Podcast Episode 7: Why is Bosnia Strategic?

At long last, this is a new podcast episode! In this episode we address a couple of basic questions about what we do here in Eastern Europe, including:

  • Who are you and what do you do?
  • Why make a podcast?
  • Why is Bosnia “strategic”?
  • Why is important to “bring people together”?

Here are the notes / script for the episode — you can read here, or just plug in the earphones and listen. Enjoy!

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Podcast episode 6: What’s in a name? How Herzegovina was named.

It’s been eight months. I have finally uploaded a new podcast. This one is epic, long, dark — it’s the story of Herzegovina and how it got its name. I hope you enjoy it. The transcript is below. Have a great day!


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Podcast episode 5: Winter but Never Christmas – Stories of Sarajevo in Winter

This is the first podcast in a while. 🙂 I apologize for the radio silence. Things have been busy. The recent holiday season gave me time to put this together, and I hope you like it. It’s a mishmash of stories having to do with winter in Sarajevo — the land where it’s often winter, but never Christmas.

The transcript is below; here are some helpful links mentioned in the podcast.

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Questions people always ask: Why Bosnia?

There are questions that we constantly seem to hear. One of them is “why did you choose to go to Bosnia?” It’s a fair question. Why, of all the places in the world, would you choose to make your home in a country as obscure as Bosnia and Herzegovina? I usually say, “well that’s a long story”, or something to that affect.

Sit back, get comfortable — here’s the story of how our family came to live in this remote, beautiful place, halfway around the world from where we began.

New awakening

Like most stories of this nature, there is plenty of background. I am among the oldest of the millennials, having been born in the early 80s, with a faint recollection of events like the fall of the Berlin wall and the advent of email. As I was becoming an adult I can vividly remember the Florida re-count of 2000 and planes flying into the Twin Towers.

My parents became Christians some time before I was born and wanted their children to know and love Jesus Christ. But it wasn’t until I was in college, watching those planes explode that that decision finally became real for me. I couldn’t call myself a Christian just because I had spent plenty of time inside a church building, no more than one could call oneself a car after spending time in a garage.

Student ministry

I was drawn into student ministry first as a student, through the invitation of a friend who had a Bible study meeting in his dorm room. Through getting involved in that group, and then in the wider community of Christians on my campus, I saw my need for God. I decided not only to give my life to him, but to give a whole year of my life (how noble of me) to helping people overseas have a similar experience. I went to Sarajevo, Bosnia, with an organization called “Cru”, a world-wide, interdenominational ministry that operates in nearly 200 countries.

The first experience

My first year was so good I decided to come back for seconds. It was a ground-breaking experience for someone like me. My experience of Christian community and ministry had been fairly limited at that point, and this was something totally new. We walked up to random people on the street and asked them if they cared to talk about God. We distributed winter coats to people. We organized movie nights, seminars, and social events — anything to gather people.

Then I went back home. I thought I’d never come back to Bosnia. I found another job. I got married. This was a chapter of my life that was closed. But eventually that would change.

The comeback

In the winter of 2008, a friend of mine sat down with me and told me he was going to Sarajevo and he wanted me to come. He was going to sort of finish what we had begun several years before. At once I had a yearning I could not explain to go back and once again be in Europe, working on something truly compelling — helping bring a message of peace and hope to people in another culture.

It was hard to come back. It was an uphill climb. There were times when it seemed like we wouldn’t make it back. But in the fall of 2010, we finally made it.

We were back, as a family. It was different. We had different obligations, different expectations, but now finally we were back to finish what we had started several years earlier.

The mission

We’ve been back in Bosnia and Herzegovina permanently since 2010, with a mission of bringing young people together and building a community where all students can belong, believe in God, and become the people they are created to be. In a place where there is so much division, it is refreshing to be able to share a message of hope and redemption.

Thanks for reading. Make use of this site to find out more about our mission, our story, and what we are doing with young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Podcast Episode 4: What is Culture and Should We Make It?

It has been quite a while since I’ve recorded a new podcast, and I hope that you haven’t fallen into despair while waiting for this episode. This time we are focusing on culture, something that we think about often, and something that I think is very important. I hope this episode is useful and helpful as you think about your own culture and how you can be a positive influence on those in your community.

