Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Whew! What a month!

Sorry my post is a little late this week and will most likely be long, but we've been busy! Since the last post we have really begun to dive into the humanitarian work on the mission. Yes, we are really serving a mission, not just on vacation as our children believe. Our first assignment was to assess the projects that have already begun, but have not been finalized yet.

On Sept. 14 we traveled to a smaller city about 3 hours north of Sarajevo called Tuzla. In Tuzla we met with a local person who has been assisting the church with Vision Projects. The current project which has been underway for several years now, is vision screening for school aged children. In the US we take it for granted that our children receive a vision screening routinely in school, but in Bosnia & Herzegovina (from now on referred to as BiH) there was no vision screening available. LDS Charities (LDSC) has funded new optical equipment and training to enhance the vision care of the children of BiH. Recently, a project was approved to expand the vision screening to several new areas of the country. Additionally, in some of the areas where vision screening has been established in the past few years there is an expansion of these screenings to include hearing and spinal screening as well. This is a huge collaborative effort between LDS Charities, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and has been highly successful in multiple areas throughout BiH.

We also had an additional project in Tulza that we were doing follow up on at a Rehabilitation Hospital. For this project the Rehab Hospital received a vast assortment of equipment to use in their facility. They were very happy with the donation and eagerly showed us some of the equipment in use.

LDSC provided materials and the facility
provided the labor to build the 
blue support boxes of various shapes and sizes. 
Dr. H (head of the Rehab Hospital)
eagerly showed us one of his 
favorite pieces of donated equipment. 

Some of the additional donated equipment
While we were visiting with Dr. H about the Rehab Center project, he also informed us that he was on the list of area doctors willing to help with distribution of wheelchairs when LDSC is able to get another shipment in! We were thrilled to get information for two projects with one visit! LDSC provides thousands of wheelchairs to people in need throughout the world.

On Saturday, Sept. 17 we traveled about 6 hours roundtrip to some of the more rural parts of the country looking for potential projects.  60% of the country is considered rural and we are still researching ways we might be able to offer assistance in some of these areas.

On Monday, Sept. 19 we spent the better part of the day collecting necessary paperwork for our Residency Permits (VISAs). To start the morning out we had to go to the department of health and have medical exams done, including blood work. Denny had to take NyQuil the night before because he was so nervous about having to give blood. He sent a picture of the outside of the building to our kids and told them the translation of "house of torture."  I'm happy to report he survived his traumatic ordeal and we now have all the appropriate paperwork submitted. Many thanks to the local attorney here who even showed us his favorite Sarajevo comfort food place when we were finished!

On Wednesday, Sept. 21 we met with the director of the local Red Cross to discuss several items. LDSC has partnered with the Red Cross previously to bring in medical supplies, emergency response aid and wheelchairs. We will continue to work in conjunction with them in the future in numerous capacities. They are a fantastic resource for us as we look for future projects to assist the poor and/or needy populations of BiH. We also discussed potential new projects, including replacing deteriorated water pipes in a rural school. They have tried numerous times to repair the pipes but have been unsuccessful and the pipes continue to burst leaving the rural school without running water. We will be going to meet with the school administration in the near future and are very excited about this potential project. We also enjoyed the director's "Spider Pig" ringtone!

On the morning of Friday, Sept. 23 we accompanied one of our church members to a local orphanage. Prior to our arrival in BiH, the ladies from the local LDS church congregation made about 60 pairs of pants for small children. The Director thankfully accepted the cute pants and gave us a tour of the orphanage. It is home to about 90 children who are either without parents or have been removed from parental care for various reasons. It was actually a very nice, inviting facility and it was obvious the staff care very much for the children who reside there.

Following up on another Vision Project, we met with the head of Pediatric Ophthalmology at the University Hospital in Sarajevo on Friday afternoon. She was pleased with the donated equipment and reported that she had hundreds of children referred to her clinic for follow up care as a result of the school vision screening project. The clinic has also been able to do a more detailed screening of over 5000 infants for potential eye problems.
The staff that enjoy using the equipment

On Monday the 26th we once again drove the nearly four hours to Banja Luka for Zone Conference. Zone Conference is a monthly meeting where all the missionaries, young and old alike, gather for training and fellowship. Unfortunately, we had to skip out on part of it to meet with another partner from the Rehab Center in Banja Luka. She has been instrumental in the distribution of hundreds of wheelchairs, has assisted with training to ensure the recipients are being fitted with the correct size chair and helps to manage the Wheelchair projects in that area. She was also instrumental in connecting us with additional opportunities for potential local area projects and set up a meeting for us with the president of the local disability organization called Partner. (More on that later...)

