Friday, 30 October 2009

Shops...and a cinema?

The rumours were not true; they always sounded more like wishful thinking anyway. Mostar’s new shopping centre – TC Piramida – does not have a cinema in it. The city remains without a permanent big screen venue, but gains at least eight escalators and some shops it didn’t have already. The shopping centre will boast late night (10pm) opening six nights of the week and a tentative attempt at Sunday trading, which most of Mostar’s other mall don’t do. I found some pictures posted online earlier today that show it off quite well.

I gave it the once over earlier one. It will definitely deserve a second look, maybe when the ‘coming soon’ units have finally been filled. If I was to make a criticism - which clearly I now am! - it would be that it felt cramped and dark, and of course the cafe bars are still smoky. Nevertheless, it is a more conducive shopping environment than either Old Mall or New Mall. My highlight was the Adidas Originals sections of the Sport Life store, although over here my favourite brand comes at a price I’m reluctant to pay. But being able to look longingly is better than nothing!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Language Laundering

One of the things that can be a really stumbling point when learning a new language is turns of phrase: little collections of words that are used together to mean something other than what the words actually mean. When you start to listen closely to the way you talk you suddenly realise how many of these we use in English. Many, maybe most, do not translate. Bosnian has some too. Picking up on yesterday’s autumn themed post, I saw a cover of a local lifestyle magazine that declared ‘Jesen je zakon’ – literally ‘Autumn is the law’, but meaning something more like ‘Autumn rules’.

Then there are phrases that are the same by ever-so slightly different; like ‘money laundering’. Now we know this, not because we’re involved in any financial irregularities but because as part of the running of a foreign humanitarian organisation we’re aware of the financial restrictions in place to stop such undesirable activity going on. However, our local team members will talk about ‘washing money’ rather than laundering it.

Yesterday Rowan not only washed some money but tumble-dried it too! It is to the credit of Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina that her ten mark note emerged for her jeans pocket cleaner but otherwise unharmed. Given what usually happens to receipts that get forgotten in my pockets I think this is quite an impressive act of endurance. If the note proceeds to self destruct suddenly it will no longer be her problem as she spent it today, probably on the raw materials she needs for the creation of the cute little creatures you can see at Out Of The Frame.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Fall Photography Fail!

They say Fall in New England is something special. I’ve never seen it but I know in England it’s Autumn. The season of rain-soaked soggy leaves on the sidewalk, I mean, if a little less alliteratively, the pavement. Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina we have Jesen – pronounced ‘yes-en’ and a thing of rare beauty. I could go on, and on and on, about the quality of the light but I'll spare you that; although if you ever see me standing, staring at a mountain in the late afternoon that's your clue as to what's provoked the strange behaviour.

A quick trip to Sarajevo over the weekend was made all the more dangerous for the abundance of breath-taking views edging the twisty mountain roads. Yes, I kept my eyes on the road – mostly! – but driving back this afternoon I had to stop once or twice – ok, probably three times – to try and capture the view. It never works. Maybe thousands of pounds on photographic equipment and a generous helping of talent would do it justice it a way my snapshot never will. Even without a photography fail, however, you just can’t beat being there.

And to that end I’m glad to say this is where I was this afternoon...

Friday, 23 October 2009

Fun in the rain?

We spent five hours in the rain today, helping out a friend whose kombi didn't want to start. This short video is just a quick glimpse in to the madness. Enjoy!

We did make it to the Renault dealer and an hour later she was back on the road, without too much painful lightening of the wallet.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Smokin' hot pants!

“Liar, liar pants on fire” said one of our team, almost showing a great grasp of English playground phraseology. Clearly they betrayed the American influence on their impressive language skills. To confuse jeans, or any other pair of trousers, for pants, which should be worn underneath the aforementioned garments, is of course a school boy error!

The reason the pictured ‘pants’ appear to be starting to combust is, yes, something to do with their proximity to the electric heater, but also in large part the result of the vast quantities of rain that fell on Mostar today. Driving home tonight it was ‘slow down’ heavy, which is saying something given the speed limits here.

The plus side of the rain is it’s no longer particularly cold out. Sadly I apartment still is, but the electric blanket is on so our bed isn’t. Quite why we never got around to putting it on last winter I don’t know. Sleeping so much more pleasant when it’s not under a cold, damp duvet.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

One, not just in theory

It is a sad fact that when people talk about ethnic tolerance in reference to Mostar or Sarajevo these days they are most often using the past tense. To say both cities are devoid of tolerant people would be to make a gross generalisation. I’ve meet plenty in both who can see past someone’s name or background. However most things I’ve read give the impression these cities are not what they once were.

