Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bureaucracy gone mad – East Timor June 5th 2009

In a previous life back in the UK, I used to sell software to government bodies and departments. One of the strap lines for the product I sold was ‘Business Process Reengineering’, in other words, look at all the manual inefficient processes, weed out the redundant ones and automate the rest, the paperless office. This never completely happened of course because government being government still needed rubber stamps and paperwork, but it went a long way to streamline the processes and make the department more efficient.

Part of the sales process was to analyse the existing processes and try and understand why it took 4 departments, 2 sign offs and a minimum of 6 weeks just to pay an invoice, then come up with an automated solution that would achieve the same thing in a week. Never in all the years of doing this did I suggest taking a match to the existing paperwork and completely starting again, until I got to East Timor!

A month ago Zelia our office assistant said Antonio has had a car accident. After establishing that he wasn’t hurt and where the accident was, I set off with the car registration documents, my driving licence, $100 and Zelia in tow.

The accident was just around the corner and already the UNPol were there (a lovely Philippine cop that I had taught to dive two years before). A Portuguese woman had run up the back of our Ute and caved the back tray in whilst completely demolishing the front of her car, obviously going too fast to stop in time. The woman’s husband, a Timorese cop, had arrived in his car and as we departed for the police station the woman managed to smash into his car too!

At the police station I discovered that Antonio had lost his driving licence and in fact the one he had had was Indonesian not Timorese. The woman also had no driving licence so they were both issued fines. With the fine in hand I took Antonio down to the ministry of transport to pay it and get Antonio a new application for a driving licence but discovered the ministry was closed. As is common here, most places have a 2 hours lunch break, but this place takes even more. The opening hours are 9-11.45 then 2-3.30, and if you want to apply for driving licence then you can only do that in the morning.

So we returned at 2pm to pay the fine. After queuing at the main window for some time we were told to go to building 40. Now these buildings as such are portacabins with very tiny numbers on them, where the officials inside (like many govt departments worldwide) have one person serving at the window and the rest playing patience on their computers. I know because I accidently went in the door and saw the screens rather than stand on a bit of breezeblock at the window as I was supposed to do.

They gave us a new document and told us to go to the photocopy window, where I had to get two copies at 10c a copy, which was a pleasant surprise as last time when I tried to register one of our cars, it was 8 copies. Then back to building 40, and then back to the original window to hopefully pay. But, no, the police administrator had written the case number down as our car registration number so of course it was back to the police station!

Registration number typexed and rewritten we went back to the ministry of transport at 3.20. By 3.45 and several windows later we managed to pay but it looked like our Mitsubishi Ute was registered as a 10 person microlet. Back to the police station and I realised that we have two Mitsubishi’s and the police assistant had written down the details and registration of our Pajero which didn’t match with the Ute, and of course the police assistant had by then gone home. Finally I managed to convince the policeman in charge that it was a mistake and we had actually paid the fine. I got the call at nine thirty a.m. and finally walked out of the police station at four thirty p.m.!

Meanwhile back to Antonio’s driving licence. The next day in the morning, he returned to the ministry only to be told they had run out of forms! The day after he got a form and was told he needed a medical at Dili hospital. So, he went to Dili hospital and was told they only do medicals on Tuesday mornings, so the next Tuesday he went to the hospital for his medical, the results of which could only be collected the next Tuesday! The next Tuesday he managed to pick up the results but only in the afternoon which meant the test centre was closed. On Thursday the 28th he finally took his test and was told he could pick up his licence on the 12th of June! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Crazy! So I’m still down one driver.

Many things are lost in translation, even though you think that something has been translated, it doesn’t actually mean it is understood. Rita our cook normally buys this processed plastic Kraft cheese which is horrible, so I asked her to buy Australian Black and Gold cheddar which at least has some taste, I even drew the packet. What she came back with was Kraft cheese and two packets of frozen chips. Huh!!!!

