Simple Joys

Life anywhere is loaded with tiny little things that brighten your day. The little moments of pleasure of circumstance that ease things along. I am going to share a few of mine with you…

In the OSCE washroom, they have changed soaps. This one smells just like the faint cologne of an old school barbershop. It’s great.

Looking at a sign, and being startled that I understand a word.

Getting the right amount of instant coffee and water and milk for a tasty cup. I should really keep measurements, and create a taste index.

A recent one is the rush from squeezing something out of a PC application that isn’t any more obvious than “We oughtta be able to.”

Walking past a copier and realizing no one has asked me to un-jam it, or for assistance in making 2 sided copies. –Not in the entire time I have been here.

When I am talking with someone here, usually newer, and realizing I DO have a handle on things.

When I order something in local language and the waiter doesn’t turn to someone else at my table for clarification.

When Anja forgets herself and starts to sing a little or dance in her chair.

Email from people. I love getting mail, snail or e. Ask Dana.

There are no doubt more. I am actually really pleased with the soap, but thought I really, really ought to put it in another context. ;-)

Posted by Andrew     

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Eternal Naivety

Well, spring is here. It is rainy, and the dry days are becoming simply stunning. Green runs amuck, and several people have told me this is the most beautiful time of year. Banja Luka itself is fortunate enough to still be fraught with trees. I can twist in my chair, and look out the window behind me to a “Simpson’s sky”, and a cheerful array of growing things beyond our building and the truck yard next door. Turning my head less, the new, clean windows show me buildings all about a hilltop, conjuring opening movie scenes in my head.

I smile at this. The sun feels good when I am out; not too warm, but warm enough for no jacket. Then the soft palette of my mouth starts to itch. Thirty seconds later, I am sneezing in rapid fire and wondering if I really did take my allergy medicine only 2 hours ago. My eyes water, and I sniff a bit, and let the oxygen pour back into my bloodstream. Sometimes, a good bout of sneezing can give me spots and light headedness.

This is my annual dilemma, and the source of my eternal naivety. I have had wicked allergies through my life, though after 13 years of medications and shots, they did seem to toddle off for 4 or 5 years. I know what green does to me. I speak about it. I have long had a general, knowing aversion to the outdoors. Everyone who knows me knows about it. I can offer informed critiques of most ever allergy medication available.

Why, oh why then does it only take one winter to convince me that I am probably cured of them? Oh, sure. I know I am allergic. But, how can the severity fade from my dread and misery to an academic subject that I don’t wholly believe. How is it,most every spring I am stunned at how worn out they make me feel?

Thankfully, I still make sure I have meds available. I have enough here to get me to the States again. I even thought about rationing during the first part of my visit, in preparation of spring! And now, with my head clogged, my body feeling a bit tired, and my palette itching faintly, I wonder how I didn’t anticipate this. It’s the worst kind of mental bureaucracy. I have a tidy little report on the severity of my allergies, and when they will hit. I have an office set up to ensure the proper medications are on hand. The trouble is, the clerk in charge rarely gets out of the office, and is shocked each year by the human element of my situation.

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No. I am serious. I want to learn.

Normally my language class is held at the “Cambridge Center.” The center usually focuses on English, so my instructor is more of a free lance teacher. During the week, it is pretty easy for me to get to during the day. Since it is local, I just have to give a driver a heads up in the morning. When I want to be picked up, I call and they come get me when they can, which is usually right away.

I say normally, because I was to have my first weekend class on Saturday, which would take place at my instructor’s flat. We set each new class at the current class to keep it all nice and flexible. I estimated it would be about an hour walk from my flat to hers, which poses no real issue as we are into spring now. She gave me directions to her place, and I consulted a map and folks at work.

I had to head past town centre, and make a quick turn or 2 to get past Kastel, a small castle on the river that served as a Turkish dungeon. (good food) I navigated that without issue and soon arrived at the bridge I was supposed to cross. Note that. Supposed to. The directions were very easy. Cross the Green Bridge, turn left at the first light, 8 floor yellow building. Sounds easy, right? (keep readin’…)

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No really, I wanna learn…

I am hoping to take language lessons while I am here. I am looking to get just the basics so I can get a little more comfortable independence, and generally interact more.

After settling in, I started asking around a bit. With the help of the office, I found a place in town that offers classes. I would forget about going to see them, or just be feeling listless, or actually not have the time. When I finally got in, I was a little crushed that the price was more than was quoted on the phone, and it would not be a class.

