Monday, October 31, 2005

Kidnapped by the Kind and Cultural Incompetence

'Allo, everybodee...Apart from my daily adventures, I have become hooked on a new (old) British comedy, 'Allo, 'Allo. Rent it, watch it, you won't be disappointed.

I am now three weeks into my Bosnian language classes. I have a lovely teacher, who treats me like her daughter. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Adavantages: she is quite willing to go over her 1 and 1/2 hours of allotted class time and teach me various Bosnian traditional things, i.e., making Turkish coffee. This also has its disadvantages. Sometimes she stays for four hours, and I can't figure out how to, politely, turn her away. She's lonely and has a doozy of a war story, including the loss of a beloved son (from cancer, not war, but there's even a story in that). That's why I feel "kidnapped by the kind." It doesn't hurt to provide a shoulder to someone who needs it, and I get a valuable experience. Such is the social worker in me, I guess.

A month in and I have finally had my first cultural meltdown. I was in a grocery store, trying to make the clerk understand that I only wanted 1/2 lb (kilo) of gouda and, instead, I walked away with one whole kilo. That's a lot of cheese. Gouda knows what I'll do with it. (Hardee-har-har). I almost cried. It's tough when every move you make, from buying groceries to checking your e-mail, becomes a minefield for cultural miscommunication. Alas, I am "Engleski" and am slow to understand the Sarajevan's native tongue.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Some Funnies, including the "Not Ready for Primetime Players"

Stu and I have had a lot of mini-laughs lately, so before I forget...

1) Anyone familiar with SNL will get the reference in the post title. We live in the nexus of some very active mosques, with imams of varying singing/chanting abilities. Unfortunately, the mosque nearest to us has an imam with a powerful, albeit, questionable talent in the ol' voicebox department. Stu came up with the "not ready for primetime players" reference, which I think fits nicely and gives us the giggles.
2) If you've ever been to a sushi restaurant or flown on Asian carriers, you will be offered a lovely warm towel at some point following your meal. After dining at a particularly hands-on restaurant, we were offered what looked like some kind of after dinner onion stalk. (Bizarre. Why we thought this, I don't know, but go with the flow...). Like synchronized swimmers, we each picked up our stalks and chomped down on them at the same time, only to discover they were, in fact, tightly wound warm towels. Luckily, we were seated at an intimate section of the restaurant, so no one noticed us chowing down on washcloths.
3) Our attempt to add minutes to our cell phone was made even more trying by instructions recorded in poor Bosnian English. Case in point, "If you want to do something, press 4." Basically, that was the instructions. How do you work with that? We had so much we needed to do and no direction. No operator. Kinda funny, though.
4) The last tenants in our house left us a ton of soap, lotions, shampoos, etc..., so we figured there was no need to buy anything for a long time. Well. One problem is that all these lovely body products are in German. Quite a time guessing what each is used for. Have just realized I have been washing my hair with body soap, which makes the lank and dismal look of my hair understandable.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Catch Up and Cute Turks...

I have been very behind in updating my blog. Sorry to all you loyal readers, i.e., my parents, Stu's parents. Days have been going by very smoothly. I've slipped into a gentle routine and am quite content. Still on the prowl for a job, but I'm not housebound. Stu seems to like his job quite a bit and has meshed nicely with his co-workers. Speaking of, I visited my very first military camp last weekend. My liberal friends will be shocked, so hold onto your pants, folks, or skip to the next entry.

First of all (picture moi giggling girlishly), the guards on guard duty...Hmm, that sounds goofy. What is the military term for the soldier people at the entry way of a camp? You know the ones...they give you the once over, take your passports, and such and such? Oh well, bear with me. The soldiers on guard duty were very lovely Turkish men. I was saluted! Stu was saluted! Apparently, they salute all Americans. How did they know we were Americans, I want to know? Anyhoo, what did I do when faced with such stern (handsome) faces? I giggled and did a little girly bye-eee wave. You know, I waggled my fingers, and, of course, giggled. Not exactly a salute they were used to, I'm sure.

