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.