If I may…

I share the outrage and disgust and sadness that many people feel after seeing the photographs of the Pazaric Children’s Home presented by Sabina Cudic today in the Federation parliament. To be honest, I am a bit shocked that we are so shocked. The harshness and cruelty the government and its institutions have shown its citizens over the past 25 years has perhaps numbed me but in no way I am shocked by the photos Sabina presented to our elected officials. Look at what we allow them to do…so why on earth would we expect better behavior from them towards the most vulnerable among us?! The stories we regularly hear of nightmare visits to the emergency room, newborns getting Mrsa in our hospitals, pensioners rummaging through rubbish bins for food, the filthy air we breath…none of it is shocking to me anymore. It is and has been our norm for a very long time. For that I don’t blame the government. I blame us. We have tolerated a level of moral bankruptcy that few countries in modern Europe ever have. One other country does come to mind, however.  Romania. That’s the point of what comes next.

Just after the war in Bosnia I went back ‘home’ to rest in the states. My rest made me restless. So I volunteered to go to Romania to work in a ‘camin spital’ which is basically an institution for physically and mentally handicapped children. In short, the equivalent of our Pazaric children’s home. It was located in a small, shitty village called Ionoseni in Romania’s far northeast, not far from the Ukranian border. Botosani was the nearest town. Botosani was a shithole too.

Three of us drove from Vienna. An Austrian therapist who was leading the mission for the Serious Road Trip invited us to set up sensory stations for children – to stimulate them with different games, textures, smells, and to provide their keepers with healing tools to ease the discomfort of child and caregiver alike.

The conditions there were hellish. It made Pazaric seem like Disneyland. There were many common threads just from seeing these photos on Klix, though. Although I was a seasoned war volunteer veteran by then…I was a virgin to witnessing these kinds of conditions for children. There were babies with AIDS who had never been touched by a human hand. There were children who had ‘joker’ faces because the caregivers had rammed food down their throats with spoons that were larger than their little mouths, cutting the sides of their mouths every time they were fed. There were children with slight behavioral issues who were overwhelmed by the ones with much more serious conditions. Children will all types of issues and ailments were just thrown into one basket and, as I would quickly discover, the trend was generally that the easier cases (including ourselves) became progressively worse being in this environment. I found many children with severe physical disabilities tied to metal beds with no mattresses. They just lay there, on cold metal box springs, with their hands and legs tied with gauze to the legs of the bed. On one occasion, when I untied one boy and carried his contorted body outside into the sun, he started to convulse. To be honest I sort of shit myself for about 5 seconds until I realized his convulsions were more of a system shock to having sunlight on his face. In about a minute his body calmed and a smile came to his face that will remain with me until my dying day. The healing rays of the sun.

Then there was Anishwara . She was two, maybe almost three. I fell in love instantly. She was a self- abuser and had the scars to prove it. Anishwara was a beautiful girl with shaved blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. Her face and head always had cuts and scrapes from her hurting herself. In my presence she was calm. Clingy but calm. I had a lot of work to do but she was almost always in my arms or hanging on my leg. I didn’t mind a bit. After about a week and half I was with her at one of the sensory stations we had designed and set up. I sat on the floor and Anishwara sat between my legs. For a moment I gave my attention to another small child next to us. Anishwara wasn’t having any of that. Before I could react she bucked her head backwards and then violently slammed her face forward into the floor. Blood dripped from her forehead. She didn’t like the attention I was giving the other child one bit. That attention was supposed to be for her…and her only. And she let me know that in no unconditional terms. I understood, the hard way, how much I had to learn. I felt a stomach-churning guilt overwhelm me. I wanted to hold her, give her the love she so desperately wanted and needed. But I would be leaving in 3-4 weeks time. So the well-intentioned love and attention I was giving her – with that level of intensity – wasn’t actually what was good for her at all. It was good for me, perhaps. It felt good at the time. Then she taught me a lesson in consequences.

A few weeks later I had giardia and would drink a cup of water and shit what seemed to be a whole canister of it. I was tired. I was frustrated at the conditions these children lived in day in and day out. The caregivers worked for a monthly wage that could buy their own children a pair of shoes. There was little professional assistance. They worked hard and most of them did their very best which was, of course, not even close to being enough. But it was the system that was to blame. Not the caregivers.  They had little or no resources. Almost no training whatsoever. I was burned out after less than a month. I can’t even fathom what it was like for them to live and breathe this reality on a daily basis. I wanted to go back to my Mostar frontline where I could navigate through sniper fire, lack of food and no electricity. I missed the good life of war. I wish I was kidding. I assure you I’m not.

Just before we left we had a day with the teenagers outside. One mute boy, who was a large and strong teenager, appeared in light blue sweat pants. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. He had white cowboy boots on that were way too big for him. We all chuckled at his appearance. (Jebi ga, it was funny.) He squatted on the ground just beside a large tree. Now as much as one tries it’s not always easy to treat all of the children equally. You develop ‘favorites’ and there are inevitably a few that you are less fond of. One of those was a quite good looking boy with no physical disabilities whatsoever. He was one of the naughty ones. He thought he was cute. In retrospect he was probably hormonal and showing off for me. He looked at me with this devious look on his face. He turned towards the shirtless mute, walked towards him and without warning reared his foot back and kicked the squatting teenager in the tailbone. The impact sent chills down my spine. The boy just collapsed in pain, unable to walk. The culprit turned to me and laughed.  I lost the plot. I rushed towards him, pushing him up against the tree. I grabbed him by the neck and squeezed. I kept on squeezing until the color in his face started to go blue. He sank to the base of the tree but I kept my hand secure on his neck. It probably only lasted about 20 seconds but when I finally released him from my grip I think I had a mini-breakdown. I knew the gravity of my sin. I felt ashamed. I told our team leader I needed to leave this place. We loaded up and headed back to Vienna a few days later.

