Please, PLEASE stay on the grass

As promised, I will begin this entry by educating you on the finer points of Bosnian language. I have been teaching it to myself for about a month now and in this time I have managed to come up with two important lessons that I can pass on. These lessons, in possible numerical order, are:

1. That this language blows goats;

and, equally importantly:

2. That its creation was obviously some kind of Balkan torture for which I am demanding that its creator's descendants be immediately extradited to the Hague and its War Crimes Tribunal.

Bosnian is remarkably tricky and its foolish shenanigans start at the outset, thereby making even common sentences complex. It is needlessly difficult and I am not just saying this as a unilinguist who has always been poor at learning languages. An example:


I am not making this up.

In Bosnian, there are seven of what are called "declensions" or "cases", which are different forms of nouns that depend on the context in which they are used. The declensions are based on whether the noun is a direct object, an indirect object, and instrumental object, etc., which wouldn't be half as bad if I knew what the hell those things were in English, either.

For each declension the noun gets a different ending, so if you are talking about bread it is "hleb", if you are near the bread it is "hleba", if you are eating the bread it is "hlebu" and if you hate the bread it is "željeznicka stanica".

So, each word has seven different possible endings based on how it is used. Also, these endings change depending not only on whether the verb is masculine, feminine or neuter (ouch) and whether it is singular or plural, but also on what consonant the word ends in.

When speaking, one must then consider whether the noun they have chosen is a masculine singular with a soft consonant in the locative case, a feminine plural with hard consonant in the nominative case, a neuter plural, hard or soft, in the vocative case (rare, but possible) or whether you just want to stop using nouns altogether. And I promise I am not making this sound more complicated than it really is. I have decided to spend my time teaching the entire country English instead as I think it will be quicker.

Maxime, Karima and I decided to spend last Sunday, our last day before starting (da-DUM!) work, at the hot springs in the Sarajevan suburb of Ilidza. It is a picturesque part of the city, situated right on a river, with quaint houses and a couple of resort hotels in the centre. Subtle and relaxing, we ambled slowly behind the hotels only to be struck by two large signs no more than twenty feet behind the buildings:


There was no railing, no fences, no yellow guard tape and nothing between the signs. Considering the fields proximity to a large number of people and the ease with which one could miss the signs, we started to feel unsettled. We felt more unsettled moments later when we were passed by an ambulance and three Mine Action Control trucks, all with sirens blaring.

Uneasily, we continued our hike, trying to ask locals where the hot springs were as best we could, language still being a major issue. We were directed to a fountain and a swimming pool before jumping into a horse drawn taxi which took us, of course, to a man-made lake. Cursing the abundance of water-containing bodies in the vicinity, we walked home only to accidentally stumble upon two puddles, three feet long and four inches deep, fifty-seven degrees Celsius, stinking of sulphur and covered in a thick, sloppy brown goo. The hot springs. We left.

(Besides the springs and the whole gonad-eating incident, my language problems have also managed to buy me a ticket here to a fantastic rock concert which, as it turns out, was in Slovenia. I didn't make it.)

Other than that, the last week has just been getting used to our apartment - which is upstairs from a crazy Bosnian woman who hangs dozens of demonic scribbled papers in our dark, dingy hallway every night, very Blair Witch - and work. My job is to design a webpage for a large local media centre, cleverly named Media Centar. The work is going fine inasmuch as they haven't quite grasped my level of computer ineptitude as of yet.

Being in Bosnia presents different design concerns than I had originally anticipated. I asked a fellow worker, Hans, for some suggestions:

"Is there any colour in particular Media Centar would like me to use?" "No," he replied, "Just don't use green. That's the Muslim colour. Or red and white, that's Croatian. Or red, blue and white. Those are the colours of the former Yugoslavia."

The list went on. Www.Media.ba, a grey on grey website, coming soon to an internet near you.