Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas crackers and funny hats...

Having grown up in an English-speaking family in South Africa, part of our Christmas tradition was the very British Christmas crackers and wearing of funny hats. I discovered the hard way my first Christmas in Bosnia that Christmas crackers and funny hats were not a universal tradition among English-speaking people... I kind of expected it from the Bosnians, but not from the Americans with whom I spent that first Christmas: I mean, they used to be British too! The next time I made sure to bring the crackers and the hats to show them and the Bosnians, and I have been introducing people to them ever since.

I brought six crackers back with me from South Africa, and so I decided to have a small dinner with my friends, Tanja and Aleksandar, and their two girls, Marina and Ana. Aco worked for the British army when they were stationed here, and so they had actually seen them before! To my great pleasure they were delighted by the crackers, and even humoured me and wore the hats throughout dinner (you can see the holdout on the left who never wears them...maybe one day!)
And inside the crackers were some fun gifts, including, to Ana's delight, a lovely stick-on moustache:
It was a fun Christmas eve dinner, and tomorrow, Ljilja and I will be enjoying the leftovers for Christmas dinner! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Party!

Yesterday we had our annual Children's Christmas party. Most of the children are in our sponsorship project (and their siblings), and we also include other children dear to us! Here we all are at the beginning of the program:
The first song was led by a special band. My colleague, Rami, has been teaching two of the sponsorship kids how to play instruments: Bojan on the drums (and he is really good!)
And Bojana on the bass - below left, with one of Rami's daughters - Claudia - on the guitar.
Then it was our turn to lead the next two songs: And we are as Ljilja called us "an international band" as Henri (on drums), his wife, Suvi (on piano) and Rami (on bass guitar) are all from Finland, and, of course, me on guitar from South Africa! 
Then it was the turn of our youth to act out the Christmas play: which they did really well. And well done to Rami and his wife, Katja-Maaria, for the staging: for instance: the fire actually flickers - Rami did an amazing job with the sets, and Katja-Maaria with the costumes and props!
Here is the whole team: from Prijedor and Banja Luka (and they did the same play in Prijedor and Sanski Most for their Christmas parties!) Well done everyone! (I love Maria's nail polish!)
Then it was time to hand out the packages: Here is Ljilja with Bojana, one of our sponsorship children and her little sister.
 And all of the children showing off their packages!!
It really was a great program, and I think everyone enjoyed it!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Sveti Nikola/Saint Nicholas

Yesterday was Nikoljdan, which celebrates the life of Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas): He is the same Saint Nicholas from Turkey who became known as Santa Claus (or in my case, being South African, "Father Christmas"). Sveti Nikola, like his Dutch counterpart, Sinterklaas, is also a favourite of children, because he leaves presents for them in the shoes/stockings laid out for him... He is celebrated almost two weeks later than his Dutch self, due to the discrepancy between Gregorian and Julian calenders (which is also the reason Christmas is in January here).
Nikoljdan is one of the main "slava's" here in the Republic of Srpska. A "slava" is a Saint's day celebration which is a custom only found in Serbian Orthodoxy. I still remember wondering what this strange things called a "slava" was - there are some traditions that are carried out, but basically it is an excuse to gather together with family and friends, eat a lot and (usually) drink even more, and mostly God and the specific saint aren't really remembered...but not always...some families do take it very seriously! Now as I said, Sveti Nikola is one of the big ones, so yesterday it was a ghost town downtown - people are either hosting their own "slava" or going to someone else's!

Nikoljdan also happens to fall during the Christmas "post" (fast) which is the 40 days leading up to Christmas and like for Lent, the Orthodox believers do not partake in animal products (meat, dairy, eggs). So, being during this time, the "slava" should be "posna" (or with only 'fasting food'). This means that if you are invited to one of the meals, you better like fish - because you will get a LOT of it! Fish soup, stuffed cabbage with smoked fish (which is actually really good!), smoked fish, fried fish, baked fish, crumbed fish - you get the idea! It is also amazing for me that during a 'fast' you can still overeat - especially with wonderful Bosnian hosts saying, "Eat more! Come on, you haven't eaten anything! Look there is so much left...etc, etc ..."

