Saturday, 7 December 2013

Check out this site - sigma.ba!

Hey guys,

Just a quick little plug for a cool site that's becoming more popular at the moment: sigma.ba.

It advertises itself as a student urban portal, but does cover an array of interesting topics.

Currently, all articles are in Bosnian language, but I am told Sigma are looking at writing some pieces in English in the near future.

So, if you're a Bosnian looking to read some interesting and topical pieces from your homeland, or an outsider wanting to gain a glimpse of what's on the mind of the new generation of Bosnians, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Follow me on Twitter!

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I do not update this blog as often anymore, but, just to let you all know, I plan to post on here occasionally now and then.

Also, sometimes I post Bosnia-related stuff on different websites, so if you would like to keep track of what I am doing and writing, I encourage you to jump on Twitter and follow me.

My address is @rustywoodger and you can follow me by clicking here and pressing 'Follow'!

Hvala puno!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The beautiful language of football

Every sports lover has their story of how they fell in love with their clubs of choice.

For some Collingwood fans, it might have been when Peter McKenna was flying about and kicking goals across Victoria Park throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. 

Diehards of the Melbourne Tigers may owe some of their devotion to the legendary Andrew Gaze, who lit up the local competition during the 1990s. Whilst, Brisbane Broncos converts probably reminisce fondly to the days when Gorden “Raging Bull” Tallis lined the second row.

Yet, some stories differ significantly from the next.

This is my tale of how a born-and-bred Aussie fell in love with a mid-tier football club battling it out in the unglamorous league of Bosnia.


It is November 2012, and the midweek evening is a bitterly cold one in Zenica, a working class city located an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital, Sarajevo.

Home to little more than 100,000 people, a small crowd of a few thousand have made their way to the local football stadium to support their side, Celik Zenica, in a knockout cup tie against a team from the Herzegovina region of Bosnia.

I find myself positioned right in the middle of the hardened fans in the south stand of ‘Bilino Polje’ for the match. Actually, it is nothing out of the ordinary for me to be here. I have been in Bosnia for more than nine months, and every Celik match I attend, I ensure I grab a ticket amongst the rowdy lads behind the goals who call themselves ‘Robijasi’, or ‘Convicts’ in English. Given my nationality, the name seems kind of appropriate, too.

Me, circled, trying to blend in with the Celik fans.
After months of attending games, I know many faces, though my lack of knowledge for the local language makes it difficult for conversations to progress past a “Hello” and, occasionally, a “How are you?”.

In spite of this, I have worked up a strong familiarity with the songs and chants belted out by the ‘Convicts’. At first, it wasn’t like this.

I remember my first Celik match, and repeatedly questioning my girlfriend’s brother if it would be a problem to stand amongst them, despite not knowing a single word to any of the group’s chants. I was aware that entering their area and not participating may raise problems for me.

Ultimately, there wasn’t an issue. I managed to get through the match making (poor) attempts to mime songs I did not know, and awkwardly clap (out of time, usually).

Now, on this November evening at Bilino Polje, I feel so accustomed and, heck, even comfortable on the south stand with this mob. It is only at half-time of this match that it truly hits me who I am – and where I am!

As the referee blows the whistle to bring an end to a pulsating first half, a young bloke next to me with his shirt off asks, “Imas li pljuga?”. I understand that he is asking if I have something, though I have no idea what “pljuga” is.

After having just spent 45 minutes next to this fellow belting out songs word-for-word in Bosnian, like a true bloody native, I turn to him and tell him in his local tongue, “Sorry, I don’t know Bosnian”.

As one would imagine, the lad was pretty confused. Surely, he thought I was taking the piss.

He scrunches his face in bewilderment. Probably contemplating scrunching his fist, too, another boy familiar to me jumps up and explains the situation. That is, that I am Australian and I really do not know Bosnian.

(For those playing along at home, the guy was asking for a cigarette. No, I didn’t have one.)

It was times like these when it struck me just how far removed from home I was.

Allow me to provide a bit of background to the situation.

I had come to Bosnia to reunite with a girl I had met on travels in the country a year earlier. (She is now my wife, for what it’s worth.)

Although she was the sole reason I made the risky switch as a 19-year-old from my Victorian coastal home to the wintry surrounds of this war-damaged – yet beautiful – country, I would be lying if I said following the local football was not on the agenda whatsoever.

