Wednesday 8 February 2017

Every snowy cloud

But so warm inside...
The past few weeks has seen me in full traveller mode. As I've been telling people, 'I'm not chasing rainbows, but heating!'. Given that it was so cold at the start of the year on the island, I was happy to accept an invitation from my lovely friend Lou to go to Zagreb. The apartment there promised wall-to-wall central heating with the added bonus of access to snow. We had a perfect week with various diversions which I will write about as-and-when, so I considered hot options in other capital cities. As Lou sadly flew back to London, I caught the 1950's inspired Niš-Ekspres to Belgrade. After a wonderful week there in a snug modern flat, I needed to head back to Split. So naturally Sarajevo was a convenient half-way stopping point. After another entertaining 7 hour bus trip, here I am.

And this week has been warm and comfortable, physically. I'm back in the flat which I stayed in last year and finally met my host and his family. When travelling is going to plan, it is pleasant and unremarkable. So inevitably for February - my most hated month - there have been some difficult times. For instance, mentally and financially this week has been a perfect trial. I’m ‘stuck’ in Sarajevo waiting for a new pair of glasses. Then last weekend my computer broke, my accommodation became uncertain, I was worried about my friend in Split, suffering heartsickness from the idiot I fell for over the summer – and worst of all the anniversary of my dad’s final illness. Feb and March are usually spent in a melancholy haze when in London. So I’m exploring how I feel in this uncertain time, against a backdrop of worldwide uncertainty. Damn reading the news on a daily basis!

The heart of this blog post was taken from an email exchange with Katy of the Bittersweet Life. I had been talking about my worries. She wisely pointed out, 'and when it comes to your life -- where you are -- the in-between-- feels lonely or confusing perhaps, but you know - that is where we all are. In the in-between ...'. I had been pondering why I was in this most 'in-between' capital, even discussing it with my Split friend. Anyway my laptop drama went some way to illustrate why negatives become positives, when looked at from a different point of view.

So after a computer shop recommendation I went exploring the new part of town which, like everywhere in Sarajevo still exhibits war damage and bullet holes in tall residential buildings. Ladies sit begging for food and pennies, and everyone looks at you with open curiosity. Maybe it’s because I walk with London confidence but perhaps I don’t look as local as I feel in Split or Dubrovnik. As the streets got rougher and the graffiti more disturbing, I only felt more curious about this shop.

As an aside I find that if you have a knowledge of the language, the graffiti becomes meaningful and gives an insight into the local politics and atmosphere. This piece said ‘smrt fegotima’ – as I worked it out, knowing smrt is ‘death’, and the -ima means ‘to the’ (pl), I cringed. Death to faggots. Perhaps some parts of Europe have something in common with Trump and the far right. How can hate of difference form such bonds across continents? 

This shop looked like no shiny computer superstore I’d ever been in. Bearing in mind I hate shopping and think that all transactions should be carried out as quickly and communication-free as possible. Add to the fact that I’m woman buying a computer in a totally male dominated part of the world. I was expecting horror! As I went in there was a row going on but I just looked at the shelves, wanting to see something perfect and go.

The lady sat behind the desk caught my eye and said izvolite? What could she do to help me? Leave me alone and cry... I went over and in English asked if they had any more laptops. She told me to take a seat and being English and given an order, I sat. She carried on arguing with the lady and there was a final door slam as the woman left. She turned and smiled at me, saying apparently this lady wanted a refund on a phone she had had for a year and parts of it had clearly been damaged negligently. She explained that the woman wanted to pick an argument because her husband was being difficult.


Whilst debating laptop options with her, we discussed politics, religion, family, prices, new technology and VR and facebook, their new shop, and why I was travelling, and currently stuck in Sarajevo. We talked London, history, places, music... Her view of Trump was ‘many people here in Bosnia are Muslim, why didn’t he ban us too?’ She said her god taught us not to kill, but to love, be peaceful, and care for others. And given that it was the same as Trump’s god, what was the problem with him and Muslims?! My host incidentally has given up joking about Trump and is extremely worried about international business relations. He was also stunned by Brexit and wonders why that when he asks people about it, they are all pro-European! He wonders who voted. One hesitates to comment.

When we finally got round to sales she asked to see my old laptop. I promised to bring it in and they would see if my data was accessible. I left after a couple of hours and I walked back home along the river and through the market. I made an English chicken and mushroom pie for lunch and waited for the call from the shop. When I headed back with the dead computer, I was quite looking forward to seeing them all again. They had fixed me up with windows, an English keyboard, and took my old one apart to rescue the hard drive. Unbelievable service from three people! I finally left the shop at 6.15pm with everything I needed. And the guys thinking I was nuts because I didn’t have any games.

I walked home again thinking that if I hadn’t had this catastrophe I wouldn’t have had so much contact with people. My most interesting parts of being abroad have always been the interactions with others. Even if it is terrifying to step out of comfort zones. People value the exchange of information and views, and it's been great to use apps like Tinder and Facebook to arrange beers and cevapi. I had a wonderful couple of post-work drinks swapping thoughts last night.

Regardless of how low I feel, which admittedly isn't entirely rational at the moment, there are silver linings to every cloud. As I've written about before, it’s so full of colour and detail here, with a raw edge of reality. It’s a good place to be melancholy because you realise how little your problems are, in comparison to the suffering here. After all, the shop assistant’s father was killed in the war. It doesn’t lessen the grief concerning mine, just it comforts me that we are all in this in-between together and we all survive. And live to ponder another day. 

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