The day was perfect to work on the land. Alija straightened his back, wiped the sweat off his forehead and looked down the hill. Spring came early this year. Orchard blossomed in white and he could hear a subtle humming coming from that direction. Soon, bees will start swarming. Tomorrow he will have to go down town and buy some hives and frames. He let his hoe fall on the ground and rubbed his callous palms. "I need a break," he thought. He walked out of the patch of the land he just tilled and sat on the grass. Then, glancing towards the house, he pulled closer black laptop case that was laying a few feet away from him. He took a nice, high gloss, Toshiba laptop out of the case and opened it. The text showed in the instant messenger window that popped up in the bottom right corner:
"Good morning, Grandpa!"
A smile stretched over Alija's face. He rubbed his palms against his work shirt to get rid of any dirt and started typing. His fingers lost elasticity long time ago and few were even curled towards the inside of his palms. He went to therapy for this some time ago, and used wax baths, but it didn't help much.
"You can't make an old man younger," he said to his wife when she nagged to him about quitting the therapy.
"No? And what are you doing awake in a bed in an ungodly hour playing with that loptop of yours, instead of resting, if you're that old?!" she argued. "You'll punch a hole through it, that is how gentle you tap it with those hooks of yours. It woke me up!". Then, without waiting for his answer, she turned the other way in bed and covered her head with the blanket.
"There will be a lots of honey to harvest in a month. Love, grandpa."
He waited few minutes for a reply. Sometimes he would get it right away, and sometimes it would take a while. He used to call his son by a phone before, if reply wouldn't come through right away.
"Dad, that is an auto message Adi set up to be sent to you every morning in the same hour. He is not necessarily on-line when you see it. It is silly to call every time you receive no reply. We bought you that laptop to cut down on international phone bills. He will reply back when he is on-line again," his son would explain.
This time there was no reply. He closed the laptop and put it carefully back in its case. From where he was sitting he could see in the distance the contours of the first town buildings. Kalesija is a big municipality with a small town and numerous villages surrounding it. When a group of young enthusiasts decided to start a company and provide wireless internet in their town, everyone marked it as a failure, considering demographic figures. Majority of inhabitants is over fifty, population that is not computer savvy at all. What they overlooked was their desire to keep in touch. Young people usually leave this place as soon as they finish school, looking for jobs, often going to foreign lands as temporary solutions, until they find something better, closer to home. These temporary solutions very often turn into permanent ones after some time. They start their own families over there and their children start the school. Being born in those lands, naturally, children consider it to be their homeland. It is not rare that children resist spending holidays visiting their relatives in Bosnian villages, when there are many more attractive locations to go to around the world. Once children are grown up and go their own way, they are too old to go back home and start all over again. So keeping in touch with those who stayed back at home is a very important ritual that keeps them going.
Alija's grandson was still too young to impose his will on his parents, so Alija gets to see him every holiday. Last time, they were here in December.
"I know what we can do, daddy!" Adi said. He was listening his father talking to another man about changes that took place in the town since their last visit. The man was telling him about available WiFi services when his son interrupted conversation.
"Let's buy nana and grandpa a computer so we can e-mail them from Austria!" he said.
"Adi, your grandpa and nana are old people and never saw computers in their lives," his father said.
"But it's so simple! I can teach them while we're here. Pleeease ..pretty please."
"We'll see, Adi."
That night, at dinner table, Adi was the first to bring up the conversation about computer.
"Nana could search for new recipes on internet, just as mom does, and grandpa, I could e-mail you every day with news from school. And send you photos. And..."
"You said I could talk to you just like on the phone, and plus see you, as much as I want, and all that for free?" Alija asked. He looked at his wife who was working something around the stove and so far refused to participate in this conversation.
"Well, as much as our time allows us to be on computers. We can't use it while we're at work, and Adi is allowed to go on-line only after he is done with his homework..."
"Yes, grandpa, it is called Skype, and with small cameras built into the monitors we can see each other, and it is free!" Adi said. "And I will teach you and nana how to use it. Say yes, say yes."
Alija's wife brought a pan of minced meet pie on the table and sat down.
"We lived all this time without it fine. And what for would I look for new recipes? Don't you like the food I make? Anyway, what would village say if they saw it in our house?" she said.
"Mom, who cares about village. Anyway, computers are nothing to be ashamed of. We could place it on that small table over there in the corner. And imagine how much money it could save us on phone bills."
"That table is for plants. No such a thing will replace my flower pots." she said.
"Well, then, we might consider buying a laptop instead."