The idea of private lessons makes me nervous. It makes me pretty anxious because of past experiences trying to learn languages, and because I tend to be a pretty tense guy. I found out that an employee in OSCE had the same tutor who was recommended to me, so I hankered down and made the call. She initially called me, but I wound up in Sarajevo an extra day, so missed it. In the mean time, I worked through all the anxiety stuff.

Once I made the call, it wound up being a fair amount of calling. The mobile phones here don’t come with voice mail, so it took a couple weeks for us to finally get each other. Earlier in the week, I met Sandriela and worked out what sort of lessons I would get.

We were supposed to meet from 11a to 1p today. I even wrote it down. She saw me write it down. So, as you can imagine, it is well beyond me why I was so confident we were meeting 1p-3p, that I didn’t check my notes. I feel like an ass and am horribly embarrassed.

We try again Friday! 11a-1p.


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OK. So you are an American and would like to work with OSCE. Your options are contracts and secondment. As far as I know, you don’t need to be “put forward” to gain a contract.

The mission is staffed by people from OSCE’s member nations. The US has a quota it likes to fill, which I think is around 15%. The idea is that each nation will be able to get people in, so that you don’t wind up with a staff that is overbalanced in clear favor of one nation. One of the reasons for the delegations doing it is the way wages work.

You get a per diem (living expense) paid by OSCE. That is the same for everyone in an area, and depends on cost of living, danger, and so forth. Your wage is paid by your country of origin. So, Americans get paid American wages, the Swiss get paid Swiss wages and so forth. They all have their own budgets and such. Poor countries might have people working who only get per diem, for example. Or the wages of people in 2 identical positions might have a very different gross, because they are from different places.

For Americans, you have to first apply for a position through the delegation at OSCE headquarters in Vienna. If they like you, they put you forward for the position. Every put forward then goes through a “normal” job selection process. The heads where the position is sort through CVs, make a short list and due interview.

The first step to get it all going is to go to the PAE React website, and get registered. If you check the site for jobs, you will see the OSCE jobs that the US is specifically interested in filling. You can also check the OSCE Employment page, and see if there is something that trips your fancy. If so, you can ask the US delegation to consider you, even though they don’t have an explicit interest.

OK. So, now you have registered, and put a job code in the right box on your online application. After the deadline, the good folks at PAE-React sort through what is what and decide if you are a top applicant. If you rank tops, they will tell the place offering the job that you are an OK person, and you ought to be considered.

Your application then has gone from PAE to the jobsite. As I have said, they peruse the applications, and make a short list. If you get short listed you get an interview. If you are number, someone contacts you to offer the position. If you accept, off you go!

To simplify: Imagine you are a want a job in the grocery industry. You cannot apply directly to the job of, say, butcher, that you want. You have to first apply to your local employment office. If the guild decides they would like someone in Ray’s, they give Ray your application and ask them to consider you. If Ray’s digs you, they call you for an interview.

Any questions?!

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Looking to the Future

I am right past my half way mark for my stint in BiH. Hard to believe, eh? As of this writing, I have about 2 solid months left. In light of that, I have started a job search for myself.

Right now, I am focusing on jobs with OSCE missions. I am hoping that interning for them, and being in the region will make me more attractive. So far I have put in for Voter Services and Border Monitor in Kosovo and Georgia, respectively. I didn’t get put forward on either. Put forward? See the entry after this one titled “Secondment.” You can get an idea of what OSCE is offering at

If I get a position here, I will most likely be leaving the internship early, and rolling right into it. The positions all last 6 months, so I would be in the area until November. Thankfully, Dana is VERY understanding. Did I say very?

In a week or 2, I will also try and start lining something up in Chicago for the last half of the summer. Dana and I are heading to DC the end of the summer, so I only need something short. I will try and get some work with the database STAIRS I was all punk-rock at before I left for BiH. If something really cool for DC pops up, I will try for it, of course.

I will say I am getting much better at cover letters.

So, yeah. You hear of anything pass it along. :-D (keep readin’…)

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As far as I could tell, not much exciting happens in BiH for Easter. I spent mine in Sarajevo, sequestered to the flat because of inclement weather (rain!). I am sure all sorts of folks were doing all sorts of nifty things, though. Heh.

The cool thing came when I got back to Banja Luka. It is all in the way eggs are coloured and dealt with. It is pretty cool, so I suggest you play along at home, and tell me how it turned out. It doesn’t need be Easter to colour eggs!

First, save up the skins from red onions – the papery outsides. Save a bunch. The more you have, the darker the colour. When you have enough (perhaps from 1 kilo of onions) place them in water in your egg boilin’ pan. Let them soak nicely for a bit, then kick it to a boil. When the water boils, add your eggs, and hard boil as you normally would.

