Tag Archives: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Celebrating Bosnia’s Beautiful Victory

It’s a big day for Bosnia as the country’s football team the Dragons, earned its first place ever in the sport’s greatest tournament, the World Cup, by beating Lithuania 1 – 0.

I woke to Jas and Cookie dressed head-to-toe in team regalia.

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While I was at work, the two spent the afternoon wrapping up Bean in the team logos,

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recording their own private celebration of the winning goal and sharing a chocolate bar following the victory.

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During all of the revelry Jas managed to even cook up a traditional Bosnian veal stew for dinner

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and send me a text declaring that our 2014 summer vacation would involve sleeping in tents in Brazil.

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Idemo u Brazil!

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Remembering Srebrenica

Today, July 11 is the eighteen year anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the greatest act of genocide during the War in Bosnia. You can read the countless writings on the details of this day and the thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives online. Here at the big american, we’d like to take a moment to remember those who lost their lives, to send strength and love to those who were victimized and lost their families. For those who stood by and watched, it is our hope that you have spent and continue to spend every day having learned from your mistakes and living more courageous, more valiant lives.

 

For Akif, who we lost one year ago today. You are with us always. 

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The Magic Show–For Bosnian Moms Only

We pulled up to the tiny cultural arts center in Donji Vakuf. Excited for Cookie’s first magic show, I took her out of her car seat, saddled her on my hip, turned and froze. Ahead of me was a crowd of women and children. All women and children–there was not a man in sight. In the parking lot behind me cars were pulling up and dropping off, men at the wheel speeding away, women and children on foot. Jas put his hand on my back and guided me into the building–the slightest smirk on his face that usually appears when he sees me engulfed in culture shock. 

In America, a “family event” like a magic show is for the whole family. In Bosnia, I discovered that evening, it is for moms and children. Not that men wouldn’t be welcome to join in–they just don’t. It’s not their place. Their role is to provide for their families, not to indulge in the children’s fun particularly after a long day of work and particularly when there’s a soccer game somewhere in the world and a television broadcasting it. 

Parenting roles are very clearly defined by gender in Bosnia and as such are reminiscent of 1950’s America. This has rankled my sister-in-law Jasmina since she got married and had children. As the men in her family always took a more active and therefore unorthodox role in caring for the home and children, she wasn’t prepared for her husband’s more traditional ways. At the time of our visit, she had just ended a cooking strike to get him to help around the house. “If I can work full-time, then he can help take care of the children and the house” she told me. “Until then, he’s not eating.” 

Once in the auditorium I was relieved to see a few males in the back of the room, then distressed to see them exit after kissing their children. We found seats next to M. the wife of one of Jas’s childhood friends and her children. She gave Jas a sidelong look. “Aren’t you going to watch soccer with the guys?” she asked.

“Yes, you can go,”  I piped up.

He looked at me smiling. “That’s ok. I’ll stay for awhile.”  

See my face? I’m praying that the guy sitting behind me stays for the show. He didn’t.

The show started. I tried to pay attention, but I couldn’t get comfortable. The magician was the only other man in the room. It was like Jas wasn’t meant to be there. Or shouldn’t be there. After urging him to head out for the tenth time he rose from his seat. And that was when Cookie decided that he wasn’t going anywhere. When he tried to put her in my lap she squealed and squirmed. I spent the next twenty minutes trying to coax her to stay with me. The other women began to take notice. I’m certain they did. What kind of mother was I? Why wouldn’t my little one sit with me? And who was this man I married? Didn’t he have something better to do than sit and watch a kid’s magic show? At home, such thoughts would never have crossed my mind, but here I felt cloaked in inadequacy. 

Jas stayed for the whole thing. He was one of the first in the face-painting line with Cookie at the end of the show. Towering over the women, smiling from ear to ear as a butterfly was painted onto her cheek. Grinning for the camera. The women looked at him, then looked at me and my empty, empty arms–theirs all full of children.

A happy, happy Tata.

A happy, happy Tata.

