Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Guess what?

What is it?

…Keep looking down!

…He he!


Ain't that just amazing? For me it is, at least!

I've been employed for full-time work as a stock controller at the local Amazon warehouse!

On Saturday, I will have an induction. However, I have to be at the recruitment agency at 6:30 … in the morning! Same with Monday and the rest of the week. Also, I have to do the first day straight and all five days of the first week, and I have to do the first day of the second week in order to be paid for the first week. Perhaps you'll understand!

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Let's talk about heaven!

Now it's time for me to share my heart with all of you!

I want to talk about that place in Bukovica, North Dalmatia that makes me feel the happiest. Of course that place is called Kistanje.

We - and by "we" I mean me and my mother - have been there twice this year. We spent five days there at the beginning of July and then returned there at the end of July and remained till Monday past (20th August). My father also came and spent a couple of weeks there, and his brother for a few days too.

Before the war, the town had an overwhelmingly Serbian majority population, in fact 98 percent! Like with Gračac, the population of Kistanje and the surrounding villages fled the area in 1995 to Serbia through Bosnia. Today a large concentration of Dalmatian Serbs still lives in Belgrade and in surrounding towns, from where many travel back to their hometowns and villages in Dalmatia during the Summer holidays.

After the war, the government of Croatia settled a group of Catholic Croats from Kosovo called Janjevci in Kistanje, many of whom settling in abandoned Serbian homes, just like with Gračac and the Bosnian Croats. Nevertheless, the Janjevci there also have an entire settlement that is called "Novo Naselje" ("new settlement"). Which reminds me, the Bosnian Croats in Gračac have also had built for them an entire neighbourhood.

Also in Kistanje, they had built for them a large white church that is not only larger than the Serbian Orthodox one nearby in front of the town square, but also dwarfes the smaller Catholic chapel right in front of it. Not to mention, it has a tall bell-tower that can be seen from further afield!

Fortunately for Kistanje, a lot of Serbs have returned to the town and the surrounding villages, mainly older people, 50+, but that's still something. In fact, according to the 2001 census in Croatia, it was the Serbs who were in the majority with 57.1 percent of the population of the Kistanje municipality.

Now, about my time there. But where do I start?

I have to say, looking back, that every day that past gave me something new. Be it a different person coming to visit where I was staying, or me going somewhere in the small town itself. Perhaps not every day, but something like that.

I and my mother were staying with my aunt and uncle there (the aunt is blood-related to me) by the railway-line in front of their house. Don't worry, no electric wires hanging above! They have quite a sizeable property that got heavily damaged in 1995 during the Operation "Oluja", executed by the Croatian army.

The state, the army of which inflicted that damage on their property in the first place, has actually helped renovate their home, it has to be said, and it has done so for many Serbian houses, whether their rightful owners choose to live there or in some cases not. Bear in mind readers, that the Croatian state denies any responsibilty for the Exodus of 150,000-200,000 Serbs from the defeated Republika Srpska Krajina that coincided with the Operation "Oluja". The military action is celebrated as a victory over the above-mentioned Krajina in Croatia. Numerous relatives of mine were part of that Exodus.

During my time there, I got to meet even more wonderful people. Even more of precisely the kind of people that have made me love that little town in the first place. They're hospitable and eager to interact with relatives of neighbours or friends who visit their small town.

Towards the end of our stay, we visited along with my relatives the Krka Monastery just south of the town by the river of the same name. When I was there, I got to be inside the church within the monastery where they were holding a liturgy service. And I must say that I found the environment in that space very intense, and with all the crossing I was making - you know, making the sign of the cross in either the Orthodox or Catholic way, in this instance Orthodox, of course! - it was a very humbling experience.

You can see pictures of the monastery and read about its history here. Unfortunately for those who don't speak the language, the page itself is written in Serbian (Roman alphabet as opposed to Cyrillics, though the same page in Cyrillics does exist).

The next day was the Preobraženje, the feast that marks the end of the Summer. And in the centre of Kistanje in front of the Cyril and Methodius church (the Serbian Orthodox church I mentioned above), we witnessed the sixth cultural manifestation presented by the Croatia-based Serbian cultural society Prosvjeta, in which we saw various folk dances performed by cultural and artistic societies from a number of places in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. Among the performers were also individuals from outside of the former Yugoslavia, including a musician from Japan! Kistanje is certainly international!

You can read more about it on this site here and here, if only, again, you can read Serbian! But don't worry, you'll see lots of pictures.

The last day I was there - the same day we returned to England, actually - I went with a few relatives and a neighbour to a funeral of a neighbour's father in a nearby village. A lot of people arrived, including people from Kistanje, residents from that village, and also relatives of the deceased who live elsewhere. It was a solemn and dignified occasion, with the expected weeping from the female relatives, along with one of them passing out twice. There was quite a number of cars that formed a courtege after the first one, in which the coffin was laid. We, me and my relatives and neighbour, also made our way to the cemetary by car, where the village church is, as there is quite a distance form the house and the church, since the village itself spreads wide. And even though I'm not related to the family in any way, the event was, nevertheless, rather moving for me.

Now of course, I'm back in England. And I had to get my head around the fact how two months ago I set off from my house in England for Croatia and now I'm back in it, and also how the two months I've spent in my country have now passed me by. It was quite a long couple of months at times, but at other times, the days just passed by in front of you.

Time really does fly, or as we say where we come from, flies fast.

That why what I need to do now till the next time I go back to the region of Bukovica in North Dalmatia is … Well, there are a few things I need to do, but one of them is to get myself a driving licence. 'Cause I tell you what, we didn't have a car, me and my mother, while we stayed in Kistanje or in Štikada. Though when we were in Kistanje the second time, that's when my father visited and then we did have a car he rented. But otherwise, we did not have a car and so we had to depend on other people. So, I need to start driving lessons! Gosh! 21 and can't drive … AAAARRHHH!!!

