Thursday, June 04, 2009

Because Sandra asked..

I was fizzing over with blogging fervour last night and perhaps I should wait for that feeling of compulsion again- but I have laptopping rights right now and I ought not waste them. I've been assured by Sandra my endlessly generous Bosnian teacher (I know she reads this now so I have to be nice ;) ) that there are people who remember me and have some lingering curiosity about my fate.

Firstly, loathe as I am to disappoint her and the rest of the gang u UMLIP-u Bosnian has had to take a backseat since I started my new job this week. Although I was still emotionally attached enough to buy the big blue BCS Grammar and Sociolinguistic Commentary book last week and walk around with it like it was my best friend for a few days.. or like it was a hunk of mouldy bread and I was the hallucinating hungry guy from this video:

But I've been made to realise that what's needed now is Arabic, Italian, Spanish and French in that order- and unfortunately that is an order which inversely correlates with my ability. I'm interviewing people who have no English skills at all- they can only join this Pre-ESOL course if they can't string together basic sentences or read or write, but at the same time I need to ask them about their work experience, skills, education, job search activities and all that jazz. So you see having a few Lingua Franca under my belt would be pretty handy. It's exciting for me though- I have a reason to research random languages like Tgrinya and Kurdish. Kurdish is really intriguing actually- I'm only at a wikipedia level of knowledge at this point but it seems like the name Kurdish is just a convenient label for outsiders- it's more like a dialect continuum with three main dialects, and the language policies of the countries with Kurdish regions vary from total repression in Turkey and Syria, to official state language in Iraq. Apparently Turkey even bans naming children using Kurdish consonants that don't exist in the Turkish alphabet...

Anyway it's really amazing to have a job talking with real people as opposed to crazy angry people on the other end of a phone line. I see the Sarajevo gig as being more like a working holiday- done for love not money- so it doesn't count. I've never had a non-soul-destroying job in Manchester before but we'll see how I feel in a month or two though. The only tiresome thing is having to handwrite all these documents- it feels so stone age in this era of copy-and-paste.

I plan to get a bike with my first paycheck so I can halt this slide back into an indolent, indulgent lifestyle and start riding to work. I remain undeterred by my experience on Monday which left me with slowly blackening bruises, including a particulary ugly gash over my right knee which makes sujood a painful position. Well the short version is that my first ride in years involved me being chased around the street by an eight year old girl I'd never met before and ended abruptly with me having to scrape myself and my dignity off the pavement and retire, cowed, to the house.

I've been learning lots about papercutting in the last week- helping MD make her final project with pop outs and other exciting things. It's been highly satisfying watching old Osama's face slide into a photo of baby Sophia and her proud Somali momma on her JIHAD page... There was a whole photoshoot thing in Slimey's wild garden as well which was fun, cause I got to embody different sides to Duale's cool - although MD quickly turned into an alarmingly diva photographer. Conversation was a little difficult, as whenever I opened my mouth to comment, I was quickly shtummed with a shocked "why is the model speaking??" and "why does the model have an opinion??!"
I would link to her blog with photos but I can't be selective about who clicks through.. I liked the rugged look most though- even if it caused me to channel my inner axe-murderer according to Slimey and the Dude..

Speaking of those two I have to give them props for showing me this awesomeness:

This is how they do it- London Style...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'm still in a blogging frame of mind after all- perhaps I just need to round things off with an account of my return..

I'm not exactly pining because I'm all busy reconnecting with folk here, but I have been going over many moments and conversations in my head. At first I was fizzing with energy when I came back, talking a mile a minute (in a Slavic accent according to Mrs C, but no one else said so..) and practically bouncing off the walls. At first the London scene seemed suddenly exotic and novel with it's sushi bar next to a pizza place opposite a Cafe de Paris and a kebab house, with an African supermarket and some Thai cuisine place also a natural members of the street scene. It's good to be back where I'm not conspicuous in any way unless you count the knitting- I'm not outside the norm because it's kind've impossible to find a norm round here..

