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Showing posts from October, 2008

Dinner in Dubrovnik

We’re back from a Novi Most team retreat in Slano, Croatia. Last night we went out for dinner in Dubrovnik. I visited Dubrovnik back in 1986, just a few days before my twelfth birthday. We flew in. I remember the decent over the mountains. The 737 got lower and lower as the bare, rocky slopes got closer and closer. I think I saw someone herding goats – I certainly remember seeing TITO spelled out large and clear in stones. I was sitting in a window seat on the left of the plane and there was still no sign of civilisation when we touched down. We climbed down the stairs onto the tarmac and headed for the solitary barn-like building that was airport terminal. It was a memorable introduction to Yugoslavia.

Down in the city last night I tried to see if I could remember anything. I know I’d been to the port before. Although it looked like the pictures it didn’t seem that familiar. On the main street I tried to work out which building was once a sparse shop where I bought a post card or two…

Sumo u Slanom

There is nothing particularly profound about this video, or at least it's not intended to convey any deep, hidden message! It is however a record of something that happened at the Novi Most team retreat we attended this week and so has its place here...enjoy :)

The same age as who?!

People have different ways of coping with getting old. In Lost In Translation, a young Scarlett Johansson asks an aging Bill Murray ‘have you bought a Porsche yet?’ Some people must dye their hair, some just live in denial. I’m not old but I am getting older. It’s more obvious when you work with young people. They’re always teenagers, while you are always aging! Although I’ve been mistaken for being eighteen a couple of times recently I know the truth. When I turned 33 I joked with a few people that I was now the same age as Jesus. In a strange way it was a reassuring coming of age until someone kindly pointed out that was the age that he died!

Well, barring any grave misfortune in the next couple of hours I will have moved on a year without being Christ-like in that respect. Well almost. My thirty-third year has seen my most dramatic life change certainly since getting married, probably since I made the decision to work for a church after leaving college. I know it’s nothing on Jesus’…

God doesn't want religion but restoration

I was walking back home with some freshly baked burek when a bit from the Bible drifted to mind. It was something about restoring streets with dwellings. Having pumped what I could remember into BibleGateway.com something very exciting is coming into focus. The words I was thinking of come from a book called Isaiah. He was an Old Testament prophet, someone who told people what God was saying. They come from a chapter which starts off contrasting the religious performances we can be tempted to put on with the true acts of faith God is looking for.

“loose the chains of injustice...set the oppressed free...share your food with the hungry...provide the poor wanderer with shelter...when you see the naked, clothe him...do not turn away from your own flesh and blood”

The street I was walking down, the one where we live, is an interesting place. Many of its buildings are just bombed-out concrete skeletons housing unplanned assortments of trees and shrubbery. There are the semi-restored propert…

Not exactly a shopping spree!

We live in an environment that uses cash more than plastic, and one with an exchange rate of 2.5 of our new currency to our old one. That means on days like today you really notice how much you’re spending. I say ‘days’ but we haven’t had a day like today since we’ve arrived. We weren’t much in the habit of having them before we left and I don’t suppose we’ll have another like it in a long time. Today was the day when we spent the money we’d been putting aside to buy essential items for our new apartment. These purchases can be roughly summarised as a microwave – or ‘magnetron’ as a more exciting translation on the box declared! – a table and chairs, cleaning paraphernalia and food.

We visited six stores this afternoon, joined for most of it by Ben and Mirja. It was warm and we enjoyed clear blue skies as our trip took us south out of town. Mirja’s from the Arctic Circle and Ben’s from Wales; neither places famed for their good weather! They did some spending of their own, although no…

That's the way the cookie crumbles!

We welcomed our first visiting visitors to our new apartment tonight. The slightly awkward double ‘v’ is to distinguish them from our working visitors. Earlier in the day Budo, Ben and Claire helped us move our stuff down the hill. They deserve a big thank you for playing an invaluable part in what was a very smooth move. As far as I can tell nothing was lost or damaged! It was all over in a couple of hours. Perhaps it was the pent up desire of two months in boxes but we had everything we could unpack unpacked and installed in a new home before tea time. It was as we finished off our first home cooked meal in our new place that we heard someone calling our names!

Our visiting visitors, Mijra and Leah, burst through the door. Mijra ran from room to room making excited noises and say ‘oh my’ a lot. The apartment has high ceilings and is all painted white. The effect is to make an already spacious place seem even bigger. That said it is comfortably bigger than our house in England so it’s…

Jack and Jill went up a hill...for the last time!

Ok, so the title should read 'Matt and Rowan' but 'Jack and Jill' are more famous for their hill Rowan is hugely relieved that as of tomorrow we will be living on a flat road in a flat part of town. She's said more than once that she thought that walking up the steps and slopes to the place we've been living should have got easier over time. In her opinion it hasn't. It is fair to say it's good for the legs. I've appreciated it, as I've yet to find anywhere that seems sociably acceptable or safe enough to run. The safety issue centres around the quality of the running service rather than the vibe of the neighbourhoods.

