Monday, 31 December 2012

An Olympic Year

2012 has been a great year for British sport, most notably at the London Olympics. We were in London for the New Year celebrations the year it was awarded the games and by some happy symmetry we are getting the chance to see this year out on the banks of the Thames tonight. But our thoughts are already turned to Sarajevo and its Olympic mountains, where we'll be spending this coming weekend. Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984, a games most famous in the UK for Torvil and Dean's contribution. But for us it is another potential piece of symmetry that has captured our imagination. Earlier this month the European Olympic Committees announced that Sarajevo will host the European Youth Olympic Festival in winter 2017. It's been a great year for British Sport; we look forward to some great years ahead for winter sport in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Great Outdoors

This morning I was in the Sainsburys that used to double as our local corner store, browsing the magazine section, when my eyes fell on an unexpected keyword: Bosnia. I've waited a long time to see a UK magazine write a positive article about the country that has been home to us for the past four years. I almost found one last year, an online version of an article snowboarding around Sarajevo by Outside magazine, but that didn't count as Outside is an American publication!

What you see here is the January 2013 issue of The Great Outdoors. "Snow trekking in Bosnia" is one of the cover stories. Having already bought The Economist, Wired and Onboard (a snowboarding magazine) in the last two days I wasn't about to buy another magazine just for the sake of one article of interest. However, I did stand there and skim read the story to confirm it was, indeed, a positive one.

We've long recognised that the great outdoors is one of the treasures of Bosnia and Herzegovina that is largely undiscovered by people outside the country. It seems appropriate that a magazine of the same name should be the first UK publication we've seen promoting BiH as a tourist destination. So if you've not already bought your Christmas quota of magazines you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of The Great Outdoors and getting inspired. If the internet is more your thing you won't be able to read that article online yet but you can check out Green Visions the company that their snow trekking trip was organised through. There is an adventure waiting for you!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

When 2nd is the best

Back when I was in my late teens and early twenties "No Fear" was a very cool clothing brand and "No Fear" posters were a must have for any adventure sports enthusiast's bedroom wall. I remember having one of an extreme skier bursting off a cliff edge. "If you're not living on the edge you're taking up too much space" declared the bold text. A friend had a T-shirt that asserted: "2nd place is the 1st loser."

Yesterday, in a bitterly cold sports hall in Fojnica, our floorball team went some way to proving otherwise. We were taking part is a short six-way tournament between teams from Sarajevo and Fojnica. Each club had divided their squad into two. We had Jajce 1, featuring our strongest, fastest, players and Jajce 2, featuring the rest of us! We should have realised things were going to be a bit strange when Jajce 2 recorded a 7-0 win in its first match of the tournament. I think Jajce 1 felt they had to get at least one 8-0 scoreline. They managed a 4-0 but also drew a couple and lost one. The final table had Jajce 1 in forth and Jajce 2 in second. Being second was winning in one respect, upsetting the expected order of things.

But it didn't end there. The tournament included a third and forth place playoff and a final for the top two teams. Jajce 1 went some way to repairing their dented pride by winning their game. However, so did Jajce 2, ending the day as tournament winners. This was not a "No Fear" outcome; there was nothing 'loser' about being in the second team!




Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Wax on, wax off

Novi Most International, the organisation we volunteer for in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has a challenge it gives its team members. It's called "How Dare We?" To a team that has committed to help work for a better future for young people growing up in this country the challenge is how dare we dream dreams for them we are not dreaming for ourselves.

Over the past two years our work in Jajce has allowed us to introduce dozens of young people to experiences they've never had before. It's exciting to make a first trip to the cinema possible, or the first visit to a nearby city, or a first ride up an escalator. But "How Dare We" makes me ask what new experiences I've had recently. I like it. It stops you from standing still. The person who has stopped exploring will likely soon stop encouraging others to do so. So we explore.

This January I was in the same boat as the young people we took to a winter camp on Jahorina, one of the Olympic mountains outside Sarajevo: we were all trying snowboarding for the first time. The only difference between us was I'd wanted to try it for longer than most of them had been alive! Inspired, I bought a snowboard at the tail end of last winter and started to put some practice in. As this winter starts I am turning my hand to snowboard tuning. Search YouTube for long enough and you find decent tutorials on almost anything. Tonight I'm typing this blog at the halfway point of waxing a base for the first time. You need about half an hour between applying hot wax and scraping off cold wax. That time is up and I must get back to work. The process of learning news skills to be passed on must continue.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Dangerous distractions

One of the temptations I constantly fight during much of the driving I do is the desire to enjoy the view. All too often something spectacular is trying to catch my attention, but narrow, twisty roads are notoriously unforgiving of lapses in concentration.

This morning was a rare treat. I was alone in the van on a empty mountain track with the sun breaking through the clouds, bringing the snowscape to life. The view was amazing, although it made for a very stop-start decent as I kept stopping to take photographs. As usual, these fail to fully capture the beauty, but they have a good go.

With the track completely covered in snow, I also took the opportunity to check how our van would handle emergency stops, the odd swerve or two and generous tugs on the handbrake. Over the next few months I'm likely to do a lot of snow driving so I figured a bit of foreknowledge about any quirks wouldn't hurt. While I don't plan to make handbrake turns a habit I'm happy the report that our trusty Volkswagen Transporter is a very predictable performer under pressure. I won't deny the whole assessment process was a lot of fun: here's to sunny snow days up a mountain!

 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Proof-reading required

Today we took a snowy Sunday afternoon stroll. Partly it was to walk off a generously proportioned late lunch but mostly it was to see the waterfall; we've been back in Jajce over a month and had thus far failed to pay it a visit. It is still there, still looking good. So good I would have been posting a wonderfully wintery picture here. However, it was upstaged by this recently installed tourist sign.

Clearly the sign cannot compete with the waterfalls as a thing of beauty. But it highlights what is a surprisingly common problem with tourist signs in this part of the world: poor English translations. This is even more noticeable now we can read the local language. We know what they're trying to say. All too often it is lost in awkward translation. This sign is advertising Jajce as a "museum under the open sky" - something the town genuinely is - and is sponsored by two international agencies. However the English translation is clumsy and, in one section, part missing. This is a shame. It would have taken a native English speaker about ten minutes to read the text and make the small adjustments that would make all the difference. We've see too many tourist brochures (and restaurant menus) that could have used similar help. Perhaps the British Embassy in Sarajevo should be offering a proof-reading service!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

First in, last out

Back when we used to do youth work in the UK I was often the first in and the last out. For a number of years we ran different events in a converted warehouse building that had slightly temperamental heating. It was controlled by a computer system; all regular events were programmed in so, in theory, the venue would be warm when you arrived. Invariably it wasn't. At these times it was a case of reaching for the big orange over-ride button, which would kick the heating in on full for an hour.