As we were riding back to camp a few days ago, I casually asked Stu if the Turks were still on rotation. Sigh. They've been replaced by no-nonsense Gurkhas. They don't salute, apparently they know better. Just when I got my finger waggle and girly giggle down.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Note to self: Murder is not an option... is, after all, illegal. I know this, but it becomes a mantra I must repeat, repeatedly, when I think of, or deal with, the dear Direct Loans folks. In the hope (slim but possible) that a Direct Loans' rep. is a devoted reader of this blog, I implore him/her, "Please mail out my economic hardship deferrment verification letter, so I can send it and the apropriate duplicated forms to my other loan holders. I don't want to go into default." There's only so much I can do at an internet cafe in Sarajevo, people. I'm this close to flying home and clocking you. I'm that mad.

On a positive note, I am unexpectedly wealthy. Not really, or the loan thing wouldn't be such a bother, but I'm not teetering (sp?) on the brink of bankruptcy. I forgot I had one final paycheck from Georgetown Law. Cool beans.

And on an even more positive note, I payed off one whole credit card! Actually, that deserves more !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will be a woman of leisure in about, oh, forty odd years?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Long Weekend...

Very odd to be in Bosnia but have the Columbus Day holiday. They do things the American Way at Camp Butmir! Cheers, folks. Stu and I grabbed the opportunity for an extended holiday and drove down to the Croatian coastline. It was not entirely smooth sailing as there were a few minor car accidents along the way...Combine treacherous downpours on the Herzogovinian mountains and La Crappy Car--I think the English translation of "Skoda" is actually "crappy"--and you have a setting for disaster. I have to send out props to Stu for some awesome defensive driving. If I was behind the wheel, our tiny fender-benders would have been fender-catastrophes. As it was, I added to the excitement by screaming periodically. Fun.

Apart from naked fear, the drive offered some spectacular scenery. The section of Herzogovinia we drove through was very different from Sarajevo (Bosnia) in terms of climate. Definitely more Mediterranean. Oh! I forgot Mostar. Before the driving induced trauma, we spent a night in this lovely city. We didn't have a lot of time on our hands so no real exploring...The city had a relaxed, laid-back feel, and I definitely want to come back for another look. I may make Mostar my first solo journey...

Back to Croatia. So, we made it to Dubrovnik, a little freaked out and tired, but we made it. Once the sky cleared, we had a spectacular view of the Adriatic from our hotel room. (Warning: Dubrovnik is extremely touristy and expensive. It's most likely Croatia's cash cow. Traveling off-season will offer more reasonable rates). Not to make those of you living in colder climates jealous but we had a lovely swim in the clear blue sea. I felt very luck to be there. On whole, it was a relaxing weekend. And I can say that our trip back was uneventful. Thank God.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Lure of Cevapi

I'm not a strict vegetarian, not even loosely speaking, but I do try to avoid meat, poultry, etc...whenever possible.

Well, I've fallen off the proverbial wagon, if ever I was on the wagon. Beef, pork, veal, chicken is a part of life here. Frankly, if I was offered pork topping on my strawberry ice-cream, I wouldn't even be surprised. "Pork topping, you say? Yes, that sounds reasonable."

While Stu has failed to grasp the beauty of the cevapi, I have embraced it's greasy simplicity. It's cheap and filling, about $2 and you have a meal. Basically, it's a sausage filled pita with onions on the side. Some people like it with mustard, others with yogurt and cheese. However you make it, it's just yummy.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Have just realized that typing "naked" into the title of one's post leaves one open for unsavory spamming. I'm not a porn site folks! Get your minds out of the gutter and leave me alone.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Cash, Good! Credit Card, Bad...

Just because the markets advertise that they accept visa doesn't mean the store clerks are very used to handling plastic. We held up a line for what seemed like eons while an irate store clerk figured out how to work our credit card. Not pleasant. I can only imagine what she was saying in Bosnian. To our credit, we pasted on that thousand watt smile as if to say, "Please, we are foreigners in your country. Take pity." I think the rest of the folks in the line showed great restraint--they seemed neither put out nor pissed off. Very glad we held our temper, but the urge to pull an "ugly American" was strong. A glimpse into my mind at that moment: "I want the name of your store manager! This is incredibly unacceptable, you rude, rude woman! I want you fired, and I want to sue, sue, sue!" Thankfully, this played around my mind but did not come out of my mouth. That I held my temper showed equally great restraint. Stu wants to revenge our battered egos by going back to the store and pay for a stick of gum with a credit card.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I Have Found My People!