Now the fun stuff...after driving north of Tuzla about two hours, we stayed the night in the small Croatia town of Daruvar. Early on Wednesday morning we met with the head of the local Red Cross there and discussed LDSC's desire to be involved in any emergency response efforts that may arise as well as discussed potential future projects they may need assistance with. After our meeting we headed out into the more rural area to follow up with a project that was started over a year ago. This project involves the cleaning of 1000 wells. There are 5 two man crews that are cleaning 200 wells each over the course of about 15 months. Most of the rural water is supplied by wells on the site of each property, most have never been cleaned as you can see in the pictures. I'm not sure I will ever be able to drink well water again. The crew told us they have actually found dead human bodies on several occasions and they often find dead animals that have fallen in as well as a vast assortment of general debris. It was gross! But guess who wanted to go down in the well?? Yep, I guess Denny is really missing his roller coasters! He wanted to actually clean the well, but the crew waited to let him in until all the cleaning had been completed.

It was amazing to see an actual project in action first hand. The family who will be utilizing this well were very grateful and even let me hold their little tiny month old puppies while the crew was cleaning! Much more fun than being lowered into an 3ft circumference smelly brick hole!

After the well cleaning and a quick snack with the well cleaning team and the Red Cross director, we headed back to Banja Luka for the night. This morning we met with the president of the local disabilities organization to discuss potential needs for the community's individuals with physical disabilities. There is a significant lag in the rights of individuals with disabilities in the country and this organization is trying to make a positive impact on improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. There is a lack of societal acceptance, poor self-advocacy on the part of the individuals and an overall lack of accessibility in public places including schools and public transportation. We only scratched the surface of needs and hope to meet with this organization again in the near future.

After the meeting we jumped back in the car and drove the nearly four hours home so we could do this:

We leave Saturday morning and will be traveling up the Croatian coast Saturday and Sunday and then spending the rest of the week in Slovenia for a Senior Missionary Conference with all the other "Senior" Missionaries in the Adriatic North Mission. We are looking forward to a little sightseeing and social interaction with the other missionaries. So.... one week of missionary work, then back to that vacation our children are positive we're on! Until next week.... we love you all and miss you but wouldn't trade the opportunity to be serving our Heavenly Father and His children at this time.

Big hugs to everyone!

~ Dionne

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Bosnia: On the Forefront of "Food Not Lawns"

In 1999 a group from Eugene Oregon created a social movement entitled "Food Not Lawns." This group's goal is to convince Americans to replace their finely manicured lawns with food producing organic gardens. While this makes some sense for places like Eugene, I am not sure it makes as much sense in Gilbert, Arizona. Personally, I had enough trouble keeping my lawn alive in Lenexa...not sure I really wanted to spend my days tending to tomatoes and strawberries. Would have needed to fly my mother and her green thumb in once a week!

What appears to be necessity rather than first world guilt, Sarajevo is on the forefront of the "Food Not Lawns" movement. As we have walked around our town, we have noticed many yards that have been converted into food producing gardens.

A yard with large food producing garden. 

Our next door neighbor, for example, has a wonderful garden which he tends to every day. He is an older gentleman who clearly takes a tremendous amount of pride in his garden (reminds me of our neighbor, Danny, who works harder on his lawn than anyone I have ever met).

Our next door neighbor's yard. Much of the food has been harvested. His tomatoes are enormous!
Those that do not grow full gardens typically plant fruit trees, grape vines, and other food producing plants.

There are fruit trees everywhere. Like in the Philippines, there are many in public areas where I have seen people picking and eating fruit freely.
Grapes have been one of my pleasant surprises here in Bosnia. I love grape juice. In the U.S. it is nearly impossible to find fresh grape juice anymore. "Grape juice cocktail" yes. Actual grape juice no. I suspect this has to do with the worldwide growth of the wine industry and the premium on grapes. It seems that everywhere I go in the U.S. their is a small homegrown winery. For a non-wine drinking grape juice connoisseur, I have had to forgo one of life's little pleasures. Two things make Bosnia different for me. #1 Grapes grow abundantly here. #2 The Federation is predominantly Muslim with their traditions forbidding alcohol (it doesn't mean that the country is alcohol free, mind you, this is Europe!). So imagine my surprise when we were at a Muslim household and he offered us a cup of his mother's homemade grape juice; a grape syrup she makes during harvest season which they mix with water. It takes his mother days to make this syrup and she is only able to do so during harvest season. This was the clue that I needed. I started looking for grape juice and found a number of different forms. I just bought a "wine like" bottle of this syrup and look forward to drinking it all fall.

Grape vines growing along someone's driveway.
Behind our house is a large fertile hill which I suspect has turned into a community garden. We see older ladies every day working the garden. I just saw a whole team of men come in and harvest 10 bags of fruits. There is a greenhouse, rows of corn, and precious few fences.