These days such memories serve as a reminder of how easy life is in a town where central heating is normal.  There are plenty of places in Bosnia and Herzegovina where central heating is widespread; some have city-wide central heating, harnessing the heat from local factories. But Jajce is not one of those places. Heating here is almost always by wood-burning stove. In its favour, this is a far more effective and enjoyable heat than attempting to use an air conditioner, as is common in Mostar, but is comes at a price. Cutting and carrying logs is only part of it. We don't live in the world of computer controlled wood stoves - yes, they exist! - and there is no magic orange button. Someone has to turn up an hour early to get the fire started. For every activity we do. This morning that was me. First in. Fire lighting. Rowan, however, was the last out. I went from our youth club session to floorball training. She went home...to light the fire there.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Who's the odd one out?

I saw this picture posted on a friend's Facebook wall earlier today. My first thought was: spot the flippin' foreigner! Yes, it was me who missed the memo about only sporting subdued hues before I left the house this morning.

Today the new structure that protects the ruins of Jajce's Mithras Temple was being officially opened. As this is but a ten second stroll from where much of our work happens it would have been rude to miss it. And so we braved the biting cold to watch the ribbon cut, capture it on video and add a spot of colour to a photograph.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

5 year ago today...


Having reminded myself earlier this week that today would mark the 5th anniversary of our first trip to Sarajevo I thought I'd be only right to dig out an old video to commemorate. This video was filmed the four days of that visit. In the last 5 years over sixteen thousand people on YouTube have watched me talk about my first impressions of the city; many have left comments saying things like "I am thinking of going there, your video helped me in my decision, thanks" or "I have also been to Sarajevo. I love it." As videos go this is not the most professional looking or sounding I ever produced but it is an honest record of our first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

On the sidelines!

On Sunday afternoon we drove just over two hours to Prijedor to play floorball against the team there. Our team, Lavovi Jajce – or Jajce Lions, had comfortably beaten the Prijedor side that visited us earlier this year. We felt the return trip would not be so easy. And so it proved. The game was played with a level of physicality well above anything we reach in our training sessions. Our team are teenagers; Dina, who trains the side is, like me, in her thirties. The Prijedor side seemed to be all late-teens and twenties. For all the fact it was hard fought, it was a fair fight and 4-4 was probably the right result.  


Rowan came along for the ride. Standing on the sidelines snapping photos with two cameras she was more often than not winching as one heavy challenge followed another. Floorball is a high-intensity, end-to-end game with rolling substitutions. The three twenty-minute 'thirds' that make up a match equal a lot of running around. Some of our team have yet to grasp the advantage of being substituted; I'm old enough to know I need to be. I could only be an effective physical presence in short bursts. While I picked up a lot of compliments for my contribution I felt it was only fair to post a picture showing me where I spent most of the game: on the sidelines!

Monday, 26 November 2012

A quicker there and back

Today I did a quick 'there and back again' to Sarajevo. This was made all the quicker by the completion of another section of motorway since the last time I made the trip; that was mid-May, if my memory serves me right. It's strange to think that the six-and-a-month gap between that trip and today's represents my longest absence from the city in the last five years. We arrived to wintery-cold in the country's capital on Thursday 29th November 2007, on a now discontinued BA flight from London, at the start of our first trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since then large parts of the city have become familiar stomping grounds.


But while we can look forward to faster journeys to Sarajevo in the future we are unlikely to see any change to times to Mostar. Geography dictates the winding mountain roads are unlikely to ever be widened. We are taking some of the young people who attend Novi Most activities in Jajce to Mostar this weekend. The temptation is to try to get to the end of a long a winding road as quickly as realistically possible but three hours of twisting and turning provides all too much opportunity for travel sickness. Having cleared up vomit in our van three times this weekend I'll be trying to drive extra-specially slowly and smoothly next time out!

Monday, 19 November 2012

A painful realisation

Over the past couple of months we've done a lot of walking: the streets of London, must-see Vancouver, most of Seattle's downtown and the pretty bits of Cape Town. We haven't, however, done much running. I had foolishly thought our pedestrian pavement pounding would be an adequate exercise substitute during our travels. I was wrong.

This weekend I was back at floorball training here in Jajce. We have about a dozen, mostly athletic, teenagers who form the core of our team. As well as being committed to training twice a week they often organise running together too. A couple of them also train in handball and football teams. And they are competitive.

With a game against a team from Prijedor, a town a couple of hours north of us, just a week away I was rejoining a team focused on delivering a winning performance. Training was intense. I didn't expect it to be otherwise. I just expected to find running a little easier, my recovery times a little shorter. Keeping up with hyper-energetic sixteen year olds is never going to happen but maybe in a couple of weeks I won't feel so painfully slow when I challenge for a 50-50 ball. Hopefully we'll also be celebrating another team victory together.  

Sunday, 11 November 2012

One man's walk in the park...for now.

One man's walk in the park is another man's first off-road riding experience. In fact I took five people out on bikes on Saturday afternoon. For all of them it was their first time riding mountain bikes on a mountain. (Our ride topped out at about 3500ft.) The opportunity arose because this weekend was Novi Most's bi-annual team retreat, happening this time at a ski-centre hotel we visited in the summer when we were taking young people from Jajce mountain biking. I knew the hotel rents reasonable bikes out at reasonable prices and that the surrounding countryside offers a reasonably easy introduction to off-road riding. At least that's the way I told it.


I wasn't wrong on the bikes or the value-for-money rental but easiness is, of course, a matter of opinion. Many things in life become easier with experience and while I may have lost a little in fitness over the years I can still claim to be an experienced cyclist. I don't attack hills like I used to but I still know how to ride the best line and get the most from each pedal stroke. This is probably why I'd remembered the uphills as shorter and flatter than they actually are; a fact demonstrated by this picture of an empty trail I took waiting for our group to catch me up. I'm certainly not complaining about having extra time to soak up the views!

The next time I'll be back on this mountain it'll be covered in snow and I'll be carrying a snowboard. It'll be the start of my first full season of trying to master the slopes. Then the boot will, metaphorically, be firmly on the other foot. Coming from the south of England means my childhood playing-in-snow experiences were limited and I'd never tried any winter sports before the first time I stepped on a snowboard in January this year. So this winter I'll be playing the enthusiastic, if in-experienced, card for all it's worth and hoping for injury-free adventures. I certainly don't expect to be the fastest to the top or bottom of the slope!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Finding inspiration

In September and October we had the opportunity to travel. Taking a three month sabbatical is something Novi Most asks its international volunteer workers to do after three years; we took two months after four years! Thanks to the amazing generosity of friends we ended up visiting America, Canada and South Africa, as well as spending time in the UK. Part of the point of a sabbatical is to rest and catch up with friends and family – we managed to see all our immediate family, even those living in Cape Town – but part of the point is to get inspired so that you return with new ideas.


Much of the work we do here in Bosnia and Herzegovina involves creativity, whether that's through music or craft, or just our approach to activities. Our travels took us to some quirky places: museums, markets, fairs, galleries and urban art installations in three continents. All these were safe bets for inspiration and they didn't fail to deliver. The surprise was the Visitor Center at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. We were aware of some of the work the Foundation supports but didn't expect such an engaging, interactive, and beautifully realised, exhibit.

Inspired: our challenge now is to ensure the good ideas end up being put into action.    

