Friday, 27 February 2009

We love rock'n'roll!



In case the last few days have given of an impression of all-work-and-no-play I thought I'd draw attention to this video. I'm having a lot of fun distilling more than a decade of song writing into a decent set list. Rowan is enjoying getting serious blisters...ok, maybe not that part, and Budo's enjoying the chance to really play the drums. Yes, it has a purpose and fits into the big picture of what we're all involved in too, but it's one part of the journey we're definitely all enjoying!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Assuming words...

I’d hate to bore you by getting stuck on a theme but I learnt a new word today and it made me smile. So I’m going to write about it. I’m also going to make a few statement s about language founded on nothing stronger than my own observations and analysis. (Feel free to correct me if you know better – just do it gently!)

My word of the day is ‘radoholičar’ which I am told is the local equivalent of ‘workaholic’. (That, of course, is the link to yesterday’s post!) My thoughts on language are about the way new or foreign words are assumed into language. The English make much of the fact the French have a bureau, or some kind of official body, to protect the purity of their language. English just begs, borrows and steals - adding whatever seems to fit regardless of rules. So long as it can be spelled with its twenty-six letter alphabet it’s even happy to allow an accent or two.

Here we’re learning a language that’s spelled phonetically. This is a genius invention for beginners as there are no silent letters or multiple pronunciations to trip you up. (British comedy would be much the poorer if it suffered this constraint however!) Foreign words are spelled differently so they are pronounced the same – even names are treated like this. The example that’s stuck in my head since I saw it in a TV magazine is Vinz Von*.

(The actor in question is, of course, Vince Vaughn!)

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Beware of the candle!

We came to visit Bosnia Herzegovina six months before we moved out here. It was during that trip Rowan told a friend from Sarajevo about a then recent power cut we’d had in the UK. ‘We had no power for thirty minutes’ she said. ‘We had a power cut for three years’ came the reply! So far we’ve yet to experience any of those kinds of hardships in this country, save for one overnight stay in a small town that only has its mains water switched on every other day – we were there on the wrong day!

However, I wrote the title of this post not because I was concerned where exactly I left my Maglight - although I do wonder if I might have lost it! – instead, I had in mind the age-old advise of not trying to burn a candle at both ends. After a few months of easing into life over here we are now risking a slide back into the old, unhealthy, habit of working every hour the good Lord gives! Given the sort of things that fill our days that’s not a hardship but I can sense a little resistance from my body. I also know we did say we wouldn’t aim for burn out. So this is the chance of all concerned souls to write us scolding emails!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Don't lose your Passport!

I was forwarded an email today from the British Embassy in Sarajevo. It was about passports. In the interests of efficiency and rationalisation they are grouping certain consular functions together at regional centres. The email assures British residents in Bosnia Herzegovina that “similar mergers have already taken place between Portugal/Spain, and France/Benelux countries and all are working smoothly.”

So where are “all passport services” moving to? Perhaps Zagreb, the Croatian capital; or Belgrade, the Serbian capital? No! The logic of proximity and shared borders does not apply here. Then perhaps Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. It shares no border with Bosnia Herzegovina and is within the EU; perhaps that tips things in its favour? Wrong again! Why be bound by any obvious geographical grouping?

Portugal and Spain may be neighbours and France and the Benelux bunch a natural cluster but it’s hard to see it any other way than the British Passport office is making a strategic withdrawal from the Balkans. Because for people like myself the office we must relate to for all Passport matters is in Dusseldorf. Yes! Dusseldorf in Germany.

It’s not all bad news. “The Consulate General in Düsseldorf will issue passports within 10 working days of receiving the correct documentation.” This is handy because I checked on Google maps and it’s a ten day and five hour walk from Mostar, passing through just four other countries before you reach Germany! Now I know they don’t intend on people walking to pick up their passports but the mind boggles as to how they expect British nationals to feel reassured in any way by this announcement. Dusseldorf is twinned with Reading and it only takes ten days and twenty two hours to walk there, and that's back in Blighty!

