Author Archives: Tim Clancy

First Response

I’m about to hit the road but I feel compelled to write this before I do.

Justifiably, this is an emotional moment for most of us. A good chunk of the country is under water, so many have lost everything after perhaps just getting on their feet from the war years, and our government seems to have, once again, failed us miserably. I have a slightly different take on the latter.

We all know what to expect and what not to expect from our beloved institutions. First response, particularly in a poorly organized country like ours, should have been a complete disaster. But it wasn’t. Not even close. Hear me out.

Crisis is a time to come together. And that we did. Granted, the resources and response (or lack of) from the Civil Protection Force was less than admirable. However, the armed forces response was swift and effective. The mobilization of GSS (mountain rescue service) and the rafters made my heart swell with pride. They not only came through put passed this very crucial test with shining colors. They saved lives, many lives. And that’s what it’s all about people. These folks are damn good at what they do, especially with the limited resources at their disposal.

We may be angry or feel even desperate – especially for those watching (or trying to watch in between cooking and music programs) from afar. And although it all seems that the response has been less than mediocre – we came together and in a very meaningful and effective way.

We’ve shown ourselves, once again, the true meaning of solidarity. It should feel good.

The tasks ahead are monumental indeed. First response will soon be over as the water dwindles and everyone is brought to safety. The overwhelming show of support from ordinary citizens was heartwarming but the spontaneous civilian mobilization and organization of emergency aid that reached people within 24 hours was fucking amazing. It proves to me that can have a country, in fact, there just might be one buried under this veil of incompetence and nepotism. We just have the wrong people running it at the moment. Do us all a favor and vote them out this year, will ya!?

The next phase is crucial and cannot be an emotional improv job. We need to get organized…and I honestly believe that is on the horizon. Many may want to hurl insults at the international community for doing nothing but let’s be honest with ourselves, first response is our job. Our friends will be here (and, in fact, already are) for the very complicated and technical next phase of emergency response, rebuilding homes and infrastructure, and working to build the capacity of our slow and inefficient civil protection force.

This could (I know…I’m the irrational & eternal optimist) be a wake-up call to the powers that be that October is close and we won’t forget this. In a cataclysmic event such as this I think it could have been much worse. With years of uncontrolled logging, authorities turning a blind eye to illegal development on unstable terrain, poor water management, and little or no investment in organizations that are supposed to protect life and property – I’d say we did ok. Not great. But ok.

Can we do better? Always. I hope we all realize there is a long road to recovery ahead of us and that we don’t get collective amnesia in a month’s time. People will need our help and I’m confident that in the coming days the organization of the aid effort will improve. It’ll never be perfect, it never is.

Keep the faith. And thank you for reminding me why I’m proud to call this place, fucked up or not, home.


Stepping up

During the war most of the aid that arrived in the country first went to the most populated areas. Eventually, if they were lucky, some of the aid trickled down to smaller towns and villages. For that very reason, our team always took the road less traveled. In our 4 ton Bedford trucks we delivered aid to some of the most remote communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. More often than not the recipients of that aid had never even seen a humanitarian convoy. They were off the grid. And due to limited capacity and resources the places that didn’t make the news didn’t get the aid. Simply put.

I am touched that Bosnians from far and wide have stepped up to help even as the flood waters continue to rise in some places. In the absence of anything resembling an organized nation (with the exception of the armed forces) – ordinary people have rallied to do what in most developed nations would be the responsibility of the authorities to whom we pay taxes.

I hope, however, that we all ask where the 20 million KM emergency fund that was intended for civil protection disappeared to. I hope we ask why rafting companies and volunteer mountain rescue services had to come to save people trapped in their homes instead of a well-equipped civil protection force. I hope we ask why local officials continue to turn a blind eye – and even give permits to – poor people who build homes in dangerous landslide areas. I hope we ask ourselves why we are such gluttons that we allow them to continuously disregard the safety of our families, homes, and communities. This natural disaster did NOT have to be this bad.