How can you not love a people who wait in long lines for the freshest of fresh bread, drink the strongest of strong coffee, and make the most delicious baked goods?

I love you! Your siren song of baked goodness will leave me a fat woman, but I don't care!

Admittedly, the coffee is a bit strong, but I will prevail. I won't let caffeine conquer me.

I'm in my honeymoon period here in Sarajevo. Everything is new and fresh. I have learned (and am now using to the point of absurdity) my one Bosnia word: "hvala," i.e., "thank you." I went to the bank today and exchanged money, and then I went to the ATM and got more money. Whoo-hoo! Later, I might explore the supermarket and buy things with my money. Can you stand the excitement? That's what I mean by "honeymoon."

I am desperate for a cultural translator. I'm aching for an educated Bosnian friend (English speaker, of course), who will take me under his/her wing and show me 'round town. Until then, I have to muddle through. Tourism is in its infancy here...No English language signs (no German, French, either) to let you know what's what. There are some fairly depressing reminders of the war here, as you can imagine, but nothing to let you know what happened, when, to whom...I'll post images when I can. Just imagine walking down the street and seeing bullet holes everywhere...We look out our living room window to the store next to us, and it is literally covered with holes. Artisans actually take bullet casings and carve them as souvenirs for tourists. Sigh. I think people are tired of discussing the seize, and the memories of everything are too fresh to talk about for a tourist's sake. Go slowly, shall be my motto.

For now, cheers...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Day 3: On Being Monolingual and...More Naked Germans!

I will leave you in suspense no longer...The naked Germans of whom I speak can be found in the Hotel Maritem's spa room. Gloriously unashamed of their pudginess and general body defects...I actually quite like it. It's nice that people feel so free about their bodies. I went nude myself the other day. Ah, sweet freedom!


Most Europeans move so effortlessly among any number of languages, and here we are...Stu waves around money as if that will make language less a barrier, and I paste a big, ol' American smile on my face. For my part, I imagine I look fairly goofy, but I have a tremendous fear of being one of those Americans. Being equally aware of our reputation abroad at the moment, I'm going for the humble look. I don't know if this is the way to go, but I'm wingin' it!

Cheers for now.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Day 2: Naked Germans

Need I say more?

Well, I do, but Stuart is impatient to use the internet, so I must sign off at the moment. I leave you with that titillating image. Cheers!

Day 1 and 1/2: A Funny Thing Happend at the Airport...

Well, it turns out with all our careful packing and planning, we hadn't taken into account the weight limits United imposes on luggage. So...there, in the middle of check-in at the United counter, we threw open our 133 lb suitcase (no, I didn't mis-type) and divided the contents between it and a cardboard box, kindly provided by United. It's a little humiliating to sort through your various undies and personal belongings in front of dozens of angry passengers, waiting for their turn in line. Ah well.

The flight from Dulles to Heathrow was fine and restful. Really and truly for those of you who know my history with airplanes. This was more than partly due to the fact that Stu, thank GOD, has premier status, which bumped us right into economy PLUS. I am a firm believer in the neccessity of leg room. I live for the day when I am either invited or push my way kicking and screaming into business class. No one deserves to sit smashed like a sardine. It's inhumane. Actually, the worst, and weirdly, funniest part of the trip, was the time we spent at Heathrow. Let me preface this by saying that, yes, London had their fair share of bombings, so it's not unreasonable to think that they would increase thier security. That being said, I can honestly say that I hate Heathrow. Yes, I do. After a six hour trip across the ocean, we waited in endless lines to board a bus to go through security yet again. Come on, folks, we were virtually strip-searched in Dulles. Need we repeat the experience? Sigh.

Apart from the airport experience, we arrived in Stuttgart with very little trauma. (Oh yes, Stuart has reminded me that the box we bought at the United counter broke open on the conveyer belt in Stuttgart. Once again, we had to gather our delicates in public). Less embarassing the second go round, I think. Fewer people. Anyway, ,fFrom the cab ride, it seems a pretty little city. (Stu thinks not). Hopefully, we'll have time to explore...More later.