Thursday, February 28, 2008

A massage from God

No, not a message. A massage. Yes, you read correctly. No, I'm not crazy. Let me explain. While many of you 9 to 5ers were 9 to 5ing it, I took a walk in God's country.

At the end of the 18 kilometre valley of the Drezanka River is her sacred source, Crni Vrilo. Mother Nature had practically washed, ripped, tumbled, and crushed most of the path to the source, but a bit of free climbing and scree hopping and we found ourselves in our own little mecca.

I laid down on a large rock just a few metres from the 20 metre waterfall that rumbles beneath a 600 metre face of sheer limestone. The rock was warm. The breeze generated from the pounding water cool. The droplets of water on my body refreshing. The perfect blue sky inspirational. The aroma of Herzegovina's wild spring herbs healing. The rock face above me humbling. I closed my eyes and drifted far off.

My journey took me to our ancient ancestors. I imagined the lives of the indigenous Illyrian tribes that freely roamed these precious lands for ages. Our pagan forefathers and mothers worshiped the rock i was laying on, the sun glaring in my face, the sky i was staring at, the water running past me. They did not see themselves as being separate from these godly things, but rather an integral part of them. And they, therefore, treated the great gifts of Mother Nature as one of their own.

Then i opened my eyes and struggled to focus. My mind and spirit had merged with my surroundings. It was a momentary end of separation. I saw the harsh karst of Herzegovina giving way to the gentle but steady water. A tree bend itself to reach the light blocked by a pertruding cliff. The stone calmly slip aside to permit water to pass it by. A vine lend its leaves to lizards and insects. The sand courteously sharing its space with a patch of wild thyme.

It all just worked. They lived and let live. There were no frets. No qualms. It was, is, and always will be harmonious.

The warm rock continued to beam energy into my back and my legs. When i came to i felt as if i had been in a wellness centre for a month. A miraculous of, GOD, Pacha Mama, Allah, Mother Nature, however you'd like to call her.

With my new found energy I hopped, skipped, and jumped to the ledge above the waterfall. The rush of the water was deafening, yet peaceful. It was obvious that very few hikers or climbers had ever been there...but after a few minutes, i realized it was more than i thought. In wonderful Bosnian fashion i found the trademark of the Balkan male in the middle of God's country, perched on a water source in one of the most complicated and tricky places in Herzegovina - a ROSTILJ. Yes, even here, in Mother Nature's wellness centre, i found a metal rostilj. I smiled. Took a photo. And made my way back to the car.

What a heavenly massage i had today. I highly recommend it to everyone.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I had a dream last night. Well, i have one probably most every night....but i don't always remember them and i more rarely write about them. Why is this occasion different? I'm not really sure to tell you the truth, maybe it will make sense by the time I blurt it out on the keyboard.

I very often engage in public debates with myself -- acting as both me and, let's say, Minister of Energy Vahid Heco. It's always quite civil when talking to oneself, perhaps that's why i prefer dreamtime debate rather butcher balkan dialog our 'leaders' are so well versed in.

I find it quite interesting how events of the previous day, things we see, read or smell, manage to sneak into our dreams. I am currently working on an environmental status report that the Swiss Embassy has sponsored. I have spoken to a lot of people, traveled the country to see first hand what IS - and what is NOT - going on. Of the many recommendations that i made (like BiH ratifying the Aarhus convention and the formation of an Environmental Protection Agency at the state level) was the dire need for this country to create an integrated strategy for development in all key sectors -- agriculture, tourism, energy, metal industry, protected areas, and whatever other relevant development 'changes' Bosnia has.

So in my dream I was at this conference that the Austrian government is organizing to promote their country's modern building and energy technologies (they really are hosting this conference in Sarajevo soon). I was sure that the Austrians organized this conference because of the big hoo-ha over the battle for monopolizing the energy sector in BiH.

It has been interesting to watch the media take sides over who are the good and bad guys in this electric tug-of-war. Avaz against Safa and Heco. Dani and Oslobodenje against Radoncic, Bicackic, and the Delta corporation from Serbia. They have all horribly missed the boat, completely ignoring the main point of all this mess. The main issue being that WE DON'T HAVE AN ENERGY STRATEGY, so how on God's good earth can we possibly even talk about flooding EVERY river in the country without a strategy, environmental impact assessment, modernisation of existing infrastructure and technologies. No one is asking SHOULD we build a dam on the Neretva or the Una, but WHO should build one on the Neretva and/or Una. They've conveniently managed to feed us a hot potato, keeping the real issues under the table and the somewhat irrelevant ones in our face - day and night.