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

UnEasyJet


Over the past couple of years we've said only good things about the EasyJet flights we've taken from both Split and Zagreb. Through social media and real social interaction we've talked about the efficient and economic service we'd experienced. Maybe you are one of the skeptics we've tried to convince. If you are anyone we've encouraged to take advantage of cheap flights we would like to update our advice: when they hit you with a 'hidden' charge they'll hit you hard. Be warned!

EasyJet cannot be blamed for the storm swirling around Zagreb airport yesterday morning and should be commended for the faultless second landing executed by their pilot after the first attempt had to be aborted at what appeared to be the very last moment. However the wake up call they gave us – three figures before breakfast – was of their doing. The check-in assistant tried to convince us the fault was ours; we'd added an extra bag to our booking but failed to add any extra weight allowance for it. The extra bag cost £14.99 to book. Every extra kilo over your allowance is charged at £11. If our other two bags had been 20kg each then I assume the empty extra bag would have been charged at least another £35 just for its own weight. £50 for an empty bag must make it cheaper to purchase a blow-up doll to travel with and borrow their baggage allowance!

While I won't quibble that all of this is probably explained in small print somewhere on the EasyJet website I reject the notion that this error was entirely our fault. At the tail end of two month's travelling on three continents we have booked numerous planes, trains and hotel rooms online and never experienced any other mistakes or misunderstandings. If their website really was clear we wouldn't have been caught out. We are not new to the online booking game. Until yesterday we could genuinely say we'd enjoyed our EasyJet experiences but, as they say, he who laughs last laughs loudest. The house always wins.  

Sunday, 30 September 2012

We owe One Direction

It's been just over two years since we moved from Mostar to Jajce. Mostar is not short of internationals living there; there are governmental agencies, non-governmental agencies and the United World College that between them draw people from the four corners of the globe. Jajce is different. There are very few foreigners who live in the town and while many of the young people we work with seem to have cousins or aunts or uncles scattered across Europe, or in the States, we found ourselves with a lot of explaining to do. “Where are you from?” “England.” What's that?” is, believe it or not, an accurate translation of an early conversation. At least one young person was convinced London and America were basically the same thing. Another stated categorically that soon the US would be part of Europe, because eventually everyone was going to be part of Europe. This had to be true: their teacher had told them!

But all this happened before One Direction. In the last year they have done more for British brand recognition in central Bosnia than anything or anyone else. Forget the Queen. Forget London 2012. What the girls we know will remember about this year is the day they met a woman whose daughter had kissed a member of One Direction at a party in his pre-fame days. Yes, tears were shed over this discovery. I don't know if they know that the Union Jack is, in fact, the British flag and not something One Directions design team dreamed up. Either way, it too elicits the same kind of clutching, gasping, beating-heart response that a picture of those five beautiful boys would. It's like Cool Britannia all over again.

And so we owe them a debt of thanks. Thank you One Direction for making Great Britain exist for the young people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Driven round the bend

Back when we were living in the UK there was a time we were proud owners of a new new MINI. It was yellow. It was also a great car; the sort of car you could get back into after a day at a motor show and be completely satisfied with, even though it cost a fraction of the price of some of the cars you'd sat in during the day. It was during on of these motor show trips that I paid a tenner for a ride in a Caterham 7. Because if the MINI had a reputation for go-kart like handling the Caterham represents a whole other level of raw motoring. And so it was that I had the wildest five minutes I've experienced on four wheels. Apart from the few seconds after pulling away the car never travelled in a straight line. It slipped and slid, squealed and spun its way around the little test track. All hot exhausts and burning rubber. The definition of a blast.

These days I don't drive a MINI, or a Caterham; I drive a Volkwagen Transporter. It's not a car but in my experience it'd rank highly it whatever the van equivalent to being a driver's car is. This is just as well: I do a fair amount of driving. And here in Bosnia and Herzegovina long, straight stretches of road are few and far between. In the last four days I've driven to Banja Luka and back three times, just over an hour's drive north, and to a ski resort on a mountain about an hour south of Jajce once. Heading north or south from Jajce the main road is single carriageway that twists and turns its way through mountains. Today I thought I'd try to estimate how many bends this means I've been round this week. By bend I don't mean the sort of wiggle in the road you can negotiate by straddling the white line, I mean the proper turn-of-the-wheel type. I got bored of counting but it was clear that I've driven round more than a thousand bends. It's a good job there's Red Bull and I don't get bored of driving!  

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A long bus ride



It wasn't so long ago that I wrote about a bus ride from Zagreb to Jajce. When I did I would have considered it quite a long trip. No longer. Last week was bookended by two 28 hour bus journeys. Sarajevo to Oldenburg, in northern Germany, and back again. In a little bus. 29 seats, 25 passengers and 3 drivers. As near to non-stop as was possible. Had the bus been able to reach the speed limit on the motorways the trip may have been many hours shorter but the seats did recline a little, the air-conditioning worked and it made no worrying noises! Needless to say this is my new benchmark for long-distance road travel.

It was a trip of many firsts, many of them being borders crossed by young people who had never been outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina before. I'll leave comments on their interest in the comparative price of chocolate for another post and instead say something about the reason for such a bus ride. We were attending a international event for teenagers called TeenStreet. Young people from as far afield as Finland and the Faroe Islands to us from BiH and near-neighbours from Bulgaria all converged on an exhibition centre in a town so close to the top of Germany you could almost smell the North Sea. The title for this year's event was NewSong40. That's why I thought I should find a few moments to put pen to paper, and words to music to capture the experience. The song came together in a just over an hour last Thursday morning, and got it's first proper play on the journey home on Saturday. I pushed past the effects of sleep deprivation to put the recording and video together on Monday. Hopefully the result gives you a glimpse of something unforgettable.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Fake camping?

There can be little debate that a camp that doesn't involve tents or sleeping bags, dodgy toilets or cold showers is no camp real camp at all. Be that as it may, last week's camp we organised in Jajce had a lot of other ingredients that go into making a memorable summer experience: sunshine, swimming, sports and surprisingly good food. That everyone got to sleep in real beds, in respectable bungalows was, in my opinion, simply something of a bonus!

The picture shows everyone but me - I was holding the camera. Just over thirty young people and youth leaders, representing six towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was also responsible for putting together short highlight videos of each day's activities. These got played out as part of the evening programme. They're now hidden away on YouTube but if you'd like a glimpse into some of what we got up to you can find them by clicking on one of the following days: Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.  


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Mine, not mine!

This is this evening out by the lakes in Jajce. What you can see around the the top of the mountain in the middle of the photograph are not clouds but smoke from fires that have been burning up there for the past two weeks.

We spent last week 'camping' out by the lakes: the inverted commas indicate that I understand staying in a bungalow doesn't equate to real camping; but neither I or any of the young people involved seemed to be complaining about that.