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Podcast episode 3: The Refugee Question in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Finally, here is the long-awaited third episode of podcast. The audience has been clamouring for the next instalment, the press has been calling, and time has been tight, but I have managed to finally bless my listeners with the sweet sound of my voice again 😉

As you listen, keep in mind that this episode is meant first to inform you of the situation, since it has become an important current event in the country where I live. Second, it is meant to raise questions that I believe we need to think about, especially those of us who claim to be Christians. I have tried to refrain from voicing any hard and fast opinions here, as I know this can be a controversial issue.

Notes and links for the information discussed in this episode can be found at the bottom of this post.

Enjoy.

=== Podcast transcript ===

Podcast 3: Refugee Question

Hi I’m Jonathan, and this is The Bosnia Project podcast. The Bosnia Project is the chronicle of my life as a world traveler youth worker father and husband. Today is episode three, and we are going to talk about the Refugee crisis in Bosnia and how it affects us as believers.

The Bosnia Project is the story of how I came to live and work overseas in a country called Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s my blog, the Bosnia Project dot com, this podcast, and our Facebook community, and email updates we send out to our supporters and followers.

“The Bosnia Project” is a process and a product, all wrapped up into one thing, and this podcast, the blog, and everything else is a way to catch all that work, write it down, record it and preserve it, so that it can be of use to someone. This is the Bosnia Project, and it will continue for a good while longer.

I often say that we are building a community where people can belong, believe in God, and become the people he has created them to be. It all starts with belonging. My personal path to where I am today began with a community that made me feel that I belong, that I had a place in their fellowship. That eventually gave me the tools that I needed to believe and become the person I am today. That’s why I believe that belonging is an essential part of becoming a believer and seeing meaningful life change.

There are lots of groups and ministries that are based on this principle. Alcoholics Anonymous, depression recovery, and many other kinds of mercy ministries are effective because of the community they create for people in need. These communities create a kind of social framework that helps lift people up out of the places they are in, so they can reform their lives.

When people fall into destructive lifestyles, they often find camaraderie there. There are often lots of other people who help them descend into places they otherwise wouldn’t want to go. And when people are finally able to recover, it is often because of the help they receive a community. Very few ever recover in isolation.

For you and me, in a very similar way, I think community is essential if we are serious about becoming the people we are created to be. Any kind of small group, men’s group, women’s Bible studies — they give us hope and focus us, and help us know that there are other people who care about us and want us to advance.

Introduction

Today in Bosnia refugees have begun to show up on our doorstep. These are people who don’t belong anywhere. They’ve been driven from their homes and literally have no place to call home, and they’ve started to show up in great numbers in the country where I live now. We often think of the refugee crisis as something akin to serving the poor in the places where we live. It’s a very complex thing.

===

Driving back from meeting

In Bosnia and Herzegovina you have the capital city of Sarajevo, where I lived for a total of 7 years altogether, and then as you go west, towards the border of Croatia and European Union, the only big city you come through is Mostar, where I live right now. Right now, I’m driving back from Sarajevo to Mostar. There’s two small towns you go through to Mostar, I’m in that last stretch before you get to Mostar. It’s an incredibly beautiful, striking drive, especially when the sun is out.

You have a river that cuts through this mountainous area, and the road is down next to the river, so when you’re driving your way down in the middle of a valley, and the mountains go straight up on either side of you. The way the mountains are made up they look like sheets of rock going down diagonally into the water. It’s as if the sheets are almost on a 45 degree with the water, and they are sliding down into the water. It typifies Herzegovina and its distinct look and how it’s different from the rest of the country.

===

Bosnian refugee work

Refugees have started to come to Bosnia because they have nowhere else to go. They start in the Middle East, and their goal is to get to a place where they can lead productive, safe lives, unthreatened by conflict. So naturally, they go West. The nations to the east and the north are not really in a position to help them, and they have their own problems. They go west, they come through Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, and many of them get caught there. They stay in camps there, funded by the Turkish or Greek or Jordan governments, and they are provided for, but they have to live in tents and temporary buildings. Their children don’t go to school, their lives sort of go on pause for the time that they’re there.

