October’s American edition of Wired! (This isn’t the place to digress into a discussion about why it’s wrong for an American website to list English (UK) as a language option.) We ate and then headed back up the coast. But we’ll go back, although I’ll brush up on my history first to be fully prepared for Rowan’s barrage of questions!
Sunday, 26 October 2008
Well, barring any grave misfortune in the next couple of hours I will have moved on a year without being Christ-like in that respect. Well almost. My thirty-third year has seen my most dramatic life change certainly since getting married, probably since I made the decision to work for a church after leaving college. I know it’s nothing on Jesus’ obedience to go to the Cross so please don’t go scribbling “You‘re a heretic” in my birthday card. However, this isn’t the first time that I’ve pondered a death and resurrection analogy in an attempt to describe what this life change feels like. Again I don’t want to claim it has been difficult. I haven’t sweated blood; I’ve barely shed tears. Perhaps this is because it was the right time and I was prepared, even if I was unaware of it. It’s probably been harder for those watching on, although at times I’ve felt a little like a spectator myself. So what of the next year? Well, I won’t be making any rash comparisons!
Saturday, 25 October 2008
“loose the chains of injustice...set the oppressed free...share your food with the hungry...provide the poor wanderer with shelter...when you see the naked, clothe him...do not turn away from your own flesh and blood”
The street I was walking down, the one where we live, is an interesting place. Many of its buildings are just bombed-out concrete skeletons housing unplanned assortments of trees and shrubbery. There are the semi-restored properties that still bear the scars of war and there are fully-restored buildings. Our apartment block was a ruin but you never know to look at it today. And that’s why I was excited the words I remembered were God’s promise good things will happen for people who live his kind of faith.
“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”
We’re living in the benefits of restoration and we see it going on around us every day. We also see the need for justice and freedom; there are those who need food, shelter and clothing. These needs are universal but this is where we are now so we must turn away from them here. I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to the time when there are no ruins and every street has a thriving community living in it.
And here’s the clincher: I didn’t realise this chapter ended with a verse that has long been a favourite of mine. “Then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land.” The mountains here look so inviting and that has to be the clearest Biblical reference to mountain biking ever!
Friday, 24 October 2008
We visited six stores this afternoon, joined for most of it by Ben and Mirja. It was warm and we enjoyed clear blue skies as our trip took us south out of town. Mirja’s from the Arctic Circle and Ben’s from Wales; neither places famed for their good weather! They did some spending of their own, although not quite on the scale we did. We must have looked quite the picture: four obviously ‘foreign’ people in a battered Toyota combi van filled with an eclectic assortment of carrier bags. Carrier bags are not ‘evil’ here; you’d get very strange looks if you tried not to use one. So now are cupboards are stocked with food, particularly all those little things you never think to buy but it’s so hard to cook without. We have a fully functioning kitchen for the first time in almost three months. Rowan is making brownies in celebration!
Thursday, 23 October 2008
Our visiting visitors, Mijra and Leah, burst through the door. Mijra ran from room to room making excited noises and say ‘oh my’ a lot. The apartment has high ceilings and is all painted white. The effect is to make an already spacious place seem even bigger. That said it is comfortably bigger than our house in England so it’s not all illusion. Mirja had decided that as we’re nearly neighbours down we could lend each other eggs and sugar. She’d tried to learn the Bosnian for egg before she went shopping but she forgot – it’s jaje – so we got a bag of sugar and the local equivalent of Kinder eggs. Leah had baked cookies. She’s American so she knows how to make cookies. We ate them, still slightly warm from the oven. And if that’s the way the cookie crumbles I for one am not complaining!
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Tomorrow the two Novi Most combis in Mostar will share our stuff between them as we descend for the last time. (Obviously, not really for the last time!) I will miss the view. That's all the more reason to get my bike up and running. It's been fantastic to get up in the morning and look out over the city. The light here is amazing, particularly first thing in the morning or just as the sun's going down. There are mountains and the Neretva meanders, or surges, its way through the centre of town, depending on how much water they've released at the dam upstream. I like to stop and stare at the deep green-blue water, even if just for a moment, when we cross over the river. But I'm waffling now, but I think you can tell we like it here...even if there are hills to climb!
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Fast forward to yesterday’s news and I’m reading about Gayle Williams being gunned down in Kabul. She was about my age. Perhaps she looked at a similar tree in Sunday school and thought of living a life of helping others in a way that wasn’t against the law. She was certainly living that way when lawless people decided she had had to pay the ultimate price for ‘spreading Christianity’. Jesus went around doing good and healing the oppressed. That is an unquestionably positive example to follow. It is a sad and sobering thought that some deem such charity so offensive they’ll kill to eradicate it.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Now we find we've rented an apartment that has a drier. This is a rare but welcome circumstance. Our spare appliance quickly acquired an eager new owner. So before it spun its last spin for us I thought I should replace it's trusty three-pin plug with a local two pin version. Plugs here can go in the socket either way up. They have an earth connector on both sides. That's strange enough to my English electrical sensibilities. What's harder to comprehend is that there's no fuse. I just wish I'd listened harder at school so I could actually remember what the safety implications of this are!