Ljilja and I are privileged this year to celebrate with 3 different friends (luckily on 3 different days - as the "slava's" last for up to 3 days), so it is a good thing we like fish!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trip around the world...

I am so appreciative of the wonderful volunteers which I have for the Book Club at the Children's Home. It is a project that works really well because we have a group of dedicated and lovely volunteers who come every week to be with the kids. So, I decided to organise a lovely evening to show how much I appreciate them! Almost all of them could come tonight and we all enjoyed a fun evening of hanging out together and enjoying LOTS of fantastic food...
I decided that we would go on a "trip around the world" - using recipes I have picked up from all over the place: starting top right in Finland with the "Joulutortut" (a pinwheel star filled with jam) and going anti-clockwise to South Africa with my unbaked oat cookies (which I learnt to make when I was 4-5), two muffins from the US (one healthy, the other healthier:), and ending up in Australia with the pinwheel pizzas (which are in this case round). Yes, I baked up a storm, but I had fun doing it!
As part of showing my appreciation (and being volunteers for a "Book club"), I gave them a nice present of the best-selling book in the world: Here we are with our Bibles:
 And then we had to show our true selves: Did I already say that I love this group?
We really had a great trip around the world - I love that showing my appreciation can be so much fun!

St Nicholas Day show

Today was the Children's Home's "priredba" (show) for St Nicholas. It was a wonderful show with poems, plays, songs and dances and a lot of our book club kids were involved. We also started practicing a play which we wanted to do with them, but the staff in the home forgot that we had said we would do that for this, so we will now do it in January instead for St Savo (to give them grace it was discussed in September and I didn't mention again to them until 2 weeks ago, so my bad! The kids were slightly disappointed, but in the end it will be good to do it for that "priredba" instead.)

Above is the end performance with all the teachers and kids singing a holiday song. There was a lot of people there, but my favourite part was seeing how excited the children were to see that Tanja, Natasha and I were there too! I love those kids! Many of them go now to Italy for a month to spend time with families there (through an Italian organisation) and so book club is on a hiatus until February...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Learning to write...

The local language (more or less the same language, but called Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian depending on who you are speaking to) can be written in two scripts. The more familiar "Latin" script and the less familiar (for us, at least) "Cyrillic". The Croatian and Bosnian variants are generally written in Latin, while the Serbian (which is the one spoken where I live) is more frequently written in Cyrillic.

Before the war, the schooling system taught one week in Cyrillic, and one week in Latin, but now there is less equality, although they do teach both variants. In the Republic of Srpska the Cyrillic is taught first, so the younger kids read and write in Cyrillic first, before moving on to the Latin. The opposite is true in the Federation part of the country, where they teach Latin first, and then move on to the Cyrillic later.

All this to say that working with young children in a reading club has meant I had to bone up on my Cyrillic so I could read along with them or to them. So my reading of Cyrillic is pretty good, but I never had the need to write in Cyrillic. Although the script for any official documents is Cyrillic in this part of the country, these can be typed, so I can get away with typing (which I can do), and I can write my name, and that is about it.

But, when I was writing the cards for the kids in the Book Club, I knew that most of the younger kids can't read in Latin yet, so it had to be done in Cyrillic, and so I typed them up and stuck them in the cards for them. But it was so impersonal, and it really made me want to be able to WRITE in Cyrillic. So, I borrowed some books from the library to teach myself how to write Cyrillic:
"Učim da pišem" (I learn to write) and "Radna sveksa za početno pisanje" (Workbook for starting to write). And I don't know who is more excited - me or the children from the Home that Aunty Belinda is finally going to learn how to write :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bibles and Atlases!

Last night we finished up the Book Club at the Children's Home for this year... We started off by making cards for their teachers or our volunteers (or me!) and had a great time - so great that they mostly didn't want to stop at the end :)

Unfortunately, as a lot of the older kids have dropped out, we have lost half of the kids, so we only have 10 kids left in the book club, and as last night almost all of our 14 volunteers came along, I had the best problem I could have - too many volunteers! I love having that problem :) We were joined by some of the younger kids and so it balanced out in the end. I didn't manage to get any pictures, but take my word for it, these kids love cutting and pasting and drawing, so the cards were great, they had fun, and so did our volunteers! 