As the group began to break up, Cookie and I, M. and her children and a few other women headed to a cafe close by.  Jas hopped in the car to meet his friends at the bar and catch up on the soccer game, planning to pick us up later. Cookie was sleepy at this point and easily settled into my arms and I felt better as Jas drove away and we all walked to the cafe. And then Cookie started to cry and squirm. She had had a stomachache the night before and as I tried to comfort her now I could feel her forehead heating up. I said goodnight to the women and walked the seven blocks home, holding Cookie all the way as she refused to walk.

After Jas learned that we were at home (having been texted by M.), he did his own disappearing act that night, drinking and catching up with his childhood friends until the wee hours of the morning. I gave Cookie a bath and dressed her for bed. I administered some Tylenol when her fever spiked. I rocked her, walking up and down the balcony for what seemed like hours until she fell asleep, my muscles aching and shaking. I cuddled and soothed her back to sleep each time the pain from her head or tummy woke her up.

For the first time that night I was adequate. And exhausted. And not a little jealous of my husband.

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Bosnia’s Shades of Red

We’re usually in Bosnia at this time of year and probably would be at this moment if I wasn’t days away from expecting my second babe. I am missing our time there and thinking back on our trip last summer in my mind’s eye, I see bright flashes of red. Looking through the photos from our last trip, red is everywhere.

The chairs in the garden

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A pint of wild strawberries

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This stroller

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The garden fountain’s spigot

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Sarajevo’s Olympic Village playground

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Balcony roses

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These crocs bought at the market (as ugly as the originals but without the price tag)

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A mountain of market tomatoes

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The glow of the fire cooking the evening meal

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What colors do you see in your travel memories?

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Bosanski Lonac–Beef & Cabbage Stew

It’s New Year’s Eve!–a big holiday in Bosnia where children get gifts, large meals are consumed, beer and spirits are drunk, and fireworks are set off in every neighborhood. As I’m writing this, 2013 has already begun in Bosnia. My sister-in-law Jasmina is no doubt putting her feet up after hosting friends and family with a multi-course feast.

On our corner of the globe we’re still recovering from Christmas and the weather has been bitter cold and windy.  I can think of few meals more comforting and belly-warming than a good stew. This is the first Bosnian meal I’ve ever had and the first meal Jas cooked for me when we were dating. It defies all the rules of good-stew making–  the meat is placed into the pot raw with vegetables, seasoning and water and it’s simmered until every sweet ingredient melts in your mouth. Have some bread on hand to mop up all the yummy broth and life is good.

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You want your veg to be a decent size so they don’t dissolve into the stew.

Start with the seasoned meat.

Start with the seasoned meat.

Layer with veg (we left the peppers out of this one).

Layer with veg (we left the peppers out of this one).

Layer cabbage and seasoning.

Layer cabbage and seasoning.

Continue layering ingredients until the pot is full, then submerge ingredients with boiling water.

Continue layering ingredients until the pot is full, then submerge ingredients with boiling water.

It's not the prettiest dish--but one taste and you won't care.

It’s not the prettiest dish–but one taste and you won’t care.

Here’s the complete recipe:

Bosanski Lonac–Beef & Cabbage Stew

  • 1- 1.5 lbs beef chuck cut into cubes
  • 1 lg. carrot cut into large chunks
  • 5 potatoes cut into large chunks
  • 1/2 head of cabbage cut into chunks
  • 1/2 onion quartered
  • 2 tomatoes cut into chunks
  • 2 cubanel peppers cut into chunks (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbs. vegeta (spice blend) separated
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil (separated)
  • Boiling water to cover
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Drizzle some of your olive oil in the bottom of your stew pot/ dutch oven. Sprinkle all of the beef with 1 Tbs. vegeta and layer half of it in the bottom of pot. Top with a layer of onion, carrots, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes. Top with a layer of cabbage. Sprinkle the cabbage with vegeta and drizzle some though not all of the leftover oil on top. Repeat the layers until you have no more ingredients. Tuck the bay leaf into the pot and add salt and pepper to taste. Add your boiling water to cover all of the ingredients and bring the whole pot to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours. Check if the stew is done by forking a piece of beef–if it’s fork tender, you’re ready to eat. If not, continue simmering and check every 15 minutes.