The conditions that both children and caregivers live in many of these institutions are unforgivable. The level of cruelty is beyond comprehension. I am not here to make excuses for the board of directors that are supposed to oversee the care given to these needy children or the caregivers that tied them up in that manner. But if we’re honest with ourselves, Eastern Europe is still wrought with societies that take offense to defects that make these children castaways in the first place. We’d rather hide them away somewhere than give them a chance to integrate or be among us, even if it’s a damn hard challenge to do so. We often deal with problems with the mindset of ‘out of sight out of mind.’ Just like when we dump our rubbish into the river and the current takes it away. We pretend as if it no longer exists. We are as much part of the problem as are the assholes responsible for this shitshow in Pazaric.

To be clear – aside from hailing facebook stones at the government establishment that has treated us all like animals for decades we also need to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror at what we’ve become and how and why we can justify this level of apathy that has paralyzed, humiliated and belittled us all.

Chile. Lebanon. Bolivia. Hong Kong. Ecuador. Algeria. Sudan.

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The journey

I think for the most part this blog has faded into oblivion. I think it would be easy to blame the sneaky snatching of my .com domain. Too easy, in fact. It would probably be even easier to blame the overwhelming feeling of apathy and lethargy that has gripped me and what seems, from my currently dim perspective, to continually pervade throughout these lands. I can be, regrettably, an exceptionally harsh self-critic. We here in Bosnia seem to have mastered that art.  I think our tendency to paint the picture so black is just an excuse for us not doing anything. It’s a perfectly justifiable reason to sit behind our keyboards, cigarettes or coffees and either rant and rave or feel sorry for ourselves.

But things don’t change because we don’t embrace change. I am certainly guilty of that at the moment. I’d like to think I’m not afraid of much of anything in this world. The unknown fascinates me. Uncertainty intrigues me. I take life as it comes. Or so I thought. Then creeps in this nagging fear that you’re not enough – good, smart, talented, capable, reliable, whatever – just not enough of any of it. Or even worse yet, that it’s just not worth the effort. It meaning anything.  That things are simply irreversibly fucked with no way out. So why even fucking try, right?

The planet is melting…or burning. We seem to be in a continuous downward spiral – politically, socially, economically, environmentally. We are paying a heavy price for our moral crisis, almost everywhere we look. Our resilience seems to be fading. It’s all we can do to stay uplifted when the world feels like it’s coming undone.

All too often, including (or especially) here, we project blame and finger point instead of taking the opportunity to simply accept things for the way they are and be mindful of why they are like that. Or God forbid should we pay a visit to the man in the mirror.

Behind the mask of this eternal optimist is a man who occasionally bathes in self-loathing. It makes me feel pathetic. Sad. It drags my self-esteem through the mud. See, even here I am projecting by using ‘it’ instead of ‘I.’ Then someone sent me this Chinese proverb…listen:

So I’m halfway there. I wonder what the other half of this journey will look like. Time will tell.

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Fell asleep at the wheel

TheBosniaGuy fell asleep at the wheel. My domain expired and lickety-split someone gobbled up my .com domain name. Not sure why TheBosniaGuy.com would be interesting for anyone except to sell it back to me for being a slacker. So instead I’ll pay a different price. I’ve officially ditched dot com and have gone dot net. So there.

I really couldn’t tell you if I will once again revisit my favorite form of therapy…for now all I can tell you is where you can find it. Same name, different tail. Gotta stay awake people. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. 

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Tone from the top

I wonder where our leaders have gone. I’m not talking about the ranks of a Mandela or a Gandhi…I’d just settle for an intelligent, level-headed individual who is aware of two things:

  1. How incredibly and irreversibly intertwined our lives on this planet are and
  2. How incredibly and hopefully not irreversibly fucked we currently are.

I know we’re knee-deep in the information age so we have access to more things going on around the globe than ever before. And yes, I follow world affairs way too much. But some have the illusion, though, that we are living in one of the most prosperous and peaceful periods in human history. I’d love to pop one of those happy pills if they have any spares.

I know the World Bank will tell us that poverty worldwide is in decline too. And for any of you that know me…I am, usually, the optimistic type. But the heavy doses of real politik is a real ass-kicker these days and the only voice of reason from western quarters that I’m hearing right now is from a German physicist named Angela.

Although I’ll never sing the man’s praises, Vlado is, in his usual fashion – calm, cool and collected. I’m sure the Syrians at the receiving end of MiG jet bombings would beg to differ. And sure, they messed with US elections. Why? Because they could. Besides, we do it on a regular basis anywhere we bloody want to. Including Russia. I think we need to get over the ‘shock’ that elections can be rigged or meddled with. Shit, they’re rigged all the time – ever heard of gerrymandering?