Almost every day was cloudless but every day we saw smoke. A few days before our camp started I had read about similar fires on a mountain outside Sarajevo. The article said no one was able to attempt to put them out because the area still had so many landmines it was too dangerous. According to a guy working on the rental boats we went out on, no one has attempted to put out these fires because there is no agreement over who the land that is burning belongs to, so no one feels the need to take responsibility.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Pedal power on Plivsko jezero



It only seems appropriate after our previous post to upload this video. This is proper pedalo action from Jajce's Plivsko jezero. Well, I say proper but I'm not sure whether a duck shaped pedalo can properly be described as proper. Nevertheless, it proved a worthy lake-going craft, even if it did list a little to port. We wondered if this was due to my superior weight advantage but we noticed every vessel out this evening was leaning one way or the other. Perhaps not then, but if it was then an hour's energetic pedalling will have done something to help in that department!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

We like lakes

In the last couple of weeks we've had a couple of great watery experiences. Together with the Novi Most team we went on a canoe safari on the Trebižat river, near Čapljina. Surviving three hours on the water in the hot and sun without getting burned was something of a triumph - it was up around 40C that day - and our canoe skill were almost impressive, up until the point we capsized! I took photos but they didn't do the scenery justice. Neither does this video. Instead here's a picture from our latest adventure.

We have two friends visiting this week - the one who is less into being in photographs took this one for us! Last last we decided to spend an hour out on the lakes in Jajce in a rental boat. These boats have very quiet, battery powered motors that are very cool if the battery has enough power. Unfortunately for us, about twenty-five minutes out from our start point I began to suspect ours was not going to last the duration. A quick check around the boat revealed it carried no alternative forms of propulsion, other than our arms and legs. It was these that managed to guide us to shore some distance from the jetty we started from. Rowan went to ask for help and a larger boat was sent to pull us in. It would have made a great comedy home movie. However, being slightly more preoccupied with problem solving than video production instead what we're left with this a rather average collection of clips. On the plus side, the rental place didn't charge us. The lake is a beautiful place to spend a sunny evening; we would definitely recommend anyone wanting watery fun to hire something there. Just make sure it's fully-charged...or a pedalo!    

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

An insight into bus travel


Five hours and twenty minutes sat on a bus between Zagreb, Croatia, and Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina, yesterday morning gave me more than enough time to ponder some of the idiosyncrasies this mode of transport offers in this part of the world. I suppose I should confess I'm no expert; the town I grew up in was not big on buses and, baring one memorable overnight coach journey from London to Edinburgh, most of my bus experience involves the top deck of old London Routemasters. That and school trips.

The distinction between a bus and a coach that the English language provides is not one that holds up in translation. Everything is a bus here. There are local buses and there are buses that make international journeys. From the bus station in Jajce we could travel to a number of nearby or neighbouring countries but the only trip I've made thus far is the one to and from Zagreb. This latest journey was the first time we've travelled the route through Bihać and Karlovac; we've always gone through Banja Luka before. I could claim it was because we were travelling the 'back route' that I made the observations. I won't. The truth is I didn't see anything I hadn't seen before. But it was experiencing a new route that focused my thoughts enough to be blogging about it. And so here goes...

First, I'll commend our driver for not overtaking like a looney, a common fault, and for anticipating, and slowing down for, every speed camera and parked-up police patrol car. However, conducting conversations with a mobile phone clutched to one ear while gesticulating wildly with the 'free' hand might be considered inappropriate behaviour, particularly around corners. The bus had no scheduled stops between Zagreb and Jajce still I counted at least five, not included the expected rest break at a cafe just over the border into BiH. Some of these stops were specifically requested set downs along the route, although I could be convinced we took a detour in Bihac to accommodate one of these. We also stopped at the other side of a gas station next to a bus station in one town to pick up new passengers. This seemed strange. I'm not sure who profited from ticket money that may or may not have been collected. Still, as the bus was about half-full or half-empty at the time, depending on your perspective, this was undoubtedly an eco-friendly gesture.

We've long been aware that sending things by bus is much preferred to putting them in the post. You need important documents from another city? Get a friend to hand them to the driver and simply collect them when the bus arrives in your town, slipping the driver a little something for a coffee or ten as a thank you. Yesterday, on top of the usual collection of envelopes, we stopped by a roadside auto garage to deliver some parts. Judging by the smiling and waving from the mechanics this was not unusual assistance. Earlier I had done a double take seeing the driver chatting away inside the guards booth at the border, but as it was a very quick, smooth crossing it's nothing to complain about. Nor is any of the above. It's just that I can't imagine any of this happening with National Express. But, then again, what do I know about buses?!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Chips and dips

We recently came by a generous consignment of tortilla chips. Although they are readily available in shops here they are relatively new and comparatively expensive. Most of the young people we work with had never tried them before. It's fair to say most were not impressed when they came out of the box last week.

This week, in an attempt to spice up the taste experience, our local colleague suggested we buy some salsa dip and make a more local-orientated dip, by mixing sour cream and ajvar – a relish made predominately from red peppers. This afternoon he gave a short talk introducing the concept of dipping chips and I joined him in a demonstration of how this is done.

To their credit almost all the young people attending our Novi Most youth club session gave this culinary novelty a try. The mild Mexican salsa was deemed to hot and spicy by a few that I spoke to, nevertheless a couple of bags of chips were happily munched through.

This is just another example of a new experience we've been able to provide young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It may be a small one but they all count!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Surprised

There are good surprises and there are bad surprises. Today we had a bit of both. We had a floorball game arranged for the team I'm involved in training, Lavovi Jajce, against a team from Prijedor, a town about an hour and a half north of us. The bad surprise was the size and age of their team. Bigger and older than ours. Significantly. I wasn't expecting to play, seeing as our team are all teenagers, but they wanted someone to drag the average age up so I was called into action. The pre-match team talk made it clear what Dina, our coach, thought of our chances: "I want you to keep playing, keep trying, even if you are losing fifteen nil!"

The good surprise began with going a goal up shortly after the game started. I was playing in what could be described as a right-back kind of role. I was just waiting for some undefendable attack on our goal. It never came. At least it didn't while I was on the pitch. Floorball is one of those rolling-subs games. The three goals we conceded all came when I was off. At the other end, our players kept finding the back of the net, sometimes from the most audacious angles. I provided three assists as part of the eleven goals we scored, my personal point of satisfaction in a result that surprised everyone. A few people mentioned David and Goliath. To their credit, the opposition we very gracious in defeat and I think most of our team were too shocked over the final score to gloat about it. In a day of good and bad surprises, good was definitely the winner!

Monday, 4 June 2012

New hydroelectric development in Jajce?



This video is about one of the hot topics of the last week here in Jajce. As I say in the video, I'm not claiming to be an expert on the issues or have all the facts at my finger-tips. But as I was cycling past Brana today I thought I'd stop to film incase there's someone out there on the internet who'd be interested in this news who hasn't heard it already.

As for what will actually happen to this beautiful little part of central Bosnia: time will tell. And when it does I'll be sure to make a video about it!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

June already

I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon soaking up the delights of the Jubilee Pageant, thanks to the streaming video on the BBC website. The sight of singers belting out Land of Hope and Glory while clearly soaked to the skin was, I confess, a highlight. The commentators predictably commented on Britishness of it, although they can probably be forgiven as such assignments rarely require more than restating the obvious for the umpteenth time. After my fix of rain and Britannia ruling the waves I thought I'd go out and cycle in the sunshine, of which we had plenty today.

