Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Surprisingly good news!

A copy of this week’s Economist is sitting on the sofa next to me. On the cover the headline declares: ‘Afghanistan’, adding, underneath the picture of an American coffin being loaded into a waiting vehicle, ‘The growing threat of failure’. I’ve not read the accompanying article yet but I can hazard a guess at the point it’s making. American, along with its allies, has invested heavily in Afghanistan. Time, money and human life have been poured into trying to create a stable democracy. Yet, years down the road, it could all go horribly to waste. Such are the perils of interventionism.

All too often I find myself reading articles about the Balkans in general, or Bosnia and Herzegovina more specifically, that suggest the same threat still hangs over this region. So imagine my surprise to discover this week’s lead article in the Europe section of the same magazine was title ‘Entering the Yugosphere: former Yugoslavia patches itself together’. What followed was probably the most positive piece of writing I’ve seen about the current situation.

It talks about a ‘huge shift in the daily life of the western Balkans [that] is happening without fanfare.’ The reason for this, in the opinion of The Economist, is the sad fact that ‘good news is no news’. As someone who often finds the reality of their day to day life at odds with the bleak press predictions about the future of this region I was encouraged to think that perhaps my optimism is not entirely misplaced. Time will tell but I, for one, will not give up hope.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Slovenian?!

Rowan was in Sarajevo yesterday. She was, amongst other things, trying to track down a poster of the Cellist of Sarajevo. This proved a little tougher than she anticipated. One shop after another said, no, they didn’t have any. One artist kindly offered to paint her one, for a price! Finally she stumbled upon a small store displaying a postcard of said poster in their window. Inside the owner was busy framing a picture. She asked about the poster and he flipped the frame over to reveal exactly what she was looking for. Unfortunately he wasn’t in the mood for haggling so Rowan had to settle for being knowingly ripped off. If that was a disappointment then there was also some encouragement. One shopkeeper asked if she was Slovenian! This is a testament to her impressive improvements in the local language.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

World Humanitarian Day

Today the United Nations held its first ‘World Humanitarian Day’ to honour international aid workers. Our work is not strictly aid work but Novi Most’s roots are in humanitarian aid. It came into existence at the height of the conflict in Mostar, bringing much needed relief to children and young people affected by the violence of the early nineties.

Today our UN connection is an old, battered Toyota Hiace kombi van that the Novi Most team refer to as ‘Uni’ because of its previous owners. This afternoon it transported us and our instruments to a hot and sticky rehearsal.

The United Nations’ day is designed to remind people of the sacrifice many aid workers have made to bring help to others. In light of the price too many have had to pay I’m aware that what we do day-in day-out doesn’t begin to qualify as heroic; we’re not working in a conflict situation and we do not have to live with a constant sense that our lives are in danger. But that is the heritage of the organisation we work with. My hope is that in our own way we live up to the sacrifice and commitment shown by those who went before us.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Crossing Borders

It’s probably an island thing but crossing borders always seemed like such a big deal. Before we moved to Mostar you only ever showed your passport when boarding a plane, catching a ferry, or, against your better judgement, taking the tunnel! Now a border crossing is a short drive down the road. Today’s little taxi run to Dubrovnik involved six border controls.

Each and every crossing is an interesting experience. Who knows if you’ll get discreetly waved through or will get another precious stamp in your passport. You might almost get a smile, but you could get a grilling.

But today we had a particularly funny one. I handed over three UK and one Croatian passport. The border guard asked a question. He probably said, “do you know everyone in the kombi?” but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to answer ‘yes’ if the question was actually “are you carrying anything illegal?” I said nothing. He asked for the papers for the kombi. I handed them over. I was then told to park up while he wandered off with our passports and papers.

After a few minutes he reappeared, handing all our documents back through the window with the words “good luck!” After a discreet pause, while he walked away, we had to laugh. There was a probable, and quite prosaic, explanation* for his choice of words but I preferred to see it as an ominous warning or some kind of challenge in an enjoy-your-next border kind of way. It's much more exciting that way. The next border was, of course, no problem at all.

