Friday, 29 June 2012

Ten 'Only in Bosnia' discoveries.

There's little doubting that Bosnia is, well, uh, let's just say, an 'interesting' and 'unusual' nation where certain things occur which make you utter under your breath, "Only in Bosnia!"

Here are ten that spring to mind. Enjoy!

What do you do when you're missing a ball to play Table Football?
Sometime in April this year, my girlfriend and I travelled to a small Bosnian village to visit the weekend house belonging to some family friend's of hers.
As I arrived, some young'un's were already there playing some table football. After walking closer, I noticed that - for the ball - they were using......a potato. Only in Bosnia!

Table football with a potato!

Three separate presidents.
As laid out in the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Presidency should 'consist of three members: one Bosniak and one Croat, each directly elected from the territory of the Federation, and one Serb directly elected from the territory of the Republika Srpska'.
As you can imagine, the three often have very differing interests - so, it's fair to say that not a whole lot gets done. Only in Bosnia!

Odd way of greeting.
The other day, I was reading a piece in The Age by Ben Groundwater which described the Australian greeting of, "How's it going?" as 'weird' and 'nonsensical'. Groundwater compared it to the American "what's up", but I believe the trophy for the strangest method of greeting has to go to Bosnia, with people saying "Dje si?" when they see another person, which, in English, translates to, "Where are you?"
Everytime I hear this, I am confused. Erm... I'm right here. You can see that, why do you need to ask!?

The nature of gypsies and beggars here.
For the first 19 years of my life, I had never come face-to-face with a real gypsy, but, after a trip deep into the Balkans in October of 2011, that all changed!
There've been some very bizarre places gyspies have approached me to beg for money. Earlier this year, I endured an 8-day spell in a Zenica hospital. For one hour each day, there was a scheduled 'visiting time', in which I was able to speak with my girlfriend, albeit through a window. Even at this time, on this hospital balcony, there were small gypsy boys walking around asking for money. Only in Bosnia!

                                           Gyspy boys sings for money in central Sarajevo, 
                                                                    October 2011.

"Oh, I have a cousin in Australia!"
Whilst it somewhat interesting at first to meet people here who had a brother or sister in Melbourne, Sydney or somewhere else in Australia, I soon realised that literally everyone in Bosnia has a relative down under.
When I meet a new person and they discover I'm Australia, I can already foresee that they will inform me which of their relative(s) live in Oz. In all truth, it's more unusual for me to come across somebody who doesn't have a cousin, or something, living there!
Perhaps the most ridiculous situation I have encountered whilst here was a Bosnian lady who asked me if I knew her nephew from Melbourne by the name of 'Matthew'. Fair to say, I found it quite difficult to inform her the ridiculousness of the question... But suffice to say, I didn't know her 'Matthew'.

Motorists here are clinically insane.
Put simply - there is no such thing as 'road rules' that exist in Bosnia. Yes, there may be signs stating a maximum speed limit, or other supposed 'regulations', but, after one-minute on the Bosnian roads, it doesn't take long to realise that almost nobody follows these rules. People overtaking on blind turns at 150 km/h is virtually commonplace.
I thought I knew everything there is to know about driving once I mastered the Melbourne 'Hook Turn' and reverse parking, but nothing prepared me for the experience of driving here. Only in Bosnia!

Navigating my way up a treacherous Bosnian mountain.

Whatever you do, don't say, "No, I can't anymore," at the dinner table!
Once upon a time - long before I ever ventured to the Balkans - I read a warning on the Internet which clearly stated that one should never tell a woman (usually a mother or grandmother) in a Balkan kitchen that they are full (if there is more food on offer), as it is taken as an offence.
Until I came to this part of the world, I thought it was a joke, but now, I realise how very serious - and wise - words they were.
At least the food I'm forced to eat is freakin' amazing!

Stray animals everywhere.
The amount of stray animals in Bosnia - whether it's dogs or cats - is absolutely ridiculous. Particularly when there are hundreds spread out across the city (take Zenica or Sarajevo, for example).
I recall the day I first entered Bosnia. I was pulling into Zenica on the bus when I saw a dog running across a busy road. My initial thought was as it would be if I saw this in Melbourne, 'Gee, where's the owner?'
As the bus drove further down the road, I spotted two or three more dogs freely running about, until we drove past a side-street, which must have contained up to fifteen more dogs.
Now, the thoughts going through me head were more like, 'Where the hell am I?'
As I type this, the two local dogs outside (who I, personally, have had some, well, lets just say 'skirmishes', with) are chasing two young men down the street. Only in Bosnia!

Wild dogs in central Sarajevo.