So the Austrian companies, back in my dreamworld now, are going on and on about how wonderful their technologies are. How green. How advanced. How low impact. I was there, twitching in my seat. I couldn't hold it in any longer, I had to stand up and speak. So i did. It goes a little like this:

"We all appreciate you coming here and showcasing modern and green technological developments of Austrian companies. We also know why you are here. Austria, well aware of the rich resources this country possesses from your 25 year occupation of some hundred years ago, is bent on having a piece of it back. We know APET and many other companies have already divied up the booty in Bosnia. You've found your local 'partners' who have assured you they can 'work things out, ne sekiraj.' Are you aware, sir, that - for example - ZE-DO Canton had already agreed on the borders of a new Tajan Nature Park in Zavidovici? That Canton had already dished out illegal concessions on the water protected area within the proposed boundaries of the park to an Austrian company in partnership with Edhem Bicackic. The local community of Zavidovici spoke up against this and held a public debate. The results of this public debate were NO DAMS in the park. Full stop. The people spoke.

Did you know, sir, that only a few weeks after this rejection at both the municipal and cantonal level for the construction of an Austrian mini-dam, that the borders of the Tajan Nature Park were mysteriously changed. And, I'm sure you'll be astonished to learn, the new boundaries skirt around all the proposed mini-dams that your beloved Austrian company would like to build. Would that be possible in Austria, sir? Would the government blatantly ignore the will of the people and the decision of the regional parliament in Austria? We all know the answer to that, sir.

So my question is, what would the Austrian public feel about an super aggressive policy of Austrian companies - who all work with the highest level of criminals this country has ever produced - damming this entire country AGAINST the general will of the people? AGAINST all European Union regulations? AGAINST the Aarhus Convention? AGAINST any rule of law? AGAINST any shred of decency and morality?

Mind you, sir, the occupation (the Austrian one, i should clarify) did, in fact, end almost 100 years ago. The fact is, sir, that not one dam could be built in Austria without a comprehensive strategy. NOT ONE dam could be built in Austria without an environmental impact assessment that is independently approved. NOT ONE dam in Austria could be built if the people were against it.

Why then do you come here with your double standards fully knowing that this government is inherently corrupt. Why push European principles on us if the very core of new European principles are being completely ignored. Water is our Oil. Water is our future. Our life. We don't want to destroy it all, especially to give you cheap electricity.

Yes, sir, we do need to expand our energy capacity. And yes, sir, their is great potential for this country to develop its energy potential and create jobs. But this must be a process. What we are asking for is simple: Obey the laws of this land. Respect the will of its people. Insist that our government conduct a democratic and transparent process. Understand that although the prostitutes are giving our natural resources to the highest bidder, they do rightfully belong to the people of this country.

If you are so keen on our electricity then help us with your green technology to build solar energy fields in Herzegovina. To build more wind turbines in Livanjsko and Kupresko Polje. To modernise the country's existing infrastructure. To help us create an alternative sustainable energy strategy. To help us conduct a lawful and scientific impact assessment.

Until you do that, sir, or at least WE do it...


Well, that's how my dream ended. A brave speech in my sleep. I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. I have them in my stomach now. I honestly believe that the monopoly of this country's natural resources by a few political parties is by far the biggest prevara since the Dayton Accords. Save the Neretva. Save the Una. Save ourselves.


Monday, February 25, 2008

I hate work

Ahhh, seems like spring is here. I know, I know...i shouldn't have written a word, now we'll get snowstorms until May. But you must admit, 17 degree celcius on february afternoon in Sarajevo is a nice treat.

Usually by this time we're either still in a deep freeze and paying ridiculous gas bills or we are sludging around on wet, muddy, slushy, icy streets that the zimska sluzba have so kindly
'cleaned' for us. And regardless of whether we're in a deep freeze or slush mode, the city often chokes us with smog. Living up on the hillside where their are no apartment blocks, I get the delicacy of coal smoke. When's the last time you inhaled a deep breath of low quality coal. Let me tell you, it burns deep - real deep - into the belly of your lungs. Not to mention that is scorches the cilia off of the inside of your nose like napalm.

But like i said, it's a gorgeous day, so let's talk about that. There is one thing, well many things really, but for the sake of this blog let's say 'one thing', that i love about this place. We'll march on like little wooden soldiers during the rain, cold or snow. Come just a hint of nice weather and I get the impression that the entire city calls in sick. Cafe's spring to life....the dusty chairs and tables that have occupied the basement or cafe corners are brushed off and placed in the basking sun. Waiting line only if there is even a slight ray of sun beaming in on the location. I'm not sure if its the coffee culture (which, of course, makes the world go 'round. Not love, like they told us when reading us bedtime stories as children), or the "i don't give a shit about work culture.' Either one....i love it!

So its almost noon, 17 degrees and sunny and this fool is writing his blog. I shall save my comments for a more darker time of the day my friends. So i leave my work, fully embracing the 'kafa, boli me neke stvar za posao kultura', to sit on carsija and have a 1 KM bosanska kafa with rahatlokum. Life is good. Do believe. Vozdra.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Captain Charles Boycott

The Balkans seem to be going up in flames these days. The streets of Beograd were in mayhem yesterday... today Mitrovica... tomorrow Sarajevo? For rather different reasons than Serbia or our other entity (I hate to call it 'lesser', like many here do), yet another street protest has been called in Sarajevo. To be quite honest....i'm not expecting much, nor is much of anyone I suppose. There seem to be larger issues overshadowing our dissatisfaction with the appaulling performance of this government and the disturbing social anxiety that continues to and creep and crawl under our skin.