The view of our "mountain" park that is behind our house. The thing on the left is a haystack.
Not only in the hill used to grow food, grazing animals are brought to the hill to feed as well. I was walking at the "arboretum" the other day and saw this woman shepherding a group of sheep. She was just on the mountain for the day and have not seen sheep up there since. (These sheep were some of the lucky ones...we just had a Muslim holiday here which was quite hard on the country's sheep!).
The other day a shepherd brought her sheep to the mountain to feed. And today somebody was herding some goats up there.
Harvest season means more than just food. Cold snowy winters require preparation. All around us people are storing up wood for their fireplaces. They both heat their houses and cook using this wood. 

Everywhere we go people are out cutting and stacking wood.
Those not growing food on their lawns enjoy growing flowers. Dionne is in heaven looking at all of the flower gardens. She has been wanting to plant some orchids but realizes that the "season of death" is coming so it is not a good time to do so. But she has big plans for this upcoming spring.

Even this late in the season, the flowers remain in bloom.
Roses grow especially well here. Everywhere we go we see the beautiful red of roses still in bloom.

To help wtih the homesickness, we have been pleased to discover another plant that grows well here. The seeds come with less salt so they are not quite as addictive (or bad for you).

It is not quite Grinter Farm.
Even those who live in old Soviet era housing (this building is a little nicer looking than some of the Tito apartments) do a wonderful job of decorating their balconies with flowers. 

We have been surprised how nice most apartments are inside.
The landscaping of their lawns and gardens is also creative. Nothing is Costco or Home Depot standard ware...lots of unique character to everything that we have seen.

This appears to be a cool little playhouse
While I appreciate the order and cleanliness of the U.S. suburbs I have lived in all of my life, there is also a sense of conformity which pervades our neighborhoods. HOA's worry too much about the one house that becomes the "blight" on the landscape (and thus destroy property values...everything comes down to money in the U.S.). The net effect is that much of the charm and quirkiness of human passion is lost.

How many different shrubs can you have in place?
Because our homes are our passions. The lawns of those with a passion for good food should reflect that. The lawns with a passion for gardening should reflect that. Lawns should be reflective of our personalities. What is the cost? We may have to live with the person who has a passion for rusted out used cars. What I have seen here, however, is that there is some collective pride in Bosnian's personal space. Unfortunately, that pride does not extend to the collective space since Bosnians routinely throw their garbage everywhere! But that is a post for another day.
Gorgeous front gate of a home in a small neighborhood

Monday, September 12, 2016

Our mailing address

We have had a few people ask for our mailing address. So... we don't really have one. We actually don't even have a mailbox. The couple that lived here previously said in the 10 months they lived here they did not get one piece of mail, and they know several things were sent to the house address. I have to admit I don't mind the lack of junk mail and bills!

So if you want to send us something (please make sure it's small and won't require additional customs to be paid) you can send it to the mission office and we will get it eventually. Once a month we have zone conference and they bring the mail down then or if missionaries are transferring into the area the office will send stuff with them. We'd love to hear from you and welcome comments on our blog as well as emails anytime and we will actually get those in a timely manner!

The mission office address is:

Elder and/or Sister Newton
Adriatic North Mission
Svacicev Trg 3/1 (there are accents above both c but I can't do that on my computer :)
HR - 1000 Zagreb

Dionne -
Denny -

Only 17 Months Left!

It's hard to believe that we have been on the mission for over a month now! We've been in Sarajevo almost 3 weeks already. We are still loving it here and have spent more time getting to know the country so that we may be able to better understand the history and culture of the people we will be serving with. While the war was 20 years ago, it was ONLY 20 years ago! When you put it in perspective that is not very long ago. There is still much evidence both in the physical and cultural make up of the country.

The Old Bridge
On Monday, we ventured to Mostar, a smaller city about 2 hours away. Mostar means 'keeper of the old bridge" and it is aptly named. It is the 5th largest city in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH) and lies south of Sarajevo in the Herzegovina area of the country.  In the center of the city is Old Town, as is found in most cities in Bosnia. Old Town is an area with cobblestone streets, old buildings and a plethora of shops selling a vast assortment of goods. Like most Old Town areas, it is a tourist heavy area. None the less, it has its charm and we enjoyed strolling through the area.
Within Old Town Mostar there is, you guessed it... an old bridge that spans across the river linking the two sides of Old Town. As all tourist areas must have "entertainment" Mostar is no different. The bridge is the site of the famous bridge divers, or more correctly, bridge jumpers. As the crowds gather, men jump from the 64' high bridge into the river below. Then they walk through the crowds asking for money. We stayed far enough away that we weren't solicited, but it was kind of fun to watch.
Walking the cobblestone streets of Old Town Mostar