"A loptop?" she asked.
"No, nana. Not loptop. A laptop."
"Same thing," she said.
"It is smaller, portable, and you could keep it in the closet when not in use."
"LAPTOP then it is!" said Alija, leaning towards his grandson. "Did I say it right?" He winked.
Adi jumped out of his chair. "Yes, yes, yes! Let's go buy it right away!"
Next morning, Alija was sitting at the table with glasses on the top of his nose. Laptop was opened in front of him and Adi was leaning from the side explaining him where to type in an e-mail address. Alija looked at him over his glasses.
"You say this is the address although it has no postal code?"
"Yes, grandpa. This is my e-mail address. And now you can write something to me here, in this field."
"Ok. What should I type?"
"Anything. Imagine I am in Austria and you want to say something to me."
Alija lifted his right hand and using his curled index finger started looking for letters on keyboard.
"Great. Now, would you like to get rid of the extra letters?" Adi asked.
Adi shrugged his shoulders.
"Then click it here to send it."
After his son and grandson left back to Austria, Alija went to the town and signed up for a basic internet course. He had to walk down to the town twice a week for this, and was double the age of the oldest person that attended the course, but he didn't mind.
"What do you expect from this course?" instructor asked him on his first day of the course.
"I don't know. What can you teach me?" he replied.
"Well, what do you do in your life?
"I used to drive busses. But now that I am retired, I work on my farm and sometimes, when I go to the town, I take photos of busses that pass on the street. And on Fridays, I go to Mosque."
So Alija learned how to check for weather forecast using internet and upload photos from the camera his son had left him. Soon he became some sort of the favorite person of his class.
"Grandpa Aljo, did you get e-mail from your grandson today," one student asked.
"He wrote he's going to some school trip this weekend," Alija replied. He got used to everyone in the class calling him grandpa. "He said he will sent me photos after it."
"Make sure you show it to us then."
Coming back from the class one afternoon, passing by his local village mosque, he heard someone calling his name. He looked towards the mosque and saw Imam standing at the front door. He approached the mosque and called "salaam".
"Salaam to you, Alija," Imam greeted back. "How is life treating you these days?"
"As always, my dear Imam. Work, sleep, work. I go to some computer classes downtown, but it is hard on my legs to climb these hills this often."
"Why do it then?"
"That's what my wife asked. But when I read my grandson's e-mails even my legs feel ten years younger."
"Yours are still in Austria?" Imam shook his head. "Our youth is not coming back. Soon there will be no reason for this mosque to stay open," said Imam. "Talking about mosque, I noticed that you canceled your subscription to our monthly magazine?"
"That is right, dear Imam," said Alija shifting from one leg to another. "Why would I pay for something that I can read on the Internet for free even prior than the magazine arrives in our mosque."
"I see..." Imam said. He stood calm, with his hands one in each other resting on his belly. "But this magazine is more than just words on the screen. It helps our community. It helps our mosque."
"My dear Imam, I help our mosque enough. I attend Mosque every week and I give money to each dova you organize. But I had to do this for myself. My grandson is growing up quickly and soon he will not bother keeping in touch with an old man. Subscription money I used to pay for the classes. After each class, I go home and show my grandson what I have learned. He is amused by this now. He even wrote a school paper about me using computer and teacher let him read it in front of the whole class. In a few years, he will not find it that amusing anymore, and who knows if he will ever visit us here again."
"I just say, God should not be forgotten due to technology," Imam said.
"How could it be forgotten, my dear Imam, when I find him even on the Internet?"
That day, when he returned home, he told his wife about the conversation with Imam.
"I knew that thing will not bring anything good to this house. Imam already held so many sermons criticizing children that had left their homes and villages, leaving parents without anyone to take care after them. The last thing we need is to be mentioned as Godless during the next sermon," his wife said. She throw the kitchen towel on the table and walked out of the house to sweep in front of the doorstep. Alija followed her.
"Don't you worry about Imam, wife. He does not care about old people of the village but about his own ass," he said.
His wife turned around and lifted the broom in the air.
"Shhhhhhh!" she said. "Don't speak like that in front of the house. Someone could hear it.."
"Who could hear us? There is no one around here! And that is what worries Imam. When old people in the village die, there will be no one to go to the mosque. And he will stay without his job. Just because I am talking critically about Imam doesn't mean that I am Godless. Nor he has a right to call me that way. My father was the most religious person in the village but he always told me not to blindly believe everything Imams have to say. He called them the greediest people of all and never went to mosque for that reason. But that does not mean he wasn't believer. He prayed five times a day inside of his own house, and gave money to the poor every time he had some extra. Tell me, who in the village today prays five times a day?" He felt his knees weakening and he had to sit down on the doorstep. His wife was not convinced.