We’ve heard of the heart wrenching stories of families who first lost everything in the early 1990’s to war, managed to rebuild a modest life and home for themselves, only to have it destroyed again. These people will need help, both emotional and material, to go through the rebuilding process once more.


There seems to be a flood (forgive the pun) of aid heading towards Maglaj. And no doubt this town will need all the help it can get. But there are also many other communities who have yet to be even mentioned by the local media. And the wave of water heading from Bihac to Bijeljina will certainly wreak more havoc in the coming days.

I recently formed an organization with some friends called Terra Dinarica. We are not an aid agency but rather a group dedicated to nature conservation and sustainable mountain development in the Dinaric Alps region of southeast Europe. We’re putting that aside for now and will be heading off the beaten path again. Gil Scott Heron once sang ‘no one can do everything but everyone can do something.’ That something for us is helping our friends in Zavidovici, a small community in Bosnia’s northeast.

I have already been asked by many people on how they can help, who to contact, and what is most needed. There are many great organizations, like or the Center for the Promotion of Civil Society who are organizing aid. Everyone is trying to do their bit. We’ll be heading to Zavidovici tomorrow to first see what they need most. We’ll take a jeep load of baby clothes with us and will let folks know what we learn and what the needs are.

This is not an appeal to help us help them. It’s an appeal to remind everyone, especially diaspora, to help in a smart way. Please be wise on who you send money to. Check the organizations you put your trust in. There are many outstanding and honest organizations and individuals who are mobilizing others to help. There are also others who don’t deserve our trust and who will undoubtedly take advantage of this catastrophe for personal gain.

Too many people in Bosnia know what it means to lose everything. And sadly some have to go through it again. I tip my hat to those who have so quickly stepped up and mobilized to help. Thank you. I humbly follow in your footsteps. peace


Back in the saddle

The adjustment period after returning from a visit to the states is sort of like digging blindly into a bag of jelly beans and popping them into your mouth before you can suss out which flavor it is. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and other times you just feel like spitting them out. So yet another bittersweet return home to Bosnia. But I won’t bore you with the details. I think they are fairly predictable anyway.

I must say, however, the older I get the more the jetlag tends to kick my white ass. I am on day 10 and a good night sleep is still nowhere in sight. I sit on the couch in the evening and a thin layer of cement forms on my eyelids. It mercilessly forces these protective covers southward. I haven’t the strength to keep them open a second longer. I make my way to the bedroom and lay my weary head to rest. A few seconds pass before I realize, once again, that I have transformed into an agitated alligator. I toss and turn like an everglades 12-footer battling a stray python. I dive and roll as if I’m trying to defend myself from the swamp men putting a bullet between my eyes. I tire, of course. I turn less as the night goes on but my mind has been, until now, unable to trick my body that it’s not 6 hours behind my current physical location. So it goes.



Since my return I frequently get asked about my thoughts on ‘things’ here. The plenum. The ‘uprising.’ The next elections. American engagement (as if I have in any, way shape, or form inside information on US foreign policy). Ukraine becoming a distraction for the administration. But I am still in alligator mode. I am cruising with my head just above water, keeping a keen eye on things around me. My gut tells me the swamp men are carefully planning their next move. And they often do so by lying low, keeping quiet until the smoke clears. What they might have forgotten is that is where gator’s have the home court advantage. They patiently sit on the silty bottom, perfectly camouflaged into the natural surroundings, ready to defend what is rightfully theirs.

God I need some sleep.


My Bosnian Spring

Everything seems out of tilt at the moment. Mother Nature brought spring early to our door even if we never really started any sort of winter hibernation. And now the early spring of late winter has brought on the Bosnian spring. I’m not so sure this is going to bring about meaningful transformation, though, despite the calls from many people I know and respect who are happy to finally see its arrival. Let me tell you why.

There is no doubt that things have reached their boiling point. I’m surprised we managed to put ourselves on simmer for so long in the first place. The injustice that rules our lives and our country is, in the slightest of terms, despicable. But have we asked ourselves the right questions…if any at all?