Then many hear of the locations of these camps, and they choose different routs, searching for better locations. They want to get to Germany, they want to get to France. Once they get to these countries, they’ll be accepted as refugees, or they’ll be able to apply for some kind of protected status, and they will be able to stay. But they get stopped at the borders of the European Union. Once they’re in, they’re in, but the EU doesn’t have to let them in.

So, they try different entry points, which has brought them finally to Bosnia. There are as many as 100 people showing up in Bosnia every day, from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and other countries across the Middle East. They’ve been stopped all across the borders, and so they have to stay in Bosnia. They’re at several different places. There’s a large hostel in Ilidza, there’s a bombed out building in Bihac, there’s tents set up by volunteers in the center of Sarajevo, there’s a refugee camp in Mostar. The response ranges from incredibly unorganized and chaotic, to organized and sophisticated in other places.

===

Refugee clarifications

Here are some clarifications that may be helpful as we think about the refugee issue in the world.

  1. Refugee is a loaded word. It’s a politically charged word no matter how it is used. A refugee is someone who is justifiably seeking refuge from a government or other group, and is therefore seeking to permanently leave their home country and take up residence in a safer place. So if you accept that someone is a refugee then you are also accepting a couple of things:
    1. That the country they are leaving is unjustly persecuting that person.
    2. That person is not a criminal for trying to run away.
    3. They have the basic right to leave wherever they were living and seek refuge somewhere else.
  2. All of the people involved in this crisis are technically migrants — and many of the migrants are refugees. Some people are not refugees, because they are migrating for reasons that technically don’t qualify them as refugees. Basically, their home country is not in an all-out war.
    1. However, for the kurds from Turkey, for example, that are part of this huge group of migrants, they’ve always been persecuted by their own government. But Turkey is a legitimate, universally-recognized, functioning state, a member of NATO, and we can’t really say that people fleeing their country qualify as “refugees”. Saying that would imply that a member of NATO is mistreating its citizens, maybe that country is deserving of some type of sanctions, and so forth. It would be unsupportive of its government — a government that’s supposedly aligned with the West.
    2. So, the Kurdish factions of Turkey have taken their cause into their own hands, raising up their own leaders and creating their own institutions that fight for equality for their people in Turkey and the surrounding countries. In the United States, this would’ve been something like the NAACP, the Black Panther movement, the Nation of Islam, and other groups that rose up to fight for Black equality. But in Turkey, there is an obvious difference — these people are going for an independent Kurdish state as the end-goal for their fight. They want Kurdish equality, Kurdish autonomy, Kurdish independence — which means that they eventually would like to secede from the state of Turkey. They view this as their goal, as their right. Which raises a lot of questions — if these people are against their government, what’s the difference between them and a terrorist?
    3. But don’t they have reason to protest against their government — a government that has in the past outlawed the use of the Kurdish language? Don’t they have a right to protest against the suppression of their culture by a government where another ethnic group is clearly in the driver’s seat? And what about the history of crimes, deaths, even massacres committed against the Kurdish peoples over the past several centuries? The Kurdish people have a rich history of existence that goes back several centuries. However, In an attempt to deny their existence, the Turkish government categorized Kurds as “Mountain Turks” until 1991.
    4. So, what’s the verdict? Are these people terrorists? or are they legitimately oppressed minorities? By using the word refugee you would be choosing a side in this conflict — something none of us intend to do.
  3. As a Christian — and I think this is the question that most of us listening want to answer — how can we do what we are supposed to do, without wading into this political question?

===

American attitudes

We’ve got some questions to answer as Americans. At least, that’s what the people at the Pew Research Center say. They do surveys, though, so they’re always saying that. Sir, would you mind answering a few questions? I never stop and answer. I guess I’m reluctant to give my opinion.

There’s an article on the Pew website about how people in the US are turning more negative toward refugees. The picture at the top is of a girl from Bhutan, sitting in college class in the US. The caption reads, “Her extended family was resettled in the area, as were hundreds of other refugees from Bhutan and Nepal in recent years.

In the late 1980s Bhutanese elites regarded a growing ethnic Nepali population as a demographic and cultural threat. The government enacted discriminatory citizenship laws directed against ethnic Nepalis, that stripped about one-sixth of the population of their citizenship and paved the way for their expulsion.