The Iranians have now tested their Khoramshahr ballistic missile. I’m sure this has something to do with a bit of taunting from Old Orange. The Iranian deal isn’t the disaster O2 and Bibi would like us to think. And it brought us to the table with the Iranians for the first time since the Carter administration. Call me crazy but I’ve liked every Iranian I’ve ever met. Granted, I’ve never had tea with the Khomeini but it couldn’t be much worse than having a beer with the trumpet, could it?

Although some will adamantly deny this, the geo-political construct of the Middle East, held loosely together by post-colonial artificial nation-state borders is seemingly disintegrating before our very eyes. The Shi’ite – Sunni divide (to horribly oversimplify) appears to be redrawing a Shia dominated northern Middle East to the Mediterranean and a Sunni dominated southern Middle East. We now see Syria, Iraq, and Iran and their Hezbollah brothers in arms in Lebanon facing off with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Emirates – all at the expense of the people of Syria and Yemen. I won’t even mention the unfolding Sunni divide between Qatar and the Saudi’s. Gotta love the Saudi regime, though – BFF!  Perhaps we could just bring in the Kurds to mediate all this bickering, huh? OK, bad joke.

And oh, did anyone notice, by the way, that the West has decided to let Assad (and the Russians and the Iranians and Hezbollah) be the victor(s) in Syria? So much for the revolution, huh? Just ask Orouba and Halla Barakat. They’re all terrorists anyway, right?

Our buddy Kim on the other side of the pond is playing with the idea of testing a hydrogen bomb. How fun! Old Orange and Fucknut Kimmy are exchanging personal jabs like two special needs teenagers while the Koreans south of the border hope and pray that these two munters don’t light the fire that could literally roast Seoul. Kimmy truly is a bellend but most yanks don’t realize or remember that the US brutally killed at least 2 million North Koreans in the 50’s. They certainly haven’t forgotten that. The rate of civilian casualties in the Korean War was higher than both WWII and Vietnam. I mean we’re still mad at the Japs for Pearl Harbor for Christ’s sake. I’d say that Kimmy is the result of a half century of collective PTSD. But who am I to judge?! Again, I’m no fan of fuckwit or fucknut or whatever you’d like to call him, so please don’t send me messages accusing me of being one. (If you’re wondering where I learned my French, that would be from the Norfolk boyz).

The Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar are being flushed out of Rakhine at an equivalent pace to the cleansing of Kosovar Albanians in 1999. Irma and Maria have quite possibly just created the first generation of climate change refugees in the Caribbean (I know, I know…it’s just a Chinese scam, silly me). The Iraqi Kurds are heading towards an independence referendum…which will certainly lead to further destabilization and fuel the fire of independence for Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iran. The Kurds have historically gotten the short end of the stick so my guess is they won’t back down on this one, not even with Agent Orange pressuring them to do so. But the region is already teetering on the edge. Humpty Dumpty will be difficult if not impossible to put back together from this fall. Now to the Catalans. They are heading in a similar direction which could lead to another European shit show with Scotland, Republika Srpska, the Basque country, Vojvodina, Northern Ireland, or Macedonia following suit. Precedent is a bitch. Let’s not forget the party brewing in the Baltic’s either.  

65 million refugees on the run around the world and no one, I mean NO ONE, wants them. Except for, of course, the flourishing slave trade in the Sahara comprised of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa (does this ring a bell, anyone?). Greece and Italy struggle daily with the silent arrivals of thousands of refugees and migrants. I won’t even mention the numbers Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have to deal with. I’m too tired to even talk about ISIS, Boko Haram or the rise of fascism and the Neo-Nazi’s in the West. 

If you’re not stressed out yet, I think it would depress the hell out of most if I were to list the places that are genuinely (or at least partially) fucked at the moment. But being that I’m on a roll, here’s the list if you insist: Ukraine. Yemen. Syria. Iraq. Somalia. Myanmar. DRC. Libya. Gaza. Houston. The Keys. Puerto Rico. Dominica. Barbuda. El Salvador. Charlottesville. Afghanistan. Nigeria. Mali. Burkina Faso. Liberia. South Sudan. Greece. Macedonia. Turkey. Lebanon. Pakistan. Kashmir. Tibet. Sierra Leone. CAR. Chad. Haiti. Mexico. Standing Rock. Feel free to add if I’ve left anyone or place out.

So what’s the point of all this, you ask? Is this a collective call for a cyanide induced mass suicide? Don’t be silly. It’s a call to point out that the tone from the top really does matter. As does the noise from the bottom. Rhetoric is not just words. It sparks fear, angst, paranoia, and – you guessed it – war. The language we hear from the top at the moment will lead us down only one road…and I’m quite sure it’s not one we want to go down. Cool heads count in clutch moments in history. And right now I’m hearing too many shitheads spewing fire and brimstone from the rooftops.

So where are the ones trying to tame the flames? The decisions and mistakes we make now will be the ones our children will inherit. Either that, or we’ll just all burn (or drown, depending on geographic location).

If we’re not yet aware that we are pawns with serious skin the game…or, worse yet, just not willing to do anything about it…do they get to call checkmate?

To be honest, I’d rather build a tree house for my sons than a bunker. But that’s just me.

peace

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I think Anes was right

Today is World Environment Day. I was invited to be a panelist to discuss environmental issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a well-organized event in the Botanical Gardens at the National Museum. There were ambassadors and ministers, public figures and fellow activists.