1. What is it that we really want? We rage about change yet haven’t really defined what kind of change it is that we are truly seeking. To be honest, I get a feeling that if laid off workers got the pathetic compensation and the measly benefits they are demanding they would would turn around and head home. The youth are just plain pissed off because, for them, everything pretty much sucks. I get it. But ‘We’ want ‘them’ to ‘change’ ‘things.’ Too many abstractions if you ask me. ‘They’ have already shown that the status quo works just fine for them. And ‘we’ put them exactly where ‘they’ are. So I ask, what exactly do ‘we’ want? Do ‘we’ even know?

2. We aren’t very good at seeing through anything to the end. We seem to have the attention span of a 2-year old. The politicians on the other hand, are incredibly gifted at riding out storms. One of the hang-ups I’ve always had about Bosnia is our lack of vision. We don’t have a clear vision of where we would like to be and how we are going to get there. Whatever that vision is will surely take a whole helluva lot of work. And work is not our strong point. How many of us are really ready to pull up our sleeves to get down to the real business at hand…and the real business at hand is social transformation. It won’t come on its own or by any supreme power. And it requires getting fucking busy. Nerad is our biggest enemy.

3. Some have said that these ‘balvane’ who run this country don’t respond to anything but violence. I beg to differ. Beyond a shadow of a doubt this will be a wake up call of some sort. How effective it will be, only time will tell.  The Arab Spring didn’t produce many desired results. We haven’t seen the Arab world blossom or democracy sweep through northern Africa and the Middle East. Quite the opposite. We tried violence. It hurt. And it hurt badly. Do we really want to go back down that road? I surely don’t. My memory of the pain and suffering due to the ultra violence of the 1990’s is more than fresh. It’s a place I don’t want to go back to and a place I will do anything to keep my son from experiencing. We can burn buildings and go at it with the police…but what is it we are aiming to achieve by doing so? I’m afraid not too many of us have the answer or have even thought of the questions we should be asking ourselves.

I’m not pretending to be a smarty pants. I don’t have many answers for the Bosnian quagmire. I do have a different take on the revolution, which, as I age, I see as the evolution of the mind (and so did Public Enemy). Change may come by violent uprisings but I ask is it the change we truly seek?

My revolution looks a bit more like this:

1. Boycott. Where it really hurts is not in the buildings where they reside but rather the funds they plunder on a daily basis. Civil disobedience comes in many forms. Sit-ins. Protests. Boycotting products tied to the corrupt elite or even refusal to pay taxes is, in my humble opinion, the most effective way to get their undivided attention. A collective boycott hurts and hurts bad.This requires us to educate ourselves and pulling our heads from the sand. If we want to see, we need to look.

2. Refusing to partake in the culture of corruption and NERAD. That means that we stop looking for stela to get a document or see a doctor or to pass an exam. It means that we stop taking shortcuts and start doing the work that is required to bring a society back on its feet. It is time to go to work.

3. Run for office. Or at least get involved. At the risk of sounding like Michael Moore, I really think there are a tremendous amount of talented people who (for very good reason) have been sitting on the sidelines. Political activism comes in many forms. The bottom line is that our country has been hijacked by a hoard of thieves and we have, by and large, either put them there or sat watching as they do their dirty deeds. It’s no time to rest on our laurels.

4. Many complain, myself included, that the war days were ‘better.’ The reason they were better is because we lent each other a helping hand. There was an unspoken solidarity among neighbors, friends, and perfect strangers that has all but disappeared in Bosnia today. Community, strong communities, is where social change takes place. It starts in the mirror and takes roots in our communities. Waiting for ‘them’ to solve our problems is a waste of hope and valuable energy.

Now perhaps I’ve got this all wrong. Maybe the powers that be will truly respond to the threat of violence. My guess is that they do NOT have the capacity to adjust their moral compass and that even the threat of riots will not curve their behavior. They will only scheme and scam more on how to spin this in their interest for the up and coming elections.

The rage and frustration that every citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina is more than justified. And yes, we all need a vent when things get as bad as they’ve gotten. In that respect, I stand side by side with every normal member of our society who are earnestly searching for social justice and who are willing the pay the price to achieve that justice. If we’re going to burn down buildings simply for the sake of expressing our youthful rage, I’m afraid we’re barking up the wrong tree.