After a campaign of harassment that escalated in the early 1990s, Bhutanese security forces began expelling people, first making them sign forms renouncing claims to their homes and homeland. “The army took all the people from their houses,” a young refugee told me. “As we left Bhutan, we were forced to sign the document. They snapped our photos. The man told me to smile, to show my teeth. He wanted to show that I was leaving my country willingly, happily, that I was not forced to leave.”

Today, about 108,000 of these stateless Bhutanese are living in seven refugee camps in Nepal. The Bhutanese authorities have not allowed a single refugee to return. In 2006, the US government, seeing an impasse, offered to resettle 60,000 of the Bhutanese refugees.

Now, only about half of Americans (51%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while 43% say it does not. That qualifies as a controversial issue.

But what would be the best way to assist in this crisis? Would it be to resettle these people into a neighboring country where they would probably become an impoverished group again, never at home, and never provided for? Which nation would be in a position to support a group of people who have no means of support? Which nation would be able to place these people into a situation where they can work, support their families, and lead meaningful productive lives?

To date, 92,000 of the 108,000 total refugees from the situation in Bhutan have been resettled to the United States. Many of them own businesses, work in jobs, and send their children to school in communities across the United States. In the United states, refugees from places like Bhutan are often resettled by large faith-based charities like World Relief, which was Founded in 1944 as the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals as a response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe after World War II.

These are their values: The Example of Jesus as we serve those who are suffering from poverty and injustice, regardless of color, belief, or gender, as part of God’s plan to redeem, reconcile, and restore the world. We seek to follow Jesus by living holy, humble, and honest lives individually and corporately. The Local Church as a primary agent of bringing peace, justice, and love to a broken world.

There are Bhutanese people still in refugee camps, but most of them have been resettled to Western countries. Many were resettled by World Relief. And I think that’s where we’d like for them to be — in the hands of a group of people seeking to live out the “example of Jesus”, working to alleviate suffering because of a deep desire to see this world redeemed.

===

Middle East Refugees

In the Middle East, though, the numbers are different. Maybe because it’s such a high-profile struggle, maybe because of the stigma attached to accepting Muslim refugees, or maybe because of other factors, the number of people resettled to the United States has been unimpressive.

There are 6.1 million refugees from Syria.

Many in the US have remarked that these refugees should be taken in by neighboring countries. Well, they have.

Kuwait has taken 150,000

Iraq has taken 230,000 — even as it faces the remnants of ISIS.

The UAE have taken 242,000

One of the world’s poor nations, Sudan, has taken 100,000.

Jordan has taken 1.3 million

Lebanon has taken in 2.2 million

3.5 million have been taken in by the nation of Turkey.

This situation, unlike the situation in Bhutan, is one where the US hasn’t been one of the top nations extending help to those displaced. And as I said before, offering help has a lot of complex side effects. By accepting refugees into your country, you’re saying that it’s ok to call them refugees and give them refugee status. By doing that, you’re saying something about the place they came from. You’re saying it’s not treating its citizens properly.

But in the process, in the US, you’re also giving people like World Relief the chance to have an impact and an influence on people who have been driven from their homes. You’ve giving people who’ve been impoverished, persecuted, threatened, the chance to live a normal, productive life in a nation that can support them quite easily.

So far, seven years into the Syrian conflict, 16,000 of the 6.1 million refugees from Syrian have been resettled to the US.

===

The Question

So, back to that question I raised before — how can we do what we are supposed to do, without wading into this political question?

Think about the question — it’s got two parts. The second part, wading into political arena, is what always stops people from doing things. We don’t want to be political, but we often don’t realize that by doing nothing we become political. We’re political because we are more concerned with the outer appearance of what we’re doing than we are with the act itself.

We need not be reminded — or maybe we do — of other situations in our world’s history. Inaction is action. Not to act is to act.

The question, then, ought to be, how can we do what we are supposed to do? There’s no second part of the question. I’m a Christian anyway, and this is not our home, anyway. Or at least, here we do not have a lasting home — we are looking for the home that is to come. We’re supposed to have an eternal perspective. What we’re supposed to do is the eternal question. Political conflicts are by nature, fleeting, temporary, short. The question that will stand the test of time is, did I do what I was meant to do? Regardless of the political questions involved.