We ended the evening by giving the children prizes... as we are a BOOK Club, the prizes were in the form of books. This was a little disappointing at first to some of the kids who were expecting what they get at the end of the school year - a package with sweets and chocolates, etc, but they mostly got over it as the books are great!

The books were either Children's Bibles or Atlases. The Atlases were prizes for the kids who got Bibles when we gave them two years ago - the rest of the kids are either new or were too young then to get them. The Bibles were a donation, and as we have zero money for this project, I needed to get some nice books for the others at a cheap price: and the Atlases were 75% off as they were slightly damaged :) I wanted to get books that were at least equally good as the Bibles, so the ones with the "other book" wouldn't be jealous, but in the end it was almost the other way round!

I also wrote each of the children a little card to go with the book with words of encouragement for them. This was something I always planned to do, but with having 20 kids in the club it was too daunting, but with less kids, I finally decided to make it happen... so something good came of the mass exodus! It really hit the spot with some of the kids: which was the point!

And at the end I took a couple of pictures (the kids without books are not in the Book Club - either too young or have dropped out) and this one is my favourite: crazy!
Next year we will try something different with the older kids to draw them back into the fold... but even with the 10 younger kids we have a great time!!

Monday, December 09, 2013

My "other" sister is visiting...

It has been a while since Ljilja, (my housemate)'s sister, Sladjana, came to visit us in Banja Luka (last time was two years ago) and so when our friend's husband was coming back from Trebinje, we told her to pack her bags and come with him the next day! It all came about so quickly that she didn't have time to change her mind (which is what usually happens...) "Our" mom, Ankica, still managed to make about 5 meals in the morning before she left, which Sladja brought with her :) [I am officially the third daughter in this family!]

It has been great having her to stay, not just because of the food she brought (which was great!), nor because while we have been working, she has been systematically cleaning our whole house (did I mention that we love Sladja?), but just because she is fun to have around :)

She has been here for over a week already and we aren't ready to let her go yet... We finally managed to get a picture this afternoon in downtown Banja Luka (in front of the Earthquake memorial). And yes, that is the sun setting at 3.45pm - December is NOT my favourite time of year, and that is why we love having her here to brighten up our dark evenings!!
Talking about brightening up dark evenings. On Friday I decided it was time that the Christmas tree went up...
And it is also helping to brighten up our lives, as we spend this season remembering that "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world." (John 1:9)

Friday, December 06, 2013

Rest in Peace Madiba...

I woke up this morning to the sad news that Nelson Mandela has passed away... It is an immensely sad day for South Africa, and indeed the world. I never got to meet him, but I did have my photo taken of a beaded artwork with him last time I was in South Africa:
When I heard about his passing, it brought back memories of the feeling I had the day after the first elections held in 1994, where all South Africans could vote for the first time (and it was also my first time to vote!). It was a strange feeling - I didn't know I had been feeling guilty for growing up a "privileged" white South African until that day when I realised that I no longer felt the guilt. Suddenly, we were all equals, able to vote and live in freedom. It was a feeling of release for me from something I didn't even realise I was feeling until it was gone. It was like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders and I could look all of my fellow South Africans in the eyes as equals. It was a great feeling!

Nelson Mandela was the reason we all could live in the "New" South Africa, learning what it is like to live together in freedom without hate towards one another. It was this feeling of release that I hope to share with others around the world - and one of the main reasons I find myself living in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Letting go of bitterness, anger and hatred is necessary to move forward, and so is letting go of guilt. I pray that Nelson Mandela's legacy will live on as we seek to make this world a better place. This is something only possible with God's help, and I pray that He will give us the strength to forgive and let go and move forward in a way that would make Tata proud.

