Tuesday, 24 April 2012


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


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.