So, whether you’re in Atlanta — where I was over 20 years ago — or in Bosnia — where I am now — there’s the question. Am I going to do what I’m meant to do? Am I going to try to serve this community? Am I going to support that person that needs my assistance? Am I going to go looking for people who need my help? Am I even aware of the help I can offer?

I hope this has given all of us plenty to think about.

===

Notes about the Kurdish people

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurds#Antiquity

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_of_Kurdish_people_in_Turkey#Issues

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey#Demographics

Notes about attitudes toward refugees and immigrants in the US

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/03/the-number-of-refugees-admitted-to-the-u-s-has-fallen-especially-among-muslims/

http://www.pewresearch.org/topics/immigration-attitudes/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/24/republicans-turn-more-negative-toward-refugees-as-number-admitted-to-u-s-plummets/

Notes about refugees in Bhutan

https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/02/01/bhutans-ethnic-cleansing

Notes about World Relief

https://www.worldrelief.org/values

The secret to living here is becoming clueless

Spurred by my recent post about what you all are apparently buying, I just went over to Amazon.com to take a look at their Best Sellers lists. Apparently, a lot of you want to make sure you know everything about The Legend of Zelda. I know it’s probably those nostalgic Gen-Xers that are finally buying things for themselves now that their kids are old enough to spend most of the day at school and not throwing these on the floor.

I admit, I am oblivious.

The point is that I didn’t know about any of this until I purposefully went online and googled [Best selling things on Amazon 2017]. I have been in ignorance for a long time, and I haven’t noticed. “Oh, but you aren’t any more,” you may say. Yes, but I would have to keep on visiting the Best Sellers lists regularly, and I know I’m not going to remember to do that.

It does take a while to fully leave the compound, but once you’re fully out, you’re out. Whether you realize it or not, at some point, I’ve realized, you cease to consume the culture as you did before, and there is little you can do to get back to the place where you are “up” on all the things your old friends are doing, sruggling with, enjoying.

Disasters, sadly, are not disastrous anymore.

My first taste of this was during my first stint overseas, when I lived in Sarajevo for 2 years from 2003 to 2005. I had some inkling that I was no longer aware of current events in the United States, and so I signed up get CNN’s headlines emailed to me. Then came Christmas, 2004, and I got an email with this subject:

Tsunami in Indian Ocean reported; 10,000 believed dead or missing

Thirty minutes later, I received another email. It’s subject read: “Tsunami in Indian Ocean makes landfall in Indonesia, 25,000 believed dead”. Another thirty minutes went by and I received yet another email, this time with the subject: “Tsunami makes landfall in Indonesia, 50,000 believed dead.” And the emails kept coming every few minutes until the numbers of casualties reached the hundreds of thousands.

The tsunami made headlines, of course, in the local papers in Sarajevo, but I didn’t read Bosnian very well at that point. And for me, that was the end of the disaster. I didn’t watch much TV, because every channel was all in Bosnian, and I had a job that took up most of my time. It was an event that happened one night, and then was over.

I would stay in Sarajevo continuously until mid-August, 2005. And as I came back to my home in Atlanta, the entire Southeast U.S. was bracing for yet another disaster, Hurricane Katrina. As I flew in, people were talking about it. But I didn’t really get it. I had not been exposed to the 24-hour barrage of coverage that my friends had. I had not been subject to hours of talk about the geography of New Orleans and how it was basically a fishbowl.

The storm hit, but I was still in my jet-lagged haze, transitioning from two years of living overseas.

I was still trying to get my head around the idea that, for the past year, everyone I knew had been watching what had happened in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and all the other nations in the Indian Ocean. In the last year, everyone I knew had viewed countless news pieces about the Tsunami; many had given money, a few had gone on mission trips to help. And I had been completely clueless.

I was embarrassed that I had been completely unaffected by the incredible disaster that was the Tsunami of 2004. And on top of that, another enormous event was happening, and I was again caught off guard. I felt as though a significant part of the last several months had been stolen from me.

Being present somewhere means being absent somewhere else.

And this was the beginning of one of the great lessons of my adult life — if you want to be 100% present, if you want to go “all in” on something, if you want to devote your entire self to any one thing at any point in your life, it will be necessary to give up something in some other area of your life. For me, the cost of devoting myself to my work in Bosnia meant that I had missed out completely on some very important things back in my home country. People had gotten married; some had moved away; many were wrapped up in new struggles and challenges; and I had missed out on all of it.