Weather extremes.
I know I'm from Melbourne, where the whole 'four-seasons-in-one-day' is an annoyingly-overused cliche, but what I've witnessed in the weather conditions in Sarajevo in recent months eclipses anything I've seen in Melbourne.
In February, I flew into a Sarajevo that was blanketed under about 1.5 metres of snow. Cars were completely covered, and I could barely open the front door of my apartment building without some snow falling in.
When May 14 arrived, and it had seemed that, after a number of hot days, we were set for a warm summer, Sarajevo was, once again, covered in snow. Incredible that this could happen just weeks out from the start of summer! Now, it is June, normal service has resumed, and we are sweating our butts off day through night. Give me back snow, please! I beg you.

Sarajevo is blanketed in snow just weeks out from
the start of Summer.

Reactions to the Australian accent are very amusing.
The title here says it all. Have had much fun speaking with friends in public in my Aussie accent, and using my peripheral vision to see how quickly people swivel their head to stop and stare. I can only assume they're thinking, 'What f*#$%^# language was that!?' I have had Bosnians previously tell me that I do not speak English, after they hear my accent combined with the use of typical, Aussie slang. Of course, it's stupid, and contains a bit of a 'look at me' attitude, but it can serve as a bit of light humour when you're bored out of your mind!
Though, the best success rate occurs in towns outside the capital of Sarajevo - as it is very uncommon for people to hear an accent originating from outside of Europe!

Thanks for reading! :)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The story of Alen Maslo.

After being virtually neglected by Bosnian authorities, a seriously-ill teenager from Sarajevo has finally raised enough money to seek urgent treatment in Germany.

Seventeen-year-old Alen Maslo, who suffers from a rare blood disease, needed to find almost 100,000 Euros to fund surgery in Berlin, as no such operation is available in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Alen farewells family and friends at Sarajevo Airport on Tuesday.
(Photo: Feda Krvavac/

Maslo's story caught the attention of the Bosnian public earlier this month after it was broadcast on the popular television show, Hrabri Ljudi (meaning 'Brave People'), by host Batko Cehajic.

After the Bosnian government was unable - or unwilling - to assist, Maslo's family were forced to rely on the public's help to raise the costs to treat the Langerhans cell histiocytosis disease.

Alen's cause received a huge boost after Bosnian national team and Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko donated 50,000 KM (Bosnian Marks). Humanitarian Sanela Jenkins soon followed suit with a donation of 20,000 KM.

A charity football match, "Utakmica za Zivot" ('Game for Life'), played between FK Sarajevo and a team of celebrities, also helped raise a further 30,000 KM.

English Premier League star Edin Dzeko was among a number
of famous identities to pull on the boots in a charity football
match to raise funds for Alen's treatment.
(Photo: A. Balic/

Although the funds have finally been raised, Alen's brother, Almin, believes the toughest battle is yet to come.

"What follows is the final and most difficult part," he said.

Almin also remained critical of the nation's authorities.

"We were praying for that life," he said. "The government pushed us away. He is legally entitled to relocation, as he is a minor, but still they refused. The government failed, but we didn't, Batko didn't. For 21 days we have collected funds, done everything and paid in advance."

An ailing Alen flew out of Sarajevo on Tuesday to hugs-and-kisses from dozens of friends, family, as well as Batko - the television host who has played such an important role in highlighting Maslo's case to the public.

Doctors are optimistic the teen will make a full recovery, and, if all goes to plan, Alen will remain in Germany for 19 days before returning home.

All the Bosnian public can do now is wait with bated breath as one of their young men fights the toughest battle of his short life to date.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Letter from Srebrenica victim to his beloved.

In two weeks, on the 11th of July, it will mark 17 years since the beginning of the Srebrenica massacre - a 12-day operation by Serbian troops in which more than 8000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were murdered.

Despite the years that have passed since the terrible events, many bodies, and other evidence, are still being retrieved today.

Here is the story of a Srebrenica victim whose body was found with, amazingly, an undamaged hand-written letter under where his shirt was.
The letter was directed to his lover, who, for years, did not know of his fate.
In 2010, the woman wrote a letter directed back to him.

These are the English versions of the letters.

My only love. Please don't cry, if you receive this letter. There are still three brothers next to me, so we will share the pain. I'm hoping that now you are in the city of salt. Where I was buying gifts for you for every holiday and sometimes I was lieing to others that I must go there on a trip, but I just wanted to make your wishes come true.

Since yesterday a lot of people have been killed, this area is a story without an ending, whose letters are blood of our people from Srebrenica, Vlasenica, Zepa, Bratunac and your Zvornik.

In a few hours it will be my turn. I pray to God that I won't be tortured, and if they want to do that to me, I will ask them to kill me as soon as possible. They are not all the same.