Rest in peace Madiba, we will continue what you started...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Crvenkapa" (Little Red Riding Hood)

As a prize for being good members of the book club, Tanja and I took 10 children from the Children's Home to the a new (and very different) production of "Little Red Riding Hood". It was put on by the Banja Luka City Theatre "Jazavac" and big thanks goes to them for making this outing possible, as they gave us the tickets for all of us for free. Afterwards we even got to hang out with the 4 actors on the stage! We tried to get a group picture - but as anyone who has ever tried to get a group picture of kids knows, it is really hard: not even all of the actors are looking!
And then we chatted to the different characters: The policeman:
 There was actually a wolf, but he was quite nice and not too scary:
 And "Crvenkapa" was very sweet:
 As was the "Rabbit":
During the play, the kids were all looking out for the grandmother and the woodcutter or hunter, but they didn't show up... it was a very different production, but very well done! At the end all of them got a lovely packet (as part of a children's savings account promotion) of presents: including a CD of all the songs from the show, which were great!  

For some of the children it was their first time to the theatre, and I wish I could have taken a picture of their faces while they were watching the show! All of them loved the show and wanted to know when we would be coming again :) And I must admit my heart is full... it was a lovely outing for them and I am so glad we could make it happen!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Last Oral Hygiene Workshop

We completed the oral hygiene workshop tonight. The 4 weeks went by very quickly and tonight we finished off with a great exercise: sticking pictures of different foods onto two teeth...the food that is good for teeth on the blue one and the food that is bad for teeth on the yellow one. And one thing we know about these kids is that they certainly LOVE sticking things!!
Tanja had cut out all the little pictures in advance (from shop advertisements) and they had to then work out which food went on which tooth... which was good way for them to get the right idea about what foods to eat and what to try and avoid! And the best part is that it is now up in their living room to remind them of what they have learnt!
We ended off by giving them all new toothbrushes and toothpaste, and diplomas for taking part:
A HUGE thanks to Tanja who organised everything and did all of the presenting. I just brought all the stuff we needed and did little things like making the diplomas...but on the whole, Nataša and I were just there for crowd control :) We had a fun four weeks with them, and we know they definitely learnt some things about teeth and taking care of teeth, so it was definitely worth it!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ćevapi in Baščaršija

After a lovely 3 days at home in Banja Luka, on Friday it was time to get in the car again and travel to Sarajevo. Ljilja and I had a training day on Saturday (for Operation Christmas Child by Samaritan's Purse - the shoebox packages) and I needed to have a couple of meetings with people, so we decided to make a weekend of it. The training was good and we got to meet some new people and renew relationships with old friends, so it was a fun time altogether.

And of course I didn't get many photos - but we did managed to get to Baščaršija (Sarajevo Old Town) to have ćevapi with kajmak: (meat sausage "fingers" with salty clotted cream): other than hanging out with the people we got to hang out with - this was definitely the highlight!
I was reminded of my first time in Sarajevo in 1999 where I also had ćevapi in Baščaršija, and at the time I was thinking "what is so great about this?" but I have really come to appreciate it, and even long for it when I am not in the country! Especially when it is paired with the "kajmak" - these Bosnians aren't that crazy after all!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hekwap? Pectopah?

When I first moved to Banja Luka in 2003, and encountered this logo - it was obviously "Hekwap", which is quite a funny name for beer...
And when first travelling through Bosnia and encountering a sign like this:
I immediately asked what does "PECTOPAH" mean? 

This is the funny side of Cyrillic script. The above examples are written in Cyrillic and below are clues to what they are actually in "Latin" script:

 Yes, Nektar is a better name for a beer and it makes more sense that it is "restoran". It is deceptive as there are no "classic" Cyrillic letters (well the "w" has a line above it in the Nektar, but your brain sees it as a "w" if you let it) which give away that it is anything other than our traditional "Latin" script.

Here the language can be written in both: the Serbian variant relies more on the Cyrillic, whereas the Croatian and Bosnian variants rely on the Latin. All three are essentially variations of what used to be called "Serbo-Croatian" and there are just a few dialectal differences between the three... so I can actually speak 5 languages  - English, Afrikaans, Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian!

Working with the children at the home has meant I needed to beef up my Cyrillic as although they are taught both scripts, the one the learn first (and do better at) is the Cyrillic. I still don't really write it very well - reading I am much better at - which causes great hilarity when "Teta Belinda" is worse then they are in writing... Anything to boost their confidence!

Luckily I can get mostly away with Latin script when writing in the local language as older people generally don't have a problem between the two - so much so that they sometimes don't even realise when something is in Cyrillic. And I knew that my language was getting really good when I sometimes find myself reading the Cyrillic and not realising it until afterwards! But not always, and handwritten gets me every time...

