Tuesday, February 28, 2012


When I was learning the local language, I had a couple of language teachers or "uciteljica", but I would call them "muciteljica" which is not really a word in the language, but comes from the word for "torturer" and is quite appropriate at times! I was reminded tonight of that word, as I was now the "muciteljica": I gave my beginners English class a test and although they generally love me, I think I was generally hated tonight... but it has to be done!! I also tried to make sure they couldn't really cheat, by giving different tests to people sitting next to each other...Especially as we were sitting one on top of the other: and even though they tried hard to get me to leave them so they could copy from each other, I wasn't having any of it!

People here do tend to try to cheat more than I am used to: I am reminded of the story from a friend of mine who was teaching English here. She took a local friend and a fellow American along to help her with the invigilating of the test. The local friend saw a girl using a cheat sheet (of irregular verbs) and she just turned a blind eye. The American friend however saw her as well and called the teacher over and the cheat sheet was taken away... The local friend went up to the student afterwards to commiserate with her. But the student assured her that she didn't have to worry about it, as she had two more cheat sheets with her, so she hadn't missed the one taken away!!!

The test is not only to show how much I taught them on the last course, which ended in December - but also to set a benchmark for the one we started tonight, so it was necessary! And I just want to know how much they have learnt (or haven't, depending) and so I did try to stop the cheating as much as I could... I still haven't marked the tests, but am looking forward to how they did...I am pretty sure they did better than they thought!

Monday, February 27, 2012

11 years ago...

I arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zenica to be exact, just over 11 years ago. I still can't believe I have been here that long... I know that I wouldn't have come and definitely wouldn't have stayed if it hadn't been because I believed in a God who had a greater plan for my life that included me coming to this out of the way strange place and learning this language and falling in love with the people and the place and remaining way beyond my original two years...

I was looking through some old journals which I wrote way back then and today's date 11 years ago had this written on it:
Psalm 33:17-18 "A horse is a vain hope for deliverance, despite all its strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love." It is beyond me to be here. I really can't do it. There is too much for me to cope with - if I rely on myself or on "a horse". If I hope in You Lord and put my trust in You - then You will do it - Your eye is on me. You will take care of it all. Help me to hope and trust in You.

It is a LOT easier now than then in terms of language - at that stage I was still at the "Hello. My name is Belinda. I am learning your language and this is all I know" stage. This meant that when I went out I would say this little collection of sentences to people so they knew I knew something, but not to jabber away at me when I didn't understand anything else. And every day I would add a sentence: "Hello. My name is Belinda. I am from South Africa. I am learning your language and this is all I know." Next day:  "Hello. My name is Belinda. I am from South Africa, and no I am NOT black! I am learning your language and this is all I know." (yes, everyone here thinks I should be BLACK if I am from Africa!). I still have people who come up to me now whom I knew then and say "well look at you now, and to think I knew you when all you could say was 'and this is all I know'!!"

Over the years, I went from the "this is all I know" to the "obviously foreigner" to the "retarded": that is another whole story...  I was once told by my lovely housemate (Ljilja) that I needed to tell people I was a foreigner. She told me that my language was soooo good that no one ever twigged I was a foreigner, but they all looked at me as if I was slightly retarded, or had a speech impediment... Up until she said that I thought I was doing well, but then my fear became "will they think I am retarded???"  However, when other foreigners heard this, they became jealous and they were all wanting to be taken for a retarded Bosnian rather than the obvious foreigner!! This became the new sought after language level!

Now, when I need to get something done that requires tricky language I do take Ljilja's advice and tell them that I am a foreigner, but that I think I can manage in the language, and of course this usually ends up getting me a compliment on my language skills :-) Otherwise I can usually stay under cover and most people don't even realise that they had dealings with a foreigner: Luckily I manage to blend in quite well...

But it is still not easy... I am still having to rely on the Lord every day. I need to put my hope and my trust in Him and not in myself or in any other "horse". And His unfailing love is with me every day, helping me to be in this place and love the people He has placed in my way. I really do want to give Him the glory and the honour and the praise for giving me the strength to remain and learn this language and be here in this lovely place where He has put me! 11 years and counting!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chinese food

Ljilja and I were invited over for Chinese food at a friend's house today. Unfortunately he had to postpone as they had workmen in the house...(looking forward to it when it does happen!) So, instead, Ljilja and I decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal at the Banja Luka Chinese/Italian/Bosnian restaurant "Marco Polo". Yes, it is quite clever as it has food from Italy (where Marco Polo is from) and China (where he went) and as it is situated in Bosnia, also has local delicacies. It is far too much choice, but it was easier as we went for the Chinese food: I had sweet and sour chicken and Ljilja had the very spicy chicken (and lots of water) and it was all very good! 