I believe social change is not only possible but probable. Whatever we’ve ‘tried’ so far has not worked. Maybe this will. I have my doubts. I understand this. I am not surprised by this. But I do question its form.

America had a supreme opportunity after 9/11 for some serious self-reflection. I feel in many ways we missed that great opportunity. I think these riots in the streets of Bosnia need to be a wake-up call directed at no other than us. WE need to be awoken. They are wide awake, robbing us blind whilst selling us the lies of division and fear. We are the sleeping ones in need of a wake up call.

Let us be wise…and awake. peace.


Crazy baldheads

When the war ended I remember one of the most eerie feelings was…the silence. During cease-fires there may have been a day or two, even a week by some freak chance, where the constant sound of machine gun and sniper fire was muted. But we always knew it could, and would, end at any moment. So ones guard was never quite down. Then it ended. And I felt uneasy about it.

I felt uneasy about being able to walk down a street where I knew their used to be a sniper looking at me through his scope. It made me uneasy because the body and mind fought with each other, one begging to let the guard down and other saying ‘don’t you fucking dare!’ The sounds of machine gun fire accompanied our lives for almost four years. It was as common as a trains rumble thru a city or a chain saw in a village. It guided us. Told us where to go and where not to go. And although it wasn’t a pleasant sound, it was a reassuring one – as strange as that may sound. In war, you take anything you can get to help you get to the next day. And the sounds of bullets being rapidly discharged from their cartridge did just that….unless, of course, one of those bullets had your name on it.

But what I find with a lot of people today is a strong adversity to those sounds, even if they are just fireworks for New Years. It comes from a deep sense of trauma. Which brings me to my point.

Not too far from the house that we are building is a Yugoslav era firing range. Whereas most urban military installations have been moved, this one remains an active shooting ground. Civilians live literally 20 meters from this site. It is not fenced in. I’d say within a hundred and fifty meter radius there are probably over 100 homes.

So for those who survived the longest siege in modern European history, they get to be reminded of the tortuous sounds and feelings on a daily basis. The range is now used by local special forces, police and, yes, EUFOR soldiers. They come to fire boisterous live rounds that resonate across the entire valley, from Sedrenik, Gazin Han, Hladivode, Faletici and Biosko. From my home, 1.5 kilometres away, it sounds like the war has returned to Sarajevo. For the people living next to it, it sounds like the apocalypse.

What astonishes me, and pisses me off, is the arrogant disregard for the local community.How on earth can they allow the special forces and foreign troops to come play war in people’s backyards.

I looked into which European capital city has open-air firing ranges within 20, or 50 or even 1.000 meters of a residential area. Funny enough, I couldn’t find a single one. So while we are often getting European standards shoved down our throats, including human rights, EUFOR (EU led NATO military force in BiH) have no problem with psychologically torturing the local population. I wish I was surprised at the hypocrisy. Obviously I’m not. (I’d like to point out that there ARE functional alternatives not too far from Sarajevo in a much more isolated location).

I was recently asked by the national tv station BH1 to give an interview about this. After I gave the interview the ‘concessionaire’ approached me. He shook my hand and didn’t let go.

Don’t you have anything smarter to do than this?” Although it wasn’t me that contacted the media nor was it my idea to bring up the issue, I got mad “Nope, nothing at all” I replied (admittedly with a chip on my shoulder). Still not letting go of my hand he moved his chin in the direction of the firing range where I had just given my statement in front of the camera “You know that is private property where you just were?! (slight pause) Is there democracy in America?” I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this. My answer was “partially, at least, yes.” He shook his shiny, bald head “No, there’s not. You know in America that people have the right to protect their property, right?” Still not knowing is which direction he was heading I said “yes, they do.” His answer to that was “Even killing someone is justified, right?.” He squeezed my hand a bit more. Now I got his point. “And you were just on my private property, weren’t you?

