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Wait a moment... this isn't Canada!

Hard to believe but it has now been a month here in Bosnia and I am just starting to get into the groove, into that crazy Hercegovinan groove all the kids are talking about. I am not used to staying in one city for long periods of time while traveling and the longer I stay, the more interesting quirks I find out about Sarajevo. For example:

THERE IS NO CORN. Ok, there is some corn but it is an absolute rarity. I am used to corn being everywhere but, despite the abundance of fresh food markets here, it is near impossible to find. And even when you do find it, the are still some differences with it from back home.

e.g. There is a guy that sells corn, pre-boiled, from a stand right near where I work and, craving it one lunch break, I went out to get a cob only to find that neither the guy nor his stand were there. I asked a co-worker why the stand wasn't there before nighttime and he shot me a look that said very distinctively "Corn? For LUNCH? Don't be pre-POS-terous!" He just shook his head silently and walked away.

This dearth is in sharp contrast to tomatoes, omnipresent here, and ironically called in Bosnian "paradajz", pronounced "paradise", the irony being that tomatoes are the only food I don't like. Bastards.

THE PEOPLE LOVE CHESS. They are crazy for it - people play constantly and passionately and at all hours of the day. There are two huge outdoor boards in Sarajevo with plastic men that are two feet high and filled with sand (the chess players, not the Bosnians).

Every morning the games start at seven, even in the winter I am told, and it is always the same two men playing the first game. One, a dead ringer for a slavic Guy Lafleur but with a cigarette perennially dangling from his lower lip, sets up the pieces before his friend arrives. The friend, who has a severe limp, comes in moments afterwards and Lafleur doesn't even wait for him to hobble to the board before he plays his first piece. Old men sit around the board all say, watching and only opening their mouths to curse the apocalyptically stupid moves of every other player, which seem to be frequent.

Eric and I played once on Eric's personal chessboard at an outdoor cafe. We are both beginners (read: we know the horsey makes an L) but even still people stopped and watched for the entirety of our game. They booed nearly our every move.

"We are beginners," Eric told them. "We know," they told us back.

Bobby Fišcer, we ain't.

THE WOMEN ARE STAGGERINGLY BEAUTIFUL. I had noticed this when I first arrived and it still hasn't worn off. I don't think it *should* wear off - lord knows I don't want it to - but I keep being surprised by their level of attractiveness. It's funny - I expect Italian women to be beautiful, I expect Croatian women to be beautiful, I even expect Yugoslavian women to be beautiful, but for some reason being Bosnian just strikes me as having a connotation, like the women should all have club-feet and look like Bea Arthur or something. Happily, they do not. The are tall and slim and massive-bosomed and wear tight Italian clothing and parade back and forth along the main drag all evening, every evening.

(Ok, so this wasn't a quirk, but I am still pretty damn excited about it)

THERE ARE NO TOURISTS. At all. None. Nil. Zero. Well, maybe three. But it is incredible, for such a world city, to see virtually no travelers. There are tonnes of foreigners here - UN workers and people from NGO's - but really no backpackers or weekenders at all. What becomes really odd is the busking - since I have been here I have seen a Spanish band, a Cuban band, and Irish band and some Slovenian folk dancers. The thing is, because there are no tourists to cater to, all folk music and performances are imported so as to cater to the locals. I get to see a free concert every night and yet I still have no idea what Bosnian music sounds like. But tonight it is German oom-pah-pah. Ole!

THERE IS NO CRIME AND THERE ARE NO PROSTITUTES. I have heard locals complain about all the crime here but really I get no sense of that at all. This may well be because of the constant military presence - most soldiers spend their free time in Sarajevo but must wear uniforms while doing so - so the lack of crime makes some sense. But it is because of the same wealth of soldiers that I am stunned that there are no prostitutes. Isn't this what army people DO?

(Note: Unlikely to be conscripted before, I am fairly certain I have put myself out of army life for sure now. No more lobster for me.)

SLEEP IS MINIMAL. With the combination of a 4:15 sunrise time and dozens of local mosques blaring prayers over their loud speakers by 5:00, a good night's rest is at a premium. Sleeping on the floor for a month probably isn't helping, but I will blame it all on the muslims - that seems to be the trendy thing to do around here.

JUST WHEN I THOUGHT THINGS COULDN'T GET ANY MORE CONFUSING... I thought the whole language and testicle things were enough torture and that the Bosnians had already had their fun with me, but it seems that the leg-pulling and jocularity continue.

Last week, I was trying to find a building located at #55 Urce-Lica (street name, approximately). I found the right street and was at #66. I went down the road, #64, 62, 60, 68, 66 and then crossed the road and found myself perfectly located at building #3. It seems that the street numbers go down on one side of the street but up on the other side of the street. So I had to walk back exactly the way I came. This rule, wonderfully, applies only to some streets. Well, of course it does.