Sunday, 31 May 2009

Everything You've Done




You're watching our opening song from the concert at Klub Novi Most on Thursday night. The video of the rest of our set will leak online during the course of this week. If you want to sing along then here are the words - enjoy!

this is better than i thought it could be
your love’s amazing
you’ve forgiven me
this is something that i’ve never known
life just gets better
i know that i’ve come home

the bar is higher than i thought it could be
but then you’ve promised
trust and you’ll succeed
there may be struggles but the victory’s won
you know the ending
i know that i’ve come home

how could i ever thank you
what could i give back to you
nothing i have comes close to
everything you’ve done

what can i say of all you’ve given to me
a life that’s priceless
yet you give it for free
once just dream but now i call it my own
i’m in the family
i know that i’ve come home

how could i ever thank you
what could i give back to you
nothing i have comes close to
everything you’ve done


what could i give back you?
what could i give back you?
what could i give back you?
what could i give back you?

how could i ever thank you
what could i give back to you
nothing i have comes close to
everything you’ve done


(Words & Music Copyright © 2004/2009 Matt Hellyer)

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Acceptable Imperialism?

Living in another country does make you aware of how easy it is to fall into culturally imperialistic attitudes. By that I mean the assumption that your norm is better that the new norm you’re encountering. With this can unwittingly come the urge to convert all around to your way of thinking. I could quite easily become a crusader for the supremacy of the three-pin plug! I’ve long held that the UK as the best system of delivering electricity to devices I’ve ever encountered. Or I could campaign against the common practice here of attempting to overtake four cars at once into a blind corner. Such behaviour is not normal in the UK as we generally relieve such drivers of the undue pressure of holding a driving licence.

However, these and similar desires have to be curbed because different is so often just different; not better or worse. The danger is every new experience is greeted with a value judgement rather than being embraced for what it is. While I don’t underestimate the power of learning from different cultures, the world to does not need Anglicising, nor yet Americanising. However, today we were at a graduation event that served up an array of fine American cakes over drinks afterwards. Part of me felt this a little culturally insensitive. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a noble cake tradition of its own. But as my teeth sank around the thick, gooey goodness of a heavy chocolate cupcake I was forced to ponder if this was, in fact, the acceptable face of cultural imperialism!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Rocking Out


We’ve rocked too hard tonight for me to write. The concert at Klub Novi Most was a success. There are details I should give, but they’re not going to get given now. But the evening achieved everything we set out to. Fortunately the weather was having a cool day as the better part of sixty people squeezed into Klub to see everyone perform. For people who know the music I’ve been involved in before you might be able to piece together something of what it sounded like from the set list – although several have been reinvented in a hard-rock style!



- Everything You’ve Done
- Nothing Without You
- Here Alone
- This Is Your Song
- So Here I Am
- Top Of The World

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Exotic cloudscape



I was heading back to Klub after an afternoon of saying goodbye to a friend who’s heading home for the summer when I saw this. You might recognise the Gimanzija building from my earlier video but I knew the (digitally enhanced) dramatic cloudscape would make for an exotic image. So here it is...enjoy!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Talking Animals

Doctor Dolittle – and I’m speaking about he of the Hugh Lofting books, not the unwatchable Eddie Murphy – spoke to the animals. He understood their language. Today I gained a greater understanding of how Bosnian animal differ from their English-speaking counterparts when it comes to their most famous phrases. English cats ‘meow’. Cats in Mostar, of which there are many, can be heard to ‘mijau’. Like several Bosnian words we’ve found this is basically a phonetic transliteration. ‘Džem’ is a favourite example. ‘Šorc’ is another. Yes, ‘jam’ and ‘shorts’ respectively.

Back to the animals, it seems that baring the transliteration cats and horses, and ducks and cows speak the same language – and rabbits don’t speak at all! But the surprising difference is dogs. My English-speaking audience will know that when a dog barks they say ‘woof woof’. Perhaps it’s the lack of a ‘w’ in the Bosnian alphabet; perhaps it’s their Balkan temperament, but when a dog here bares his teeth to make some noise they are shouting ‘av av’! I wonder if the Doctor would understand them?

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Football talk

The English Premier League wrapped up its season this afternoon. With Manchester United already crowned champions the fixture list left fans fixating over who would or wouldn’t avoid the drop. If Newcastle United have proved one thing this season it is that ‘Messiah’ is a title perhaps best not given to a mere mortal, even one (or two or three!) in possession of seemingly supernatural footballing skills. But my purpose is not to dwell on misplaced faith, or even to focus on English football.