I’m not quite sure where the chemical imbalance that occurs in me in these situations comes from. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism to not shit myself. But I was fucking furious. I wrestled my hand away from this 6’2″, 210 pound, bald-headed man…”So now you’re threatening me?!?!” There were four other people standing there in silence, including the reporter. “Your house is just down the road, isn’t it?” His threats became even more ‘subtle.’ He was definitely sending me a clear message. So I walked off and yelled “Don’t threaten me!” His only reply was “I’m not threatening you at all.”

At this point I had the rage. But I had also pissed off a very powerful and, by the looks of his car, gold necklace, and fancy watch, rich war veteran (which is not, by the way, the state of affairs for veterans who honorably sacrificed pretty much everything except breathing for this city).

What pissed me off even more is that I knew the locals has signed a petition that ‘got lost’ in the municipality, complaining about the trauma inflicted on their families because of this firing range. Yet no one would stand in front of the camera. Everyone clammed up. I understand why. Really, I do. But I have been there before and witnessed how everyone disappears when the going gets a bit rough. One time it landed me in a five year court battle. Another exposed me to systematic threats that were, thank goodness, empty ones. So I called the tv station. I told them if I was the only one giving a statement then they don’t have my permission to air the interview. They confirmed that no one would speak to the media. I backed out.

It didn’t take me long to feel defeated. I chickened out. What a pussy. Yet I promised myself last time that I will always stand when even just one other person is ready and willing. But not if I’m to go at it alone again. I didn’t do a good job at convincing myself. I still felt like a loser. Baldy had won.

I was at my house the other day when the boyz with the noise showed up to practice their wares. They fired for hours. I was instantly brought back to the war. I thought of the old baba that lives literally a stones throw from where they were shooting. She had not only survived WWII and the brutality of the last war…but was being forced to relive the trauma several times a week when they bring the old front line right into her living room. There’s no fucking humanity in that. None at all. It’s just plain wrong.

So, with tail between legs, I write this pathetic blog. And tomorrow the Europeans will show up, standards and ethics and all, to fire away in our neighborhood. And the baldhead walks away with a bag full of cash.

not to be re-published in any form without the explicit consent of thebosniaguy – which basically means not to be re-published, period. 


Smoo-thy or not Smoo-thie

The new census will surely show that Sarajevo is even smaller than we thought it was. Estimates put the four main city municipalities total population at just over 250,000. Granted, with East Sarajevo and the surrounding communities we eventually might reach 400,000. But still, we’re small. Smaller than I thought.

I don’t mind small places that wear big britches. In a lot of ways Sarajevo fits that match. In a lot of ways it doesn’t. We don’t have a Thai restaurant to speak of. This town is mainly white. I miss miss my brown and black brothers and sisters. We don’t have a good sports bar. There are zero no-smoking bars. But I’m not here to complain. Quite the contrary actually. We got smoothies.

Yup. You know, those deliciously healthy drinks that can also act as a meal. The drink that is sort of like pistacchio’s…you can’t have one but have to eat the whole bag. The smoothies I’m talking about don’t last long – they’re too good to dwell on or to be sabur with. I tried to savor the moment, really, I did. But I’m only human. One that loves smoothies. Boy, did they go down fast.

I had once toyed with the idea of opening up a smoothie/book shop. I’ve had lots of grandiose ideas over the years. Never managed to tick the box on this one. Somebody else did, though.

It is my pleasure to introduce to you – my fellow Sarajevans, visitors and ex-pats – the moment we all have been waiting for. Fresh smoothies. Organic teas. Delicious Illy coffee(s). Fresh squeezed fruit juices. And even cookies and scones… at Sirove Strasty Smoothy Bar. The icing on the cake? It’s non-smoking AND child friendly. Glory be. I have another winter friend alongside Torte i To.

smoothy bar

I’ve been twice over the past three days. I will try to taste as much of them as possible (as a sacrifice to  you crazy people who read my mumbo-jumbo). I must admit, it may take some time. I tried the Date & Nuts smoothie during my last fix. This melange of vanilla bean, banana, dates, walnuts, and nutmeg is much worse than a pistacchio addiction. Much worse. It may take me a while to get through them all. I’m not even going to go into the fruit juice combinations.