Tomorrow the two Novi Most combis in Mostar will share our stuff between them as we descend for the last time. (Obviously, not really for the last time!) I will miss the view. That's all the more reason to get my bike up and running. It's been fantastic to get up in the morning and look out over the city. The light here is …

Doing good and dying for it.

I remember sitting in Sunday school as a little boy, learning what Christians refer to as ‘the fruits of the spirit’. Imagine the giant, hand-drawn tree on the wall. From its branches hang carefully coloured apples and bananas and the like. They’re named: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is what, we’re told, Christians should be like. The Bible says there is no law against these things! That bit always fascinated me. Here was something you could do and there was no way you could get into trouble for it.

Fast forward to yesterday’s news and I’m reading about Gayle Williams being gunned down in Kabul. She was about my age. Perhaps she looked at a similar tree in Sunday school and thought of living a life of helping others in a way that wasn’t against the law. She was certainly living that way when lawless people decided she had had to pay the ultimate price for ‘spreading Christianity’. Jesus went around doing good and heali…

Blowing a fuse...or not!

We visited Mostar in March this year. It was our reconnaissance trip. A time to see things and meet people we'd being working with. We also took the time to assess the shopping situation, noting what we saw stacked on the shelves of supermarkets. However, it was a causal comment that really stuck with Rowan. A Novi Most member mentioned her washing was still damp after five days hanging out to dry. Suddenly 'tumble drier' was indelibly written at the top of Rowan's must-take list. As our drier was old (read dispensable) we figured there was nothing to lose by putting it on the van.

Now we find we've rented an apartment that has a drier. This is a rare but welcome circumstance. Our spare appliance quickly acquired an eager new owner. So before it spun its last spin for us I thought I should replace it's trusty three-pin plug with a local two pin version. Plugs here can go in the socket either way up. They have an earth connector on both sides. That's strange …

But I thought that we'd given that up?

We went for coffee with a couple of new friends from the United World College in Mostar today. I mention this for two reasons. First, because this only happened because one of them saw this blog and sent us an email. I thought I should mark that occasion as a tribute to this technology. The second reason is they passed on an interesting analogy they'd been told that I'll take the liberty of retelling here!

United World College draws students from around the world, 200 in all from about 35 nations. Many of these find life in Bosnia Herzegovina very different from the country they've come from. One of our new friends was told by a student in the year above her that Mostar was like a cigarette. You don't like it the first time, but the more you have you become addicted!

That made me smile, partly because the amount of smoking that goes on here is one of the noticeable things we've had to adjust to, and partly because it made me think about just how we feel about being h…

Getting married over here!

Don't panic, this is not post announcing a Facebook-style change in our relationship status! It is a post that will attempt to create a picture that we've seen here a couple of time now; a cultural observation on local wedding celebrations. Earlier today on the west side of town we emerged from a grilled chicken joint - a cheap and cheerful place with very good chicken - to see a convoy of cars careering around the corner. It was a wedding procession. Let me outline the tell-tale signs. Horns are being honked not just repeatedly but unceasingly by all vehicles involved. Many cars will be sporting streamers and bows, particularly on their wing mirrors. At least one car will have an occupant waving a huge Croatian flag.Today however this procession took it one stage further. The passengers in the first four cars all had their windows down and were sitting on the doors, shouting, drinking and generally having a good time of it. I've never tried travelling like that but I imag…

The one in which one admits one's pretence!

On the day that the Queen visited Google's London office I thought it appropriate to come clean about our use of the 'royal we'! Those who know us well will doubtless have deduced that it is the Matt part of Matt & Rowan that keeps bashing in entries to this blog. As almost everything we've done here we've done together I (Matt) feel comfortable speaking for us. However, today Rowan took a trip I didn't so I have persuaded her to say a few words that are genuinely her own about it.

"We went to play games with Roma kids who live behind a supermarket on a rubbish dump. They were very friendly and affectionate and wanted to ask me lots of questions. It was a bit frustrating cos I couldn't understand everything they were saying and even when I could understand I didn't always know how to reply.

They were very dirty - especially their hands and feet. One girl decided she was hot and wanted to swim in the river so she found a piece of glass on the grou…

Welcome to our new neighbourhood!

This is just a quick glimpse at the area we'll be living in. It has plenty of trees, many of them inside the ruined buildings that are still an obvious part of the landscape.

I wonder what they think of this?