"Ever since you got loptop, you're impossible to talk the reason. Imam is right. All this technology cannot be good for the human brain. You're the proof!" She walked by him and went back in the house to set the table for lunch.
At lunch, Alija suddenly got out of his chair and pulled the camera out of the drawer.
"Dear Allah, what you're going to do with it now, during the lunch?" his wife asked.
"I am going to take picture of the sarma you cooked and send it to Adi. You know how much he likes your sarmas."
"So what if he likes it, he won't be able to eat that photo," she said.
Alija tried to climb on the top of the chair to get better angle for the photo but his knees were to weak. He asked his wife to hold the dish leaned towards him, but she refused.
"I am not taking part in your madness!"
He took the photo anyway, and then set back on his chair and continued with lunch.
Later that week, during his computer class he showed his photos to his instructor.
"What do you plan on doing with these photos, grandpa Aljo?" instructor asked.
"I am going to e-mail them to my grandson," said Alija.
"You know, you could put those on your blog, so more people could see it," instructor suggested.
"What is that BLOG?"
"It is a web page that you could start writing on anything you wish and post your photos. Other people could visit it and see it as well."
"Is that cool?"
Instructor smiled. "Cool?"
"That is how my grand soon calls the things he likes. He says, grandpa, this is cool."
"Yes, it is very cool and popular right now and your grandson will like it a lot."
"So how I do about starting one?"
"Let me show it to you. We'll name it Grandpa Aljo..."
So Alija started writing his own blog. He wrote slowly but didn't give up. He wrote about the village and what he was doing every day. About his computer classes and late winter preparations in the garden. He even wrote about his argues with his wife over his laptop. When he didn't have anything new to say from his daily activities, he would write about the time when he worked as a bus driver. He would list different types and models of the busses he used to drive and post photos of those that he took pictures of during his town visits. He also posted photos of the food his wife prepared with comments.
"Today's burek was melting in my mouth."
"Nana's baklava was a bit too hard for my teeth this time. (I think she made it that way on purpose because of the fight we had yesterday)"
"I ate too much of my homemade beef ring sausage for dinner last night and my stomach aches now."
"This is cheese nana made two days ago!"
One morning he received e-mail from his grandson.
"Grandpa, congratulations! Your blog has just had its 500th visitor! You rock, grandpa!"
Alija had no clue what this meant but soon he found out. His first neighbor stopped him one day and asked him to save some of his homemade beef ring sausage for him.
"Sure will do, but don't you make your own?" Alija asked.
"Of course I do, but my grandson called me last night and said he was coming over to Bosnia during Easter holidays, and he said he would like to try some of grandpa Aljo's sausage he saw on his computer. Now how did your sausage end up in his computer, I have no clue. But I am so happy that he is finally coming over, that I have no time to break my head around whose sausage he wants to eat. This is first time in five years that he wants to come to us. My wife already started cooking like she is expecting the whole army to arrive."
Few days later, after praying in the mosque, he was walking home with another neighbor.
"Don't you find it strange that Imam is preparing a dova for no reason? No one in the village is repairing the house nor lifting a new roof," Alija said.
"It's dova for Easter," his neighbor said.
Alija stoped walking, looked at his neighbor and said: "Dear Allah, what does Easter has to do with our mosque?!"
"Don't you understand, that is the time when our kids working outside have days off the work, and can use it to travel here for a visit. It makes sense to organize dova during Easter holidays. Turn up will be larger, and mosque will collect more funds."
"But who guarantees that they will all be coming to Bosnia?"
"Oh, Imam has already talked to many houses in our village and it showed up that many indeed have decided to spend their holidays here. Now, since you asked, I heard some rumors about you and Internet as a cause for all of this, but didn't want to ask you first...figured you would tell me when you're ready..."
After a while of sitting on the grass he felt rested enough to get up and continue tilling. Dova is scheduled for this coming weekend. But he will not go. His grandson will be here for holidays and he will show him how to catch swarming bees and put them in a new hive. They will take pictures of that and post it on the blog. He will not care what others will have to say on this. He has already given more to his community than any of them. Grandparents will enjoy in the visit of their children this weekend, and Imam's mosque will be full. All he wanted now was to hear again from his grandson how cool he is.
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