I have avoided any public speaking gigs lately…largely due to the fact that, if I’m truthful, my enthusiasm for this place is waning and has been for some time. But I put on my usual optimist hat and spoke on various subjects, ranging from media coverage of environmental issues, green politics, to green living. On more than one occasion I stated that, in spite of the fact that we still have a lot more work to do and the situation is far from ideal, things are getting better. I emphatically stated that things are better than they were 10 or 15 years ago.

When the panel discussion ended several people came up to congratulate me…all reinforcing what I said and how I said it. Then I saw my old friend Anes Podic.

‘Tim, what is better than fifteen years ago?!” Anes asked me in is his usual soft tone. No immediate answer came to mind. I had to contemplate his question. The answers I gave, like our ability to communicate with ministries, the fact that we can take the big boys to court and actually (sometimes) win, the reduction in illegal logging activities, that the Via Dinarica can be a locomotive for rural development AND environmental protection, or that the ENGO sector is working much more closely on vital issues regarding the environment, didn’t convince him. He systematically shot down each one of my arguments. And I could shoot down none of his.

I have known Anes for 20 years now. He is a walking encyclopedia on environmental issues and regulations here in BiH. I have always known him to be a man of exceptional moral integrity. I have not always agreed with how he seeks change but I have never disagreed with him on why. He and his wife Ceca are consistently on the front line of most important social issues in this city. The hijacking of the general hospital. Air pollution. The Urban planning farce. Destruction of our water protection areas. You name it, they are on the picket line. So when he asked me again “What is better?” I had nothing to say. Not a single word.

I took the umbrella gifted to us by the Federation Environment Fund and a walnut tree seedling and silently headed out.  I saw my friend Lilly from the US Embassy, who has been masterful in bringing environmental groups and individuals together to talk, lobby and argue with local authorities. I told her that I didn’t think I was going to do talks like that anymore. She cocked her head to the side, almost like a curious pup, and asked why. My answer was this:

‘I think Anes was right.’

She assured me that things weren’t all black and white. And that although things were far from perfect, progress had certainly been made on several fronts concerning the environment. It didn’t soothe my conscience one bit, though. As I was walking back to my car from the National Museum towards Grbavica market I scanned through the last fifteen years of our activism. Things were certainly bad then…and the exploitation of this country’s natural resources was literally a free for all. We lost most of our battles. We were threatened. Taken to court for libel and slander. We were systemically silenced…and generally ignored.

Today we can speak more openly about it and occasionally get someone to listen. But the bottom line, as Anes poignantly pointed out, is that we still don’t have laws on forestry…there is no spacial planning…mayors can decide on their own, with zero control, on what to build and where…we still have the lowest level of protected lands in Europe…our forests are disappearing and our water sources are gravely endangered…we sometimes have the most polluted cities in the world during winter (yes, the world)… and plans are being implemented to allow wealthy Arab investors to buy up the best swaths of land to build resorts and whatnot in some of our most pristine natural areas. His list was actually much longer. But I think you get the point.

And so I went over what I had said during the panel discussion in my head. I was predictable in that I tend to want to please my audience. Perhaps I was saying things were better because I knew it would be popular. Or maybe I said that because we are drenched and drowning in negativity and I try to offer at least a glimpse of hope when I speak about this country. I strolled by the large poplars along the Miljacka. By the time I reached Cappucino this is the next thought that dominated my mind:

“Or did I just sell out?”

Did I? As harsh as I can be on myself…I still like to think that I didn’t. I’d like to think that I tactically engaged my audience. I’d like to believe that in this unbelievably dysfunctional country there is still an inkling of hope remaining. I try to instill the belief that pessimism is easy…but the real challenge is to find the silver lining. That real change starts in the mirror.

I am more than willing to accept (to myself) that this country has accelerated its downward slide on an already slippery slope. Things are not really all that rosy. And my attempts to stay positive, sugar coat or live up to what I think is expected of me doesn’t do this country or myself any service at all. But publicly I often balk at jumping on the ‘Bosnia sucks’ bandwagon. It’s just too easy.

By the time I reached my car I hadn’t convinced myself of much of anything…except that I was still pretty sure of this:

The planet is in peril. Bosnia is no exception. Whatever we’re doing is simply not enough. I think Anes was right. Maybe things aren’t better.

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To police or not to police

I come from a family that has always prided itself in community service. It seems to be part of our DNA.  Whether it be education, medicine, or other safety services…that would pretty much describe our extended clan. My uncle was a fireman and policeman for 45 years. My cousins, his son and daughter, were also New York City police officers. So when I hear such harsh criticism of the police here…I have the tendency to defend them. We all know that police anywhere are far from perfect. But it is one hell of a difficult and dangerous job.  I believe that credit should be given where credit is due. And also that criticism should be dealt out when it is earned. The police force of Stari Grad certainly earned this critique. Let me tell you why.

I used to get furious (and in all honesty, I still do) when I would hear people dish out excuses on why they would not call the police when they knew of a crime or illegal activity.  Many dismiss involving the police as a waste of time, that nothing will come of it…except perhaps them becoming a target.  I, instead, chose to engage the police.