I shall leave it there before, in my bewildered state, I say something that truly upsets the Crown. I know we live in cash-strapped times and I suppose I should be applauding this proactive approach to making the tax-payers pound go a little further. It's just I’m a little lost - all I know is I can't afford to lose my Passport! Can anyone explain what's really going on here?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Stop complaining already!

It’s cold. We’ve have snow and wind this week. Plenty of both. And in a city predominantly without central heating you really notice it. I certainly do. Our house in the UK was an 80s era Wimpy ‘Superwarm’ home. It was mid-terrace and lived up to its name. Here we have three external walls and no insulation, at least none I’m aware of. Without central heating you notice how the whole building just stays cold. We do have new windows, so it could be worse. The air-conditioner doubles as a hot air blower – nice for drying the eyes out but does little to change the underlying chill in the air. The comfort in all this is knowing that in a few short months we’ll doubtless be posting about how hot it is and how the air-conditioner does little to alter that!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Four Weddings and a Funeral...but not!

Four Weddings and a Funeral is a classic Brit flick; it also seems like a reasonable ratio for matches and dispatches. In the last year we were in the UK we went to four weddings, although we attended two funerals. However, here we’ve been confronted by human mortality in a way we’ve never had to face before. We have a friend who’s been here six months, just a little longer than us. In that time she’s attended four funerals and a wedding. Not a month has gone by without us hearing of an unexpected death within the family or friends of people we’re getting to know. It’s all quite sobering.

Today as we stood outside a graveyard in the biting cold our friend said: well, if I’ve learnt one thing this year it’s that you don’t know when you’re going to die. It’s the sort of line that could have been said to bring a bit of black humour into a bleak situation. But the reality is we’re all struck but the utter reality of the situation. It’s not so much that you’re left thinking ‘will it be me next?’ but ‘if it was me next, then what...?’ When you see the loss, the suffering, it’s hard not to ask the big questions. But we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that ‘why?’ is almost certainly going to remain unanswered.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Rocking out!

This morning we kicked off our latest rock’n’roll endeavour in earnest. In the interests of being an inspiration to aspiring young musicians Rowan and I are combining forces with drummer friend, Budo, to provide something of an object lesson in you-could-do-this. Perhaps this is not our most altruistic venture - all of us will readily confess a love of rocking out - but, nevertheless, we all understand the serious side too.

Budo has contacts in the local music scene and one of them has a rehearsal studio. It put a smile on my face to be rehearsing is a room with real egg boxes stuck to the wall! Having dabbled in home-studio construction, and worked in a few ‘real’ ones you had to admire the ingenuity on display. Nevertheless, with the help of two earplugs I emerged two hours later without a ringing head. I’ve been working on distilling over a decade of song writing into a decent set. We tackled the first three this morning. They’re sounding great so there’s every reason to be optimistic.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Dancing on ice!

Dancing on ice is, I assuming, what two battered BMWs thought they were doing on the Boulevard tonight. I hope they were enjoying themselves because their fish-tailing antics did not meet with the approval of my passengers so we took a left turn to avoid being involved in any unnecessary incidents. However, driving on ice has its challenges.

Tonight I dropped two co-workers home to two tricky locations. One required a stop half way up a one-way street on an icy hill. I quickly realised we were not going to get moving again, at least not forwards. We inched the Transporter back the way we’d come, hazards on, hoping nothing would come the right way. It worked; despite the narrowness, the parked cars and the occasional nudging of the curb.

The other tricky spot was in a village just out of town. The combination of fully iced-over roads, gusting winds and snow flurries certainly made my passenger nervous. Perhaps I was giving the impression I was going to go faster, or reach of the handbrake - which did have to be done! There was one suitable spot so, by mutual consent, we drifted that corner.