Sunday, 19 October 2008
United World College draws students from around the world, 200 in all from about 35 nations. Many of these find life in Bosnia Herzegovina very different from the country they've come from. One of our new friends was told by a student in the year above her that Mostar was like a cigarette. You don't like it the first time, but the more you have you become addicted!
That made me smile, partly because the amount of smoking that goes on here is one of the noticeable things we've had to adjust to, and partly because it made me think about just how we feel about being here. I remember arriving in Mostar for the first time. It was by train from Sarajevo, late on a March Sunday evening. I don't really remember my reaction; I don't know if I really knew what to expect. That was just seven short months ago. Now we're here; this is where life happens for us. I guess it is early days to say if we're 'addicted', but if I find we are I'll be sure to let you know!
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Don't panic, this is not post announcing a Facebook-style change in our relationship status! It is a post that will attempt to create a picture that we've seen here a couple of time now; a cultural observation on local wedding celebrations.
Earlier today on the west side of town we emerged from a grilled chicken joint - a cheap and cheerful place with very good chicken - to see a convoy of cars careering around the corner. It was a wedding procession. Let me outline the tell-tale signs.
Horns are being honked not just repeatedly but unceasingly by all vehicles involved.
Many cars will be sporting streamers and bows, particularly on their wing mirrors.
At least one car will have an occupant waving a huge Croatian flag.
Today however this procession took it one stage further. The passengers in the first four cars all had their windows down and were sitting on the doors, shouting, drinking and generally having a good time of it. I've never tried travelling like that but I imagine it not exactly the easiest manoeuvre to execute, particularly not in wedding finery. Still, it put a smile on our faces so we wish them all the best!
Thursday, 16 October 2008
"We went to play games with Roma kids who live behind a supermarket on a rubbish dump. They were very friendly and affectionate and wanted to ask me lots of questions. It was a bit frustrating cos I couldn't understand everything they were saying and even when I could understand I didn't always know how to reply.
They were very dirty - especially their hands and feet. One girl decided she was hot and wanted to swim in the river so she found a piece of glass on the ground and used it to cut her trousers into shorts - it didn't work too well and her shorts looked pretty crazy when she'd finished but she seemed pleased with the result.
There is a lot of rubbish everywhere and some of the people who live there sort through it as their job. There are a lot of bottles and old cars and washing machines and stuff. Some people live in concrete buildings and some in other home made looking buildings."
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
I love the movie Elizabethtown. In it there's phone conversation where one the main characters asks the other 'I've always wondered this: who are they?' The same question could be posed in this post. In the first instance they is James, the no-nonsense letter-writer from the Bible. He goes on to say '...that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.' Patience doesn't just bring us prize for being good but works good in us. The other they turns out to be Robert Louis Stevenson. 'Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.' I'll confess I'd not read this before and I like it more for the context. Somehow I think James would probably approve too!
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Half the roads around Mostar appear to be being resurfaced, or should I say they have been prepared for resurfacing. The scraped surface leaves drain covers protruding as unpleasant wheel-deforming devices. No, I didn't hit any! Potholes and other severe surface undulations, however, are almost unavoidable so it's often the case of literally having to take the rough with the smooth. But do it all with your headlights on or you'll definitely been flagged down and fined. I spotted almost a dozen Police officers on our short round trip, but my lights were on! We're getting pretty orientated to tackling Mostar on foot; now my task is to be as confident navigationally from behind the wheel.
Monday, 13 October 2008
Though the day is a mystery
At the tail end of history
Every bridge has been burned
At your promised return
No unfinished symphony
Just a beautiful symmetry
When I see who you are
I wasn't planning to jump up on stage so soon after arriving but in a bulk-out-the-numbers moment I ended up taking part in a talent show at the youth conference in Sarajevo this weekend. I didn't win - obviously, that wasn't going to happen! - but we all know it's about the taking part. It was great to see everyone who was involved and for me it was fun to start where I'd left off in England. And who knows where we go from here?