Perhaps this interest is strange coming from a Westerner, given Bosnia’s national football competition is not exactly held in the highest regard.

Plagued with allegations of corruption, and with top sides who struggle to progress past the qualification stages of European competition, you would be hard pressed to find a football fan outside of the continent who could even name a Bosnian side – let alone a mid-table outfit like Celik.

Zenica may be a long way from the flashy lights of Old Trafford or the Nou Camp,
but the passion burns just as hot! 
The club from Zenica, however, were not always this average.

Formed in 1945, the side – whose name means “Steel” in English due to its well-known factory next to the city – were a common sight in the old Yugoslav First League. When Yugoslavia collapsed in the 1990s, and a new league was created specifically for Bosnia, Celik won the title three years in a row.

Since then, clubs from other cities have largely dominated the local competition. This is no more evident than with Zeljeznicar Sarajevo, who have been crowned champions five times in the past 13 seasons.

Despite Celik’s lack of success on the pitch, it is its passionate fan-base which made me fall in love with the club.

Loss after loss, mediocre performance after mediocre – and irrespective of weather conditions – the young men and, even, women are there on the south stand every week chanting their hearts out, hoping the next day will bring more fortune than the last.

There were also occasions where I defied the wishes of my partner and family, deciding to jump on a bus with these fanatics and travel over seven hours to an away match. In the depths of summer. With no air conditioning. And a standing room only vehicle.

For me, it was eye-opening. For them, it was just another week of being a loyal follower of their local team.

It wasn't all smooth sailing in my time as a
Celik supporter. Though, at least I discovered
what it is like to receive stitches. Never
again, thanks ...
Ultimately, I would make two trips with the Celik faithful, zig-zagging through the Bosnian mountains until we eventually reached a small, hidden stadium far away. On each occasion, we would be greeted by countless police and security at the entrance gates who gave more thorough searches than you would expect to see on an episode of Border Security.

On the second occasion, as our bus was on its return journey to Zenica, we were attacked by a group of rival fans from another city. Of course, out of the 60-odd people on the bus, I, the token Aussie, was the only one injured, copping a decent-sized rock to my noggin.

A few hours later in the hospital, and with three stitches to my head, two of the leaders of ‘Convicts’ paid me a visit to check on my welfare. They barely spoke any English, if at all, yet the fact they would make the effort resonated with me.

I was an outsider who had come in and been accepted by these people. The fact we struggled to make sense of each other through conversation was irrelevant.  

Furthermore, I realised Celik Zenica had grown into something I hold close to my heart.

Whilst I have spent the past eight-and-a-half years as a diehard supporter of Australian A-League side Melbourne Victory, it is hard to compare the two entities in terms of their make-up and history.

I do not wish to go into great detail, as I am sure to be side-tracked, though there is something beautiful at the heart of football evident in these corners of the globe.

Most modern-day fans see football through a television from an armchair perspective. In developed countries, like Australia, supporters take for granted the boutique stadiums the sport is played in nowadays. Car park underneath stadium. Check! Escalator to our seats. Check!
Me, circled, with the 'Convicts' en route to an away match
seven hours away.

Though, at grounds like Bilino Polje in Bosnia, you can forget about such hospitality – and that’s what I love.

People don’t come to the game to have a day out. They don’t even come to see multi-million dollar footballers strut their stuff. They come to support and bleed their heart out for their beloved club and the battlers wearing the shirt.  

Although Celik would cruelly lose out in a penalty shootout in the cup tie on that cold November evening at Bilino Polje – and the match would prove to be my last before returning home – my brief sojourn with the faithful in Zenica had an everlasting impact on me as a person.

It reemphasised to me that football is not merely a sport. It is a phenomenon which far transcends the white markings on the hallowed turf.

On the surface, as a born-and-bred Aussie, I had little in common with the faces around me on the terraces. Indeed, I could barely string a sentence together when trying to communicate with them.

Yet, as soon as the whistle blew to kick things off, none of that mattered. We instantly became brothers and sisters, united in support of our warriors on the field.

We didn’t need to know English. We didn’t need to know Bosnian. We already spoke the same language: football.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Life after Bosnia

It all took place in just a matter of minutes.

I was driving home from university on what could be described as a beautiful and sunny early-autumn afternoon.