I was reminded of a story of Chinese food that a friend who worked in Romania told me a while back: He took a team of Romanians to a Chinese restaurant to help them have a cross-cultural experience. It turned out the waiter was a friend of one of the Romanians. The Romanians ordered their food and asked the waiter if he could bring them some bread with their meal (in the Balkans, everything is eaten with bread and no one can imagine eating a meal without bread). So he thought that his hopes for a cross cultural experience were completely dashed when the waiter said that of course he would bring them bread... However, he needed to trust the waiter! When the food came, the waiter also brought a bowl of rice, put it on the table and said, "In China, THIS is the bread.". Love it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Back in Banja Luka

Just over 2 weeks, 1 amazing conference, going to (or through) 4 countries, sleeping in 7 different beds, 9 days of travelling between the different places, visiting friends I haven't seen in ages and spending (a great) time with family. I travelled on buses, coaches, trams, the tube, trains, mountain trains (in Switzerland!), cars, cars in trains (channel tunnel!), airplanes and even a punt on the river Cam! I am now safely back in Banja Luka and not planning on going anywhere for a while :-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Newcastle and Cambridge

As I was already coming to the UK for a conference, I decided to visit friends as well: in Newcastle and Cambridge. I flew from Switzerland to Newcastle, where I stayed with old friends Fiona and Rod and their daughter, Megan. I had a great time visiting with them and also spent a day with another friend, Alison. Here are Fiona and I with little "dog" Megan. (We went to a kind of children's museum where they do face-painting!):
Here is a close-up of the little doggie... so cute! 
And here is her impression of me: after I had travelled all day it must be said! Not a bad drawing for a seven-year old!
I then travelled on the bus to the lovely city of Cambridge. I started with my sister in Oxford and ended up in Cambridge - not bad! I was visiting my friends Trevor and Carol, their daughter Anna and their son (who is actually my Godson), Christopher. They are in Cambridge because Trevor is studying to be a Vicar (Church of England)! We had a great weekend: including a punt on the River Cam. The sun came out, so it was very pretty, but it was also pretty chilly. Here is Trevor punting with me and Anna:
 I love this shot of Carol and Christopher:
 Even I gave it a go (admittedly, not for long!)

There were some lovely views along the river: including the famous "bridge of sighs":

And lastly, Carol showing her skills - such a lovely photo of the whole family:
I leave tomorrow to visit some more friends in London and then fly out on Tuesday back to reality!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I was supposed to be spending the weekend in London with my friends from South Africa, the Bennetts. It was a clever plan - go to the YWAM conference and then spend the weekend with them. Then, they realised that Sarah would be in Switzerland already at a work conference and their oldest two (twins, Katherine and Jonathan) had a half-term holiday, so why not meet Sarah in Switzerland. But it was "my" weekend: so they wrote and asked if I could either swop weekends or come along on the trip... I tried to switch weekends, but it didn't work out. I also thought in the end that Dave driving to Switzerland with 3 kids by himself wasn't a good plan, and so decided to go along with them! So, suddenly my UK trip turned into a Swiss adventure...

We were staying in Wiesen which is near Davos up in the mountains... The hotel was a "Kinder Hotel" so there was childcare and it was very child friendly, which meant Dave and Sarah could go skiing as much as they wanted. The kids are also taken to ski school in the mornings, and have a great time the rest of the day with lots of fun activities. I went the one day to see some YWAM friends who work in Davos and had a great time with them. After that I then met up with Dave and Sarah for hot chocolate (after they ski-ed most of the day) in this place: (and this photo is also proof that we were in Davos :-)
When we got to the hotel the first day they had managed to give me my own room (originally I was going to be in the room with them) at the same price, so that meant I actually had a bit of a holiday as well. But I did get to spend a lot of time with the kids, as we used my room as a hang-out (and I had a bath which they could use for the kids-as opposed to the shower in their room): Here is Katherine with little brother, Matthew:
And here again with twin brother, Jonathan:love this pic!
This was the view from my balcony... Awesomeness...
And a little pic from the village of Wiesen: idyllic...
It has to be said that it was very cold (like between -20 and -10), but it was still quite enjoyable, as long as you wrapped up WELL. This last photo is also in Davos, showing the lovely Swiss cow and some of the Jakobshorn ski run in the background... 
The trip was full of new experiences: We went through the Channel tunnel on the way there; I went through Heathrow terminal 5 on the way back; I travelled on Swiss trains in the snow; and  experienced the beauty of Davos and Wiesen. So, despite the fact that it took us two days to drive there and then a day for me to get back to Newcastle in the UK, and I was only in Switzerland for 2 days, I am glad I went on the epic Swiss adventure (and thanks to Dave and Sarah for taking me and paying my way!!!).

YWAM conference in London.