I met with local police officers to talk to them about our community and some of the problems we are facing.  I live in Donje Biosko, just above Faletici and below Barice. The entire area is a water protection area. The large karst topography feeds Moscanica River with fresh drinking water. The water most of the Old Town drinks. We have a huge illegal logging problem here. Whether it be local thieves looking to make some quick and easy money or unfortunate social welfare cases who can’t afford wood to heat their homes over the winter, the forest in our neighbourhood is rapidly disappearing.

the woods

So my logic goes like this:

  1. This is a water protection area…and we all need water…so it must be worth protecting.
  2. When one witnesses a crime, such as 300 hard wood trees being cut down this winter alone, one would assume they have a civic duty to notify the relevant authorities to stop this.
  3. When one notifies the proper authorities, that they would be obliged (and perhaps even motivated) to react and intervene.
  4. That I would be seen as a civic partner for assisting the police in doing their job more effectively.

I was wrong on all four counts.

  1. Although it is a protected area I have called the police over 30 times in the past year for illegal logging. I only call when I personally witness illegal cutting and I know they are stealing from either state owned or private land. The police NO LONGER respond to my calls and haven’t for some time. I also called the Cantonal Forestry Inspectors 11 times. The first 10 times NO ONE answered the phone. The last time I called, they told me to go on the website, find the email address or fax number, and send them a letter addressing my concerns.
  2. Today I called the police again. The conversation with the dispatcher at the police station of Stari Grad basically went like this,

Me: “Yes, I would like to report illegal logging in Donje Biosko…again. The man is there cutting down the forest right now.”

Dispatcher: “And who is calling”

Me: “Although it doesn’t matter who is calling, my name is Tim Clancy.”

Dispatcher: (annoyed sigh) ‘You need to call the forestry inspection. We can’t do anything about it.”

Me: “So you are telling me that if I witness a crime, as I just did, I have to call the forestry inspection and not the police.”

Dispatcher: “Yes, you need to call them. It’s not our job.”

Me: (getting agitated) “So just so I understand this. I witness a theft, meaning a crime, and I am not allowed to call the police to respond.”

Dispatcher: “That is not our jurisdiction if it’s not over two cubic metres of wood.”

Me: “How do you know it’s not over 2 cubic metres of wood?”

Dispatcher: “You need to call the forestry inspection and they will come out and if they see a need, they will contact us.”

Me: “So by then…a week will pass…the wood will be cut…and you will have no idea who cut it down and how much they cut down. “

Dispatcher: ‘Is it on your land?”

Me: “No, it’s on both state and private owned land. But what difference does that make?”

Dispatcher: ‘Then let the owner of the land call the police.”

Me: “The owner doesn’t live here and do you know this is a water protection area…”

Dispatcher: “The owner of the land will have to call…”

Me: ‘So you are telling me that only the owner of the land who doesn’t know that he is being robbed can report a crime…not someone who is witnessing the crime?”…”Can I have your name please?”

Dispatcher: “You didn’t give me your name so I won’t give you mine.”

Me: “I already told you my name, it’s Tim Clancy. May I have your name please?”

Dispatcher: ‘No you may not, dovidenja.”

  1. So as in the last dozen or so calls, no one responds…and the devastation of our little village continues. The same village that feeds Moscanica with most of its water…which, in turn, provides drinking water for the Old Town, including the dispatcher who basically just told me to fuck off. So I called my lawyer friend and asked what the rules were here…just in case I was missing something. In short, according to the lawyer, the dispatcher broke the law and the police absolutely have to respond to a citizen complaint about theft.
  2. It is fairly obvious that I have become a nuisance for the police. They are neither interested in responding to my calls or solving the rampant theft of property in a village with 15 houses.

Last year I had a similar scenario. This was when the police would actually respond. One of my neighbors, I have his name and surname and have repeatedly given it to the police, was stealing trees from my property as well as my other neighbors property. (I use the word ‘stealing’ intentionally, because cutting does not seem to imply the criminal act that was occurring.) I asked him to stop or I would call the police. He said, ‘call the police, then.’ So I did. He obviously knew more than I did about what would happen. Which is nothing at all.

So this ‘neighbour’ is up on the hill with his chainsaw. The police arrive. I explain to them the situation. They wait for him at the bottom of the road, the only way in or out. After a short while they grew impatient so they drove up. They found him, with a chainsaw in his hand, cutting wood that didn’t belong to him, and a car loaded with logs. Mind you, the car he had (and still has and drives) was not registered and he does not have a driver’s license. The result, you ask? Well, nothing at all. I know, shocker, right?

I asked the police why they didn’t do anything and they shrugged saying “He had less than 2 cubic meters in his car…and he wasn’t driving the car so we couldn’t confiscate it.” I was slightly dumbfounded and replied “But you caught him stealing wood in a car that wasn’t registered and without a driving license. He didn’t put the car in his pocket and walk up there with it!” “Yes, but he has to be driving it for us to stop him.” This ‘neighbour’ by the way, still drives everyday all over the area with no driver license and no registration (he doesn’t even have fake tags, he just doesn’t give a shit, and apparently no one else does either).

So the bottom line is this. I thought people were cowards for not involving the police when they knew of or witnessed a crime. I thought it was the least we could do to try and stop the anarchy around us. I thought wrong. There may be very nice policemen and women serving our communities. But I will tell you this, it is not just the ‘system’ that stops them from doing their job properly. It is also because many of them simply don’t give a shit and they aren’t in the slightest bit interested in dealing with even the most petty of crimes. In short, they can’t be bothered.