I spent the weekend in Tuzla, in north-east Bosnia. It is a place I’ve heard tolerance talked of in the present tense. As such it shouldn’t have surprised find myself there hearing someone quoting these words: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” They went on to add that in Christ there is neither Bosniak or Serb or Croat or Roma. In other words, someone like Christ would not create divisions along ethnic lines. These are fine words in theory but they were not talking theory. They were talking to people drawn from the four ethnic groups they name-checked, people who have found forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ, people serious about living this oneness, or unity, that the Bible speaks of.

Such moments are as encouraging as they are surprising. Bad news makes the news far more often than good news does; people getting along just fine doesn’t make for gripping headlines. But the good news is that there are people who have put the past behind them and are getting along just fine. They are hope for the future in the face of those who seem set on conflict.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Don't Panic: I Got Soul!

‘You will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic.’ I’ve read those words many times and now they’ve taken on a new meaning. Jesus said them, St Matthew recorded them, but I’m reading them for the first time against the backdrop of a seemingly growing media discussion about the possibility of civil war in the country we’re living in. We’re not panicking but it does make you think a bit.

‘Don’t Panic’ is perhaps more famous for adorning the cover of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. That comic masterpiece involved the destruction of the whole world, an event that, while treated as not funny in the book, is really not funny. We live on a street where I can still see the sandbags behind which people defended their patch fifteen years ago. The thought of this country plunging itself into another violent mess when it hasn’t cleared up the remains of the last one is far from a joke.

Into these sober thoughts burst an anthem that practically had me dancing around the living room this morning. ‘I Got Soul’ is a reworking of ‘All These Things That I Have Done’ by The Killers. (A strange name that I’ve always felt was slightly at odds with their often uplifting music.) It’s a collaborative effort for War Child under the name of ‘Young Soul Rebels’. They’ve taken a great rock song and turning it into a powerful pop rap proclamation. Around the refrain of “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” they squeeze in bits of the original lyrics with sections of war-related rap. One of these says exactly what needs to be said here.

No kid should die for a war
Let’s fight for a cause
Pray for better days
Because when the going gets tough
There’s better way
only then there are better days

Monday, 19 October 2009

Some perspective

I imagine it must be easy to write a snarky blog about people you don’t know personally. I don’t know for sure; I’ve never tried it. Here I’ve tried to avoid unnecessary references to people we work with and I’m definitely not looking to score points. We work with people from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds in a country that can be highly sensitive to such things. This is one reason for discretion; a strong belief that all people should be treated as an individual not as a label is another reason.

This weekend a couple of us from the Novi Most team took a group of young people we’ve been teaching uni-hockey to a tournament in Tuzla. It’s not really that far from Mostar if you measure the kilometres, but twisty, single-carriageway roads that weave their way up and down mountains make it an ambitious day trip. And so it was we came to stay over at the big house of some generous people. At the end of a long Saturday – I’d got up at 4am – I sent Rowan a text summarising the day’s events. Her reply included the innocent question: will you get a real bed tonight or be on the floor?

Six of us were on the floor is a large basement room; foam mattresses neatly laid out in a row. It was as we unpacked our blankets and sleeping bags that it suddenly hit me. Perhaps for some of the guys I was sharing a room with it was actually unusual to have four walls complete with doors and windows around them at night. I’m almost certain running water and electricity are not the norm for some of them. I was struck by my privileged position. What I was tempted to consider a night of 'roughing it' might have been some rare comfort for a few of my room-mates.

I have complained about Mostar’s general lack of heating in its housing but I have not suffered at all when it comes to measuring life’s hardships. So if I’m pointing the finger at anyone here I hope it is at myself. Saturday night was a glaring reminder that all too often my perspective is informed by my position of relative comfort, wealth and luxury.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Beautiful Buna

The Dervish House at the source of the river Buna, at Blagaj, is one the classic tourist images from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The water streams clear and cold from a cave entrance at the bottom of a steep cliff face. It is a dramatic sight.

Today we were slightly farther downstream, using the Hotel Ada for one day workshop with our local team members. The sun was out and after lunch we took the (really) short stroll from the restaurant to the waterside, where I made this quick video.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

You Get The Story When You Go

Before we went back to the UK for a visit in September we made this video to explain a little of what we've been up to over the last year and why we're back in Mostar for more...enjoy!