Poor Sir Smiley is currently being inducted into the next level of Bengaliness, preparing for the summer trip- he was gagging over the paan we made (we casually described to him the carcinogenic/ hallucenogenic properties beforehand, including stories of Cow's Bengali Dentist's Paan Cancer Book of Horror) and bolding biting into the 'bhut' or naga chilli he insisted on getting from Worldwide. Young Ray put the whole thing in his mouth like a madman and spent the next half an hour guzzling water and milk and sugar and all kinds, bellowing "PITY ME!" as my mother scolded.

We all looked like such tourists in the mishti shop as well oohing and aahing over the lacy patterns being formed by the jalabi-maker squeezing the batter into the vat of ghee. Bikey insistently recalled Sir Smiley's attention when the jalabi was lifted swiftly out of the oil and into the syrup- "you're missing the best part!" We're so hopelessly white inside..

Anyway I feel I triumphantly passed Sir Smiley's Bosnian testing- I mean my intonation and cases are pretty poor still but he acknowledged that I had picked up some conversation skills. I'm losing it already though so I need to find a Bosnian buddy in Manchester stat. I made a friend on the plan who didn't speak English but we still managed to sustain a conversation in Bosnian for 2 hours despite my limitations- I only resorted to drawing one picture, of a boat, to explain how Bengalis sometimes manage during monsoon. I think we didn't understand each other about 40% of the time but 60% comprehension turned out to be enough for happy social interaction.

I know I've been promising to put up photos forever and most of you have long stopped reading but they will come soon, soon. Because I'm not one for doing a whole slideshow description of my trip and I'd rather just integrate it all with stories of various events and refer people back to it if they're interested.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

If I wasn't Muslim

We watched this in Bosnian class to learn about the conditional and feel despondent.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vidimo se

I’m having a little trouble letting go- it wasn’t like this in Rome. Sometimes I feel like it would be best to secretly steal away like a thief in the night rather than undergo this painful goodbye process, even if it involves being showered with gifts. I was following Sehida and her husband around on their household errands all this evening like a stray dog that just won’t go away- from the supermarket, to another store to buy a kettle, and then on to delivering batteries to Djermana... But it’s more sad with those I know I will probably never see again, or at least not for years by which time they’ll have relegated me to some self-contained memory- the Anthropologist and Juliana are in this category even though I spent so much time with them. It happened like that with the Frenchies in Chateau Chinon and I lived with them for 6 months on a frozen and isolated mountain. Until around Wednesday home had seemed like an abstract, distant notion and I still had all the time in the world to spend here.

I know I was never patient enough to properly describe my experience in an intellectual way but really I was always learning from everyone and we would be continually exploring questions about language, culture, religion; comparing our experiences and our understanding- whether it was Physics Aida, or my Bosnian professor patiently translating Bosnian songs for me and explaining the psyche of Bosnian love songs (the lovesick boy will never directly address the object of his affections, he’ll chat to a bird instead, or write a letter only to erase his words- and so he goes on dreaming and yearning hopelessly for some angelic creature who has no clue he exists..) to the joyful and perhaps fanatical gleam in Suada’s eye as she takes me, at 2am, through the historical phonetic transformations that bring some order to the chaos of Bosnian’s 16 verb types. Not forgetting the crash course in The Macedonian Question I received through having coffee with the German crew.

So this will be my last blog from Sarajevo and possibly my last post altogether as I only started this up again to share stories with my people back home. Perhaps I have a few silent readers in Sarajevo but I doubt they’ll take an interest in my mundane Mancunian life. I was going to write this post in Bosnian and show off my newfound skills but my vanity is a contrary creature and fears mockery at the same time as wanting to boast and thus restrains me. The ultimate test of my ability will be if Sir Smiley doesn’t scoff at my attempts as he was wont to- I guess I’ll find out when I get to Manchester on Sunday. And if you’re reading this Sir Smiley tell me now if you’re pining for anything relatively lightweight – it will be your birthday after all...

Anyway all this scurrying around town bidding farewell means I must still tidy, cook, knit, wash, hoover, launder, and most of pack before 1am tomorrow and still make time for a few final meetings. In other words I must stop blogging.