Now it’s nice to be back in the warm and the (almost) warm. As Brits, too often we can feel unnecessarily guilty for our lack of winter savvy. However, today we’ve seen that Mostar drivers are obviously, and perhaps understandably, unused to these conditions. They too can’t cope with a few inches of snow on the roads. This is a reassuring discovery.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Snow in Mostar

We’re told it doesn’t happen very often; not quite as infrequent as snow falls in our former south of England home but certainly not a yearly occurrence. So when the white stuff started falling this afternoon I knew I had to squeeze in the time for a little photo taking trip. The light was all but gone when I managed to leave behind a collection of storm damaged computers and strike out for the Stari Grad, but I got a few reasonable photos and I enjoyed the walk. By the time we drove home tonight I seemed Mostar was back to regular rain-like precipitation. Who knows what will happen through the night but if that’s it for the next few years at least I got my photos and a little bit of video!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Any news today?

We still log onto the BBC website to follow the news, but in doing so we’d be forgiven for thinking we live in a part of the world where nothing happens. Obviously that’s not true. However news from Bosnia Herzegovina is clearly not seen as a priority by Auntie’s editors. But doing a search today I turned up a video worth watching. It’s about the ongoing mine clearance, a project I didn’t realise was supposed to have been finished by next month. The country now has a ten year extension on this deadline.

OK, if we're honest the video is not really 'worth watching' material; it's short and shallow and the accompanying text even more so. Neither do the subject matter justice. So what do you do if you want to find some local news but don’t speak local well enough to read the local papers or websites? Thanks to some Brits in Bosnia we found BalkanInsight.com, which seems to do the trick.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

eBegging for Guitars!



I hate explaining videos – it kind of defeats the point – so I’m going to make every effort not to explain what you can watch here, merely to supplement it. If you haven’t already watched it the only explanation I’ll offer is it’s about teaching guitar in Mostar. In the interests of brevity and, hopefully, humour I left a lot out of the video. I could have talked about how humbling it is to teach people who have talent but not the means to have their own instrument. In the UK I taught too many people who had more money than (musical) sense! So far, that’s not my experience in Bosnia Herzegovina. I made my own sacrifices for many of my instrument purchases but I’ve also been blessed to have wound up with a small collection of gear that is certainly beyond the imagination of the wide-eyed sixteen year-old me that decided music was his thing. I believe sacrifice is important because it adds value. But here, where people have so little to begin with and no heavily discounted music superstores to shop in, there has to be a way to provide them with the opportunities to take their interest in music seriously. I have some thoughts as to how...but I’d love to hear yours!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Ice Cream Bible?

Dedicated readers would have noted the Ben & Jerry reference made about a week ago. A good friend, who may or may not have read that post, noted a similar comment in a recent email and took steps to rectify our problem. This morning we received a surprise parcel when we turned up at Klub. Pictured is, if I can say this without sounding heretical, the bible of ice-cream: a how-to guide written by two guys who really know how-to. All we need now is to source our ingredients and get freezing. Needless to say this made us two very happy people today.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Say a little prayer for you!

‘Well, let’s pray it works’ is not an uncommon turn of phrase, although one often wonders how much praying actually accompanies it. It’s perhaps more indicative of a ‘hit and hope’ philosophy. And while hope is not to be underestimated there are better versions available than the ‘hit and...’ variety. When push comes to shove many people will turn to prayer, although fewer will probably admit to it. However for some of us prayer plays a more regular part in our lives.

Prayer can be so much more than just the occasional cry for help or a random bless-me-please! It’s a connection with a God who is able to work miracles and change the seemingly unchangeable. If you like, He can deliver on a level that would meet the expectations pinned to Obama – only more so! That's encouraging given the nature of our work here and you can probably see why I got excited when somebody pointed out this extract from the Bible this morning: “They will not work in vain, and their children will not be doomed to misfortune. For they are people blessed by the Lord, and their children, too, will be blessed. I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!”