Rewind a few days, and this very road was packed bumper-to-bumper with cars carrying all sorts of tourists and families who were heading down to the local Surf Coast area -- a place I call home -- to soak up the beach and sun.

There’s little doubting it: this is a truly amazing part of the world. 

Especially at this time of year.

Beautiful, crystal blue water as far as you can see. Sand. Sun. Sun. And more sun.

Throw in the fact the magnificent Great Ocean Road is on its doorstep, and you have one incredible mix that drags tourists here from not only Australia, but all over the world.

On this particular afternoon, however, driving home surrounded by all this natural beauty, my mind is elsewhere.

Fifteen-thousand-kilometres elsewhere.

What was I concentrated on?

Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(Did you guess it?)

One might be inclined to ask a simple question: Why?

Even Bosnians themselves would probably be perplexed as to why I am thinking about their country when all I should probably be thinking about is how to make the most of this wonderful scenery surrounding me.

But I can’t help it.

This small Bosnia-Herzegovina flag was presented to me by
friendly neighbours in Zenica in order for me to not forget
their country. Don't worry, guys, I haven't needed such reminders!
And, before I knew it, there it was.

Despite some meagre attempts to portray myself as a bit of a macho-man at times, I confess to expelling a tear or two in that car as my mind raced back to all the things I have left behind in the Balkans.

Yes, I, 21-year-old Rusty Woodger, cried a little.


What can I say? I miss Bosnia. A lot.

It is not one, but many things.

It's the lifestyle.

It's t
he ‘Ezan’ call for prayer playing across the city five times a day. The strong scent of cevapi and onion emanating from the local cevabdzinica.

It's dashing across to the local mesnica and ‘Konzum’ to buy all the necessary ingredients for lunch. 

It's coffee for morning, mid-morning, lunch, afternoon, evening, night-time and any other time we bloody feel like it.

It's dodging stray and angry dogs on the street. Dropping past the local pekara twice a day to grab some hljeb (Bosnians love their bread). 

It's the tense atmosphere of an important match on Bilino Polje. Being ‘that’ Aussie in Bosnia. Receiving constant compliments from locals and invitations to join them for coffee or lunch.

It's the amazingly beautiful landscape. The mountainous terrain. The Adriatic Sea a mere few hours away.

But, most of all, it is the people: those who became friends, and those who became family.

Make no mistake; Bosnia is filled with a vast array of good-natured, strong-willed and inspiring individuals. Upon leaving, it was the realisation I would not see these people for a long time that made it such a bitter pill to swallow. 

More than a month has passed since I returned to my home country of Australia.

Although he did not know much English, my fiancé's
grandfather - whom I lived with in Zenica - is someone
I grew close with, and I regularly ponder about him since
returning to Australia.
To most, my life seems relatively “normal.” I go to school. I come home. I catch up with friends whenever possible, sitting for coffee and talking about ‘everyday’ topics.

Even on that day I drove home from university with a tear-in-the-eye, I settled myself, walked into my home and confronted my Bosnian fianc√© as though nothing at all had just happened.

On the inside, evidently, my life is rather different.

Constantly, my mind travels to Bosnia, as I ponder about my old friends and family.

How are they doing? I wonder if so-and-so has found a job yet? If such-and-such has stopped getting himself into so much trouble? If this person’s health has begun improving? If that lady is feeling lonely without our semi-regular visits for coffee?

Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely happy to be back in Australia with all my locally based family and friends, and to have all the educational, occupational and other opportunities not enjoyed by others elsewhere.

Further to this, anyone who knows me personally can vouch for the fact I love my city, Melbourne, very much.

However, the fact remains: I still feel as though my life is not ‘whole’ or ‘complete’ without Bosnia.

Every day I am attempting to stem these feelings.

A photo for my 'Robijasi Zenica' friends to let them know I
have not forgotten about them here in Melbourne.
Whether it’s cooking up coffee in a dzezva, listening to some Dino Merlin or Dubioza Kolektiv, getting the “Robijasi” scarf out of my cupboard, or briefly jumping in on a Skype chat between my partner and her mother – I am always trying something to reconnect myself with the nation and culture that was home to me for 12 months.

Although I do not have any immediate plans to return to Bosnia, I long for the day I will be there taking a walk down carsija once again.

There is little doubting that this magnificent nation has left an indelible mark on this Australian’s heart.