Goodbye my Sarajevans, I will miss you all too much.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

When there’s too much to say I’m most tempted to simply let photos do the describing- even though I was not paparazzi enough to snap people turning up carpets at the hotel and suspiciously checking through bins and rifling through the reception drawers and even brazenly trying to crack the safe in search of Physicist Aida’s passport. So yes photos alone would give you a false portrait of magnificent canyons and rivers taken en route to Albania, and various happy snaps atop ancient castles and beachy/ meadowy idylls. They could not convey the spooky reality- it felt like we were characters at the start of a horror movie, innocent and hopeful but with an unshakeable feeling of something sinister lying below the surface of our colourful, hollow new home. As our Elvira, Queen of the Night, put it, it was “creepy and creamy” – perhaps in fairness I should spell it as crime-y but that’s not how I heard it...

I’m hoping the Anthropologist is going to start an insightful, thorough blog which will remove the burden of having to explain everything, including the reason behind the thousands of tiny concrete bunkers peeping out of the rocky meadows like sudden patches of smooth grey mushrooms. I only ever received abridged translations of the tour guides interminable histories anyway so all I can tell you is that the resident Communist dictator forced the bunker sellers to test drive their product by climbing inside and being bombed for at least 15 minutes. Fortunately for them they seemed to hold up and so he ordered 350 000 and sprinkled them about the country.

We did manage to strike up a few friendly conversations in broken English/ Italian, which immediately brought some feeling of relief and reassurance that it wasn’t the chaotic, incomprehensible and impenetrable world it seemed at first. I lost my group at one point and sheltered from the rain with some copper workers who made beautiful cups and jugs and suchlike. The girl there had studied in Greece for 5 years but saw this place, which had a Bascarsija-like atmosphere, as her future- the business had only been set up one generation ago, by her uncle, but she saw it as a secure and definite future and showed me around the workshop under the store with the thick rolls of unworked copper- the proof of their skill. I also watched the rug makers weaving on their huge looms, although that kind of simple, painstaking work appeals to me less than the delicate, speedy silver filigree work I saw.

Somehow we became separated into fairly fixed groups from the beginning- a consequence of the geography of our coach positions I guess, because the first 10 hours of journey time must have been a crucial crucible in forming bonds. The queenly Ikbala taught me many Bosnian tongue twisters, and now I’m greeted by cries of “Screwdriver!” wherever I go. I have become her obedient performing monkey- my spirit resists the foolish recitals but my will is utterly submissive.

Photos will be forthcoming eventually I promise.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pain in the Neck

I feel like Anne Shirley- I hopefully built up such a beautiful dinner party, carefully planning to eke out my meagre resources and stretch my £1.50 budget to the max. And in the end I have a mouse in my pudding and Diana Barry puking in the bushes. Or, in my version, an Anthropologist gagging on a fishbone and a grand tour of Sarajevo hospitals at midnight.

The day started proudly enough- I accomplished my market shopping without freezing with fear whenever the stall holder said ‘izvolite’ but actually spoke Bosnian to ask for my ridiculously small quantities. Somehow I managed to get carrots, mushrooms, onions and cooking cream with change to spare. I also had the fish that Nermina bestowed upon me while it was still flipping about in a bucket. So, thus armed, I was able to test a couple of the recipes I’ve been gathering from people at school- tarhana soup with pre-prepared dough rubble, and a dubious mushroom recipe that involved spices, cream, soya sauce and honey but turned out impressively successful I think. And I managed to do it all and still make it in time for my first class.

I booked my place to Albania- about 50 quid for a 5-day trip with friends, including transport, food and board is really and offer too good to refuse. I also bought my ticket back to Manchester for 16th May. It’s not been long enough for you to notice my absence particularly perhaps but it feels like forever to me (though I wouldn’t mind forever lasting a little longer)

My final ‘lesson’ with my tall Physicist friend was a trip to the house of Sevda, a place that has gone through many metamorphoses in its time- from storehouse for medieval caravans, to WW2-era restaurant, and has recently evolved into a museum and cafe dedicated to classic Bosnian music.