Sunday, 12 October 2008
Friday, 10 October 2008
To my rescue rides Cockta! Now Cockta’s not a brand I was familiar with. The Wikipedia entry starts helpfully: ‘Cockta is a soft drink from Slovenia. Its main ingredient comes from the dog rose berry’ Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? But, honestly, it is! I’ve drunk litres of the stuff and haven’t got sick of it yet. Translating the prominent sticker on the label today I discovered it doesn’t contain caffeine nor orthophosphoric acid; the latter's the one in domestic cleaning products amongst other uses! I’ll claim it means it’s healthy and assuage my conscience. Meanwhile, Rowan will continue to drink Fanta Shokata.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
But you can never escape the English language. Today I was walking past the Hotel Bristol when I suddenly noticed the writing across the top of the t-shirt on the bloke coming towards me: Go the extra mile, there’s always space ahead. Perhaps not the greatest phrasing but certainly a fantastic thought. If you’re prepared to go beyond the norm, beyond what most others are prepared to do, you are going to find the room to expand, space to express something new. There’s cost in that. Breaking new ground is rarely easy but nothing is more rewarding.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
'Sun is in the sky, oh why oh why, would I wanna be anywhere else?'
So why did a Lily Allen catch my attention? Two reasons. First, it's only by being out of the country that you realise what it means to say pop music is one of Britain's biggest exports. Tunes by bands that used to be just down the road from us pop up in the weirdest of places and I don't know if I totally approve!
The second reason is it reminded me of lunch today when Rowan and I sat outside a restaurant in the Stari Grad. The sun was high is the sky. A bright blue sky with just the slightest hint of wispy white clouds at its edges. Legions of French tourists poured past taking in the sites, while a small group of Germans got to grips with some ćevapi on the tables next to us. It was warm - hot, if we're honest - and a very pleasant way to prepare for an afternoon of language study.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
So why the title? Well, it was noisy; youth clubs always are. But during the entertainment section it got really noisy. The floor was covered in pieces of A4 paper with a letter of the alphabet on it. On the count 'tri, četiri, sada' the young people had to rush across the room pick up a piece of paper and be the first to reach the staff member on the far side, shouting a word starting with the letter on the paper. Their eagerness necessitated the cry 'uz za zid, ziiid...ziiiiiiiiid!' (The i's are pronounced like English e's.) There you have it: the noize, with lots of zeds! It waz lotz of fun.
Monday, 6 October 2008
But for all the wonders of modern technology these electronic communications have a drawback. There's no e-equivalent of walking into a room and refusing to leave until you get what you came for! I have a situation where something borrowed from me before I left the UK was not returned. I've left an answer phone message: no reply. Text message: no reply. Email: no reply. Facebook: no reply. So now I blog. If I was in England I'd be hunting down the person in question and explaining this was no longer a joke but that, sadly, is not an option. Alas, I am all too easy to e-ignore!
Sunday, 5 October 2008
Now, it's usually quicker on the way down - but not this morning. Here is a video that shows why. Let it be something of a memorial to all the climbing up and down we've done.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
The picture does not show a rubber ball in some crazed state of decay. Rather it is a fruit. We know that much from watching two pigeons pulling one apart. We poked one or two ourselves. The pavement was littered with them, with more still clinging to the overhanging tree. Perhaps we're being particularly ignorant but this doesn't look like any fruit we've seen before. And therein lies today's lesson: fruit is still fruit, whether we recognise it or not. I look forward to discovering exactly what I photographed and to seeing what the 'fruit' of our labour looks like here.
Friday, 3 October 2008
Thursday, 2 October 2008
Some things here are so cheap compared to the UK it's almost embarrassing, others are not. Second-hand cars do not depreciate in the same way. But eating out is cheap, even when it's expensive by Bosnian standards. A slice of cheesecake at Sarajevo's most expensive cafe was 4.90KM; significantly less than London prices. Two people can easily get a good lunch for the cost of one McDonalds. Bosnia Herzegovina joins Armenia, Albania and the Vatican City as the only European countries without the Golden M. But I digress!
While eating out is comparatively cheap, eating in throws up some surprises. I didn't buy a pack of four 80g tins of tuna for almost 10KM. The pack price may be only slightly higher than what I was paying in Sainsbury’s but the tins look half the size. Depending on the store, pasta is pricy too. But the one that really caught my eye was this: a small lump of vacuum packed Gouda going for something over 12KM. As 2.5 is an awkward number to divide by quickly I tend to halve it then lose a bit. So my brain screamed: six quid for that? I know cheese is never cheap by oh for some generic value cheese!
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Hence the title of this post. For today it is after contacting a 'realtor, letting agency or estate agent' that we appear to have found ourselves an apartment! I leave that statement broad and slightly inconclusive as a testament to my learning. We cannot move in immediately, the landlord needs to prepare one or two things first, so we have to wait about three weeks. They do say you shouldn't count your chickens! Other than the wait the apartment is all good news. A nice size and a great location: I've never lived next door to a prison before!
In other 'getting it wrong' news I was making such a mess of speaking in our language lesson yesterday that Rowan and our teacher were in hysterics. This was perhaps not the most encouraging moment of the whole learning experience but I guess it's some kind of payback for the times I've smiled (or worse) at people mishandling the English language.