Most of the houses here have been broken into and/or robbed at one point.  The forest is disappearing at an astonishing rate (and as an environmental activist I assure you it won’t be long before it has long term negative effects on the water supply if it isn’t having those effects already). The sad realization to me is the reality that they just don’t care. We have reached out time and time again in a cordial and cooperative spirit, naively believing in the police narrative that they ‘need the community behind them to fight crime.’ I confess. I was dead wrong. Someone needs to take me out back for my well deserved lashings.

So I take this message to you all…to the media…and above all to the few police who might actually give a shit: the reason this community does not trust you is because you have not earned our trust. The reason why crime is so rampant in this city is because too many policemen do a half-ass job and aren’t truly dedicated to their jobs. And the reason why the citizens of this city don’t pick up the phone and call in crime is because you have proven time and time again that you are either unable or unwilling to tackle and follow through on the most simplest of cases. You can blame the system, the legislation, and even the foreigners as I have heard on many occasions. But if you’re motto is to protect and serve…you might want to take a long, hard stare in the mirror. You protect and serve fuck all.

Are there bigger problems than cutting the forest down? Sure. But when members of your community continually reach out to work with you to stop criminal acts that will have broad negative effect on the entire community…I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable for you to respond and respond robustly.  Your response was, as most warned me about, no response at all. I feel ashamed for you. And have less hope for this city and this country than I ever have before.

Enjoy your good drinking water at home….while it lasts. Jebi ga.

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Walking the walk

The carnage in Syria has gnawed at my conscience since the bloodbath began in 2011. But unlike the Bosnian war, which was up close and personal, or the slaughter(s) in Gaza, Syria seemed just far enough out of reach for me to conveniently put it on the back burner. The flow of Syrian refugees just to the east of here has changed that. It has challenged the very principles we purport to live by. With some of us failing miserably at it. But not Germany.

Germany all too often gets a bad rap.

My wife’s family sought refuge from the brutal war in Bosnia in the early 1990’s. After short stints in neighboring countries they finally made it to Germany in 1993. Germany welcomed them with open arms. My mother-in-law Vasva, who is a stickler for good education, wanted her kids to go to the best schools. In the community they had relocated to, Koblenz, the Catholic school was apparently the best. The hitch was that only Catholics actually go to Catholic school in Germany. A Muslim had never attended that Catholic school in its century-plus old history. That changed with Sabina. She was accepted without prejudice and became the first Muslim to be admitted and graduate from there.

I admit it, Sabina’s appreciation and admiration for Germany has certainly rubbed off on me.  But it’s more than that. The German people are living proof that people can change. That we don’t have to be slaves to parts of our ugly past. That we can be better. That it takes a lot of work and discipline to heal the collective wounds of the past. And that there is redemption in taking responsibility, collective responsibility.

For all the jokes on how mechanical, orderly and anal the Germans can be and insist on being, there is a lot to learn from them. They certainly rank among the most progressive nations in the world today. They shine in domestic policies such as the environment, food production, renewable energy, education, health, child-care, and housing. They nurture a capable and fairly paid labor force. Germans fly German airlines. They buy German products. They collectively live rather modest lifestyles.

We can give them shit about their treatment of Greece. And yes, they were too harsh. But I honestly believe they would do the same thing to themselves if they got themselves in such a mess. And besides, nobody’s perfect (just ask the Greeks).

There is a genuine humanity that resonates from Germany, however, that is rare for a contemporary world power. The US and UK no longer welcome the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free like they did for my ancestors. The Russians and Chinese never have. France did so reluctantly. Some will dismiss Germany”s generosity as a way to strengthen their blue-collar work force. But people coming to Germany are coming first and foremost for humane treatment. And that they will most certainly get. They undoubtedly come for work but also for fairness, for a good education for their kids, and for the opportunity for a normal life. For the most part, Germany delivers on that promise.

Now I am no Germanophile, trust me. That would be my wife. But I do tip my hat for them leading by example and exemplifying progressive European thought. What the Syrian people have been through is no less than a torturous half decade of evil and brutality. Germany has the might to front the bill…and they are doing so in fine fashion. Imagine getting off a train after escaping war, living in a Turkish desert refugee camp, crossing into Greece on a dingy, and then walking through four countries to be met by this:

welcome to germany

Credit should be given where credit is due. Kudos to Deutschland…and danke schon for showing the world that Europe still has a heart and is capable and willing to walk the walk.  .

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Dog eat dog world

This may be depressing. Then again, maybe not. No, it probably will be.

Not too long ago we had the good fortune to move into the eco-house we have been building for seven years. It was a rewarding and equally frustrating process. One I am most certainly grateful for.

I sat on the terrace to admire the view a few days back. Trebevic Mountain dominates our southern skyline. The peak of Bjelasnica veers into view to the southwest. We even get smaller peeks (no pun intended) at Jahorina and Treskavica. It was a sunny day. The birds brought the silent forests to life. We were finally home.

Then the chainsaws kicked into action. Several of them at once. The echo from the surrounding valleys tricking me as to their location. The sounds of trees being felled was soon dwarfed by the explosion of machine gun fire. Although I didn’t have a visual and the echoes of rapid gun fire bounced back and forth across the valley, I knew the exact location and origin of this violent disruption.