Bosnian class today was a trip to the annual book fair, which was set up as an publishing house convention, like the Twisted Thread show for books, rather than the flea markety haphazard piles that I was picturing. I managed to get Death and the Dervish in Bosnian and in English for which I’ve been unsuccessfully hunting for weeks, plus a book of lyrics to lots of Bosnian nasheeds that I actually have on mp3 somewhere. Suada my Otokan linguist buddy is an expert on this story and promises to be my literary guide, which is great- something to look forward to during my idle weeks here- and maybe my fellow Bosnian classmates will want to join in so it’d be like those book clubs you hear about.

So the dinner guests were collected at various points round town – Juliana at the fair, the Anthropologist at the eternal flame, and we came across the Otokan outside Merkur. Suada just started wearing a scarf last week but the fact that she was suddenly hijabi didn’t register for a good 10 minutes, not until I noticed that she was wearing it in an uncommon style. We talked about it plenty though while sitting around in hospital waiting rooms as doctors peered down the anthropologist’s poor throat.

My lord it was a farcical process getting her seen by anyone. We went from one hospital to another with our fishbone emergency- but without personal contacts more powerful than a med student friend and a doctor relative in Mostar it didn’t seem like she’d be deboned anytime soon. We had already tried olive oil, plain rice, bread at the flat and we’re currently holding out hope that a good night’s sleep will magically disappear it.

Before dinner they were all predicting that I’d end up poisoning them and considering how to handle an emergency situation- sometimes I think Fate has a very dark sense of humour...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

I just returned from a protest opposite the law faculty here against domestic violence. It was an unexpected turn – I had just finished having a chat about TEFL with the teachers at Djermana’s school, fulfilling my end of our deal, and my Bosnian teacher invited me along to the demo. I was quite surprised to hear of such doings actually as I’m continually hearing about how Bosnian people take a very passive approach and organised public activism is non-existent and they only come out into the streets to cheer about football victories.

This was a simple but striking demo- just people standing silently along the river bank with black cloth strips over their mouths or eyes and cloth banners pinned to their clothes. There were a few cameras and my teacher says it’ll probably be on a lot of the news as the issue ties in with a recent story about professors taking advantage of female students, promising them pass grades. I didn’t hesitate to join these guys today but at the same time I wondered if I might have become a little more timid than I would be in Manchester, cause I'm not sure what constitutes a social faux pas round here. There was no whooping and cheering back to cars that honked in support and I wore the cloth over my eyes instead of my mouth which lent greater anonymity, although that didn't occur to me til later. There weren’t any other hijabis in the line along the bank but there was one present with her little boy in a group across the road.

I saw a girl in proper Turkish-style scarf and long coat combo with a guitar strapped to her back earlier today. Only in Sarajevo..

I’ve reread the last few posts and really they’ve become far too one-note in their effusiveness. The blog needs a little leavening...

So- I can think of at least three things that are wanting in my situation. Firstly I’ve become suddenly insomniac- I had about 3-4 hours sleep last night and the night before but this wakefulness is not abating. At least the sunrise is pretty- right now the sun is a luminescent Irn-Bru orange disc.

I’m struggling with the dried chickpeas they have here. They’re not all precooked and ready to chuck into your chana moshola- these are some tough busters I got. I soaked them for two days, boiled for about 3 hours in salt, and then cooked in the moshola for maybe another hour or two and still they’re not exactly soft... I wrote ‘masala’ at first instead of ‘moshola’ but it sounded alien to me. I also haven’t located tamarind or soy sauce here yet, and I don’t have to time to grow my own fresh coriander or green chillies so everything lacks its usual zing. My diet is mostly meatless now too which is probably healthier in many ways but I don’t much like getting my iron through pills.

I said three things right? Ok well the whole foreigner thing works a treat when everyone is treating you as a guest, but not so much when you haven’t paid your tram fare and the inspector makes a beeline for you and strongarms you into paying the fine. There’s only so long you can feign confusion..

And then of course there’s the fast-approaching prospect of a long summer of call centres or unemployment- I’m not sure which is worse.

That’s enough of the trivial sad stories now. Speaking of sad stories though I’m spending my lessons with one student having the Bosnian opera Hasanaginica translated. It’s so tragic, in a way that kind of parallels Othello, with the Iago-like mother-in-law playing cruel mind games to destroy her son’s marriage.