I'm munching on what appears to be a plastic replica of a Jaffa cake but I'll resist the temptation to type another food related blog. Instead I should report the good news that we signed a contract on an apartment today. This has been some time coming. We don't move till next week but this is another step in the right direction. When they say 'let patience have its perfect work' it's all to easy to equate patience to hanging on an hour or two. We're learning that an hour or two is nothing. Again, they say 'it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive' and I can see that if you live only for the destination there might not be a lot of living going on.

I love the movie Elizabethtown. In it there's phone conversation where one the main characters asks the other 'I've always wondered this: who are they?' The same question could be posed in this post. In the first instance they is James, the no-nonsense letter-writer from the Bible. He…

On the roads

So I'm driving here now. Today was my first time going solo. It wasn't quite fully-fledged freedom of the roads as I was following Claire in one of the other Novi Most combis, but I was on my own in my vehicle. We drove about twenty minutes out of town to leave one combi at a garage for servicing. That was the VW I drove out. I drove the Toyota on the way back. It really has seen better days. However, I managed to navigate my way around the vagaries of its gearbox and drive in a way the accommodated its painful lack of power. It wasn’t quite as bad as I’d been lead to believe, but it was close!

Half the roads around Mostar appear to be being resurfaced, or should I say they have been prepared for resurfacing. The scraped surface leaves drain covers protruding as unpleasant wheel-deforming devices. No, I didn't hit any! Potholes and other severe surface undulations, however, are almost unavoidable so it's often the case of literally having to take the rough with the smoo…

Beautiful Symmetry - starting where I left off!

Over the last couple of years I've played at a low-key event called Hub:live. All of those appearances were backing other singers as they meandered their way through stripped-back acoustic version of their songs, either behind a keyboard or on acoustic guitar. However, at my last Hub:live I was afforded the opportunity to play and sing a couple of my own songs. I closed the night with a song that is probably my trademark in the eyes of the artists I've played for. Beautiful Symmetry has one of the better choruses I've written - if I do say so myself!

Though the day is a mystery
At the tail end of history
Every bridge has been burned
At your promised return
No unfinished symphony
Just a beautiful symmetry
When I see who you are


I wasn't planning to jump up on stage so soon after arriving but in a bulk-out-the-numbers moment I ended up taking part in a talent show at the youth conference in Sarajevo this weekend. I didn't win - obviously, that wasn't going to happen! - b…

The safest cup of coffee ever!

Just watch the video and imagine what might have happened!

A treat for the taste buds

The taste buds are wonderful things. Unless they’ve been seared by extra hot pizza, or ceased to function out of sympathy with a blocked nose, they are a surprisingly accurate at detecting even the slightest changes in familiar food or drink. Which is why the familiar is sometimes not so familiar. Ever had the privilege of eating a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk from South Africa? It got a gritty, floury texture not found in its UK counterpart! My taste buds are telling me the Pepsi here is not the same as it is in England. Without the ability to conductive a side-by-side text I’ve taken their word for it.

To my rescue rides Cockta! Now Cockta’s not a brand I was familiar with. The Wikipedia entry starts helpfully: ‘Cockta is a soft drink from Slovenia. Its main ingredient comes from the dog rose berry’ Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? But, honestly, it is! I’ve drunk litres of the stuff and haven’t got sick of it yet. Translating the prominent sticker on the label today I discovered it doesn’t co…

About that extra mile you mentioned...

‘You’ve worked in media for too long, that was a proper slogan!’ screamed my correspondent in a recent email. I’d written about something I was hoping to see happen here and had obviously got a little carried away in the way I worded it. I like words, I enjoy playing with them. Used correctly words convey so much more than just the sentence they construct. One of the challenges of being here is not yet being fluent in the local language. I can construct simple sentences but they convey nothing more than the simple thought they contain.

But you can never escape the English language. Today I was walking past the Hotel Bristol when I suddenly noticed the writing across the top of the t-shirt on the bloke coming towards me: Go the extra mile, there’s always space ahead. Perhaps not the greatest phrasing but certainly a fantastic thought. If you’re prepared to go beyond the norm, beyond what most others are prepared to do, you are going to find the room to expand, space to express something…

Oh why, oh why...?

We wandered into a cafe late tonight; probably the nicest place we've had a drink in Mostar. However what caught my attention was the tune being piped at a discrete volume into the refined atmosphere.

'Sun is in the sky, oh why oh why, would I wanna be anywhere else?'

So why did a Lily Allen catch my attention? Two reasons. First, it's only by being out of the country that you realise what it means to say pop music is one of Britain's biggest exports. Tunes by bands that used to be just down the road from us pop up in the weirdest of places and I don't know if I totally approve!

