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...
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