Sirove Strasty was opened by the yoga instructor pair of Mike and Aida. They have taken their passion for yoga and healthy living one step further. My suspicion is that the menu is Mike’s making. He’s 43 and looks as healthy as a 23 year old. The man knows his nutrition. Combine good nutrition with all the fresh delicacies behind the bar and you get a vice that you can actually be proud of.

My auto corrector keeps telling me that Smoothy is an incorrect spelling. So Smoothie or Smoothy, Mike and Aida’s Smoothy Bar (located right across from Havana Bar in the old town and next to Zeljo) comes with my highest recommendation. Fellow ferners, one less reason to complain about the long winter ahead of us. Another smoke free haven is born. Prijatno.


The Science of Understanding

The Chronicle of Higher Education from the US spent a year researching and writing an article, or perhaps story would better suit its description, about Sabina and her research ( It is titled the Science of Hate. It’s the only thing in the entire length of the story that I disagree with. I’m not a firm believer in hate. I think it’s an easy label to slap on without having to deal with the true emotions underlying ‘hate.’ But hell, who am I to say?

Sabina does not deal with politics as some may think. She is not in the business of pointing fingers. What Sabina does is try to measure human emotions, which, as we all know, are not always rational or even explicable.

The journalist, a soft spoken and exceptionally detailed Austinite named Tom Bartlett, visited us this past spring. He was genuinely intrigued not only about Bosnia and its schizophrenic plight but about how to move this place forward. He was objective. Thorough. Curious. A good listener. A great researcher. He shares a lot in common with Sabina.

Today some of us celebrate statehood day for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Probably about half of us don’t. What encourages me, though, is how many people still care about this place. Bosnia and Herzegovina is, quite frankly, piss-poor at nurturing its friendships. We have not tuned in to the abundance of soft spots that many fine people all across the globe have for this country and ALL its people.

The road ahead for us here in Bosnia is, at best, uncertain. It’s a reality that seems to come with the territory. Experience has taught me that not much of anything in life is black and white. Even if at times we all wished it were that simple, it simply is not. Our personal experiences shape our world view…if indeed we have a world view to speak of at all. For me, the value of what Sabina is doing is that it measures how we feel and not what we want or expect the outcome to be. It is an honest and open approach not only to science but towards basic human relations. For me that means to learn to respect feelings regardless of how absurd or misguided we might deem them to be. Regardless of the rights or wrongs, it’s fucking hard to wipe away an emotion. It’s hard for any of us to truly look in the mirror and acknowledge a lifetime of trash we carry with us, not to mention letting go of a torturous past.

What Sabina is looking for is the path forward…a path that is based on the fears and desires of the people that have to embark on that journey – in their own time and their own way (with perhaps a little positive manipulation here and there). Her research has proved that there is a way forward, although it may be contrary to what our logic (including mine) may tell us. The most valuable lesson I get from living and sleeping with Sabina’s research is that there is no place for assumptions or even wish lists. It has to be a clean and honest slate.

My ramble is over. Sretan Dan Drzavnost for those who celebrate it. And for those who don’t an honest desire that you will one day feel comfortable joining us. We would absolutely love to have you. And if not, that’s ok too.




Jingle Bells

My son woke me up around 5 am this morning. Well, actually, I had been lying there for some time. Full moons seem to affect both of us equally. The night of the full moon I hardly sleep at all but the few days before and/or after aren’t that much better either. The thing is, although it might be annoying to toss and turn so much, I’m not really all that tired after a sleepless night courtesy of la luna. So it goes.

He came and laid in bed with us. We have been trying to discourage this for several reasons. All of them are for purely selfish ones. Noah tends to occupy the bed. And he has a need to be touching both of us with any given body part which often results with his foot resting on my forehead. Once he’s in bed, we’re awake. Sabina and I generally agree on most things. One thing we most definitely agree on is ‘do not fuck with our sleep.’ Well, Noah certainly does.