Oh, and as for the title of this blog entry, I call Kistanje a "little piece of heaven", and that's what I've been telling people there. I'm sure you understood that before I explained it!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Like the new layout of my blog?

Come on readers, just type in comments of delight, disgust, constructive criticism or complete contempt!

I'm asking for it... :-(

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Back in England and a bit about Gračac

Hey readers wherever you are, I'm back in England. Me and my mother returned via aeroplane the way we had originally set off to Croatia in the evening and my father took us back home.

In this blog entry, I want to talk about Gračac, where my family come from and my impression(s) of the place and the area. Gračac, in case you haven't read anything about it, is a town and municipality located in the south of Lika. Prior to the recent war (1991-95), the municipality had a Serbian ethnic majority, the majority of which does not live there anymore. The Serbian population of Gračac fled along with around a hundred and fifty thousand Serbs in a mass Exodus from the short-lived Republika Srpska Krajina, which was mostly defeated by Croatian state forces during the 1995 Operation "Oluja". After the war, Croatian refugees from Bosnia took residence in vacated Serbian houses in Gračac and other towns throughout the area of the short-lived republic. There has been a return of Serbs to the area since the war, and in the 2001 census, Serbs made up almost 40% of the population. However, as is usually the case with refugee return, it is mainly the older generations of Serbs that return to live permanently, the younger generations living either in Serbia or elsewhere around the world.

We stayed in Štikada, a village immediately outside the town to the west. It has a hamlet called Podkosa, where my mother's family lived in for centuries. There we stayed with my old grandmother I mentioned in a previous post and another relative. We had other relatives come visit us. A cousin of mine with two kids stayed twice. The younger one, five years old, was very sweet. While his older brother, seven, is very clever for his age and also understands fairness. He even has tips on getting yourself a girlfriend!

Of course, I got to visit two cemetaries there, the one on the outskirts of the town and the Štikada one. Obviously it's important for anyone to visit graveyards, namely to see where your relatives who are no longer with us are buried. At the Gračac cemetary, I have a grandfather, grandmother, uncle and a great-uncle and great-aunt from my father's side buried there. While at the Štikada cemetary, I have relatives from my mother's side buried there. They include her father - my grandfather, her late brother - my uncle - who died nearly four years ago in September of 2003, another brother who died during the Second World war - not killed, just died, and a number of other relatives.

As for property in the town, my father has a house there which is connected to his brother's house. Like a semi-detached house, only there is an inside staircase between their houses. Both he and his brother built that one building with two adjoined garages on either side. Their houses did not get burned, bombed or destroyed by Croatian troops during "Oluja". However, their houses were looted. His brother, my uncle, and his family today live in Serbia near in a town just south of Novi Sad. They have no intentions of returning to the town and they don't believe things will improve there. Both my father and his brother want to sell their houses. I bitterly oppose my father selling his house, since I want the house to stay in the family for my descendents to inherit. Life's unpredictable, things can change as they have done and are, and you never know when things like that house in Gračac could come of use. I've heard how Serbs have sold their property for some thousands of Euros, only for it to be sold again for even bigger money later. Our houses won't be sold for so little. I don't want my father to sell his house at all. As for my uncle, I just wish I could have the money to buy it!

The Gračac valley is a picturesque place to live in with the Velebit mountain on one side and Resnik on the other. However, as I have noticed staying in Podkosa, Štikada, looking at the surrounding mountains that are part of such a breathtaking landscape, as beautiful as they are, they are also witnesses to a tragic past. And that goes back further in the past to the Second World War and even beyond.

Although I love the mountainous region of Southern Lika, as I have travelled many times on the Gračac-Knin road, passing by villages like Grab, Glogovo, Vučipolje and the rest and the stunning Zrmanja valley in the very south of my mountainous homeland, I must admit that neither would I want to live in Gračac on a permanent basis myself. If I were to live in Croatia at all, I would travel to the town often during the year and stay in the house for perhaps a few days, visiting my grandmother during my stay for as long as she lives. So regular visits yes, permanent residence no.

You see, there is another place south of my parent's hometown, on the other side of the Velebit mountain in the region of Bukovica in Northern Dalmatia. This is a small town, whose residents - members of the pre-war population who have returned after the war - along with relatives who come stay during the year, have made it a place that I have come to hold dear.

And I will tell you all about it, gladly, in my next post!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007


That is, finally got access to the internet! Sigh!

Well ladies and gentlemen, I've spent the entire month of July, for better or for worse, without even touching a computer!!!!!

Well, I'm writing to you from Knin (go to Wikipedia to find out about the history et al.). I've spent time in both Štikada near Gračac and Kistanje. I and my mother flew to Zadar Airport and was taken to her native village of Štikada in the evening. We spent two weeks there, then we went to my, well, dear Kistanje :-) and spent five days there. Then we returned to Štikada, often travelling to nearby Gračac. We spent pretty much the rest of July there. And then we returned to Kistanje, and that's where I am now staying.

Hopefully, if I can get internet access again!, I will elaborate on my stay in these two places.

Nevertheless readers, keep visiting!

PS: If anybody has been sending me email to my hotmail account (the one you can find on my profile on the right of my blog, "so_simple_with...") recently, ie. July and early August time and I haven't replied, it's probably because they have gone into the the Junk E-Mail section, which keeps such emails only for 5 days. And like I said, I have been away from the internet for a very long time. Now I have reduced the level of protection, so send your emails again and now just be patient.