Tada! Eggs an awesome reddish colour!

For an added twist, before you boil: Get some cool leaves from weeds, trees, or that house hold plant you don’t like anymore. One of the eggs before me even used grass going to seed. Next, cut up some (old) nylons into nice squares. Place the leaf flat on the egg, and place that on the nylon square, so the table pins it. Face down, so to speak. Fold the egg in tightly stretched nylon, and tie it in place with string. You should now have a “bank robber” egg with a leaf smooshed tightly against it. Boil as per above. You will want to remove the nylon and leaf ASAP to avoid sticking.

I will NOT be held responsible if you use something unhealthy like hemlock or nightshade as your leaf and poison yourself!

Ok, now the fun part of eating the eggs. There is also a game of sorts that gets played with them, though I am a little sketchy on some of the rules. If you try this with someone from BiH, and they take your cracked egg and eat it, don’t whine to me. One person holds an egg in their hand, so the all but one end of the egg is covered. The egg is in your fist. Please don’t squeeze harder than you need to hold it. The challenger lightly holds their egg and taps your egg, end to end. A broken shell means you lose. Sorry.

I hope you all had a good Christian Myth Day or Now You See Him, Now You Don’t Saviour Day, depending on your beliefs, political affiliations, or parents.

PS. I lost my egg.

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Meat Plate and other Nummies

One of the fun things to order here translates roughly into meat plate (or platter.) It is an Atkins dream, and frightfully filling. Many places offer it for 2. You get a big platter that has a light covering of pomfrit (French fries.) On that is a scad of different meats. You might have a pork filet, a breaded veal steak, some tasty thing that is 2 meats cut in strips and twisted together, bacon, Salisbury type steaks, and little steaks. Most of that will show up on the plate. They always include onions too, which rocks. I love onions.

It may seem like a terrible amount of meat. It is. But, it is so damned good. I am preparing myself for the let down on food when I return to the States. Stuff here has so much more flavor. It is cliche, but it’s true. A couple times I have been delighted at what I was fed, only to be told with raise eyebrows that it was cheap meat, and nothing special.

I have also learned to filet my own fish. The first time was a bad scene for me, but the second I nailed it. I got the tail, skeleton and head of in one slow pull and left no bones behind. That day I was eating a version of meat plate done with fish. I think there that was 4 or 5 kinds. (Ask me another day about “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on accordion.)

Jelena’s folks always make the best soup. Each time I have eaten at their place, it is the first course. It is a broth soup, with these tiny dumplings. It hammered home that most every broth soup I have had in the states is pretty much salty water. The flavour of their homemade soup is fabulous! I wish I could describe it more. The night of the fish plate, I also had some unbelievable Hungarian soup, which is borderline stew. It tasted similar to a stew my Ma made, but much, much better. Kind of like, “Ohhh, now I get it!”

A wondrous creation that I make sure to eat when I go to Sarajevo is pita. Again, hard to describe exactly but so freakin’ good. There are 4 kinds: spinach, cheese, meat, potatoes and meat. You can make it in a pan, but if you get in out, it is in links or coiled like a sausage and about that size. It is made of dough sort of like philo dough that is layered with the filling and baked. The cheese is one that I understand you cannot get in the States. We have them for breakfast with a glass of yogurt. The place right by the Sarajevo flat has perhaps the BEST in the city. Jelena claims it is number 2.

Getting back to meat briefly, I will often have a steak when I am out. There are a variety of ways they come. It seems that instead of ordering a cut, you order a preparation style. You can get it in garlic sauce, mushroom sauce, plain, and so on. There is also no real aversion to baby meat here. I thought Chicago had meat eaters! —Make sure you are sitting down.— I have even had ham, yes HAM, here that I have liked. Yes, liked; not just tolerated.

From the store, I have also had some delightful sausages from the region that I couldn’t possibly tell you what they were. I will also get one chocolate bar a week. Would you believe they actually contain a discernible amount of cocoa? Makes Hershey’s an appalling tragedy. I have been slowly working my way through the variety of juices: blueberry, cherry, and other interesting ones like peach.

I have also had this stuff I can’t recall the name of that I plan to get a recipe for. It is essentially potatoes, cabbage, and meat optional covered with water and cooked a long ass time. Jelena showed me a way to roast potatoes, involving pouring a milk, oil and spice mixture over them first, that is stellar.

That is all the food I can think of right off the top of my head, though I know I am forgetting stuff. I just need to remember: recipes, recipes, recipes.

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This is a look at how I came to be pierced and what it means to me. It is by no means inclusive of all my feeling and ideas. I welcome any questions you might have after you read it. (keep readin’…)

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