Yields: 4 – 6 servings

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Crows–The Sole Superstition

When it comes to superstitions I’ve always thought of Jas as a man without. I on the other hand, having grown up with a family that may have written the book on superstitions, follow more than I’d like to admit sometimes almost involuntarily. Jas smirks when I toss salt over my left shoulder after accidentally tipping the shaker, jumps when I screech not to put new shoes on the bed, and as for my refusal to take loved ones to the airport?–that he finds understandably annoying. Though the Bosnian culture is ripe with a myriad of superstitions on everything from coffee drinking to weather predicting, I’ve never heard him express or seen him act on one. Until we went shopping for Halloween.

When we arrived at Party City Jas shot towards the costumes and I headed towards the decorations. Almost immediately I came across an entire shelf lined with ravens and Poe sang in my mind. Perfect, I thought,  and plunked one into my basket as Jas rounded the corner wearing a blue afro and an eye-patch.

“What are you supposed to be?” I asked.

“I’m a disco dancer.”

“Well…what happened to your eye?”

“Someone poked it doing the hustle,” he replied while looking into the basket. “Wait,” he said lifting the eye patch, “what the hell is that?”

“Oh! A raven! Isn’t it great?” He looked at me blankly.

“You know, like Poe’s The Raven.”

No reaction.

“‘Once upon a midnight dreary….'”

Still nothing.

“‘Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore’?” I followed.

“It looks like a crow” he said.

“I guess you could call it that. Aren’t they different birds though?” I asked scrutinizing it.

“What’s it for?” Jas asked.

“What do you mean? It’s for Halloween. I’m going to put it on the mantle,” I said excitedly.

“I don’t like it,” he said frowning.

I took another look at it.

“This is the best one,” I said. “I checked all the others on the shelf. This one has the smoothest feathers and the best face.”

“No, no” he said shaking his head. “This…it’s…not a good thing.”

At this point I was totally perplexed. Holiday decorating usually falls under my purview, particularly Halloween as it’s a holiday Jas doesn’t have much use for.

Noting the confusion on my face he continued, “In Bosnia, crows are very bad luck. We can’t bring that into our house. Put it back.”

Later, I’d learn that crows are feared universally throughout the Bosnian hills. Believed to be harbingers of sickness and death, should one land on your house it’s only a matter of time before a loved one is struck down.

“Ok but it’s not a crow it’s a raven” I argued.

“Nice try. Put it back” he said.

“But…but Jas!” I cried. “What about Poe? Nevermore? Lenore!”

“Leave it Ducati” he said walking off, blue afro bouncing.

With much effort, I returned the bird to its perch. Not because I’m the type of woman who falls in line upon her husband’s demands and requests, but because if there’s anything life has taught me it’s that when someone you know walks under ladders, befriends black cats, and opens umbrellas indoors suddenly expresses a superstition, then you listen.

As for my dreams of a raven adorned Halloween mantle? Nevermore.

In the spirit of the season, if you know any superstitions, please post them.

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My Favorite Bosnian Word

Milton had it wrong. It wasn’t an apple that Eve plucked and ate at the serpent’s goading. The Tree of Knowledge? More like a vine rising into the sky, dripping with seductive red globes. Surely the serpent wasn’t that crafty. Tomatoes. Is any fruit more tempting? More paradisiacal?

Bosnians would agree with me. Or, at least their language does as the word for tomato is paradajz (pah-rah-dye-z).  It was one of the first words I picked up on my own while in Bosnia. Surrounded by family at the dinner table, my niece’s requests and the resulting slice of tomato speared and passed to her gave my heart a little trill. Of course, the tomato.

As the season ends I find myself scavenging the farmer’s markets for the last remnants of the crop.  Sliced and drizzled with olive oil then seasoned with salt, pepper and torn basil, the juices mopped with bread or even enjoyed round and naked, bitten into like an apple tomatoes in all of their incarnations, feed the soul.   Can you imagine a life without them? Their transmutable nature that simultaneously brings both sweet and savory to the plate? Close your eyes and try to imagine it. My childhood disappears as does the map of Italy.

Preparing dinner last night– a simple tomato sauce for spaghetti– I couldn’t help but marvel at the miracles of the modern world as I cranked the can opener and lifted the lid revealing the plum variety from San Marzano. I slipped them into a pan of sizzling garlic and crushed them with the back of a wooden spoon, grateful that none of us ever have to truly lose paradise.

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