As the saying goes: ‘There’s no place like home…

The expression is generally perceived as referring to just one, singular ‘home.’

For me, however, that scenario is too simple.

Australia is my home, but so is Bosnia.

And, trust me, there is no place like Bosnia.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Aussie in Bosnia bids Farewell

It is with great sadness that I inform you today the Aussie in Bosnia page will cease all its activities, effective immediately.

Due to the fact I must depart from these shores in the coming weeks, it is a strong wish of mine to make the most of my remaining time here, and I fear this blog could prove to be too great a distraction.

In terms of writing this page, the journey until now has been magnificent; one I can genuinely say I have enjoyed from start to finish. The decision to hang the keyboard up, so to speak, has not been made lightly.

I originally held some hope of writing a rather in-depth review on the last 11-12 months I have spent in this wonderful country, but -- what can I say -- I currently don't know where to begin on such a subject that, in truth, deserves a lot of time and care.

Perhaps, the best time for such reflection will be waiting for me once I settle back in Australia.

Nonetheless, this blog has obviously played a very big part in my life over the past seven months, providing me with a platform to pursue my passion for writing and, more specifically, to write about topics I love and which interest me.

There are so many people from both within Bosnia-Herzegovina and across the world who I have been connected to thanks to An Aussie in Bosnia.

Some of these connections have even developed into personal friendships which will hopefully last for many years to come, illustrating the power a page such as this can hold.

On top of these real-life occurrences, we also managed to post 200 blog entries, whilst attaining a view-count which today sits in excess of 35,500 -- and, trust me, it's only been climbing and climbing in recent times -- at an average of more than 160 views per day.

That is something I could never have dreamed of when I began this page. Never.

I am very proud of the work I have churned out on here over the past half year, but I know I still have a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be as a writer, and I can't wait to look back on this in the future as a sort of measuring stick to check my progress.

As mentioned earlier in this post, it is hard to find the correct words right now to write a meaningful review (or reviews!) of my time in Bosnia, but it is something I plan on doing in the months following my return to Australia.

For that reason, if you would like to hear some of the stories I have to tell about Bosnia-Herzegovina, then you can keep up to date with my movements through my Twitter page. Alternatively, you can bookmark this very page and check back every couple of weeks to see if there have been any updates!

I would just like to use the end of this post here to express my gratitude for this country and how welcoming it has been to me. There is absolutely no way I would have written to this extent if it weren't for such factors.

There's no two ways about it: I love this country, and that is why it has been so easy to write about it for this long.

Rest assured, this will not be the end of my journalistic relationship with Bosnia. It is a strong wish of mine that future work of mine involves this nation and region. In what capacity, however, I am not sure. Only time will tell.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a place I would have struggled to find on a map a few years ago (I would've had some difficulty spelling it, too!) but it is now a country which has been etched into my heart forever.

Whilst here, my perceptions on everything in life were changing on a daily basis.

Moreover, I now possess a greater appreciation for the world thanks to my time here.

Thank you, Bosnia; despite my words, you really don't know the effect you've had on this Australian boy. I will never forget your people and their hospitality and kindness.

Once again, thank you to everyone who read this blog, whether you were a regular follower or a one-time reader, I am incredibly gracious for you taking the time to even click onto this page to see what I was rambling on about.

Now it is time to move onto the next chapter of my life.

Thank you. Hvala puno.

VOLIM TE BOSNO!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Some more Saturday Satires - Mujo and Haso

(Source: comediansnationwide.com)
1.
Mujo and Haso are sitting at a park bench.

Mujo asks Haso: "Why are we here and not helping our wives?"

Haso responds: "We don't need to - it's their job. They only know how to clean and have sex!"

Mujo stands up in a hurry. Haso asks: "Mujo, where are you going?"

Mujo replies: "Running home, my wife doesn't know how to clean."

Friday, 18 January 2013

BiH in 65th place for most peaceful nations

Global Peace Index Rankings map, 2012.
(Source: Wikipedia)
Here's an interesting statistic that was brought to my attention by Bosnian portal Klix earlier this afternoon.

According to the Global Peace Index (GPI) for 2012, which was published in June last year by the Institute for Economics and Peace, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) ranks as the 65th most peaceful nation in the world.

Iceland came in at first place out of the 158 countries surveyed, followed closely by Denmark and New Zealand in equal-second, with the most dangerous nation on the planet deemed to be Somalia.