I spent the new year of 2006-07 on Ireland's most western point, Achill Island in County Mayo. My ancestors first came to the states from this area, in the aftermath of the Great Famine (as it was called) that plagued Eire from 1845-48. My great-great and few more great grandfathers was a cobbler. He made boots. When he stepped off the boat in Ellis Island, New York in the mid 1800's his services were immediately put to use. They shipped him off to make boots for Union soldiers fighting the civil war. Famine to war. What a party, huh?

Achill Island is what Croatia is trying to sell itself as...."Ireland, the way it once was." Achill is indeed old Eire. When i first visited many years ago I crossed the bridge from the mainland and climbed through the green rolling hills towards the bay. Over a small foothill the mighty Atlantic opened up before us. A little boy, with wavy blond hair, was bouncing on his horse drawn carriage through the sand. The Atlantic wind blew both the boys and horses hair in this fairytale the way we all sort of idealize Ireland to be. I got out at the 'bus stop', looked around, and found only a pub. Imagine that. I, of course, sat and had a Guinness as one does when in Ireland. Do as the Romans, right?

Some of you may wonder how the hell i drifted so far from my original theme. Well, the thing is, i haven't really. In fact, I'm just getting to the fun stuff. Now western Eire accents can be tricky even for east coasters...let alone for a third generation Irish-Americans. The pub was silent with the exception of some soft jig tunes on the radio. Men reading newspapers, drinking pints, and smoking ciggies. I could have been in rural Bosnia, I thought to myself. Except the beer here was much better.

The bar tender unenthusiastically asked me what i fancied. A thick brown meal in a pint glass was put in front of me ten minutes later. The art of Guinness pouring in Ireland is not taken lightly. The gentlemen next to me eventually lowered his newspaper and peered over the top of his hanging glasses at me. Uninspired but what he saw, he again lifted the newspaper which covered his face.

Through the crunch of the sports pages a coarse, island accent rang out, 'you know lad, you Yanks ought to know a t'ing or two about this here island. During the land wars in the 1880's there was a right bastard of a state agent named Captain Charles Boycott. He sucked the people dry with his high rents and forced many onto the streets. Parnell, god rest his soul, instructed us not to react with violence but to not work his land, deny him of his harvest, and leave his stables and houses to fall in ill repair. So you know what we did son? We walked out on the bastard. Now he in turn called called out the army and police. He shipped in labour from other parts of Ireland, brought the Orangemen here to harvest what was rightfully ours. We kept our word though, like true Christians. We didn't raise a hand. And in the end, his army and foreign labour cost him more than the harvest was worth. By the time the Land Wars were over, all of Ireland had begun to use the word BOYCOTT as a term for organized isolation. There's more to life, son, than a few shillings in yer pocket. You gotta do the right thing, ya know. Ya gotta stand up to these greedy bastards who try and bleed the people for all their worth. Remember that son. Boycott started here on Achill Island. Don't you ever forget that."

To say the least, I haven't forgotten. In fact, it has been a way of life for me since the early 1990's. Unknowingly following in my ancestors footsteps, I have been a major boycotter for almost twenty years now. Coca Cola. Kraft. McDonalds. Wal-Mart. Nestle. Monsanto. Exxon. Shell. If their hands are dirty - I don't touch the stuff. If they don't care for their employees, why should i care for their stockholders? Their profits are never enough. Their means of gaining them are immoral. They are replacing the oppressive monarchies of times gone by and we are their serfs.

Now most folks here think I'm nuts. Waiters just shake their heads at me when i send back the Olimpia mineral water they bring to me. What's wrong with Sarajevski Kiseljak damn it?!?! But it has been a proven method, particularly in the past few decades - of opposing both corrupt and inhumane corporations and governments. Money is power. Power is money. Or so they think at least. And as long as they do, we need to hit 'em where it hurts.

Protest has been worked into an art form in many places around the world. The global south is becoming especially aware of the power of boycotting of products. Hundreds of universities in the US and UK have forbidden the sales of Coca-Cola on their campuses because of Coca-Cola's horrendous human rights record in India and Columbia. Coca Cola, for the first time in many decades, recorded lower profits due to conscientious buyers.

It is a powerful tool. And one that opens ears and eyes.

This may mean not having some creature comforts or having to do without some things we may like. But extreme circumstances often require extreme actions. It may take a bit of digging and prying, but every one of our dear politicians is knee deep in one company or another. We need to find out who, what, where, when, why and how.

The cheapest and easiest of things often turn out costing more than we could ever imagine. Why feed those who oppress you? If there is something we can do, we must ask ourselves what that something is. If there is nothing we can do, we need to ask why not?