What made it hard, I suppose, was that I never made a decision to miss out on all this stuff — it just sort of happened without me. And yet, after some contemplation, I realized that it was all for the better.

What kind of worker would I have been, had I tried to live with one foot in America and one foot in Bosnia? What kind of friend would I have been to the people I met in Sarajevo, if I constantly talked as if I was not really present, there with them, in my mind? Not a good one, I reasoned. And so it goes on, even today.

Being present means being absent. You can’t be everywhere at once, and at some point you learn to accept that, and you learn to pick your battles. You can only win the battles that you are in.

 

A review of Blace, Croatia: The GREATEST vacation destination in the world. ever. It has KITEBOARDING.

For the third summer in a row, our family took our summer vacation to the coastal paradise of Blace, Croatia. We love this location, and we’ve come to love vacation too. If you’re looking for a place off the beaten path, Blace is a great choice.

First, a bit about Croatia in general.

Croatia has enjoyed incredible success as a tourist destination since the breakup of Yugoslavia made it an independent country. It’s got almost the entire western coast of the Adriatic Sea within its borders, and lots of old stuff that people love to come and look at. You can see your feet through the water (which is always a draw for Americans like me and my wife, who only saw beaches on the Atlantic Ocean before moving here), and the water is so salty that it’s really easy to float.

So, over the years, I’ve seen every part of Croatia, and I’m completely over it. I’m done with the never-ending search for that beautiful, pristine beach destination. I’ve been to Makarska and every town on the Makarska Riviera too many times to count; I’ve spent weeks in Split; I’ve driven out to Orebic and seen Peljesac. I’ve stayed in Rovinj; I’ve done day trips to Opatija. I did youth camps 3 times in Zadar. One summer I went to Dubrovnik. 3 times! So, I’ve seen every part of Croatia, and I eventually decided I was done playing that game — I just want a place where I can swim in the beach and I don’t have to do anything. Blace is what we found, and we are deeply satisfied with it.

Blace, Croatia. We’ve taken 3 vacations in this spot. Note the kiteboarders.

There’s nothing in Blace.

There’s nothing in Blace, and that’s why we go there. There’s no ATM (if you run out of cash you have to drive back to Opuzen and use the ATM at the Konzum), no tennis courts, no beach volleyball courts, no hotels, no fancy restaurants, no clubs blaring techno music at night. It’s just a tiny village with a couple of beaches.

All that said, there is plenty in Blace to be excited about. There’s a huge, sandy beach outside the town that draws kiteboarders and has a huge campground across the street. There are no permanent buildings out there, so you can’t stay there, unless you want to camp. But you can go there during the day, since it’s about 0.5km from the town of Blace.

There’s also the main beach in town, which has two sections — a small one on the town’s little peninsula (see aerial photo), and another larger section. Separating the two sections is a guest house with a small concrete dock that people love to jump from.

But Blace has Kiteboarders. That’s something you probably don’t see at your beach.

Kiteboarders give Blace that little bit of novelty that makes it interesting. Apparently, people come there to learn, since theres a Kiteboarding school that operates there. When the wind picks up (which is fairly often), kites suddenly appear in the air. It’s amazing to watch.

More kiteboarders. This is at the big SANDY beach next to the village.

This is a dead-end road across the bay from the sandy beach. Kiteboarders like to congregate here and wait for wind.

Blace has plenty for people who just want to go to the beach.

If you go to the beach so that you can walk the strip, go to the movies, and rent mopeds, then Blace isn’t great. If you go to the beach to, er, go to the beach, then it’s perfect. Because that’s all you can do there. And that’s why we go every year.

There are two bars that serve pizza and hamburgers. We go to one of them about every other night for food. There’s a tiny market where you can buy fruit and snacks for sustenance. There are paddleboats you can rent for ~$5/hour. It’s fun.

Tyler at the docks, waiting for our pizza to be done.

Blace has nature.

Blace is only an hour away from our house in Mostar, and the drive out is beautiful. The area is at the mouth of a river, which means there is a very large marsh area around the village. It reminds us a little of Saint Simons Island, GA, where my wife’s family lives.