The news from last night in Mostar is that HŠK Zrinjski are now champions of the Premijer Liga BiH. Believe it or not but that means we could be watching Champion’s League football in Mostar for approximately the price of a pie at Old Trafford! FK Velež, Mostar’s older team, were not relegated as had looked likely. And the riot police we saw sitting at the end of our street did not appear busy, although they must have been sweltering in their Robocop style body armour. All in, I think that makes for a good weekend in Mostar.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Fixed!

Our important news today is our washing machine is fixed. I hadn't told you it was broken, so you're forgiven for not expressing your concern before! What might, under other circumstances, have been viewed as a minor inconvcenience becomes a more pressing issue when temperature as I type, at ten thirty this evening, is still higher than it'll reach at the height of the sunny Bank Holiday about to be enjoyed in Southern England. A clean underwear crisis has been averted!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A Fishy Snake Story!


Only last night, as I was driving him home, a friend was telling me how a neighbour’s child had been found playing with a snake. He thought it was a fish! Tonight the same friend started telling me the classic fisherman’s tale. He had seen a dead snake by his house and it was at least a metre long. Honest! As we got closer to his house we decided to try and spot it, assuming that the neighbour’s kid hadn’t got there first. We found it. It was well squashed around the middle but I think you’ll agree it is at least as long as he claimed!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

First!


I love helping people to creative firsts; I don’t particularly enjoy spending money. When I do spend I want to know it’s been money well spent. A couple of months back I started e-begging for guitars. It was fantastic when we started to see donations coming in. But then came the responsibility to see that cash was well invested. After talking with some of my students I decided we needed to get an electric guitar and amp, along with new acoustic guitars. I’m going to claim that was a very inspired move on my part!

You can see the guitar pictured here, being played by one of our students during a concert at his school. He had two spots on the bill. The other spot, which I tragically forgot to photograph, had him playing guitar while a fellow student recited a poem. Together they recently won a generous cash prize with their creation, coming first in a talent show for high school students across the canton. As one of their teachers excitedly explained, it was the first time anyone one from their school had one anything in a competition like this.

He was so thankful we lent him the guitar for the concert; I am so thankful people like you made that possible. This is just the beginning. He will be playing at a concert in Klub next week, as part of a band drawn from our music course students. It’ll be a first band performance for all of them. I’m confident it’ll inspire many others to get creative. And I won’t forget to take photographs this time!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Thunder!

Rowan has been fascinated by the amount of thunder crashing around Mostar this afternoon. It’s the volume that seems to have impressed itself on her. Her Facebook status currently tells the world she ‘has never heard thunder this loud before!’ It’s passed now, as has the accompanying rain, but not before I managed to get myself caught in it on a shopping trip for a soldering iron! This video is this evidence of my poor timing.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Eurovision shocker!

Last night we passed a pleasant evening with friends, a barbeque and the Eurovision Song Contest. I wanted to watch, as the contest is a big deal out here. The United Kingdom has had a particularly (or was the predictably?) bad decade in the competition, which was probably one reason Terry Wogan sounded so dejected at the end of his final commentary last year. Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the other hand, were particularly optimistic. Personally, I much prefer Laka’s offering from last year, but Regina’s effort has grown on me. I was certainly ready to cheer them on with some particularly enthusiastic locals.

I said before the show started that if the UK could get to tenth that’d be a real achievement. Imagine my surprise (perhaps even embarrassment) as Jade Ewen started picking up some serious points. Phone votes did not stop the predictably friendly donation of ‘douze points’ from neighbours like Montenegro. However, even this was only enough to propel Bosnia and Herzegovina just above comfortably mid-table. This was not the fairytale ending our hosts were looking for – and they were certainly not impressed with the manner in which Norway got theirs!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Dancing the Quadrille and the Riddle of Bruce Lee

I recently made a video where I confessed to ‘air drumming’ as I walk down the road listening to my iPod. Music has that kind of effect on me. So it was that around noon today I was drawn to Spanish Square by the sound of a live band playing loudly. It seems I stumbled upon the prelude to a world record attempt by an enormous number of students dancing the Quadrille. Quite random really!