Friday, February 15, 2008


It never ceases to amaze me how often people are utterly incapable of viewing things outside of their own little boxes. Bosnia, of course, is no exception to the rule. The more I think about it, though, we, in fact, seem to be the exception to most rules. We here in the lovely Balkans are all a bit mental. Heck, even Sigmund Freud concocted the concept of psycho analysis driving along the road from Dubrovnik to Mostar. Something in the air here either stirs the genius or idiot in us. I'm afraid the latter applies to most of the government of BiH. Let me tell you why. Listen.

The stabbing death of 17 year-old Denis was the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camels back. It snapped in half rather briskly one might say. And it was a long time coming. People here are so incredibly drained by the endurance of our 'leaders' to mock, cheat, lie, steal and be the most arrogant and incompetent groups of schmuck's this place has ever seen. And no, I'm not is that bad.

Now Denis' death finally gave some people the kick in the ass we've needed since, let's say, 1995. We have been sleeping for a long time. The silence like a cancer grew, so say Simon and Garfunkel. And it's killing us. It's already killed Denis. But let's move on to the point.

The protests and the hype around them continues to swirl, dive, and jump off the lips of most people - particularly the media's. It has stirred dialog. Good thing. The bad thing is the dialog itself. It's friggin unbelievable. To listen to Samir Silajdzic, the governor of Canton Sarajevo , belch and scream in a frenzied panic attack at the organizers of the protest was almost like watching American soldiers wailing at soon-to-be Guantanamo inmates as they were tied up like wild boar in Kabul. His appearance later on national television sealed that opinion of him. He is ranting, arrogant, deep-in-the-box, sort of guy. He disgusted the country.

That was nothing, though, compared to our Premiere, Nedzad Brankovic, who made an appearance on FTV's Posteno (Honest) with Duska Jurisic. Talk about thinking in a box. This guy is beyond any creative words that I can muster....shit, he'd even challenge Bill Maher or Kurt Vonnegut to find adequate words for this baboon. Not only is Brankovic arrogant and stupid...he's downright cruel. He lashed out insults, lied, made outrageously absurd accusations, lied again, and basically laid it on the line for us all.

HE is in the TVRDAVA. WE are outside of it. HE calls the shots. WE are his peons. HE can do what he wants. WE simply have to put up with it. OUR voices are not necessary...being that WE elected the mother fucker. He basically told 'his' people, 'FUCK OFF, MY SHOW...DEAL WITH IT!' Does this sound familiar to anybody? Can anyone say George Bombya Bush?

The thing is the only perspective most of these politicians have is from their TVRDAVA. They can't see us through the walls of their political palaces. They are too high. We are too low. Out of sight, out of mind as they say. Whoever they are. The thing is their walls are both physical and mental. Brankovic, for example, just before the conflict of interest laws were put into force, made millions. He feels neither guilty nor responsible for that, he said so on national television. He built his tvrdava as did many of his cronies. Most of them have big walls surrounding their even bigger homes. They think it's so we can't look in, but it's really because they don't want to see out.

They go from one tvrdava to the next. Walled homes to walled offices. They are not responsible for anything that happens in between these two tvrdava's. They are blind to it. Or at least seeing impaired. They lined up for the media to let us know how concerned they were about the situation that has brought thousands of the people they represent to the street:

"I am not responsible for this."

"I do not have any jurisdiction in this matter."

"I can not feel responsible for what is happening in our country."

"I have no legal mandate to do anything about anything."

"It's your responsibility, not mine!"

"I am not....I am not....I am not...RESPONSIBLE.

OK, so we heard you. They're not responsible for anything that happens in this country. They're not responsible for anything at all. Fair enough. So my question is....why should war criminals be held responsible then? Why should delinquent teenagers be responsible? Why should drug dealers be responsible? Human traffickers? Tax evaders? Well, they shouldn't, should they? We should embrace our anarchy with open arms and stop hiding behind the false mask our politicians like to call democracy. I must say though, I find anarchists to be much more civilised than most 'democrats' these days. My apologies to the anarchists.

It is said that any government is merely a reflection of the people. It's a harsh and brutal look in the mirror. I can't say i disagree. The thing is...if they are simply a mirror, then we can smash that mirror, n'est pas? We can throw a stone in the still lake. We can tear down the emotional walls that have locked us in for so long. We can take back our lives and our communities.

They will resist, fear not. They are scared...that's why they are lashing out. I have been to dozens of peaceful protests. Hundreds of thousands of us can peacefully march and there will always be a small handful who will throw a rock or punch. We know what will be reported on CNN and BBC. But the one thing they can never take from us is the truth. They can frame us. They can accuse us of manipulating youth, the media, the masses. And of course they think that way, because that is exactly what THEY do - day in and day out.