Unfortunately for me it seems the mayflies hadn't go the memo about the change of month. I took this photo on the return leg of my ride around Plivsko jezero, the large lake just outside Jajce. This is the main road looking back in the direction of Bihać. Everything that looks like dirty spots in the sky or light specks around the sun flare are in fact mayflies. There were hundreds of them. Probably thousands. I was thankful from my helmet and sunglasses; it was a case of head down and keep your mouth shut.

Wikipedia tells me mayflies are insects which belong to the order Ephemeroptera, from the Greek ephemeros, meaning "short-lived", and pteron, meaning "wing". So I should take heart that mayflies are ephemeral little things. Here today, hopefully gone by the time I ride again tomorrow. However ephemeral is not a word that could be attached to Queen Elizabeth II. With a staying power greater than many minor nations I don't think it is sycophantic to say she is in a class of her own. And from where I'm sitting writing this it seems unwise to underestimate the benefits this stability has brought Britain. As the Anthem goes: send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God save the Queen.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Pixels and picking winners


Those familiar with the sort of Bible stories that get told to children will know about Jonah. He's the guy who was running from God, only to become the cause of a big storm necessitating his being dispatched to the depths only to spend a long weekend in a large fish. If anyone was ever a jinx on a journey he was it. In a tenuously connected kind of way I feel I was a jinx on Saturday night's attempt to watch the Eurovision final.

As regular readers will have noted, I wasn't expecting to get the chance to take in this annual celebration of European entertainment. I therefore was not particularly disappointed when most of the evening's viewing looked like the image above. Whether this was the fault of the Croatian TV channel carrying the event, some technical issue further down the line or the fact I was present I don't know. What I did learn is that cynicism about the event is more widespread than I'd realised.

Conversation on the evening revolved around which countries could afford to host the event next year: the winner was clearly only going to come from one of these nations. These left a pretty short shortlist from which to guess the winning entry. Last night a local friend was condemning the hypocrisy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia voting for each other. “They hate each other” was how she put it. Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but nobody's fooled into thinking neighbourly block voting doesn't exist. As our German team mate reminded us, the UK's problem is we have no neighbours. This may be true but maybe she wasn't aware three Englishmen were kind enough to write the German entry for them. What a game!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Braver

This time last year I uploaded a video showing me chickening out of a first swim for summer 2011. We were in Gradac, Croatia, for a Novi Most team retreat and trying to make the most of a few days by the coast. This weekend we were back in the same place for the same reason. However the outcome of the 'will I, won't I?' swimming question was not the same. In an relatively uncharacteristic act of bravery in the face of less-than-warm water I took the plunge...remembering, of course, to take the camera with me so the pain was not in vain. That much was to be expected!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

I won't be watching

I won't be watching this year's Eurovision Song Contest. This may not mean much to UK readers, less still to US ones, but it puts me firmly out-of-step with the prevailing culture here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's not that I'm boycotting the event or attempting to display some assumed cultural superiority, it's simply a case of a calender clash; that and the disappointment the act I favoured didn't make it out of the Semi-Final the other night. I am no longer bothered by Saturday's results.

I was never going to root for BiH's entry – I haven't heard it but people who have haven't exactly encouraged me to – nor do I care for the crooning of old Engelbert. My money would go to Rambo Amadeus, partly because I have paid to see him perform in the past but mostly because his song is a brilliant satire of all things Euro. Unfortunately for Montenegro it seems that not everyone shares his sense of humour.

The second Semi-Final is tonight. If I have to take sides I'd like to throw my weight behind the beautifully name 'Litesound', a boy band from Belarus. Their piece of painting-by-numbers Europop manages to contain almost every lyrical cliché know to man. Take, for example, the first chorus: Whatever's standing in my way,
We'll make it through the day, Cause we are the winners,
We are the heroes. Yes, the song is called 'We are the heroes' and, judging by the video, in their own minds they clearly are. Best of luck to them!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Road works


The other day the M40 cropped up in a conversation with a friend. We discovered we have differing views on this sweeping stretch of motorway that connects London and Birmingham. I used to look forward to it as a relatively congestion-free chance to actually drive after grinding around the M25. She was too aware of the accident statistics people playing this kind of catch-up caused to ever enjoy using it.

At 89 miles long, or 143.2 kilometres, the M40 alone provides almost exactly double the amount of motorway capacity that the entire country of Bosnia and Herzegovina has. It is a country with only two sections of motorway: around 40 kilometres between the mid-Bosnian towan of Kakanj and Sarajevo, and around 30 kilometres heading north from Banja Luka to Gradiska, on the border with Croatia. I have driven both sections end-to-end several times.

The good news is more is on its way. BiH's Federation government has just signed an agreement worth 115 million euros with a Turkish company to build five kilometres of motorway. This new road, including two tunnels and a bridge, will head south from Sarajevo, as part of a 20 kilometre section that will start to connect Sarajevo to Tarcin and Konjic before continuing to Mostar and the Adriatic coast. I won't be holding my breath for faster travel though: Balkan Insight reports this work won't see completion for at least two years. Five kilometres in two years sounds a lot like the M25!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Drop Everything

"Drop everything" was the thought that went through my mind when I saw the second round of unseasonable snow this morning. Round one came just as Manchester City wrapped up their first Premier League title on Sunday. I don't know what was more surprising: that Edin Dzeko scored or to suddenly look out of the window to see large white flakes falling from the sky! Round two happened overnight. The temptation to grab my snowboard and head for the hills was very real, but I resisted. For one thing, the kombi now has its summer tyres on, and there's no knowing what the state of the trail towards the top of the mountain would have been like. Perhaps the more pressing reason for restraint was the meetings to go to and courses to teach that were already in the diary. "Drop everything" is a romantic idea but not always a practical or responsible one. The bonus of sticking to the plan was having a cracking songwriting session this afternoon. So I'm not complaining!

Friday, 11 May 2012

A song and dance or two...



You'll spot maybe half a dozen umbrellas in this video, if you watch closely enough. What you won't see is any footage of the two enormous thunder storms that sought to disrupt last Thursday afternoon's performances. The first of these storms was freakishly heavy, with a healthy dose of hail mixed in with the torrential rain. It came on so hard and fast that, despite being under cover, our PA desk looked like it had just take a shower. The area where you see people dancing was a lake just half an hour before some of this footage was filmed.

What this video does show is young people getting up to perform in front of their peers and their community, a few of them for the very first time. (All the musicians attend Novi Most music courses with me or Budo.) You'll also see some of the organisers, and the Director of Novi Most, enjoying a moment of madness as rain-stopped-play once again. The final performances happened inside, although in the rush of re-rigging the PA yet again very little of this was captured on video. Of what was, I'd have liked to include a clip of Katie and I performing Handbags and Gladrags but I know she wouldn't thank me for that. So you'll just have to imagine the song: acoustic guitar, oboe and me straining for the high notes. Very rock'n'roll!    

Thursday, 10 May 2012

An artistic triumph



If you read our previous post you will know already that last Thursday was no ordinary day. While some of that was for reasons way beyond our control this video captures the part of the extraordinary that we planned. It's not exactly the video we thought we would make because many of the young people and the other adult organisers who had worked on preparing the project were not able to make the delayed start to deploying the art drop around Jajce. What you see is the work of more people than you see in the video. What you see is also only one part of what the project presented; this should soon be followed by a video highlighting the music and dance performances that happened during the afternoon.