Feeling a little out of place I carried on to the park because I’d been told the statue of Bruce Lee had been reinstated. If he had he has vanished again already. His plinth remains; possibly with a little more graffiti than the last time I looked. As he was chosen for such a public tribute because of his universal, cross-cultural appeal one has to hope there wasn’t a repeat of the vandalism that saw him removed the first time.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Unspoilt


On Monday afternoon we took a walk up to the fort in Jajce. It was great weather for a spot of tourism –sunny and bright but not too hot. I shot some video that will eventually find its way online. After handing over 1KM each the steel gate was unlocked and we were unleashed on this ancient monument while the gate keeper sat outside. There were no signs, no audio guide and no handrails! Perhaps the Bosnians understand what it is to treat people like adults. I can think of too many similar sites in the UK that have been spoilt by attempts to protect the paying public, or the site itself. Yes, I was scared as I walked a narrow section of the wall with a sheer drop on one side, but I survived to tell the tale. And I enjoyed the experience more for the sense of adventure included in the admission fee! However, statistics may be on the side of the Bosnians. The fort didn’t give the impression of ever being overrun by tourists. Given this the chance of an accident seems pretty small. Towns like Jajce could benefit greatly from an injection of tourist cash. Development in that direction seems inevitable. I recommend squeezing a visit in quickly while it is still a largely unspoiled environment.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Bosnia AND Herzegovina!

We live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Too often I have been guilty of dropping the ‘and’, which I guess is the same grammatical error as saying ‘Bang Olufsen’ or ‘Proctor Gamble’. We live in Mostar, which is the capital of Herzegovina. Zoster, a local band, wrote a song whose chorus goes “Herz-e-gov-ina...Cali-forn-ia”, drawing the comparison between the mountains and the sea and the very agreeable climate common to both places. We went to California once. I have to confess a lot of LA reminded me of grubby bits of the south of Spain but I don’t want to take anything away from the sentiment of the song!

Last weekend we were in Jajce, which was once the capital of the kingdom of Bosnia. I don’t know if one of its local bands has written a song praising its beauty. If one has I would bet on it heavily featuring the word ‘green’, or an appropriate metaphor. I thought Mostar had been looking green this spring but Jajce was something else. Thick forested hills, or more probably mountains, ring the old town that is dominated by a six-hundred year-old hill fort. We once visited a very dramatic Swiss castle town set on a massive rocky outcrop on a flat plain. That was slightly more fairytale but Jajce has an authentic charm to it.

As for the missing ‘and’, I must not deny it its role of holding these two together. After all, this is a country in need of no more divisions.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Finding Face!


We’ve just been on retreat with the Novi Most team. We spent a great weekend in Jajce, about three hours drive north of Mostar. I’ll try and squeeze in a few post about the trip this week as there are some good stories to tell but I’ll start with this. Yes, the photo. The plate in question was provide for one of our vegetarian team members during dinner at the Hotel Turist. Usely when people see faces in a slice of toast, or a plank of wood, they claim it as the face of Christ and sell it to the Sun, or similar red top. At a push they might claim the Virgin Mary. I’ll claim neither here – although this is undoubtedly a comic representation of someone. ..but who?

If you recognise ol’ egg’n’chips-face here do post their true identity in the comments!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Lunchtime Lottery

It’s the end of a long day; the third long day in a row. By long I mean the kind of day where you leave the house first thing in the morning and you get back last thing at night having been working pretty much all the hours in between. These kind of on-the-go days need fuelling and the usual solution is to dial one of the local food outlets that delivers.

Today, sometime after what I’d usually call lunchtime I opted for a chicken sandwich (technically more like a sub or a baguette). I had this item many times before – from the same place – but what amuses me is how the same order can result in quite different items being delivered. The core ingredients are always there: bread and chicken. However the dressing and the salad vary greatly.

This particular place is not the only one that delivers inconsistently on its menu. It seems a not uncommon situation, at least based on our experience it is. They say variety is the spice of life, and who am I to disagree. There’s something refreshingly spontaneous about not really if what you’re about it eat truly corresponds to what was on the menu. That said we do sometimes wonder what Trading Standards would make of all of this!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

No Joke

An Englishman, a Welshman and a Bosnian walked into a kitchen shop. It could be the start of a joke. It happened today, and it honestly felt like we’d stumbled into a retail version of The Office. I had decided I’d regale you with this comedy of errors and customer disservice when I remembered I actually have something sobering, something of substance to write about.

We may have just had May Day, the widely recognised holiday for workers, but there is little to celebrate for Mostar’s municipal workers. They have yet to be paid this year. This somewhat unbelievable situation has been allowed to happen because Mostar has no Mayor. Why Mostar has no Mayor is anyone’s guess. I know the Mayor is not directly elected but appointed by elected politicians. It’s probably six months since those responsible for making an appointment were elected themselves. The ensuing political deadlock has lead to one group of activists fly-posting the town with various slogans and suggestions – like appointing a donkey!