Their walls will come down only when ours do my friends. We must not only talk the talk, but be ready to walk the walk. We must understand that there is no ONE right way to go about this. Some will protest loudly from the crowd. Some will write. Some will lobby. Some will make music. Some will be angry. Some sad. The recipe is simple....all of our frustrations that we project outwards are a mere mirror. We are the solution as well as the problem. They are us.

The TVRDAVA's must be brought down. But don't forget, there is more than one way to do so. I understand the urge for violence. It is in our nature. But who was more successful, Che and Arafat or Gandhi and Mandela? Full respect to Che....but....

They will continue to ignore our cries, have no doubt my friends. But we must learn to hit them where it matters most to them. And that is two places. The pocket and the ego. The pocket is easy - boycott. I'll talk more about that in my next blog. The second is easy too. Sending them home (or preferably to jail) will deflate the largest of ego's. You voted them in. Vote them the fuck out! They are willing to go as far as they need to to reach their goals. Are you? Are we as committed to a democratic society as they are to fortifying their Tvrdava's?

Gil Scott Heron once said....'no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Gotta work for peace. Gotta work.'


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Monkey see, monkey do

Yesterday afternoon about 20,000 people took to the streets of Sarajevo. This town has not seen a larger protest since the anti-war gatherings in front of the parliament building in 1992. That same day, a long 16 years ago, two of the first victims of what would be the longest siege in European history were killed. Yesterday the masses gathered to protest another kind of killing, one that horrifyingly mirrors the current state affairs in Sarajevo and indeed all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A few months back a taxi driver in the nearby town of Visoko was killed by a 17 year-old kid. A few weeks ago three underage boys doused an old woman with benzin and lit her on fire as she was returning from the bakery. She died a few days later from the burns. A few days ago three young men, one under the age of 18 stabbed a 17 year-old to death on a crowded tramway for no reason whatsoever. No one intervened on the tram. The underage boy, after murdering one of his peers, went home to the comfort of his warm home and bed. There are no laws on juvenile violent crimes, except that they get to go free. There are no centres. No punishments. No justice.

This fact has been well known to our beloved government. They have been too busy fighting for their respective thrones to bother to notice the 26 violent crimes committed by underage boys in Sarajevo alone. All of them home with mom and dad, walking the same streets they terrorized whilst our 'leaders' fight for the hefty booty from BH Telecom, Elektroprivrede, and the abundance of national resources that they consider personal property.

I was moved by the show of support for young Denis. I was pleased to see the anger spill over into something other than apathy or kalishnikov toting thugs. They were angry that no one did anything to stop it. They were, and are, angry that this government is so acutely inept that juvenile delinquency is becoming an epidemic. I am not surprised by this though, let me tell why.

Although this outpour of emotions in undoubtedly the most positive collective expression since the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995, i fear people are not seeing it fully through to the core of the problem. Yes, there is an alarming growth in the number of violent crimes by 16 year old boys in this country and in particular, the capital city of Sarajevo. The answer for our politicians, however, is that we must build jails and detention centres to punish them. Perhaps part of the solution, but certainly not addressing the real problem. The real problem is the utter moral bankruptcy of our community. Complete and utter bankruptcy.

Our children have been taught that in Bosnia and Herzegovina no one is responsible for anything, let alone their own actions. We teach them that if you lie, cheat, steal, or murder that you're more likely to become premiere than to go to jail. We have taught them that ultra violence is tolerated or at the very least justified because of what someone else may have done to deserve or provoke it. Remember what mama always said, 'two wrongs don't make a right.' Never have. Never will. But we forgot to teach our children that.

Our schools are segregated. We want to teach our 5 year olds that they should be separated from each other because our parents read the bible and the other the q'uran. The thugs and criminals of our society can regularly be seen having coffee with our ministers. Having a beer with our policeman. I'm not exaggerating to say that you can even find some of them working side by side with our highest ranking 'representatives.' These have become the role models for our youth. Be ruthless. Use your smarts to cheat the system. Intelligence means how to get ahead at any cost...and if that means stomping on anyone and everyone in your way, so be it.

Corruption and immorality are infectious at every level. Most things seem to function here on who you know and how much you slip them under the table. The buildings may have been rebuilt. Some of our roads paved over. Our system of values, however, is bleeding us to death. It is our no-so-silent cancer that drives us to the highest suicide rate in Europe. Highest unemployment rate in Europe. The most corrupt government in Europe. The largest percentage of youth who want to leave the place of their birth in Europe. Heroin and drug use has skyrocketed. And now we are climbing to the top of the latter for murders by youth in Europe.

We continue to not ask the right questions, though. We keep looking for the drug dealers or detention centres to ease our fears or end the misery of our children. But the misery of our children does not come from the lowly dealer. It comes from our homes. Our communities. Our government. Monkey see, monkey do. Are they much different than us? Are these violent youth the scum of our collective or simply a reflection of it?