(You Get The Story When You Go - we know we did, but what does it mean for you?)

Friday, 9 October 2009

War and peace

A friend spoke to me this morning in urgent tones: we have a problem, if there’s any violence they won’t let us in! We were just about to start a rehearsal, which although always loud has never ended in violence. It took me a minute to realise he was talking about football; specifically about Bosnia and Herzegovina’s World Cup qualifier against Estonia. A fatal shooting at a domestic fixture last weekend has clearly put the national team and its fans under special scrutiny. All this comes at a time when Bosnia and Herzegovina have a very real chance of making it to South Africa next year. For a nation whose Premier League is played by part-timers this is no small achievement. That it might be snatched away by some mindless crowd violence is a tragedy that it’s sadly all too easy to understand as an English football fan.

And so on the day President Obama has been controversially announced as the latest Nobel Peace Prize winner I would like to suggest that he sprinkle a little bit of the magic that charmed the Nobel committee in the Balkans!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

They came back

I aware I don’t write too much about the work we’re involved in and so today’s post will do something to redress that balance – or imbalance, if you prefer! We are team leaders for Novi Most International, a Christian charitable organisation providing youth work in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rowan and I are only too aware that when you mention youth work many people can’t see past labelling you as a teenager who never grew up; someone who prefers playing and hanging out to growing up and taking on the real world. Everybody’s entitled to an opinion but there’s a lot to be said for informal education, which is what good youth work will provide.

Whether you take a snapshot of education in the UK or in BiH you won’t have to look hard to see that the formal education process only work for so many people. For others it just does do it for them. That’s why we hear of so many rules or coercions, threats or incentives deployed in the classroom. Some would tell you that part of the problem is that young people have to be in school – they don’t often choose to go. And that’s where youth work is different. They choose to opt in to the informal education process. If it doesn’t work for them they will stop turning up.

This week we re-opened Klub, our youth centre, after a post-summer break of a month. Our previous youth work experience in England has taught us that breaks can be interesting things; sometimes whole groups of young people ‘disappear’ during them! New courses, extra homework, different friends: all of these can have an effect on attendance. But this week we’ve seen many of our regulars from the summer choosing to come back for more. We aim to create a place they want to belong but no one can force them. Their walking through the door is a huge endorsement of what Novi Most is doing.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

As so to work

Yesterday my brother tweeted about the unpleasantness of cycling to work in the rain. I remember those days. However, yesterday I made a short video on my walk into work. I present it here by way of comparison. October in Mostar is treating us well!

(And, yes, I am fully aware our rain will arrive soon!)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Gun shots

We were in Sarajevo at the weekend. It’s a city famous for a few things but possibly its most influential export was the gun shot that triggered the First World War. Today you’d be forgiven for not noticing where it happened; a discreet plaque on the wall of a small museum marks the fateful spot. I know where it is and it makes me think every time I drive past it.

But after this trip I was left with more than the usual food for thought. I drove back into Mostar with the city doing an impression of a ghost town because of the local football derby. We hardly saw any people, let alone any violence; most of the people loitering on the streets were police leaning on riot shields. However, up the road in Siroki Brijeg a football match didn’t happen because violence erupted beforehand and a FC Sarajevo fan was shot dead.

We got this news the same time as the report of another close-to-home incident. We’d been staying in Grbavica, a suburb of Sarajevo, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Monday morning that part of town was road-blocked following a police shoot-out with car thieves the previous night.

So I will chew over these incidents and if I end up thinking anything other than the blatantly obvious I’ll let you know.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A tall tale

I was checking out who follows our WeDoAdventure twitter account earlier today. It’s sad, I know, but it led to my stumbling upon an interesting web page bigging up the benefits of a visit to Bosnia. My interest was piqued by their reference to rain forests; I know we get a lot of hot weather and plenty of rain in Mostar but somehow the image of Macaws squawking through the tree tops seemed a little at odds with the countryside I’ve experiences around here.

Google took me to Wikipedia, the great arbitrator of truth in this internet age. Apparently, there is indeed one of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests not so far from here. It seems you can only visit it if accompanied by rangers but this is certainly something that warrants further investigation. At a time when deforestation is a global concern, not least for the future of breathable air, it is reassuring to know that the world’s tallest Norway Spruce is chucking out its contribution to the oxygen supply just down the road from me!