Part of the aim of Project Avant-Garde was to create art that the general public could take home and keep. Most of the art you see in this video will now be found in houses or apartments in and around Jajce. Some of it relocated to shops and cafe bars around the main street. Sadly a few pieces were lost to the torrential rain that punctuated the afternoon, but even this could not dampen the enthusiasm of those worked so hard to make their community a better place. It was no ordinary day: the day was a successful exercise in the art of overcoming; a triumph of hope and creativity over adversity.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Stark contrast.


It is not every morning you are shaken from your sleep by the sound of a gun fight; nor that this is immediately followed by the sound of someone running under your bedroom window; nor that you get to take a photograph like this from the comfort of your own living room. But that was last Thursday in Jajce. It was a day that was supposed to have been all about Project Avant-Guarde, a street-art project Rowan has been part of organising for the past couple of months. However a rare armed robbery, or attempted robbery, got in there early in an apparent attempt to steal its thunder.

Real thunder and lightening had a go at playing with the best laid plans too. Our PA equipment got caught in a freakishly fast and heavy hail storm. For a moment I thought our mixing desk might have shipped a little too much water to work again, but careful use of kitchen towel, with the aid of gravity and a hair dryer seemed to save the day. Going into details about the Project is best saved until we've edited together video footage from the day. A detailed time-line of our unexpected wake-up call, and other highlights of a crazy day, can be found on Katie's blog.

Katie was staying with us to cover the Project as part of her work as journalist for Novi Most. I had also asked her to play oboe with me on an acoustic performance of Handbags and Gladrags, as part of the Project's music and dance presentation. Although I was playing guitar and not piano it was still a lot of fun, at least for me! It was the first time I've ever played with someone playing oboe and very likely the first time most of our audience had heard an oboe played live. I also gave a first live performance of a song I wrote during our time in Mostar. These two combined went a long way to offset the multiple riggings and de-riggings of the PA and extensive cable cleaning that marked my main involvement in the presentation.

Hopefully for all the young people involved in the Project it will be a day they remember not for the fatal shooting that occurred in the early hours of the morning but for being a day when they used their creativity and energy to try and make their town a better place. As contrasts go the one between four men trying to take what wasn't theirs by force and a group of young people giving away what they have created for free couldn't be more stark. We all know which the world needs more of.  

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Reptiles

All of last summer we watched little lizards scramble over the wall opposite our house. I would say that with the exception of a singular salamander I happened upon while out cycling these were the only reptiles we saw but the glossy black fellow with bright orange spots was actually an amphibian.

This year we're barely into a convincing spring and we've already run into a host of interesting creatures. Pictured far right is what is probably a slowworm, which would have been sunning itself had the sun been shining. He was very unresponsive, as this YouTube video shows.

In the centre we have one of two turtles, tortoises, or terrapins that I didn't tread on today. We were visiting a local campsite and they were hanging out by the car park, clearly too young to be wise in the ways of the world. As for the guy on the left, I'm prepared to take suggestions as to exactly what he is. What I do know is he is lucky, as a lizard with no tail has almost certainly escaped some kind of near-death scenario. He also wins the prize for being the most mobile, something that will be immortalised on YouTube when I get a moment to edit the video together.

Beyond their true identities, the only real question that remains is what reptile will rear its ugly head next!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Double rainbow over Jajce



After spending last weekend joking with friends from Mostar about catching up on Herzegovinan rain we have had some of our own this week. It has to be said that, in our experience at least, the rain in Jajce does not fall with the same intensity it does in Mostar. Nor is it so unrelenting. The flipside of this is the summer sun does not shine so long, or so unrelentingly, in Central Bosnia. If the mid-forties are your thing Mostar is undoubtedly the place to go. It's the kind of place where anything below 30C at 11pm on a summer evening starts to feel cool. If you prefer summer highs to hover around the mid-thirties then you'd probably appreciate Jajce's climate. But back to the rain.

Yesterday Jajce was alternating between quick, heavy downpours and bright sunshine. As you've probably realised by now, this is good rainbow weather. And so it was, when I was walking home from work that I was treated to a small shower and a great view. I had hoped to get a better video than this from a vantage point on the city wall. However in the two minutes it took me to walk from here to there this was all that was left of the rainbows. Nonetheless I'm pretty pleased with what I captured.

Monday, 16 April 2012

A game-changer?

By some happy coincidence we ending up being in Mostar this weekend as the city's new Mepas Mall opened. When we lived in Mostar we watched the old hospital buildings where it now stands being demolished. We witnessed the digging of an enormous hole and watched as a giant concrete structure began to appear. Then we moved to Jajce. Almost two years on the construction is complete and it's open for business.


Business on the opening weekend was busier than we've ever seen in a shopping centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shoppers and sight-seers were out in force, but we saw enough people parading fresh purchases to guess the shops won't be disappointed by early trade. The first night queues in McDonalds – only the country's third, and its first outside Sarajevo – were huge. We waited over half an hour to get served; so not exactly fast food, although you can't blame the staff for that. The next day security guards had been stationed to manage the melee.


While the five-screen cinema won't open until June, the Mall's ten-pin bowling alley is already up and running. We spent a slightly infuriating hour playing on Saturday night; annoying not because of all the noisy teenagers on the lanes next to ours but because bowling is so much easier on the Nintendo Wii! It's been a long time since we actually did real bowling and it showed. But the question I've been left pondering is what does this latest development show about Mostar. We bumped into our old landlord from Mostar. His comment was: it's big, isn't it...let's see how long it lasts!


I hope it does last. Why? Not because I think the world needs more McDonalds, that shopping can save the soul or that having access to a cinema should be a universal human right. I hope it lasts because a friend from Mostar commented that in three days they had seen so many people they hadn't been around town for years. In a city that is too often talked about for being divided this shopping space could provide a place that brings people together: a town centre that people can buy into. And if people buy in it too then it will continue to provide much needed employment and possibly encourage further economic development in the area.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Driving



I like driving. This is a good thing as a lot of my work here in Bosnia and Herzegovina revolves around driving. Almost all the driving I've done in the last three and a half years has been behind the wheel of one of Novi Most's Volkswagen Transporter vans. I won't claim extensive knowledge of this catagory of vehicle but I will say the Volkswagens drive better than any Ford Transit or Renault Traffic I've driven, particularly when road conditions are less than perfect. Conditions are thus a lot of the time; either due to the immediate impact of weather, the aftermath of weather or attempts to repair the damage both of the above cause.

I made this video on Monday, when I spent almost eight hours doing a there-and-back-again trip. In five minutes it gives a good glimpse of what it looks like to be behind the wheel in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Twenty years on

Much has been written, tweeted and retweeted, today about the beginning of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the 11,541 red chairs laid out in Sarajevo to commemorate those who died there. I saw this photo on Facebook and felt it expressed my feelings better than I could in words.

This stretch of street in Sarajevo is a place we know well now - we were last there last weekend - but I have no idea what it was like to be there during the siege, although we have friends who spent four years trapped inside the city. Occasionally war stories crop up in conversation but it's never something we've asked questions about. We will never be part of that past but we are here now, working for the future of the people here.