Our apathy has got to stop. Our finger pointing has got to stop. Our anger is good. Let us have the wisdom to channel this aggression - and indeed to help find ways for our children to channel their rage. If i were a teenager, I would, quite frankly, be out of my head with rage. I would rebel. I would be disgusted. Disappointed. Feet betrayed. Their rage and misguidance should be a flashing neon sign to all of us that we are not doing our jobs well at all.

We will see change and hope only when we, as individuals and a collective, are finally ready to take FULL responsibility for the mess we are in. For the moral bankruptcy that we have let overtake every aspect of our society. And believe me when i tell you my friends, we are in the shit and we are in it up to our eyeballs. Do believe.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Down goes the anarchist

I am 37 years old. Most of those years if the mass went right, I went left. And, of course, visa versa. Not much has changed really, or at least that's what i like to convince myself of these days. I have been 'unofficial' - statistically, legally, administratively - for well over 15 years. I don't own a home. Don't pay taxes. Don't have health insurance. No pension plan. No college fund. No eggs nest. Nada. Nista. Nula.

I have a feeling that is all about to change. My semi-nomadic, slightly anarchistic lifestyle has downshifted over the years. I actually own a car that works and isn't over 20 years old. I bought a lovely piece of land in the hills behind Sarajevo (although i still struggle with the concept of land 'ownership', but i figured it'd be better not to wind up on a reservation like many other like minded rainbow warriors). The land, of course, is not registered in my name, simply for the fact that i really don't exist anywhere. So how could i possibly own land then, right? Luckily my better half, although we really dance to most of the same drums, in this respect, is night from my day.

At 37 i am getting married, inshallah. Never too late, huh? So what is this rambling all about...i guess i should get to my point. The wedding is 6 months away. Plenty of time a normal anarchist would think. Wrong. Dead wrong. I've recently learned of the 'paper process' ahead of me...and lord have mercy, my reasons for living outside of the system lit up like the red light district in Amsterdam for me today.

Part of this fun process is to get me recognized by the state. Even though the state doesn't necessarily recognize itself, we have to be recognized by it. So it goes.

There are police forms. Employment forms. Contracts to be signed. Diploma's to be translated and notarized. Birth Certificates too. Medical check-ups. Aids tests. Criminal record checks. And i've just skimmed the surface, no shit!

Today was my ljekarska ovjerenje. For you ferners, that's my medical check-up, certifying i am healthy and worthy enough to be a duly employed and married person of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It was a rainy day today. When i pulled up to the ramp at the dom zdravlje (medical clinic) to park, i quickly found out that i was horribly mistaken. This was not a parking area, 'couldn't i tell', screamed the ramp guard at me. I pulled my dumb foreigner card, apologized (unheard of by Bosnian males), and offered to turn my car around and get out of everyones way. This always works for me. After an apology and admitting he was right, i got a front row parking space....yup, behind the ramp. I went from idiot to VIP in a matter of seconds. I love this place.

Trying to find ones way through the labyrinth of Otok's dom zdravlje turned out to be relatively painless. The crumbling steps and hovered masses bearing the rain to have a fag was a familiar site. I found the desk i was supposed to find. The woman was extremely pleasant, and with a big smile took 150 KM from me. I had heard all the rumours about the medical check-up, and how it was as easy as passing a tehnicki pregled (vehicle inspection) in Bosnia. Just pay and done deal. Full stop. I wasn't expecting that today to be honest though, and that was a good thing. For my 150 KM i received a little piece of paper with 7 room numbers on it. That was to be my day, visiting 7 rooms for my eyes, my urine, my blood, my blood pressure, my mental state....the whole nine yards.

For some reason there were mainly men waiting with me. They fidgeted endlessly...which i later realized were nicotine fits. It also made me think that if this was a typical day for workers to get medical checks for their work permits -- why were there no women? A question one could ask about most things in the Balkans. Where are the women people? They are our backbone!

The psychologist seemed to enjoy chatting with me very much. That took the longest. I thought she'd bust out a coffee pot and we'd chat for the rest of the day. But what can you do, she's the boss, right. Then i went to the lab. The woman didn't even lift her head, just took my little piece of paper and started scribbling in the massive notebooks that they love so much here. She passed me a white plastic cup with the number 45 written on it in blue marker and told me to sit down over there to take a blood sample. The nurse extracted my blood with utter perfection. Then i was off to the toilet.

I didn't really have to pee, but i managed a few drizzles. Outside in the main hallway was a small tray stand, with about 50 other plastic cups filled with urine. Just sitting right there in hall. I added mine to the bunch and inspected my little piece of paper. It made me think of my crazy friend Chuck, whose musical talents have created jingles such as this one...

'when you're in, you're in. But when you're in urine, you're in urine.' Disgusting, yes. Clever, absolutely.

The x-ray of my lungs was next in line. The doctor told me to take off my shirt and step over to the machine. I didn't get him at first and he got pissed off rather quickly. I played my foreigner card again and he apologized. His anger immediately disappeared as well, funny thing. It was cold, but painless nonetheless. Off to my EKG. This was fun. Shirt off again, this time i understood. As the nurse was preparing the 'gear', which was no doubt a relict from the 1980's at best, she proclaimed herself a mahalusa (which is basically a gossip goddess). That she was. The questions rolled off her tongue with no shame. I enjoyed it...and answered each one of her 25 questions thoroughly. She knew my life story when i walked out 3.5 minutes later. She had obviously done this before.