Because of the marsh, this is one of the few places in BiH and Croatia where you can consistently see wildlife around. There are egrets and cranes, pelicans and sea gulls, and last year a Dolphin swam all the way in to the beach and swam around with some of the vacationers.

The ride out to Blace is really beautiful. There are farms and houses in the marsh that depend on the abundance of water from the river delta.

This aerial photo is from some travel website. Just so you get the idea. You can see the “Mala Neretva” (Little Neretva) river emptying out to the sea at the top of the picture.

A place for families

One of the reasons we like Blace so much is that it is a perfect destination, in our opinion, for young families like ours. The village’s small size means it is free of the distractions that bigger places have. There is no ice cream on the beach, no fast food, no clubs — there are simply less things to grab your attention, which means that you can more easily focus on spending quality time together and swimming in the nice clear water.

10 Manly habits for a balanced life overseas

When Americans go to live overseas, it is usually because of their job. They go there to work, and for most of us, the arrangement is temporary. When we know that we are transient, it is easy to get into routines that are unbalanced. Family and personal health can suffer as a result. Here are a few things I have found that help me stay balanced as an expat.

Cut the grass.

Daniel Watson

OK — I realize that many people who move overseas will end up in an apartment where they don’t have a yard. So, if you are fortunate enough to find a house with a nice little yard, cut your own grass. But if you find yourself in an apartment building in the middle of the city, let this be analogous to maintaining your own home — just as you would if you lived in your home country. 

The reason for this is that many of us end up settling for a living situation that we would never accept back home. Things break and we don’t get them fixed, we neglect to hang pictures on the walls, and we fail to make our homes into the nice, warm abode we would have made otherwise. Your home needs to be your castle — a place where you can relax and be at ease after a long day of work. Don’t neglect this subtle element of life, or you will come to regret it.

Learn to fix things yourself.

jesse orrico

Over the years, plenty of things have broken in our houses, and we’ve been in need of a handyman plenty of times. Don’t misunderstand me — there is nothing wrong with calling a handyman. However, I have been disappointed so many times that I decided I was better off just buying some tools and learning to fix a few things on my own. And in the end, I think I’m a better person for it — I ended up gaining good skills and maybe (maybe not) saving a few bucks in the process.

Make things with your hands for your family.

Clark Young

This is a personal belief of mine, so feel free to disagree or leave a comment below. I believe that spending time making and doing things with your hands builds discipline and patience, traits that are necessary for successful family life. It also helps you take pride in something you’ve produced by the sweat of your own brow — a process that can positively influence the way you do your “real work” when you are at the office.

Ride a bike or walk to work.

Chris Becker

Many who move overseas find that it is suddenly possible, in their new surroundings, to eschew driving a car, at least for the daily commute to and from work. I took up commuting by bike last year, but in years past I had always walked. Many joke that it’s part of the so-called American weight-loss plan that American expats commonly take up when they move overseas: cut out fast food (because it doesn’t exist), walk everywhere (because you often have to), immediately lose x-number of pounds 😉

Participate in sports.

Igor Ovsyannykov

This is a big habit that can be healthy in more ways than one. Participating in sports with a group of people, be it organized sports or just a pickup game in a park, builds friendship and camaraderie. And in the end, the relationships forged may be the biggest positive outcome of spending a couple hours playing a game.

Find community activities for your children.

Belle Maluf

Your children would be involved in a dozen different extracurricular activities if you lived in your home country. So don’t just assume that while you’re overseas they’ll be fine spending all their time either at home or school. They need time at friends’ houses, local libraries, etc. And they also need things to do that stretch their physical and mental abilities. Find them a tennis school or organized swimming lessons. Enroll them in an art class at a church or local school. Find something — you won’t regreat the experience, and they will make new friends.

Go on dates with your wife.

Priscilla Du Preez

This is the big thing that many of us tend to neglect for some reason. If we were in our home country, we would not go years without taking our wives out for a nice coffee or dinner togetherBut for some reason, when we move overseas, that becomes acceptable. Buck the trend! Find a babysitter and go out — even if it’s just for an ice cream or a nice walk in town, and even if it’s just for an hour or two. You need to spend time together, without the kids and without the distractions of life abroad.