So it’s 5. We’re all awake and Noah breaks out into a bi-lingual version of jingle bells (I didn’t know there was a Bosnia version of Jingle Bells). It’s not even Thanksgiving and we get a Bosnian/English version of jingle bells. It’s hard to be annoyed when your three old sings Jingle Bells to you in two languages at 5 am. (Notice that I keep repeating it was 5 am – there I go again).

Now there is no reason whatsoever that I am writing about this except for the fact that I feel that I need to give a little more time and attention to thebosniaguy. What this has to do with Bosnia or the guy…I really couldn’t tell you.

This was the second or third night/morning in a row that he has gotten up around the same time. I could tell he was feeling a bit under the weather. But I took him to pre-school nonetheless. He wasn’t feverish, ate breakfast, and gave me a hard time about putting his jacket on – all signs of a healthy kid. After dropping him off I went to the Hotel Europe for a coffee with Pedja and Danis. Then the phone rang. It was school. Coffee time was over. Noah had a fever.

So we’ve been home all day today. He slept a good part of the day. I did what every parent does with their sick kid. Kiss his forehead every now and then to check his temperature. Made him mint tea. Kept him covered with his soft, baby blue blanket. Put on his favorite cartoons (which vary but today was a Pocoyo day). As I sat and watched him snooze I kept thinking how lucky we are. Lucky in the sense that when and if our son is sick then I have the ability to ‘not work’ and take care of him. There are a lot of imperfect things about this country. Any country for that matter. But I really think it’s one of the few places where I could, and do, get away with it. Living in the ‘west’ certainly has many advantages, free time is not one of them. And it’s my ‘free’ time that I cherish most in my life because it gives me the opportunity to be with my family much more so than the ‘western standards’ the world so desperately aspires to (or for a 10am coffee with Pedja and Danis for that matter).

A lot of people complain about things here. And sure, we have a lot to whine about if we must whine. BUT, one thing we most certainly do get here is time. And it’s up to us how we use that time. Time with my son, whether it’s reading a book or watching him sleep, is the best standard of living I could hope for. So no, I’ll never be a rich man. But man oh man, sometimes I feel like I’m rolling in it.


One for the team

We had just moved into the second half of the second half and it was still nil-nil. We had all gathered for Bajram, or Eid (sort of like Muslim Easter) as we usually do. But this time the table was set around the tv. It was the final World Cup qualification match.

Sabina’s uncle sat next to me and although I didn’t count, I’m betting he went through an entire pack of napkins to swab the sweat off of his forehead. Her father took Persin to calm his nerves. My mother-in-law paced in the kitchen just out of view of the television until even that became too much. She banished herself into the other room. Sabina spewed out conspiracy theories about how Greece paid the Lithuanians to ‘play harder’ to beat Bosnia in our bid to reach our first World Cup. When I asked where she heard of such a ridiculous accusation and what her sources might be for such a claim, the entire male side of the family turned on me like I was a secret agent for the Greek national football team. Of course the Greeks had offered them money to beat us! Just look how the goalie is playing! (Silly me).

I sat in a room with a medical doctor, pharmacist, social psychologist, physicist, 2 mechanical engineers, an architect, and a certified accountant. The general IQ level in the room was fairly high. But that did not stop the madness. After 65 minutes of a no-goal game something had to give. Sabina’s uncle, the medical doctor, ordered her to change seats with her father. Then a very serious game of musical chairs ensued. The karma wasn’t right for a goal. We had to shake things up. In all honesty, I just had to pee. So i got up, peed, and stood next to the tv instead of going back to my seat.

Minute 68 the house broke into complete hysteria. Bosnia erupted.


Ibisevic scored the games only goal, sending Bosnia and Herzegovina to its first ever World Cup. Screams. Howls. Hugs. Praying to Allah. Rakija/moonshine shots for everyone. I went from traitor to hero. The doc stood up and thanked me, thanked America, for standing up for Bosnia. He wasn’t kidding. It was true, I did stand for the final twenty minutes of the game. But I knew if I even attempted to go back to my seat I would be shunned by a room of superstitious Muslims.