The eye doctor was a special treat too. The book they held up for me to read was so yellow and aging that i was certain that it had been read to a child when i was, indeed, a child. The corners were tattered, the front cover torn and hanging on for dear life. Then came the numbers on the far wall. Before i could start reciting the numbers i saw she covered that eye and switched to the next. She asked me to read the same numbers, which i had remembered, so didn't even really need to look at the board at all to pass my eye exam.

Then came the finale. Little medical history. Blood pressure reading. Listened to my lungs, all normal stuff. Then the shirt had to come off again...and by now i could have said it in satrovacki (sort of like the Bosnian version of cockney) if they had asked. I had to walk about, first on my tip toes, then heels, the bob up and down and do squats. I felt like i was in PE in the 3rd grade and Mr. McIntyre was yelling at us to go faster.

After almost three hours it was over. No harm done. Had told my life story. Shed myself of a bit of blood and urine. Dueled with a psychologist. Exercised with a doctor. Read children's books. Watched grown men squirm in their seats dying for a cigarette.

I am now ready for the courts and police. Trying to bring yourself to life after 15 years of being neither here nor there won't be pleasant - but it'll at least give me something to write about.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Oprah's choice

After opening the headlines on sarajevo-x yesterday that read 'federacija u mrak do 2015' it took all my strength to keep myself in the seat i was in. In fact, i had the urge to jump out of my skin. Last year I wrote in a START article that it was just a matter of time before those threats came to light. The same happens all over the world, old scare tactics die hard in the energy sector. But I have decided to research this subject even more...and therefore need a bit more time to dismantle and dispel the myth that the federation will be in the dark by 2015 if we don't build a hydro electric dam on every free flowing, potable waterway in the country. So stay busters coming soon.

So I will answer a fellow bloggers request to talk about the US elections. It will, i thoroughly agree, have an impact on the world and henceforth the little central Balkan state we call home. This will not be a political analysis but rather what i consider to be a very interesting point of view -- an American who left the US for philosophical reasons...maintained family and friends ties in the land of his birth....adamantly opposes the bulk of American foreign policy....and yet cherishes the spirit of justice, change, and free thinking that he inherited from his American upbringing.

I'd consider this the most important election of my lifetime. I was born in 1970, raised by one liberal democrat and a more centrist democrat. It became apparent to me as I reached adulthood that the word liberal in the United States is a dirty word to many. To be 'liberal' for me always meant more about justice, women and minority rights, universal health care, equal and fair access to education, and embracing the melting pot that I believe makes America special, than anything else. For many, I learned, liberal simply means more government intervention, more welfare checks, supporting gay marriages, and get this...this was the latest i heard on a radio talk show when i visited the states recently. It's a show that millions of Americans listen to....i couldn't believe my ears. Check this out...'liberalism is the satan that is destroying our country. Liberals, who promote homosexuality, pedophilia (I'm not kidding) and spread AIDS have finally been dealt a lethal blow. God's answer to liberalism (and he didn't mean neo-lliberalism), to fight this disease infecting our American society, is Islamic fundamentalism. This is God's punishment to us, he has sent the hordes of these Islamic extremists to punish us...' The show went on for hours...and at times i didn't know whether to laugh, cry or shoot myself on the spot. According to the talk show host, it would have made everyones lives easier if we 'liberals' would just commit mass suicide. But we decided to torture the evangelists a bit more though and stick around and spread AIDS, molest our children, and to antagonize both them and the extremist who have been sent by God to kill us.

So why is this the most important election in my lifetime? Well, for one, I have never witnessed America more split than i do today. Politics or political affiliations never really mattered that much between friends and family....but believe me today is a different story. The country is divided, bitterly so....but I think that is a good thing. It gives us an opportunity to gain more perspective and to re-check our values as a society. Eight years of Bush, Cheney and his finely tuned corporate and military machine have shaken the country to its roots. Thank goodness for that! Seriously.

There is no lack of hype about all the possibilities of 'first's' happening in American politics. Hillary Cinton could be the first woman US president. Barack Obama could be the first African American president. Mike Huckabee could be the first evangelist minister to become president of the most powerful country on earth. The first two excite me...the third scares me a bit - although I must admit that although I think his political views are 18th century puritan, he does seem to be a genuinely nice human being. Mitt Romney on the other hand, a sly and cunning former governor of Massachusetts, seems more to me like a weaslesque corporate clone. The only decent republican candidate, and indeed he is a decent man, would be John McCain. He certainly has the ability to reach both parties and bipartisan compromises. And although he's been in Washington DC for 25 years - it may have hardened him, but it certainly didn't break his moral character. For that, at the very least, he has my respect.

