Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Country of Diversity

Hello from Sarajevo! What a beautiful place. We are quickly growing to love the area with its great diversity. We've spent the past few days getting settled into our apartment, trying to find our way around the city and exploring the mountains. The Senior Couple, Elder and Sister Schlehuber, were extremely helpful showing us around, introducing us to important people (like the Hyundai dealer who will put the snow tires on the car in October!!! Yay!) and giving us a general overview of Sarajevo. We've been left to our own devices the past few days and have begun to figure out how to get most places. The streets here are not marked very well and addresses aren't really used and Garmin doesn't like it when you can't tell it where you want to go, but Denny is getting really good at Google Maps so we just look things up before we head out. So far, we've made it to our destinations and back home each time so we're feeling pretty good about that.

Our apartment is actually very nice. We have two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a place to park which is unusual here. We have a nice view of the mountains and the city and it is located fairly close to most things. We have lots of windows and have enjoyed the sunshine coming through! We did have to go buy a memory foam mattress topper because the bed was a little hard for our liking but we are comfy now!

There truly is so much diversity here. The city itself is steeped in history. There is still much evidence of the war that took place here over 20 years ago. Buildings are riddled with bullet holes, some are completely bombed out and only a brick shell remains. Amidst the ruins are lively communities and happy people. We spent a morning exploring Old Town Sarajevo with its brick streets and local shops located in the heart of the city. There was everything from Pekaras (yummy bakeries) to shops that sold hand knitted socks. People of all ages and walks of life seemed to be gathered in the street cafes enjoying the beautiful weather and each other's company. It is hard to imagine the peaceful setting as anything other than what it currently is, but it was not that long ago that it was a war torn, ravaged city and there are many buildings that stand as a reminder of the past. I've been impressed how the people have overcome such trials and have rebuilt the city and their lives. 

After our morning in Old Town and lunch with the two Elders (both from Utah) we went to the local Family Center. It's pretty much a mall with a large store called Konzum that is similar to Wal-Mart. Not as much variety, but for Sarajevo it's the closest thing to it. There are a few other shops in the center that sell clothes, shoes, bedding, makeup and books, but Konzum is the anchor. We found most of what we needed, except a scale! LOL! Need that to remind us that no matter how good the Pekeras are, we still need to fit in our clothes! After Family Center, we headed to Sarajevo City Center. Now talk about diversity... after the experience at Old Town to walk into this ultra modern, upscale mall was quite a shock! Think the Plaza or Tyson's Corner type stores, very upscale and expensive. 

The people are as diverse as the city. The majority of the population here are Muslim. Some are strong practicing Muslims including "covered women" and those that stop when the call to prayer rings through the city. Others are Eastern Orthodox or other religions. I have enjoyed people watching everywhere we've been and look forward to learning more about the religions and cultures that comprise the country as we begin our service here. 

One thing about Sarajevo that I have found both thrilling and devastating is the number of stray dogs there are here. There is a litter of puppies in one spot along our mountain drive that I have to go visit everyday. I want to bring them all back to the apartment, but have remained strong and have only brought them food and puppy treats. They are not wild dogs, just strays.  Many are very friendly, some are shy but all are homeless and it is just a fact of life here. I suppose it's good that they do not believe in euthanizing them and the hope is that the will be spayed/neutered but it just doesn't seem to happen. I'm sure I will eventually do an entire post on dogs and puppies, but know that so far not bringing home every stray has been my greatest challenge! 

As much as we've enjoyed the city, we have grown to love the countryside, especially the mountains. We have driven up into the mountains everyday that we've been here. It is breathtaking! I am so happy to be living in the mountains again and can't wait for fall to see the splendor of the leaves changing, the white winter wonderland and the emergence of spring as we get to spend the seasons here. The pictures do not really do justice to the amazing views and beauty of the mountains and countryside surrounding Sarajevo. In the coming weeks we will get to travel to other parts of the country and I'm sure we will be enthralled with all that it has to offer not only from a visual perspective, but in general. We are excited to get acquainted with this country we will call home for the next 17 months. 

We went to church today and marveled at how much alike yet how very different it was. The gospel is true no matter where you are! Our little congregation consisted of 6 missionaries (2 sisters, 2 elders and us Seniors LOL!) , the branch president (who works for the Embassy) and his wife and 5 children all 10 and younger, one visitor from the State Dept., two members, one of whom comes with her husband who is not a member and only speaks German and one investigator. It was amazing that the spirit is still strong no matter what the numbers are. We have one hour for sacrament meeting and then a 30 minute Sunday School and a 30 minute Relief Society/Priesthood meeting. We look forward to serving with the missionaries and watching the little branch grow in faith and numbers.

Well, that about sums up the five days we've been here so far. We miss home, we miss friends and family ( including my dog and horses!) but we know there is much work for us to do here and look forward to what the Lord has on His agenda! Big hugs to all!