Become a connoisseur of local attractions, restaurants, and cafes.

Clay Banks

I still haven’t done this, but I would like to. It’s important to become aware of the nice things to do in one’s town. It’s especially important when hosting guests from out of town — something that us expats tend to do a lot of. Learning about one’s surroundings also fosters a willing spirit and an increased appreciation for the city.

Keep up with local cultural events.

Aranxa Esteve

This is related to the previous point, but implies an ongoing habit of keeping abreast of the events in one’s town or city. If there is a festival or concert in town, chances are it would also be a good opportunity for a date.

Find a regular watering hole.

Montse Monmo

Find a great place, and find some friends who will go there with you regularly. I have a group of men with whom I go to a local pub once a week. This is a great time, and I look forward to it each week. As a foreigner, you don’t have that many opportunities to simply go and spend time with people, tell stories, and cut up. Even if you don’t imbibe, most “pubs” around the world serve espresso or other drinks as well as alcohol, and don’t care if you personally choose to abstain. Take this opportunity to let your guard down and be yourself — you won’t regret it.

 

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A new perspective on your smart phone: lose it.

When I bought my last phone, I did very little research. I had heard that Apple had just launched a new model called the iPhone SE, and I knew it was for me. See, the iPhone 5 had been my first real smart phone, and I loved it. So when it finally began to slow down, I knew that I didn’t want a different experience — I just really wanted to have a new version of my old phone. And since the SE was the same shape and size as my old 5, I knew that’s what I wanted.

Tragedy on the tram

For the past year and a half, that phone has been perfect for me. I have used it constantly, for blog posts, Instagram, Facebook… until this past week. That’s because as I got on the tram in Sarajevo last Monday, someone reached in my pocket, pulled my phone out, and ran.

That’s right, pickpocketed on a tram.

In 14 years of using the trams and buses in Sarajevo, it had never happened to me, until now. By the time I realized what had happened, we were already a few minutes down the tram line. It was too late. Bye bye, phone.

A bad experience

The past week has been quiet. Getting a new cell phone was no problem; a colleague almost immediately gave me a sleek new LG candy bar phone. It has all the latest features — from about 15 years ago. You can listen to FM radio on it (if you have the special headphones that work with this phone…) and play “Snake” all day long.

So instead of being a constant magnet for attention, the phone has mostly stayed in my pocket.

When you have a bad experience, sometimes you have to force yourself to look at it from a different perspective.

I was upset initially, but I have tried not to be in the days following the incident. And my experience hasn’t actually been that bad. There are a few things I haven’t been able to do, which are annoying:

  • I haven’t been able to answer random trivial questions with a quick Google search. 
  • I haven’t been able to use Google Translate on the go.
  • I don’t get emails or messages until I am able to open my laptop. 

But what have I gained out of this new arrangement? Let’s see…

  • Because I don’t have a smart phone, I have to look at people. I have to make eye contact. I can’t just sit and look down at my phone when I want to disengage.
  • Because I don’t have a smart phone, I have to spend more time playing with my children. This isn’t a fairy tale: we aren’t suddenly spending days at Disney Land or taking father-son fishing trips. But when the kids say, “I want to wrestle!” I can’t look down at my phone and just say, “I’m busy.”
  • Because I don’t have a smart phone, I have gained “message-free” time. Before, I was pretty well-connected. My wife would constantly send me messages, I had a pretty involved group message that I would spend time on regularly, and I had friends from back home who wanted to chat. Now, that all must wait for the times when I am sitting at my laptop.
  • Because I don’t have a smart phone, I gained some peace of mind. I no longer carry anything of value, now that I don’t have a smart phone. So, on a tram or bus, when a pickpocketer is looking for his next take, I’m not a target.

Has my quality of life suffered? Not really.

My life may have slowed down a little because I no longer have my phone, but I don’t think I’ve really suffered as a result. I have to look people in the eyes, I have to get down on the ground and wrestle with my kids, and I have fewer distractions. Sometimes, you need a shock to your routine — it might just be for the best.

Get more from The Bosnia Project

Leave an email address so we can continue the conversation. You’ll get updates and free stuff as it comes, about once a week. I don’t share this information with anyone; this is solely so I can better connect with you as a reader here at the blog.