It is right that, on all sides, what happened is not forgotten; that it is remembered so it never happens again. That twenty years from now the country can look back on two decades of peace and progress, not a descent again into division and destruction.

(If you've not read anything else online about the anniversary you could start with the BBC overview, or this from the Guardian. Balkan Insight's articles included this picture gallery.)

Monday, 2 April 2012

Floating opportunities

After a busy weekend in Sarajevo, today was a day off. I decided to make the most of the sunshine and head out on my mountain bike around the lakes near Jajce. I'd been going about an hour when I stumbled across this sight: the super-sized marriage of a decoy duck and a pedalo. Obviously, a photograph was essential, not just for its comedic value but because it illustrates an important attitude we have to our work here.

Last summer we ran a month of activities with Novi Most for young people in Jajce. At the end of August we asked those who been involved for some feedback. Of the seventeen who filled out our questionnaires fifteen acknowledged they had some new experience over the summer: for some it was visiting a new city; for others it was going down a water slide at an aqua park; others went up an escalator for the first time. Having new experiences, at least fun, positive ones, is an exciting thing. The young people we worked with over the summer ended up with a better sense of the opportunities available for them in their country.

This is important. In a culture where people all too often look to other countries in Europe, or to the US, as the places that offer opportunity it's important to help show young people growing up here that Bosnia and Herzegovina has much to offer. Yes, it is a country not without its frustrations and challenges but it in the four years we've been here we have seen signs of progress. This progress needs to be supported. This can mean, for example, choosing to spend money on things here rather than have a cousin, aunt, brother or best friend bring them back from America. Of course clothes and high-tech products are cheaper there but that will never change here unless local demand grows.

This brings as back to this bizarre picture. You only notice new things if you keep your eyes open, and sometimes go out of your way to look for them. It's easy to wander around a supermarket only looking for the things you always buy. The supermarket in Jajce has easily added a dozen new lines of interest to us in the last year. We've noticed! We played tourist guide to a local guy visiting Sarajevo for only the second time last weekend. It felt a bit strange but it meant that he got more out of the visit than he would have done otherwise. A week ago we were on Vlašić seeing a ski resort still scarred by war but working hard to have a future. It may never have the glamour of French or Swiss resorts but it could bring much needed tourism into the area. I will of course be telling people about the new floating opportunities available at Jajce's lakes.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

WeDoWork

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" goes the old saying. That is not a problem this blog suffers from. I was reviewing our posts since the start of 2012 and realised they consisted only of updates on the state of our toilet and reports of us playing. That does not constitute a fair representation of how we've spent the last three months.

In the interest of balance I thought we'd treat you to a picture of us at work. This is us smiling for the camera during a morning meeting with Budo, our Novi Most co-worker, and Dina, the local leader of the Evangelical Church, who we work with in Jajce. A large part of these regular meetings is keeping everybody's diaries coordinated. These are busy times and we all have individual projects we're working on, as well as activities for young people that we are working on together. Hopefully over the next couple of months we'll do a better job of keeping you updated on how these develop.

(Thanks to Katie for capturing the moment!)

Monday, 26 March 2012

Exploring Vlašić

Today we finally got around to visiting Vlašić, a mountain about an hour and a half from Jajce. The season there is officially over and almost everything was shut up. But the sun was out and there was still enough snow on some of the slopes to give a beginner their first snowboarding experience. That privilege went to Katie, Novi Most's BiH-based journalist, who has been visiting us in Jajce this weekend. Despite my limited experience I'd say she is a natural; she certainly fared way better on her first time out than I did on mine! It's safe to say it won't be the last time she snowboards.

It won't be the last time we visit Vlašić either. It was great to get out and wander around the mountain, soaking up the sun and enjoying the silence. It seemed like the loudest noises were the wind in the trees and the sound of melting snow. Although the Babonovac resort is old and still has ruined and unfinished buildings in it - and the remains of an ancient ski jump - it also has some new developments that hopefully are signs of a positive future for the area. Today was one of those days that will live long in the memory and for that the mountain must take much credit.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

That cave video...



Finally, after about forty-eight stubborn hours, YouTube decided it would start up loading this video this morning. I won't claim it's a visual epic, but it is a short-and-sweet glimpse at an interesting diversion we took on Saturday. If nothing else it shows that the long winter is finally over!

Monday, 19 March 2012

While Youtube is being uncooperative...

This weekend we took a group of young people to Sanski Most, a town about an hour and a half north west of Jajce. As an unplanned part of the trip we ended up visiting Dabarska pećina, a large cave just outside the town. I had a torch and camera on hand to capture the adventure but YouTube has been distinctly uncooperative since returning, flat out refusing to attempt to upload my video!

So this post will instead present you with the view from the view from our kitchen window! We went up to the ski centre near Jajce this morning to bid our formal farewells to this season's snow. I climbed up the slope to the point where I could get a clear view of where our house is, not that it was really visible with the naked eye. However, it gave me a strange sense of satisfaction to take the reverse of a photo I've posted far too often on Instagram.

(If you want to spot Jajce it's about 3/5 of the way across the photo, looking from left to right, just above the tree line. If you want to spot Rowan she's the little black dot in the snow in the bottom left corner of the photo!)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

An Actual Working Toilet!

We have waited fully four weeks for this moment...it would be wrong of us not to share it with you on video!


Monday, 5 March 2012

A Silver Lining

There is a possibility that tomorrow normal service will be resumed with the water in our house. However after three and a half weeks with just one working tap I'm reluctant to get my hopes up. That said I can't wait to have a proper shower again. The novelty of pouring bottles of water over myself every morning has definitely worn off.

We are well aware, however, that our current inconveniences don't compare to real hardship. But if they are a cloud of sorts then this morning we got to see the silver lining. The heavy winter might have got the better of the plumbing in our building but it's also left lots of snow on the top of the nearby mountains. This morning we decided to explore and found the ski slope we can see from the kitchen window deserted. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the silence and getting sunburnt!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Engel...who?!

I'm not sure why I ended up watching a video featuring Eurovision expert Liam Jarnecki on the BBC site earlier this week. My attention was caught, however, by his irony-free embrace of the iconic singing contest. He was had a clear argument as to why Engelbert Humperdinck is the right choice this year for the UK. A big part of this argument hinged on the assertion that he was big in Eastern Europe. Living, as we do, in south-eastern Europe, I thought I'd put this to the test. Here's the shocking truth. My survey says 100% of residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina have never heard of him! Admittedly my survey involving asking just one person so it my not be entirely representative, although the person in question will likely watch Eurovision Song Contest. I will continue to pose the question and if there is a drastic change in the result I'll be sure to post an update.


In closing I should add that on the subject of tactical voting expert Liam Jarnecki has much to learn about the prevailing mindset in the former Yugoslavia. It is naive to suggest there is no region bias in voting. Long may it continue. All things considered I think it adds an endearing quality to the whole charade.

Friday, 2 March 2012

A borrowed banner!