Friday, August 26, 2016

My MTC Olympics

Dionne and I entered the MTC the day the Olympics began. To our shock and dismay, our accomodations did not have a television and certainly did not have all of the NBC channels which were broadcasting live. Fortunately, the room did have wifi so we were able to stream some events via my laptop and our phones.

The first weekend Briel and Mitch were in town so we decided to stay the weekend in Park City with them. I have always wanted to ride the bobsled at Olympic Park so that is what Briel, Mitch, and I did. The G's are pretty strong (4-5) and so the ride takes little bit of a toll on your body.

Briel had to "talk up" Mitch a little to convince him to ride. But we all survived unscathed. On the return trip up the mountain, our driver mentioned that the sleds do flip occasionally which might of freaked us out if we would have known that on top.

Everyone knows our new town, Sarajevo, for hosting the 1984 Winter Olympic games. I remember fondly watching that Olympics and wondering where this little hamlet was. Never did I imagine I would live here for a time. I had heard stories about how run-down the Olympic venues at Sarajevo are. So Dionne and I decided to drive up to the most discussed, the bobsled track.

 On the way up the mountain we came across a group of stray puppies who live out in the woods. They came up to us begging for food. We did not have anything to feed them. They would not come up to let us pet them but they were clearly hungry.

We came across a male who we guess was their father? He was friendly and did come up to us to be pet.  He was sitting in an old abandoned house that had been bombed in the war.

Later that day we bought some dog food which we will keep in our car. I know we are trying to teach self-sufficiency and self-reliance to the people of Bosnia. But nobody told us we should not give a puppy free handouts.

This building overlooks Sarajevo. It was completely destroyed by the war and still stands (like so many others) as a eerie reminder of the devastation of war.

We were surprised that when we got to the bobsled run that we had it all to ourselves. There is no limit to access. I climbed on the track and walked around. I may return one morning and run it. There has been news lately that people BMX down the run.

Much of the track is decorated in graffiti which gives it a cool look. Some of the art is quite well done and colorful. I think the graffiti actually adds to and certainly does not take away from the overall effect of walking along the bobsled run.

This is the final turn. Note how much nature has recovered and grown around the infrastructure that was put in for the Olympics. The broadcast booth at the start, for example, was riddled with bullet holes and overgrown with vegetation.

This is the finish line. Not sure if this is original but it is interesting that Sarajevo is highlighted along with Bosna but no mention of Yugoslavia.

I was expecting to be a little saddened when I visited the bobsled track. Instead I really enjoyed sights, the access, and the memories. Both Dionne and I were captivated by the thrill of discovering this little piece of history without signs, tour guides, or guard rails. (I did almost fall on my noggin as I tried to run along one of the turns!)

Up near the bobsled track they are constructing a state-of-the-art alpine slide. The kind that are blurring the lines between roller coaster and "mountain coaster." This should open relatively soon so Dionne and I look forward to riding it as well.

While in Olympic Park, we also rode the alpine slide. This was one of the older versions in which it is possible (when you are older and heavier) to come out of. I had done this before in Pennsylvania so I was a little wary riding this slide. And, of course, I got going too fast, lost balance, and flipped my sled. I was able to flip it back over but not before I scrapped up my arm. Fortunately, this will not be possible on the new Sarajevo sled.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Welcome to our blog! We hope to post weekly to keep all our family and friends updated on our mission adventures over the next 18 months. Please feel free to comment or share the link to this blog with anyone you think might like to follow our adventures!

We spent the last three days in language immersion training. We learned that Croatian is one of the most difficult languages missionaries have to learn and that we have a long way to go towards being able to communicate with the local people in Croatia and Bosnia! We now have a basic understanding of how to conjugate nouns, verbs and adjectives and have a great cheat sheet to reference. We will continue to work on learning vocabulary words and practicing reading and writing sentences, but the real language training will come when we are in the country learning from the people we will have the joy of interacting with.

We also got to spend the evenings with my (Dionne's) grandparents this week which was very special and we are so grateful they went out of their way to stop in Provo to spend time with us!

We will officially report to the MTC on Monday at 10:30am. The first week we will be learning all things missionary then the second week we will be doing training specific to our humanitarian/welfare assignment. There is a database system we need to learn as well as policies and procedures. It will be a fun two weeks... hopefully I can survive sitting in a classroom that long everyday. It's not quite the same as running around a barn, playing with the grandkids or hiking with my dog, but I'm sure I will be blessed with patience.

We will fly to Croatia on Monday, August 22 where we will spend a few days before heading to Bosnia. We are very excited for this new chapter in life and look forward to getting to Croatia and Bosnia to begin working.

Thank you to everyone who helped with the wedding reception, packing up the house, helping us move everything and for taking care of my horses, my dog and my family while we are gone! We love you all and look forward to sharing our experiences with you!

Until next week..... big hugs!