Monday, April 12, 2010

Comparative Convenience

I set off this afternoon to pay the various utility bills. Bosnia is a cash society – they do not use checks at all. I am told that most Bosnians have a bank account and a debit card, but they don’t have paper checks at all. So when it’s time to pay utility bills, you don’t’ sit down and write a batch of checks, you go to the Post Office and pay them in cash.

I was silently congratulating myself that the previous month I had located a nearby Post Office. Our first month here I only knew where the downtown Post Office was and that was about a 35 minute walk. On the plus side, the walk is all down hill from our apartment. The Post Office I found near our apartment was less than a 15 minute walk, although there was a pretty wicked hill to climb. Still, a much shorter walk.
But here’s the really lucky part. Directly across the street from the Post Office is an ATM machine from the bank we use most often! The US Embassy had advised using only the ATMs from the larger, more established banks. Banking regulations here are pretty loose and some businesses call themselves banks and install ATMs, but can charge enormous transaction fees.

When I made this discovery I could hardly wait to tell Landy about how convenient it would be from now on to pay the utility bills. All I had to do was walk to the ATM machine and get out enough to cover the bills, then go across the street and pay everything at the Post Office. How great is that?!

It was hardly out of mouth when I had to start to laugh. After just a few months in Sarajevo, this was my new idea of “convenience”. Back in Portland I pay nearly all our bills online and I find myself feeling irritated at the “inconvenience” of having to write out an occassional check by hand.

This month I’m back to feeling pretty inconvenienced by life in Sarajevo indeed. After a short walk  this afternoon (uphill) I got to the Post Office and it was closed! State services here all close their doors between 2 and 3 pm. I’d arrived at 3:10 – just missed it. OK, it was fun for awhile, but now it’s not cute anymore. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Frizerski Salon

My hair has a tendency to frizz. I try to keep the frizz under control with a variety of hair products and styling equipment. But the slightest humidity or getting caught in a shower will undo my carefully arranged hairstyle and turn it into a halo of frizz. So it was with great unease that I ventured into a Bosnian frizerski salon (haircutting salon).

Entrusting my hair to a new stylist would be anxiety-provoking enough, but – frizerski? – really?

I shouldn’t have worried – I was in exceptional hands with Haris Hodzic. For Haris, cutting hair is a family business. His parents owned a hair salon before the Bosnian war. The family was able to get out and moved to London. In London, Haris found his way into high fashion, cutting and styling hair for models and fashion shows. Now back in Sarajevo, Haris owns his own frizerski salon and has become a local celebrity stylist. He is featured in an article on a hair styling show in the latest issue of a glossy Bosnian fashion magazine.

From the outside, the AS Salon doesn’t look much different from many other hair salons in Sarajevo and showing up during the day, mid-week, I didn’t even need an appointment. First Haris combed through my hair and asked how I wanted it cut. Next I was sent to the shampooist who washed my hair and provided a wonderful head and neck massage. Much needed because my wallet had been stolen from my purse about 10 minutes before. (see previous blog) Then back to Haris for the cut and then to another woman for drying and styling. Haris only cuts hair, the rest is left to his assistants. It was a wonderful experience and I love the cut. Total cost, 20 KM – about $14. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pocket Picked

Well, now I’ve had the full Bosnian experience. My pocket was picked today. OK, not exactly my pocket, but the thief unzipped my purse and lifted out my wallet while my purse was on my shoulder.
My friend Shirley and I were on a fun outing. She had a hair appointment and was allowing me to tag along to the most prestigious hair salon in Sarajevo. You seldome need an appointment in Sarajevo hair salons so I planned to get a cut while she had her hair done. The salon is not in downtown Sarajevo, but what you might call the suburbs, or at least the outer edges of the city. So we met at a downtown tram stop and were off for a self-indulgent afternoon.

When we arrived in Sarajevo we had to sit through a security briefing at the US embassy. At the briefing, we were all advised to avoid the trams and buses because of the prevalence of pick pockets. But since I almost never have to carry top secret documents, I dismissed this advice. Anyway, I was always careful with my things and thought I was so vigilant that a pickpocket wouldn’t have a chance.
Boarding the tram I was very careful to take my tram ticket out of my wallet and put the wallet back in my purse and zip it up.  I knew that, once on the tram, it would be so crowded that performing this simple maneuver would be difficult – especially with the additional challenge of the lurching and swaying tram. I was also carrying a very small duffel bag that was a disguise for my camera. I had already found that carrying the camera was like having a neon sign on my forehead that blinked “Foreign Tourist”. So you can see how cautious I was being.

The tram, as usual, was packed shoulder to shoulder. In squeezing toward the back, my bags shifted so that my purse ended up more behind me than just below my arm. Still, it was right against my body. When we finally squeezed our way off the tram I immediately checked to make sure I had both bags with me and I noticed that my purse was partly unzipped. I knew right away that I wouldn’t find my wallet. I never felt or noticed a thing. They are very skillful.

After a few minutes of anger and expletives and general venting I asked Shirley if she would loan me the money for a haircut. She readily agreed and it was the right decision. Pampering was just the antidote I needed.

Unfortunately, that meant that Landy had to clean up the mess. I called him at once and told him he would have to call and cancel the debit card for our home bank account. Luckily, I was carrying only the debit card and not any credit cards, so it will be some time and inconvenience to fix it, but we are not entirely cut off from access to funds.

This is a cash society, so I was carrying more cash than I normally carry at home. That was a very expensive tram ride. I should have taken the advice from the Embassy Security adviser. I could have taken a lot of cabs for the amount of money that I lost in that wallet.