Novi Most, the organisation we work with, has a new volunteer in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of their responsibilities is being official "Tweeter" for the charity. Last week we had the pleasure of showing them around Jajce and introducing them to what we get up to here. As you might expect, photos were taken. One of them was so nice I've borrowed it for our blog banner! It's a very familiar view, taken from a vantage point just a minute from where we live. You can see the full photo, uncropped and uncluttered by text and logos, on Katie's blog, along with some other fantastic shots from the journey up from Mostar.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Ice Situation

Last Thursday we posted a picture of the Plivsko Jezero looking wonderfully wintery. Yesterday I got my mountain bike out - the first time this year - to go see what things were looking like at the lakes. This video will let you do you own bit of compare and contrast.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Water challenges

Life is full of challenges. For the past two and a half weeks one of ours has been living without a functioning shower in our house. Last week we discovered there was no problem with the outflow pipes from our house so we've got more adventurous in how we use the facilities on the non-functioning side of the house. For example, our recently replaced toilet will flush if you fill the cistern by bucket from our one working tap in the kitchen. Likewise it is perfectly possible to use the shower if you fill bottles of hot water in the kitchen and then proceed to pour them over yourself!

When we were back in the UK at the beginning of this month we happened to drive by Ardingly reservoir, in West Sussex. I commented at the time it looked alarmingly low. I wasn't wrong. The reports are now out that southern England is in a state of drought. I guess that will mean hose-pipe bans and the like. For us the last few weeks have been a real eye-openner to just how much water we use, or would use if it was available at the twist of a tap. For example a full toilet flush is nine litres. That's 27 cans of Coke - not that you'd use Coke but you get the idea!

And so today I made this video. I won't give too much away about its content other than to say it's only a minute and a half long and if you live in a drought hit area you should watch it because I made it with you in mind!



Thursday, 23 February 2012

Warmer but not warm

The sun came out today and in it the temperature could almost said to have been warm. Warm enough, at least, to wander around with no hat and your coat unzipped. Warm is of course a relative term. Yesterday I thought the bedroom was feeling warm until I checked the thermometer and realised it was only 9C, although that's a lot better than it has been. Whatever the temperature was out today it too was a lot better than it has been, meaning that much of the snow around town suddenly disappeared down a drain. We were hopeful this might mean our frozen pipes would finally thaw.

Then we went for lunch at the lakes. This beautiful view quashed any such optimism. The lakes were frozen over. They looked amazing but it was an unwelcome reminder that warmer does not necessarily mean warm enough. And so our wait for the full return of running water continues.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Winter and wartime

Yesterday as we we walking through the slush to the supermarket to buy water I had a thought. Having survived twelve days with just one tap in the house this had been turned off at 4pm. This was to enable repairs to start on whatever it was that needed fixing so we would get water back to the rest of the house. Our urgent requirement now was enough bottled water for essential washing and teeth cleaning. But this was not what was foremost in my mind.


I was suddenly struck with the similarity between an unusually heavy winter and wartime. Several local people we know who have had a hard time over the last few weeks have said it reminded them of the early nineties. I have no first-hand experience of war so I'll take their word for it. I do know that the last thirteen days have been the first time in my life I have lived in a house without working sanitation. Washing has happened with a bucket and a bottle of water and we'll not talk about the toilet situation.


Two weeks ago the worst days of the winter crisis in the Balkans were making the news in the UK. Then silence. The weather in the UK was warming up and the chatter on Facebook turned to signs of spring. Yesterday the BBC did post a story about the thaw on the Danube damaging boats in Serbia but, barring a snowbound Swede, winter was largely last week's news. While we were walking to the supermarket it started to snow again. Winter had not, and as I type has not, finished yet. And even if the weather turns mild this week, like we hope it will, the effects will continue to be felt.


Bosnia is now bracing itself for flooding as snow turns to meltwater. In Jajce, where we are, many homes are still without water because workers for the water company are overstretched repairing ice-damaged pipes and water meters. As the ice disappears many places will get more messy before order is restored. Little of this is likely to make anything other than the local news.


Perhaps it's obvious to draw the comparison to how the media covers conflicts. I'll draw it anyway. It's too easy to think that once a story slips from the headlines the issues that have eaten up column inches are suddenly resolved. There are not and they are unlikely to get a quick fix. Disrupted or destroyed infrastructure doesn't magically mend itself. Less still does society simply forget the tensions and move on. That is the news editor's job!

An almost working toilet

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sunday sports

In an exciting development for the floorball (aka uni-hockey) team we work with here in Jajce, training now happens indoors. Floorball is intended to be an indoor sport but the team in Jajce had trained outside for years because it wasn't able to hire a hall for practises. Playing outside in snow, ice and freezing temperatures is good for building dedication to the cause but not helpful in honing the finer points of technique.

This Sunday was the second of what should be a regular session in Jajce's new sports hall. It has to be said that today you could see your breath inside but at least it wasn't slushy underfoot. Playing on a new, almost perfectly flat, playing surface will definitely sharpen up everyone's skills. This Sunday it showed up mine as somewhat lacking but I'll comfort myself with the knowledge that last week I scored the first goal of the first game of our first session with my first touch...in a game my team went on to lose!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

An avalanche of sorts

We are aware we've got off very lightly over the past couple of weeks compared to some people in the Balkans so, in the interests of keeping things light-hearted, we present this video of a minor inconvenience this afternoon.

A more pressing concern is the fact the water is frozen in the side of the house that houses the shower and toilet - they've both been out of action for 7 days at the time of posting this video. Perhaps the 'avalanche' is an indication of a little thawing. We can but hope!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Sledging

Despite the unquestionable inconveniences it causes there is still something wonderful about a decent snow fall. It's too easy to grow up and only view the downsides. Working with young people provides a healthy reminder to never get too detached from your childlike - perhaps even childish - side. And so it was that a Facebook post gathered a group of the young people we know for a bit of fun in the snow on Saturday morning. Our group had a collection of sledges of various vintages and a large plastic sheet to venture down the slope between apartment blocks on. Other young people from the area were out on skis, performing jumps that would have given the health and safety brigade a heart attack. As with a lot of good old fashioned fun, our couple of hours in the cold resulted in a few bruises but a whole load of happy memories...and a video or two!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Back again!

Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with much of the Balkans, has made the UK news for its recent bad weather. We arrived back in Jajce yesterday after three weeks in England. Our EasyJet flight from Gatwick to Zagreb took just two hours and the onward journey from Zagreb was surprisingly clear, given the amount of snow covering everything other than the road.

Jajce has had heavy snow and seriously cold temperatures in the last week, although nothing on the scale of Sarajevo or Mostar. Sarajevo is used to extreme winter weather but this year has handed freak conditions to Mostar. The combination of snow and wind, power cuts and frozen water pipes has made things particularly challenging. Half the city spent at least 36 hours without electricity or running water.

Our apartment never lost its electricity however the back half of the house has frozen up - meaning no shower, no sink and, perhaps most inconveniently, no toilet! We've been assured that the fact the tap in the kitchen still works means the problem is internal icing, which should sort itself out when the inside temperature warms up. With the highest high temperature being forecast for the next week being 0C this might take a while. One final detail: the ice cracked the toilet bowl. It needs to be replaced before it's back to business!