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Mental Arithmetic

Tonight my brain hurts. I’ve worked almost thirty-six hours in three days – which is part of the problem – but the primary cause this evening was a cheap game of nylon tipped darts! This budget purchase has been a hit with the older youth at Klub. We’ve been playing down from 301. Keeping the score has its challenges, particularly when the local habit is to abbreviate twenty, dvadeset, to dva’est, which doesn’t sound so different to dvanaest, or twelve. Then you’re doing sums and writing digits while thinking unfamiliar sounds. But it’s all good, and necessary, practice so I won’t complain!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

For the givers of Straws and Squirty Cream!

We had a few people contact us around Christmas saying they’d bought straws and squirty cream for Klub. Obviously they hadn’t actually made that purchase themselves but, much like you can buy a goat through Oxfam, they had donated toward the ongoing work we’re involved in. This post is for those people. Here is the evidence that it was money well spent. Tonight we had probably thirty young people crammed in Klub for a fun night, the highlight of which was a blindfold taste-test of cocktail ingredients followed by the chance to get a free drink at the bar.

While all the real cocktail ingredients were safely non-alcoholic we’d mixed a few rogue items into the taste-test. I suppose apologies are in order to those who ended up sampling a bit of mustard or the intriguing sour cream/curry combo but they helped make the point that not everything we are encouraged to add into our lives will taste good in the mix. But pick the right things and you can end up with a good result – a bit like straws and squirty cream. So a big thank you to those who made this possible.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Green Visions and Mountain Bikes!

The other day Rowan was given a brochure for Green Visions – ‘Your guide to responsible travel in Bosnia and Herzegovina’. Slouching on the sofa today I picked it up and was idly flicking through the pages when I landed on a spread screaming ‘ride free...’ Just a few hours early I’d made the decision not to ride despite the sunshine outside. With my saddle now reunited with my mountain bike after four months of separation I’m still look for the perfect opportunity for my first ride over here. The brochure indicates I could be joining ‘a small circle of dedicated bikers’ if I can work on the dedication bit. It paints an enticing picture of country side that is not crawling with recreational users, unlike the south of England! And so I won’t leave it to many more sunny days before I check it out for myself. After all, it is a novelty to live near mountains on which to ride my mountain bike!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Culture Shock!

Before we left the UK we were told that we should expect, and prepare for, culture shock. This, apparently, kicks in after four or five months in a foreign environment. If we were to fell nothing we would be the exception not the rule.

Today’s date is five months from the day we rolled out of town, starting our cross-continental road trip. Neither Rowan or I think we’re feeling any untoward affects from our departure. If we’ve got through month four without freaking out is it too ambitious to hope for similar plain sailing through month five?

I had never moved out of my hometown before switching countries so I have absolutely nothing to reference the change against. I still get excited when I see London looking cool in a movie but I’m not pining. I wouldn’t mind a bit of trans-Atlantic indulgence – KFC and Ben & Jerry’s – but I’m not losing sleep, or weight, over it.

Perhaps someone older, wiser, and more travelled will point out that right here I have betrayed myself and will reveal how this shows I am already afflicted. But until that happens I shall revel in a phrase I usually disagree with: ignorance is bliss!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Hard Rock Cafe?

According to fake T-shirts sold the world over ever city worth its salt has one. They don’t, but this franchise does have a legitimate global presence. Born in London, we’ve found the real deal in Edinburgh and LA, Birmingham and New York. There are plenty more besides, but those I can personally vouch for. Yes, we’re talking about the Hard Rock Cafe! I’m a fan, as much for the memorabilia as the burgers. We once stayed in the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas – and would recommend it to anyone who wants to find a decent sound system in their hotel room!