The second reason is it reminded me of lunch today when Rowan and I sat outside a restaurant in the Stari Grad. The sun was high is the sky. A bright blue sky with just the slightest hint of wispy white clouds at its edges. Legions of French tourists poured past taking in the sites, while a small group of Germans got to grips with some ćevapi on the tables next to us. It was warm - hot, if…

Bring the noize

Tonight Klub Novi Most re-opened for the autumn. It was out first night. This was the acid test. Would we feel completely out of our depth; would we struggle to connect? The answer is, of course, no! Young people are young people and despite not understanding the banter we could communicate enough to exchange names and play games. Ligretto is a favourite here. I'd never played it but was soon up to speed, although not winning enough as I'd have liked!

So why the title? Well, it was noisy; youth clubs always are. But during the entertainment section it got really noisy. The floor was covered in pieces of A4 paper with a letter of the alphabet on it. On the count 'tri, četiri, sada' the young people had to rush across the room pick up a piece of paper and be the first to reach the staff member on the far side, shouting a word starting with the letter on the paper. Their eagerness necessitated the cry 'uz za zid, ziiid...ziiiiiiiiid!' (The i's are pronounced li…

The wonders, and shortfalls, of e-communication

It's hard to imagine what moving to another country would have been like in an age before mobile telecommunications and the internet. The distance, the time delays in messages and the chance that you might be somewhere so remote you were completely cut off from the outside world. (People pay good money for that kind of solitude these days.) We've found the adjustments of settling into a new environment much eased by being able to chat to parents and friends on Skype. In fact we've been in contact with friends and family around the world about our move. Then there's this: the blog. Who knows where you're reading it?

But for all the wonders of modern technology these electronic communications have a drawback. There's no e-equivalent of walking into a room and refusing to leave until you get what you came for! I have a situation where something borrowed from me before I left the UK was not returned. I've left an answer phone message: no reply. Text message: no …

Things we may or may not miss!

Sooner or later we will not be living up the side of a rather steep hill. On the hot sunny afternoons we've toiled back up to base this week that's sounded like a very welcome change. However, a lofty perch has its perks. The early morning views are fantastic, as are some of the sunsets. When it rains rivers cascade past the house. Not great if you have to go out but fascinating to watch if you don't!

Now, it's usually quicker on the way down - but not this morning. Here is a video that shows why. Let it be something of a memorial to all the climbing up and down we've done.

Do you recognise this?

Image
Over the last couple of weeks Rowan and I have spent hours wandering the streets of Mostar trying to get our bearings. We've visited the four malls, sat in cafes and restaurants, run the gauntlet of pedestrian crossings and traversed the Neretva more times than we can remember. In one long walk through the tall apartment blocks that inhabit some much of the west side we chanced upon a strange, unfamiliar site.

The picture does not show a rubber ball in some crazed state of decay. Rather it is a fruit. We know that much from watching two pigeons pulling one apart. We poked one or two ourselves. The pavement was littered with them, with more still clinging to the overhanging tree. Perhaps we're being particularly ignorant but this doesn't look like any fruit we've seen before. And therein lies today's lesson: fruit is still fruit, whether we recognise it or not. I look forward to discovering exactly what I photographed and to seeing what the 'fruit' of our lab…

The Joys and Perils of Learning Language!

An update on our progress learning language out here. The lessons have been intense experiences but they're starting to work!

Say cheese!

I've always found shopping in other countries an exciting experience. In the days before the Euro you'd grapple with exchange rates and confusing currencies and pray you were getting a bargain. I will always be slightly disappointed that we fell just a few thousand Lira short of spending a million in cash on our honeymoon in Italy! Bosnia Herzegovina may not yet be in the EU but its currency, the Konvertible Mark (KM) is pegged to the Euro. As I write there are about 2.5KM to the pound.

Some things here are so cheap compared to the UK it's almost embarrassing, others are not. Second-hand cars do not depreciate in the same way. But eating out is cheap, even when it's expensive by Bosnian standards. A slice of cheesecake at Sarajevo's most expensive cafe was 4.90KM; significantly less than London prices. Two people can easily get a good lunch for the cost of one McDonalds. Bosnia Herzegovina joins Armenia, Albania and the Vatican City as the only European countries wi…

Getting it wrong!

One thing I'm learning, or perhaps not learning well enough, is to steer clear of categorical statements when it comes to life in Bosnia Herzegovina. Matters political, historical and even geographical are best broached as broad questions on the understanding that unexpected or contradictory answers are likely. Much depends on who you talk to. Retelling these conversations should be done with care.

Hence the title of this post. For today it is after contacting a 'realtor, letting agency or estate agent' that we appear to have found ourselves an apartment! I leave that statement broad and slightly inconclusive as a testament to my learning. We cannot move in immediately, the landlord needs to prepare one or two things first, so we have to wait about three weeks. They do say you shouldn't count your chickens! Other than the wait the apartment is all good news. A nice size and a great location: I've never lived next door to a prison before!

In other 'getting it wron…