So I stood for the team. I made my sacrifice. Yes, the goal was my doing. It was ordered by God, America, and the angels. I was simply the means to channel this great gift. We outdid the Greeks with their devious bribery schemes. So much for the Greek Gods.

Obrigado Zmajevi. Idemo u Brasil!


Connecting Naturally

I was helping a Swiss tv crew do a documentary on Bosnia some years back. I can’t recall exactly when but I do  know it was summer. They asked me to take them to Lukomir, the highest and most isolated permanent settlement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s as close as one gets to a medieval village in this part of the world.

It was early morning and a weekday, so there were no tourists milling about. Most of the younger people from the village were going about their daily morning chores of milking the cows or taking the sheep out to pasture. I greeted a handful of the village elders as we wandered through their highland homesteads. We made a loop and upon our return I found a village elder, Dedo Duran (rahmetli), sitting on a rocky outcrop in front of a stone barn. He seemed lost in thought. I sat down a few meters to his left in silence.

The tv crew seemed confused. The producer politely asked me what I was doing. I wasn’t exactly sure… until I was. My answer was “I’m keeping him company.” I told them that more elders would soon appear and that they too would just come and sit. Dedo Duran rolled a cigarette. The producer seemed puzzled, doubtful even, of my answer. Within a few minutes a few elderly men strolled over, lifted their pants at the knees and sat down on comfy spot on the rock. Within ten minutes there was six of us there, minus the tv crew, sitting in silence.


I think the producer thought I had staged this for him. I assured him I hadn’t.  He asked one of the gentlemen who had come over and sat near Dedo why he did that. Without hesitation he explained ‘It’s ok to be alone in ones thoughts. But we should never leave each other alone. There are enough hard things about life here, we don’t need to make loneliness one of them. We depend on each other. So I sit next to Dedo Duran just like he would come and sit next to me. We don’t always need to speak but its important for everyone to know that they are never alone.’

The other men gazed at the producer in quiet compliance. Dedo Duran licked the cigarette he had just rolled and stuck it onto his bottom lip. This highland shepherd had just laid out, in the most simplistic of terms, the nature of our existence as social beings.

The producer, ecstatic about the elderly man’s profound answer, turned to me, still puzzled, and asked “But how did you know to do that?” At that moment I realized that this was the first time that I was one of ‘them.’ I was always warmly welcomed there. I felt accepted. There was most certainly a reassuring mutual trust among us. But I wasn’t one of them. Not until that summer morning. 

So my respect and admiration for ‘them’ transformed into a sense of belonging. And what I was grateful to belong to was not a state or a nationality, but rather the circle of ancient knowledge, often unspoken, that indigenous people possess about the value and essentials of our social fabric. They connect naturally.

Which leads me to my point…

White westerners have the habit of romanticizing or demonizing ‘old world’ traditions and lifestyles. We tend to view indigenous peoples as poor folks who, of course, need our help to be like us. But for me the highland lifestyles of the western Balkans are a precious – and rare – window into our not-so-distant past. I have learned a tremendous amount from the simplicity and wisdom of mountain peoples, whether they be in Lukomir or Lamay.

In my travels and wartime gigs in the western Balkans over the past 20 years I have discovered a small glimpse of the magic, warmth, and ruggedness of the people of the Dinaric Alps. It is not a pathetic illusion of a fairy tale world. Their lifestyles are difficult and, sadly, dying. They too grapple with problems of the world, old and new. But there is a fierce self-reliance that inspires me as much as the dramatic and pristine nature that is their home.

Many of us wrestle with the challenge on how to protect and preserve this precious heritage – both natural and cultural. There is certainly no single or simple answer. But along the Dinaric Alps that stretch from northern Albania all the way to Slovenia are dozens of remote, traditional villages that have lived in sync with some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in all of Europe for many centuries. So it seems logical to try and connect the dots as, forgive the cliche, there is strength in numbers.

This will manifest itself through a project called Via Dinarica. I believe it’s an idea whose time has come. I will ask you to join us on this journey and share with your friends.

More to come soon. peace