I am in England to attend the biennial (i.e. every other year) called the WELC (Western European Leadership Consultation). As I am classified as from the Central European region of Youth with a Mission they invited us who work there to come to the conference and share our stories and network with the (many more) people who work in Western Europe. Just to put things in perspective - this conference which was just for leaders in Western Europe had more people than we have working in the entire Central European region. Central Europe is from Poland to Greece and the former Yugoslavia to Romania, so it covers a vast region, but we have about 150 workers there, where as there are about 1500 in Western Europe. 

It was a great time of catching up with old friends, making new ones and networking with people from across Western Europe. I also really enjoyed getting back to my YWAM roots a bit and remembering why I went to Bosnia in the first place all those years ago. My favourite thing was also when I told people I have been in Bosnia for 11 years: just seeing the expressions on people's faces that someone in a short-term organisation like YWAM has been working in one place for so long!!

On the last day we even had a "speed dating" kind of networking session where each person from Central Europe got to sit with 5-6 people and talk about what they do and what they can offer for 5 minutes, then the bell rang (or in our case the trumpet sounded!) and the group of people moved on to the next person... and so on numerous times...so, I got to share about Bosnia in a small group setting with over 30 people. So, I am really glad I got to be at the conference, and I am hopeful that some good fruit will come out of the conference in the long term.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Snow day in the You-Kay!

So, I didn't really bring all that much snow with me, but it was enough to have some snow-fun! Amy and made a little snowman outside the front of the house: 
This was while James (a chorister at Magdalen College) was practising for the service which Astrid and I went to later. It is pretty cool for him to be part of this choir whose tradition dates back to 1480! Here I am after the service in the college with James in his winter chorister's cape: Looking very staid and well-behaved...
But just moments before, he along with the other choristers were enjoying some of the delights of snow... a snowball fight:
After a lovely lunch, we went up to Blenheim Palace gardens to go sledding... Astrid got a sled for her 40th birthday (in September 2010) and there hadn't been enough snow since then until now! Here she is (James is on THE sled, the others on little hand-held ones) with the kids going for a sled...
And I love this shot of James and Amy in it: (great shot Dave!)
Below is David getting in on the act... me acting as official photographer :-)

And here is a shot of me at the bottom of the hill, after coming down on one of the hand-held "sleds": Proof that I did do some sledding (even if it was just once at the end!!):
We definitely made the most of the snow today!!!

Saturday, February 04, 2012


I managed to make it to the UK, despite the huge amount of snow that fell in Banja Luka on Friday (and which is still falling in Bosnia - leading to a state of emergency in Sarajevo). And it seems that I brought it with me here... much to my nephew and niece's delight!

We went to go sliding on the frozen Port Meadow (it is usually a field, but the flood from the rain froze over... very cool!): And we weren't the only ones having fun:
 Here we are in the middle of the "ice rink":
 James and Amy making "snow angels" out for the snow:
And us posing for my sister:
I will be at my sister's in Oxford until Monday when I head to London for a conference...

Thursday, February 02, 2012

On my way again: UK here I come!

I just got back to Banja Luka two weeks ago, and yet I am already on my way out again tomorrow. Yes, I know: what was I thinking?!! I leave tomorrow for England where I will be attending a YWAM conference next week and visiting my sister and family and other friends for another week, coming back on Shrove Tuesday, the 21st of February. 
It has been two years or even longer since I saw some of these friends, so I am looking forward to catching up (and seeing how big the kids have gotten!). I am also looking forward to going to "warmer" climes as the high has been below freezing for over a week now and looks to continue. Now, I just hope the snow they have been threatening us with for two days will not affect the bus taking me to Zagreb or stop the easyjet plane from taking off tomorrow.

I was debating about taking my laptop along as the battery has died, and so it has to be plugged in (which when travelling is kind of hard). I had the brainwave to look at new batteries on Amazon and found a really reasonably priced one, so took the chance that it would arrive in time and ordered it... and good old "3-5 days delivery" came in 2 days, so it is already there waiting, YAY!

But then Ljilja's comment on this got me thinking: In the UK and elsewhere, they will tell you that it will take longer and you are then pleasantly surprised when it arrives earlier... but here they will say it will take 2 days so you feel good about ordering it and then make excuses if it is late. And this is true of many things here: people tell you what you want to hear to make you feel happier and then make excuses when it doesn't turn out that way in reality.

A classic example is when they don't know the way to somewhere, when you ask them for directions, but they will make up something or pretend that they do just so they can look like they have helped you... A couple of people on my scavenger hunts for new teams have got really lost because someone said "it is just down there" pointing in completely the wrong direction!

Culture is strange, and truth is often relative: other than where it matters... the truth that God created us, loves us and longs to have a relationship with us never changes. It remains true that He sent His Son to this earth to live and die and that we look forward to Easter when we celebrate that He also rose again and lives forever to intercede for us on the right side of the Father in Heaven... that truth never changes no matter what culture we find ourselves in...
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