*Anyone fancy guessing the prosaic explanation?
(The photo is another awesome sunset over the Adriatic - yes, I'm a big fan!)

Saturday, 15 August 2009

A long way from home

Fans of football will know the English Premier League kicked off this afternoon. I was following the action via the BBC website, although for me things don’t really start until Spurs take on Liverpool at White Hart Lane tomorrow at four. Being a Spurs fan here is a funny thing. Most local people expect you to support Man Utd or Chelsea, perhaps Liverpool or Arsenal. Say Spurs and you get a blank look. Say Tottenham Hotspur as you would in England and that look remains unchanged. Pronounce it TOT-EN-HAM and suddenly you get the appropriate look of pity!

With my mind still pondering the possibility of ‘Arry being able to produce a result tomorrow, I took some English visitors to Blagaj after lunch today. Imagine my surprise when I saw this sign of the back of an English registered blue Passat. What this vehicle is doing so far from home is anybody’s guess. Taxi-driver’s-holiday doesn’t quite have the same ring as the bus-man’s equivalent. But if it's not that then somebody has very deep pockets!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Finding Elvis!

I was in my preferred DVD store today when I stumbled upon a copy of Iza Neprijateljskih Linija (or Behind Enemy Lines if you recognise its English title better!) in a bargain bin. I remember watching this film a few years back. It stars Owen Wilson is an unfamiliar serious role, which did make taking the film seriously a little difficult. Back then I was blissfully unaware I would end up living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The film is mostly set in this country and tells the story of a US Navy pilot downed during a reconnaissance mission. My main memory of the film was questioning how realistic it was that Owen’s character made friends with a local lad called Elvis. Without re-watching the movie I cannot vouch for the accuracy of anything else in the film but I can say that I know two young people here called Elvis. How wrong I was to doubt!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Today's Random Food Stories

A few months back I named and shamed the shop at the end of our street. It was an incident with some green, mouldy Gouda that prompted my outburst. Since then this particular Merkur has undergone a refit. In an act of grace I popped in to check if this has made any improvement to the standard of food on sale. I was pleasantly surprised. I almost bought some edible-looking cucumbers. I was pleased to see the shop now carries an extended range of line, with welcome new additions including Uncle Ben’s rice.

On the subject of familiar brands I had quite the surprise strolling through town today. Mostar has more than its fair share of scooters, perhaps not as many as Rome there’s always someone buzzing around on two wheels. On my way to coffee this afternoon my path was crossed by a machine of reasonable vintage, with a big metal briefcase bolted over the rear wheel. On the top of this was the sort of insulated delivery bag used by delivery riders in the UK. It bore an unmistakeable logo. Pizza Hut does not exist over here so quite what one of their bags is doing over here is anybody’s guess.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Good One!


Almost five months ago I wrote a post titled ‘Inconvenience or Adventure?’ Back then I was still debating whether Zagreb was too far from Mostar to consider getting tickets for the upcoming U2 show there. Last night as we soaked up the spectacle in the Maksimir Stadium it was obvious I was right to choose adventure over inconvenience.

I’ll get some video from our trip up tomorrow but for tonight I’ll leave you with one pretty picture (The Edge, featured on the screen, got birthday champagne before the encore – nice touch!) and this link to Bono introducing One. I could write loads about the amazing ability of U2’s songs to be reinvented with special poignancy or meaning in different situations but I’ll just say that last night this one pushed the button for me. ‘We’re one but we’re not the same, we get to carry each other, carry each other...’

Saturday, 8 August 2009

U2 are back

In less than an hour we’ll be on the road to Zagreb. Why? Because tomorrow night U2 will be playing their first Balkan concert since they played Sarajevo in 1997. U2 fans should know the history behind this but if 'Bill Carter', 'satellite link-ups' and 'Miss Sarajevo' mean nothing to you read on. You may be a little less well versed in the back story but I'd still recommend this article on U2.com. It’ll give you an insight into why we’re so excited to be going. That and it’ll be an awesome rock show!