Today I stumbled upon Mostar’s 'Hard Rock Cafe'. They had gone to the effort of matching the original font on the sign stuck to the sliding glass door but there was no question this was not anywhere near being an official enterprise. There was a reasonable collection of rock posters adorning the walls but not an instrument or gold disk in sight. Still the coffee was cheap and there was no attempt to flog us a knock-off T-shirt!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Another photo opportunity

Ever had that feeling that you missed an opportunity? It happened a few months back. I saw something I thought was particularly cool and said to Rowan it would make a great photo. But I got self conscious and thinking the others walking down the street would judge me for pulling out the camera I walked on by. Less a case of cultural sensitivity than lack of balls!

Today, I was presented with almost the identical opportunity: same vehicle, same location, slightly less sunshine. This time...I walked on by. Then I stopped. And thinking better of my gutlessness I captured the image you see here. It may not rival the works of Ansel Adams or David Baily. If I’m honest, it’s not exactly the angle I wanted but that would have required laying in the road. Perhaps next time!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Talking too much?

I'm taking a few moments away from an afternoon/evening of self-enforced relaxation to reflect on the last week. We've spent hours talking: maatings both formal and informal. We've talked early in the morning and late at night, talked in restaurants, bars and bouncing along in battered vehicles, talked over tea and coffee, beer and brandy. Lots of talking. That's the easy part.

Now, as in right now, we rest and digest. Some things are clear enough already. Others need a little time to sort themselves out, to fall into focus. Others we will doubtless grapple with for some time to come. This reflection is important but it is not the end of the process. Decisions need to be made but they don’t implement themselves either.

Soon enough we’ll need to act on all this talk and thought. That’ll be the moment of truth. It’s easy to talk a good talk, painting big pictures in your mind’s eye. Such art never changed the world. Neither is it often changed by grand gestures, so there is perhaps little point solely preparing for one significant moment. I read an article by Henry Kissenger were he proposed ‘a strategy of gradualism that seeks greatness in the accumulation of the attainable.’ I’m inclined to agree with him. But that requires a continuous commitment to action. And that's such an attractive thought, isn't it!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Get Bono!

“I wanted to get hold of Bono to endorse Novi Most...but where do you start?” I must have looked quizzical because Gill, the Novi Most Director, promptly burst into hysterical laughter. My look was perhaps a little unfair. It is not, after all, a wholly unreasonable request.

Bono has an association with Bosnia Herzegovina dating back to the Siege of Sarajevo. He may not have invented the word ‘coexist’ but he has certainly championed it in the name of peace and tolerance. And it wasn’t like she was asking for his mobile number. All she wanted is to know where she should start her enquires.

Would he be interested? I’d like to think so. There’s no way of knowing unless we get to ask the question but I think he’d approve of an organisation that not just works with young people from different ethnic backgrounds but brings them together with the dream of a better future.

So this post is a simple exercise in six-degrees of separation! One of you reading this must be able to answer the question “but where do you start?” If you do I’d love to hear from you. And if he asks my U2 back catalogue is almost complete and I have ‘No Line On The Horizon’ on pre-order from iTunes...sorry, I was doing so well up to that point!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Exchange rate issues

We are self-supporting volunteers with a charitable organisation working with young people. Not having won the lottery, written a million-selling pop song or gained the patent for a genius invention that means we rely on the generous financial support of people who believe in what we’re doing to put bread on the table. Taking the step to leave salaried employment to the relative uncertainty of a new way of life had its challenges but we’ve been overwhelmed by how people have got behind us. The only disappointment is that the economy isn’t playing ball.

Bosnia Herzegovinia’s currency is pegged against the euro at roughly two KM to a euro. As almost all our support arrive in our account in Pounds Sterling the performance of the Pound against the euro-zone becomes important. When we first visited Sarajevo we got 3KM to the pound, now we get about 2. Sadly this means we get less for our money. However, every cloud has a silver lining. I have Google Adsense account that has paid me once, and stands to pay out again sometime soon. This money accrues mainly through my involvement in the YouTube Partnership programme. I realised today as it pays in Dollars the Pound recent weakness in that direction actually plays in my favour. Pity it only pays pocket money!