Well over 300 trees, small and large, were illegally cut down this past winter in our little neighborhood alone. We all know the name and surname of at least one of the culprits. I have regular conversations with the police, who have – on several occasions – caught him in the act. The dispatcher sighs in annoyance when I call now. I call almost every day when I hear the chainsaws yanked into action. And promise to keep calling until it stops.

One of the culprits, a man named Enver Klico, pulled up to my house not long ago to apologize for stealing around 20m3 of wood from our little patch of forest. He said ‘I didn’t know it was yours.’ My answer to him ‘but you did know it wasn’t yours?’ He was confused by my rebuttal. Why would I care if he cut someone else’s forest down, right? In the trunk of his car he had around 15 fresh logs. When I inquired about his load he said ‘ oh, this is from state owned land.’ He asked me not to report him. I told him if I saw him again in this neighborhood I would call the police. He sneered ‘zovne’ (call them). Two hours later he was back with his unregistered car and driving his vehicle without a drivers license. The police caught him. He was back the next morning and again that afternoon cutting down trees. And most mornings since then. I still call the police almost every day.

Maybe I’ll find myself in court again for naming names. But the truth has to mean something, n’est pas?

Donje Biosko, our little village of a dozen homes at 900 meters in the hills around Sarajevo, is a water protection area. The large karst field feeds Moscanica River in the valley below, which provides most of the Old Town with drinking water. The loss of forest cover from here will and does effect the quality and quantity of water that finds its way to the Moscanica source. No one seems horribly interested in this fact. Not for now anyway.

The rapid gun fire comes from the police shooting range down the road. The only open air range in Europe that is located in a residential area in the capital city. A residential area that survived 1,400 days under siege. Although every single resident of the neighborhood has signed a petition to stop the constant gunfire just a hundred meters from their homes, the municipality has issued a questionable ‘concession’ to the ‘Green Berets Association.’ These are supposed to be the men that defended the city during the siege. They have switched roles now, offering free and prolonged torture for all those traumatized by the longest siege in modern European history. It is a playground for police with heavy machine guns, right smack in the middle of town.

Now back to the terrace.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large man walking a pit bull down our street. The pit bull had a heavy chain around its neck that dragged on the ground. He was severely undernourished. The pit bull that is. The man walking him more resembled the mountains around us in size.  A neighbor later confirmed my suspicions that he was ‘training’ (aka starving and torturing) the animal for dog fights in Hladivode. Happy days.

I looked around at the handful of handsome homes in our idyllic little community from our perched terrace. Almost all of them had been robbed at some point in the recent past. Some more than once. The police regularly tell us it’s a ‘local job’ and they ‘have their suspicions’ as to who it might be. Yet no one has ever been caught. None of us believe anyone ever will be.

This is most certainly a mere drop in the ocean in comparison to the monumental problems Bosnia and Herzegovina faces. I find it, however, rather indicative of the current state of affairs. Nothing seems sacred or safe. Not much of anything here is fair. It’s a brutal and bitter reality that the citizens of this country have to swallow on a daily basis. And I wonder how long it will be until something gives way. When and if it does, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

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Sarajevo School of Hard Knocks

“Imaju čudne akcente, nisu rođeni na Koševu. Ne znam ni da navijaju za one plave ili one bordo. Nema ih na nasim fotkama iz mladosti. Ne žale za starim vremenima. Čestitam Jim i Tim. Nadam se da ćemo i mi od vas naučiti kako danas biti Sarajka/Sarajlija.” — ‘They have strange accents, they weren’t born in Kosevo Hospital. I don’t know if they cheer for those in blue or those in bordo. They aren’t in our photographs from our youth. They don’t yearn for the old times. I congratulate Jim and Tim. I hope that we will learn from them how to be Sarajevans today.’ Amra Baksic-Camo (A behind-the-scenes star of Sarajevo’s cultural scene and dear friend). Long silence….

tim and jim

Living in Sarajevo is no walk in the park . Although the city is well-known for welcoming its guests with some of finest hospitality one can imagine, when one ‘goes local’ one can expect a long-term initiation into the school of hard knocks. We can be harsh critics of each other, very often too harsh. We can show unbending stubbornness in the most petty of circumstances more often than we care to admit. Without a serious layer of thick skin, Sarajevo can wear one thin, even for domicile Sarajevans.

Sarajevo, and indeed Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a land of contrasts though.

I again began this blog with only a remote sense of what I might say and even less of how I may say it. I think Bosnia and Herzegovina, and later Sarajevo, has made me a more humble man – both because of the war and the generally modest lifestyles people live. It has made me a better man. It has made me a better person. It has given me a perspective on life, and what matters most, in ways that no other place has done. Sarajevo is not an overtly progressive or liberal city, though. It is sometimes frozen in its traditions, both good and bad. It seems to have always gotten the butt-end of historical and geo-political quagmires since the time of Christ. But there is always, always a struggle to break free of those confines.

Despite some claims to the opposite, Jim and I are no heroes. Although I can’t speak in his name I will take the liberty to say a few things in our name. Perhaps it’s our ‘bostranac’ status that gave and still gives us a sense of urgency to help our neighbors during the floods. I know a lot of that comes from lessons we learned in our new homeland. Lessons too many have forgotten. But in all honesty, it was us that reacted to you…not the other way around. We simply joined the spontaneous and selfless efforts of thousands of Sarajevans like Caki, Emela, and Ines to help those in need.