 We explored the area a bit, had lunch on a patio and enjoyed the view and watched a few more jumps from the bridge before we headed to see a Dervish house built on a riverbank at the mouth of a cave. It was yet another example of the diversity of this country.
Someday he'll just smile like a normal person...
Our view from our table at lunch

This video shows how massive the cliff above this Dervish house actually is

Brother and Sister Healy, the Area Welfare Specialist from Frankfurt, Germany came down to do training with us this past week as well. We spent some time doing training, but with all the background Denny and I have with computers, data bases and project management we were able to move through the training fairly quickly, which left us time to do more exploring with our new friends! We showed them a few of our favorite things and the we took a tour with a local tour guide and were able to see a few new things as well as learn more about the history of BiH. We enjoyed having others to share our adventures with.  Here are a few of the sights we saw.

Brother and Sister Healy admiring bullet holes 

Guess what this means....Danger! Minefields in the area! Needless to say, we didn't go hiking in this area
Medal platform for the Olympic ski jumping
We visited the Tunel Spasa which was a tunnel that ran under the airport during the war and was used to get food and supplies to the city during the war. 
This was once the most luxurious hotel in Sarajevo. It was built for the Olympics but was burned by Serbian forces so that the Bosnians could not use it during the war. 
A Jewish Synagog with the 2nd  largest Jewish cemetery in Europe
We are now trained and have perused the current projects in the data base and are ready to get started on finding new projects and following up with established projects. However, we found out that the next four days are one of the largest Muslim holidays of the year. According to Wikipedia, "Eid Al-Adha is celebrated on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah and lasts for four days, during which Muslims usually sacrifice a sheep and distribute its meat in 3 parts: among family, friends, and the poor." Now we know why all of a sudden there were sheep in every yard! I guess they won't be there next week...
I hope we haven't become close enough "friends" with any Muslims to receive 1/3 of a sheep! Due to this holiday, we will have to put our plans for today on hold and go do more exploring, after all, it's a holiday! 

We have quickly become huge fans of Viber, a phone app that allows us to call or text anyone in the US who also has Viber on their phones for free. If the person we need to call doesn't have Viber, it's only 1.9 cents/minute. We can talk for an hour for under $1.25! The only catch is that we have to be on wifi, but it's pretty readily available here.  So... if you want to talk or text us, you should download Viber on your phone and give us a call! Just remember we are 7 hours ahead of U.S. Central Time! 

Until next week.... keep smiling and know that we love you all and miss you much, but we are thrilled to be here and ready to get to work as soon as Dhu al-Hijjah is over. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Jajce to Banjaluka:  One of My Favorite Drives of All-Time

This week we drove around Bosnia going to Tuzla on Tuesday and Banjaluka on Thursday. While the topography of the entire country is amazing, I was quite smitten by a 1-hour stretch between the small town of Jayce and Banjaluka. As we drove my jaw remained ajar due to the sheer beauty of the scenery. As I reflected on what we had just driven through, I realized that this is one of the five most beautiful short-drives I have ever personally driven. (My other favorite drives are Maui, Yukon in Alaska, playing "taxi driver" in New York City, and Durango to Silverton in Colorado).

Along the famous "Road to Hana" in Maui
We do not have a real camera yet so our pictures will not do this drive justice. We also did not have that much time to stop and enjoy the scenery. So you will just have to take my word for how cool this drive is. And, if you ever get to Bosnia, make sure you seek this drive out.  

Here's the Google Map directions.  Banjaluka is one of the largest cities in Bosnia.
My first thought when I looked at how the country boundaries were drawn between Croatia and Bosnia was that Croatia had gotten all of the good parts (e.g., the entire Adriatic shoreline). But the Rocky Mountain boy in me now feels quite differently. The mountains here in Bosnia is gorgeous, powerful, and has an untamed feel to it. And this drive highlights all of these qualities.

Jayce is a quant little city that is known for one little feature; a massive waterfall right in the center of town. We decided to look for it along the side of the road and once we saw a glimpse we simply had to stop. We were transporting two sisters. We walked down to the bottom of the falls and enjoyed a nice mist on a hot day.

Enjoying Bosnia

The road runs through deep canyons, climbs mountains, passes old churches, and follows a ranging river. And did I mention that it is a small, likely dangerous two-lane highway on which I was being passed by bus drivers flying along? There are points on the road where the two trucks cannot pass each other because of the way the cliff face overhangs (they would have to let one pass holding back all traffic). And every time I looked up there were mountains like this one looking back at me.
My iPhone did not do this mountain justice!
Dionne took some video while we were driving. These tunnels were just cut out of the mountain and are not really reinforced. 

We only got out a few times to look around. There really were not too many places where you could get out and safely look around!  Here's a few pictures from when we did get out.  Cheers!