But there you go, that is the story of Hekwap and Pectopah... and tomorrow Ljilja and I go to CAPAJEBO... I still remember when my colleague asked (after seeing it on a sign) where CAPAJEBO was? (and in case you can't guess, it is the Cyrillic for Sarajevo!)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Last English Conversation Class...for 2013

After 6 weeks of classes, and 16 students who started with us, 8 students gained their diplomas (by attending 5 out of the 6 classes). Here I am with 6 of them...
We had a great discussion tonight about superstitions: here they really have a lot of superstitions... like don't put your bag on the floor as you won't have any money. Or don't sit in the cross breeze/draft or else you will die. Or go out with wet hair (even in summer!) or else you will die. We were talking about the difference between tradition (which is usually good and has a good reason, which has usually been forgotten) and superstition (which sometimes comes from tradition, but you do it in fear of having something happen to you if you don't do it).

For example a tradition is knocking on wood (did you know where that comes from? - it is actually to remind the evil spirits of the wooden cross, so it is a tradition I kind of like). However, if you start knocking on wood in fear that something bad might happen if you don't do it, then it becomes superstition... see the difference? Well, it hopefully made them think a bit!

And we ended off as usual with a lateral thinking puzzle - this time it was:
Can you work it out? No googling it! It took the group about 5 minutes (with a little help from me). It is a goodie!

Herzegovina (and Montenegro)

Finding a time when my housemate, Ljilja, and I are free at the same time long enough to go visit her family is quite hard. In fact we had earmarked this weekend ages ago as a time to go. Then I forgot about it, and was supposed to go to Hungary for a meeting - but I decided as it was 3 years since I had visited my "other" family, it was time to go and visit!! (and skip the meetings in Hungary - sorry guys!)

She comes from Trebinje, which is in the south of  the country or "Herzegovina". If you wondered why it is Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are actually two parts to the country - the northern part (where we live) called Bosnia and the southern part called Herzegovina. It is about a 5-6 hour drive there so we took a long weekend (Friday to Monday) to make it worthwhile to go that long way.
 
It was a great weekend of hanging out with Ljilja's friends and her family - way too short though!  Her mom made us LOTS of food (with help from her dad who went to buy it!), and her sister made me loads of cups of tea...and they all generally made us feel like royalty... I could get used to this :)

As the weather was great - on Sunday we took the 40 minute drive into Montenegro to go see the city of Herceg Novi and we had a lovely time (until I took a little fall and twisted my ankle, oh well...). Here is a lovely picture (even if the photographer says so herself) of Ljilja with her mom, Ankica, and Sladjana, her sister.
Now it is back to reality - no more people waiting on me hand and feet :( and also the colder climate in Bosnia. But it was worth the 12 hours in the car to enjoy the warmth (and I don't just mean the weather) of Herzegovina!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Kid's Action Day!

Once again it was time for our Kid's Action day for the kids in our sponsorship project. We started off as usual with some singing:
The theme was the dangers of alcohol: Marina and David showing how much fun you think you can have with alcohol...
Then they were joined by two friends who made them think about it... and told them how much fun you can have without it!
 And so they realised that maybe it wasn't all that fun to get walk funny and get sick...
So they got rid of the alcohol and went to have fun with their friends without it...
Then it was time for the different games and workshops... creative workshop: making Christmas cards for their sponsors in Finland!
Some fun new workshops: paper war
Potato relay: trying to push along a box of matches with a potato tied around your wasted and hanging between your legs... here are some of the volunteers trying it out...
 And the kids showing how it is done: (and it is a great workout for your thighs!)
My workshop was also new - balloon volleyball - but we didn't get a picture of that. It was great fun and I also realised that it was a good workout! Trying to keep a balloon in the air (and two or three if you want) for as long as you can: try it!

After about 2 hours of the kids going from workshop to workshop, it was time for us to finish off. We showed the kids what it is like to feel like they are drunk... turn around on the stick 10 times and then try to walk in a straight line...
 It was really funny seeing them try!! And hopefully taught them another danger of alcohol!
Then it was the prizes at the end...
And time to say goodbye until the next time!
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