But let's get back to the exciting part....the Democrats. Many Bosnians love the Clintons, as do many Irish, Palestinians, Vietnamese, Albanians and Chinese. Clinton certainly did have a way with successful foreign diplomacy and despite the charade over his oral-sex affair - the US did seem to stand with two feet solidly on the ground in more ways than not. Bush quickly erased that...and that bothers a lot of Americans in a very big way. The Democrats just want Bush out - and out for good. With Bush and his depleting number of followers comes the onslaught of corporate America, whose loyalty lies with their only god. Profit at any cost. ANY cost. Full stop.

I wouldn't complain if Hillary Rodham Clinton was our next president. I wouldn't be able to boast, however, that i help put her there. A quarter of a century of the Clinton/Bush political dynasties scares the shit out of me. It's too much. Politics are a dirty game anyway, let alone when you have two families calling the shots for a potential 28 years! Hillary has some good ideas about the economy and health care- I am particularly fond of her Green Jobs approach. The world is changing, and we must adjust to that change or it will certainly adjust us. I think Green Jobs, in creating new technologies for energy, particularly in the auto and electricity fields, could create a heck of a lot of jobs. Spain and Germany are Europe's leader in that field, and employ an impressive number of people in creating and building solar and wind technology. Hillary would - no doubt - quickly bandage our badly damaged reputation with what would need to be the best Secretary of State the country's history. However, we mustn't forget, there are a tremendous amount of Americans who absolutely hate Hillary Clinton. They really despise her. I won't go into why right now.

That leaves us with Oprah's choice - the half Kenyan Muslim half Irish American Christian Barack Obama. The American dream in motion, isn't it?! I know that many often use the cliche's of fresh change...A Washington outsider. .. Not part of the political establishment. He is energetic and a great speaker -- and can at times sound like JFK and at times like MLK. I admire them both. He certainly has a perspective that no other legitimate presidential candidate has ever had in the history of US elections. Never has a half white / half black man stood before the American people and won the support of them both. He has moved the young population like no other president has done either. But again, a man's colour or race shouldn't have anything to do with who we vote for. I fully agree. And that exactly what he has done, transcended the race issue which has been a thorn in our side since the evil days of slavery. What swings me to the Obama camp are several things:

: if you look at the close inner circles of the Democratic intellectual elite -- the ones who were largely responsible for the successes of the Bill Clinton era -- they are almost entirely backing Obama. That speaks volumes to me. Abandoning the Clinton camp could not have been easy - but they did, and in large numbers. The support Obama has with both the democratic establishment and those dreaded 'liberals' who won't and can't be corralled by the powers that be are impressive to say the least.

America is a divided nation. And I'm really not kidding. I know good friends who aren't on speaking terms with their siblings because of this great political divide. Obama seems to attract black and white, young and old, working class and middle class. He's aware that many things in the US are horribly broken...and indeed immoral. I honestly believe that he has the ability to bridge that gap. Perhaps his young political career hasn't earned him enough enemies like the Clinton's have managed to. That can only be a good thing.

for me, America must make grassroots changes. The culture of consumation. The cultural imperialist attitude. The worlds top polluter per capita. Our ultra-capitalist principles that are destroying lives not only in America but across the global south. We need to put many things back into perspective. We need to be kinder to our own people and indeed our global neighbours. We need to be fairer, more ethical, and take the lead in creating political and economic harmony instead of leading the world in destroying them. His campaign is based on hope. And one thing i've always had through all my skepticism, criticism, and even, indeed, hope. Kurt Vonnegut, I feel, would share the same sentiment. So it goes.

I have no doubt that a democrat will be in the white house come next year. Whether its Hillary or Obama remains to be seen. Perhaps they will go in tandom, another first. My educated guess would be that Obama would possibly run as Hillary's VP should she take the Democratic nomination. If the cards were swapped, however, I don't think Hillary's (or Bill's) ego would allow her to take the back seat to the junior senator from Illinois. In that case, John Edwards is a good bet for Obama's VP candidate - a dynamic duo to take on corporate America and their Washington lobbyists. I am not naive enough to think that this election will fix what is wrong with America. It could, i sincerely hope, pave the way to get American moving in any direction other than the one that Bush has dragged us kicking and screaming through.

I must admit, though, that the American election process is rather perverted. The sheer amount of money spent on these campaigns is absurd. But what we will see in 2009 is what many of us hope is a serious and fundamental change to American society. The time has come. And from universal health care, alternative energy sources, intelligent foreign policy, and perhaps a tad bit of respect for the document that has given the guts and glory to the world's longest standing democracy. Bush and Cheney have shit and pissed all over the Constitution of the United States. That offends me. What offends me even more is that the very principles of that document which they chirp on about like parrots....freedom and liberty, are misused to manipulate, bully, kill, conquer, and humiliate people in every corner of our globalizing world. That, my friends (inshallah), will come to end in 2009.