I know that you always feel me...
I will give them our hidden treasure...
That we were holding for years for son...
To make my death easier...
So that you can feel it less...
Don't worry, please, I am not afraid...

I was putting in effort from the first day, so that you would always be at hand, I didn't want to be rude in your eyes, if I offended you...

Forgive me...

In this moment I'm looking at them. How they are coming towards me. Don't worry, God is with me. I must stop writing, I will put this letter on my chest, on my heart, and always it belongs just to you..

I love you my only.

11.05.2010. Tuzla.

Until yesterday, I didn't know that you were writing with your soul, in the last minutes of your life. They said that your bones were so long under the ground - our silver ground - yet the letter was saved in your shirt. On the place where your heart is...

All the drops of rain, nor the icy snow, couldn't destroy even one letter. 
And even my tears couldn't, even though I was crying as I read...

I don't know to whom I will send these words, but I wanted to respond to you. So let them say I'm crazy, but I didn't stop loving you...

Whoever it was that said time heals all wounds, didn't experience wounds like mine, and like all mothers, women and children of Srebrenica...

I was feeling every one of your moves, it was hard for me to hide all of this pain, in front of our only son.

As time went on, he found out the truth, so he was mentioning your name in every prayer.

The way of death and our people...
And to me the unknown name Argentaria...
We weren't welcome, in Sarajevo, nor the city of salt.
I don't know what bothered the Sarajevo ladies and girls about my dimija.
I was only going to the city to discover your fate. I didn't want to bother anyone...

There were a few days where I didn't know about myself...
I was asking for joy from God, for your body to appear.
Like every night after work when I was waiting for you...

On this same day in two months I will pray with my son to the Lord, and he will take your soul with himself.

I will send the cold wind from the Drina to wipe away my tears at the funeral while we are covering your bones with our silver ground.

I will speak the same words from my lips, like that first Spring - That I love you.


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Mostar's 'Chocolate Riot'...

Hundreds of people have turned out on the Spanish Square in Mostar this evening as a direct response to continuing unrest in the city.

  More than 100 people turned out in Mostar's Spanish 
Square on Friday evening. 
(Source: Mostarlife)

The event, dubbed the 'Chocolate Mess', encouraged people to converge on the central square with chocolates and to share them with fellow citizens.

Mostar - a city divided along ethnic and religious lines predominantly between Muslim-Bosnians and Catholic-Croatians - is no stranger to tension.

The latest episode of problems occurred on Monday evening following Croatia's loss to Spain in the European football championships, with local media reporting that Croatian supporters clashed with police as they attempted to make their way into the Muslim side-of-town.

 Arrested Croatian fans in Mostar on Monday night.
(Source: Miro Skobic/Fotoservis)

Organiser of tonight's event, Ivan Rozic, himself a Mostar local, said the action was to demonstrate that the ongoing troubles are not a true representation of the city.

"Although I am disappointed every time there is new unrest, and especially in sports where supporters are involved, this idea is more than just a response to hooliganism," Rozic said.

Mostar is not simply a divided city, according to Rozic, who claims that it comprises of a promising youth who are ready and willing for new challenges.

"Mostar deserves to be written about and to be remembered for the positive events - not just the riots," he said.

The 'Chocolate Mess' received a positive response from the public, with chocolate-lovers turning out from cities all over Bosnia and Herzegovina including Sarajevo, Banja Luka, as well as Split in Croatia.

A similar event is being planned for next year.

Thursday, 21 June 2012


G'day everyone!

Thought it best I introduce myself, and inform you all why I have made this blog.
Firstly, my name is Rusty Woodger, and I am a virgin to this "blogosphere" world!

I am a 20-year journalism student out of Deakin University in Geelong, Victoria - about a 45-minute trek from the beautiful city of Melbourne.
However, at this point in time, I am located very far from home, in a rather obscure part of the world - Bosnia and Herzegovina!

In short, I intend to utilise my unique situation here to provide a distinguished voice and opinion to all things news-worthy arising out of not only Bosnia, but also the entire Balkan region.

Even if this blog is only read or followed by one other person in this world - then I have achieved my goal.

I will attempt to update this page regularly with news covering a variety of topics including politics, culture, sport, religion, and various others. Also featured will be some more light-hearted pieces detailing my personal experiences in this unique and interesting corner of the world!

I look forward to getting to know you all better soon :)


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Hello, Zdravo, Ciao!

Testing, testing.... And we're up and running!

Bit of late-night 'scratch work' going on here. So, tomorrow, I shall introduce myself and outline my intentions of this blog.
Thank you, and good night :)