July 09, 2005

Off-topic: neighbors / susjedi

Bosnian lamb roast
(in BiH, not in Idaho - note the Yugo - and a lamb, not a dog - read on)

My last night of my last time in Bosnia and Hercegovina in 2003, in a wooden ski lodge at the base of Bjelašnica, my local colleagues served us an amazing roast lamb on a spit. The mood was convivial, cheerful, reflective, and melancholy all at once, an aspect of BiH character and life that I treasure and miss.

I really miss at least one aspect of Twin Falls, Idaho life: Bosnian-Americans. About three hundred families from former Yugoslavia live there now, aided by the CSI Refugee Service Center. A great bunch of people, bringing a needed pinch of paprika to what used to be a bland Southern Idaho casserole.

And the food! At one time, Twin supported not one but two Yugo restaurants, where I could take family and friends for cevap and conversation. There are two caffe-bars still there, with a grocery store with umbrella'ed tables for hanging out out front, bringing a little bit of continental cafe culture to south-central Idaho. I'd dress my kid in soccer shirts I'd brought home - carefully balanced among Red Star Belgrade, Dynamo Zagreb, and FK Sarajevo and FK Železnicar - and get a kick out of the warm reception we'd get from our new neighbors. Most of the Bosnians in Twin left the divisions of the war behind them , many were in mixed marriages, and all were working hard at building a new American life.

I was fortunate to come to know several Bosnian people through my work. My interpreter was my best guide. A Bosnian Croat from Sarajevo, she helped me with my vocabulary and my understanding, and brought a bit of European dolce vita to our courthouse. Through her, I got closer to understanding my Bosnian clients. One was a cheerful funny Bosnian Serb who overindulged in rakija, women, and song, one of which regularly subjected him to random BAC's. Another was a veteran of the Armija BiH. He was sleeping through loud music when the cops arrived, investigating a neighbor's complaint. When the cops opened his door, shined their flashlights at him and woke him up, he pointed a gun at them, and was arrested for a felony. Maybe alcohol was involved, but when I was able to explain specifically what my client had been through in the war, the prosecutor gave me a misdemeanor, and the judge gave him no jail and a $10.00 fine.

Unfortunately, by and large, Twin was never the most embracing of newcomers. When I did my little slide shows after the times I came back from BiH, I tried to convey some sense of what the refugees from the Yugoslav wars had lost, and what they added to Idaho. I'd get asked, how soon are they going back home? I'd say, this is their home now. The lucky ones were the ones whose house back in Bosnia had lost its roof, because they could raise a new roof and move back in. The unlucky ones either lost their whole house and land, or had a house which was undamaged by the fighting, but now occupied by strangers.

So you can imagine how I felt to read this :

TWIN FALLS -- What's roasting over your neighbor's barbecue pit? For some, it might not be what you think.

In a June 3 letter to the editor, Linda Collins of Twin Falls said, "There are people living in Twin Falls who eat dogs." She also said some of her son's neighbors were barbecuing a dog.

Collins called the sheriff's office and reported the incident, but was told nothing could be done about it. The Collinses were told there are laws concerning cruelty, but no laws concerning killing and eating.

Even if it involves a dog.

Collins' letter added a warning for people to watch out for their dogs.

"If you have a dog you are trying to find a home for, please make sure it is going to a good home, not for these people's dinner."

Her son's neighbor, Resid Begić, said they were not roasting a dog, they were roasting a lamb. They roast lambs as part of Bosnian celebrations, he said.

(Janjetina - lamb on a spit)
(what the neighbor might have seen)

Begić said deputies laughed when they learned it wasn't a dog being roasted. He also said even as bad as things got during the Serbian war, they didn't resort to eating dogs, that dogs are bad.

Did any neighbors ask the Begićs what they were roasting? "No," Begić said, they don't understand Bosnians and their traditions.

When asked if she would change her opinion if she knew they were lambs and not dogs being roasted, Collins said, "No, there are people in this community that eat dogs and cats."

Okay, let's review:

Idaho lamb - mmmmm! Prijatno!

Idaho dog - not halal, no way

And that has to be my favorite part of the story: after being corrected and told that the critter on the spit was in fact a tasty lamb, and not a dog, the complaining party stuck to her uninformed guns anyhow and refused to change her mind about her neighbors. Her loss - that lamb is delicious! I give the newspaper reporter high marks for seeing through this ridiculous woman's letter and having the gumption to go out and get the rest of the story. With ignant folks like this, I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused. Willful ignorance and proud bigotry: aspects of small-town life that I didn't mind leaving behind.

Update: Dog-eaters! Financed by the federal government!