I am personally very humbled by Amra’s post….and, quite frankly, by the remarkable show of support from those we know and those we don’t for our April 6 Award nomination. I know we don’t take an honor like that lightly.

Amra: We aspire to speak BHS as good as Alban one day. Even if it’s still with a slight (and strange) accent. Our sons were both born in Vojna (kakvo Kosevo :) ). I root for ‘plavi’ because I have to, my father and brother in-laws would disown me if I didn’t. But I don’t have any problem giving a cheer for the ones in bordo either (i oni su nasi despite popular plavi beliefs). Jim could give a shit about blue or bordo. And no, we can’t be found in old high school photo albums. Those too have become a distant and alienated part of our lives that we left behind. The only old times we yearn for is when we all stood together as one and simply lent each other a helping hand – because we all knew our personal well-being was so dependent on the collective well-being. And the reason we stay is because we know that is still the essence of Sarajevo, Sarajke i Sarajlija. Hvala Amra.

And thank you Sarajevo – for keeping us humble. For keeping us real. And for continuing to teach us lessons from the school of hard knocks.

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iphones and Macbook’s

It’s been an awful long time since I pressed the blue ‘publish’ tab on my wordpress blog administrator. My draft box is full. None of them seemed all that worthy of the blue button. I wonder if this one will. I’ve asked myself to press it regardless of what may emerge in the coming minutes. Let’s see if I listen.

I sit here in one of the powerhouse towns of American intellect. No, it’s not Boston or Boulder, but rather Palo Alto. Home to Stanford University where my better half is a visiting Fulbright scholar. I, to be honest, have been brought in as the live-in babysitter. The Silicon Valley is no Tokyo…but I certainly feel many steps behind the curve. I could be wrong that I’m the only person here without an i6 phone and a featherweight Macbook but I’m probably not.

Wrong that is.

I don’t even own a credit card. I pay in cash. People here look at me strange. Since when did cash become a foreign currency?

We spent the last few weeks in San Francisco. It would take a lot to describe my second impression of this amazing city. I’ll try to be short.

Progressive. And by that I don’t mean drum circles and gay parades. They simply come with the territory of a city that thoroughly embraces not only diversity but cutting edge technology aimed at sustainable and efficient living. It’s a city with an open mind. Probably as open as they come.

diversity

Modest sophistication. For a town with so much going for it I sort of expected a bit more snootiness. I’m a New Yorker and, just like Sarajevans, we think we’re from the best place on earth… and have the attitude to prove it. San Francisco has style. Food. Design. Architecture. Fashion. Recycling (yes, i do view recycling as a sophistication). But folks here are laid back, outdoorsy and genuinely friendly. I’m sure there are plenty of snobs smirking at us paupers from their mansions in Marin or the Silicon Valley, but I am one who holds modesty in high regard. San Fran gets an A+ on that front. What they aren’t modest with is prices. Real estate prices are astronomical. They scare the shit out of me. Then again, house cleaners get at least $20 an hour.

Organic. As many of you know, I have a serious problem with the American food industry. It is a big lie of GMO, additives, preservatives, hybrids, and animal torture. There is a deep sense of awareness here, as much as there is for recycling in Germany or Sweden, for organic and wholesome foods. The industry plays all the tricks they can on us, no doubt. Many organic foods ARE in fact genetically modified. The American definition of organic versus the rest of the world’s certainly differs. Nonetheless, people care. Green matters. Organic is more the rule rather than the exception.

Diversity. I sat in the park the other day with Noah. I listened to French, Russian, Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Arabic being spoken around me.  It was music to my ears. Colors and ear candy galore. Freaks, hippies, LGBT, Asian, Black, White, whatever. It just works here. People here don’t really talk about it much. My presumption is that it is a non-issue for most. Kudos. 

Yet whilst I walked through Muir Woods, sipped wine at the Chateau Potelle in the Napa Valley or visited the Visitor Center in Fisherman’s Wharf, my mind constantly wandered back to the Boz and Herz. Every good idea was one to steal and try to implement back home. For me, the greatest charm of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the symbiosis of its cultural and natural heritage. San Francisco, on a very different scale, shares that charm. They just get so many things right here. And I believe that much of that comes from the ‘live and let live’ mentality. People will be creative, by nature, when we allow them to be. By allowing bio-diversity to thrive in nature, we know it becomes more resilient and productive. The community of life is only strengthened by it. Back home, all too often any diversity at all is seen as taboo and, aware of it or not, reinforces the status quo. And I think it’s killing us.

Point Reyes along the Pacific Coast or the Cataract Falls Trail in Marin, for example, are mecca’s for locals and tourists alike. They are well maintained, protected, and visitor numbers are staggering. Bosnia and indeed the Western Balkans have as much stunning nature to show for as any corner of the world does. Where we miss out on, however, is the creative and organizational sides. By creative I don’t mean our budding repertoire of film makers, actors, musicians, or writers but rather ordinary folk, like you and me, with a story to tell or an idea to be realized.

With a bit more of out-of-the-box thinking and better management I see what I have always seen for Bosnia and Herzegovina – a land of opportunity (forgive the cliche). Our potentials are limitless. And we are the only ones standing in our way. So it goes.

Oh yeah, Happy New Year too!

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