Some of these workers have received a couple of months of lunch allowance. That means the lucky ones have taken home 300KM for four full months work. Crude approximations make that 20KM a week. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the princely sum of £1.50 a day – or about two dollars. You could say it’s better than nothing, but one person’s lunch money only buys one person one meal. It’s true the Bible tells us Jesus fed five thousand with one boy’s lunch but for most people that’s not the reality they live in. However, if this crisis continues much longer we’ll need to see that kind of miracle in Mostar if those affected are to have any chance of surviving.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Anyone for Battenberg?

It was the reminder of yet another iconic food item not available – at least to my knowledge – to those of us living in the Balkans. A friend messaged me on Facebook to say he thought it was time the resurrect ‘The Battenberg Effect’. Now that’ll mean nothing to some of you, while other readers will be thinking of pink and yellow fluffy sponge squares glued together with jam and wrapped in marzipan!

The Gutenberg Effect – or thegutenbergeffect – is a blog I started a couple of years ago. It was a ‘tech blog’ of sorts. Drawing from my experience in communications and creative development, as a writer, project manager and mentor, I wanted to add my two pennies to the understanding of trends in technology and the social impact of these changes. I hadn’t posted on the site since before our move to Bosnia and Herzegovina...until today.

His message made me realise I still have something to say on the subjects I used to riff around, but from the new perspective of our new environment. For example, I had a message from a friend three time zones away this morning. They were asking could we Skype. A couple of emails flew back and forth, and all before lunchtime – well my lunchtime anyway! This kind of exchange – the speed and ease of it – would be unthinkable, even a decade ago.

Before we moved we primarily accessed our news through the internet, we still visit the same sites. Technology has meant some things don’t have to change. Again, unthinkable advantages of technological advances. (There are downsides to, but now is not the time to go into those.) This is our first experience of living in a different country but despite our limited experience I realise how much our transition into a new culture has been eased by the internet.

I could go on and on, which is why I’ll be posting our more tech-related tales over at thegutenbergeffect.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Weather

I feel bad; bad because weather is the sort of subject you resort to went all other conversation has run dry. Yet it deserves a mention in its own right and so, undeterred, I will venture into the well-trodden preserve of polite small-talk.

I have an old CD from an American alternative-rock band called The Choir. I think I liked it; certainly one particular lyric sticks in my mind. “Never trust a weather girl, she smiles as she kills you.” Now, I’m wary of reading too much into other people’s lyrics, but today I’ll use it as a commentary on the unreliability of weather predictions.

We’ve had two holidays where we were promised no rain and unbearable heat. It rained most of that week in the south of France and the weather was meek and mild in Tulsa, the first time we visited. (We visited again during an ice storm that plunged Oklahoma into a state of emergency!) Now we’re in Mostar, promised the hottest summer we’ll have ever experienced.

It’s barely been spring yet and we’re now into May and supposedly four or five months of near continuous sunshine. I think it’s rained every day this month. Yes, all three of them! Sometimes it makes you want to go and join Truman Burbank in shouting “Is that the best you can do?” at the sky! People regularly question how we’ll survive the summer but, I’ll confess, I’m increasingly questioning just how accurate their tales of unrelenting sunshine are. Time is ticking and we’ve yet to see the evidence.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Prvi Maj

It was one of the weirder rude awakenings we’ve experienced. Let’s take nothing away from the fact it was rude – I’ve had that sleep-deprived, thick-head feeling all day. Rude because, on one of the rare occasions there was actually the possibility for a lay-in it was so cruelly snatched away. But, despite the moaning, it had its fair share of comedy and it’s for that reason I’m blogging about it.

We woke with a start at 7.45am to the sound of a marching band. Outside the bedroom window! If you knew our street you would appreciate just how bizarre it is for a marching band to be marching the wrong way down this particular one-way street, at what I’m very tempted to describe as an ‘ungodly’ hour! I was the sort of shock that induces involuntary action – in this case shooting out of bed to pull up the shutters for visual confirmation of this audio outrage.

With perfect timing the bleary-eyed faces of Rowan and I appeared in our bedroom windows at precisely the point the band was level with our apartment. As we were busily computing the surreal sea of bright red uniforms that greeted us, curious band members were snatching glances in the direction of the clattering shutters. Somehow the whole thing seemed to have some kind of Disney overtone to it. But perhaps that was just my brain getting particularly lateral as my body returned to its horizontal position. However, there was to be no more sleep.

So began our ‘Prvi Maj’.