As Rita only works Saturday morning and not on Sunday we found we sometimes ran out of the basic essentials on a weekend, milk, bread, loo roll etc. So I devised a system for Rita to check the minimum levels 3 times a week and if we fell below those levels she was to buy more. After a couple of weeks of trialling I realised that something wasn’t understood so I tried explaining it again. Thinking we had finally cracked it, Rita came proudly back from shopping yesterday. I had to hug her because we are now owners of no less than 6 boxes of cornflakes that were not even on the list! We are going to be eating cornflakes for months!

Names are another stumbling block; I often come back from diving and find messages in the book from people I have never heard of. It’s usually a misspelling of the name and I can work it out, but the name Nim puzzled me. On phoning the number I found it was one of our regular clients, Ian! Now we call him Nim as a nickname.

Nafy joined as an office assistant a few months ago. On a Saturday she finishes at 5, so to give me a hint she subtly puts the cash box on the counter for me to lock away. One Saturday she did this just as I came in the shop followed by 20 US Navy, whose average height was over 6ft. At which point she put the cashbox back, stood up, looked up and grinned, as the top of her head would only be mid chest level on these guys. We spent the next hour grabbing as many L and XL boots and Fins as we could find and delivering them to a barrage of ‘Thank you Mamm!’, ‘Size 12 Mamm!’ and ‘I need a bigger size Mamm!’ When the shop finally emptied we sat back and giggled. I think Nafy had severe neck ache the next day.

Our pool is all but finished, just the paving around it needs to be done, but it’s filled and awesome. It’s 3 meters deep, which is fantastic for dive training and of course it’s just out the back and can be used at night as its lit inside. We spent the first couple of evenings partying in the pool, it’s so nice. Today is the first day it’s going to be used for students and we are going to have an opening party at the end of the month, should be fun!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

1 the new 18 – East Timor 22nd January 2009

Me and a couple of other colleagues were given an invitation to Antonio’s nephews 1st birthday party. We were given the invitation around 11am for the evening party starting at 7pm, so I thought it was probably an afterthought gesture. With this in mind I thought I’d go along with a present, smile my way through an hour of birthday cake and screaming tots, then make a hasty retreat........WRONG!

Apparently the 1st birthday is as important as we treat the 18th birthday, probably because there is such high infant mortality here. We arrived a little late about 7.45 and of course Carlos and I were the only Malai. There were chairs lined up everywhere and the guests just kept coming and coming. As soon as you thought the party was full, more chairs would be put out and more guests arrive. That’s the logic behind the last minute invitation; if you sent the invitation out too early then you wouldn’t be able to cope with the numbers!

As part of the Birthday Boys present I had bought shoes and socks for a one year old. I wish I had brought them for a 3 year old as the pile of presents was so high it would have been more useful to buy him something he would grow into.

Most of the parties I go to, as soon as you walk in you are offered a drink. This doesn’t happen with Timorese parties, you go in and greet the hosts, then you sit in rows until most of the guests have arrived, this was about 9.30, so some guests had been sitting there for 2 ½ hours! Then the speeches start, including the local policeman asking the boys not to get drunk and cause trouble with the girls, then the cake cutting, then finally the food was served. Once one person got up to eat it was like a stampede to the food table. At that point you were offered water and a choice of a beer or a soft drink. As I was driving I opted for a soft drink which upset the drinks server a bit, because he was almost insistent that I had beer. I suppose because beer is more expensive, he couldn’t understand why a Malai wouldn’t want it.

After dinner the dancing started, if you can imagine a very stiff waltz holding your partner at least a foot away from you, that’s how the Timorese dance. As soon the music stops they almost run away from each other back to their seats at opposite ends of the room. One little girl did make Zelia and I laugh though. She was about 2 ½ and her brother must have been 6, she was insistent she was going to dance with him, so her chubby little arm was wrapped around his legs gripping on to the bum seat of his trousers almost pulling them down and every time he tried to untangle himself she would increase her grip hanging on for dear life.

Carlos and I had only planned to be there for an hour, but when ’Achy Breaky Heart’ started playing I could take no more. I feigned a knee injury that prevented me from dancing and I had to work in the morning. We finally got home at 11pm, the party ended at 6am!

Talking of parties, I went to a friends Xmas party where he dressed up as Santa. Many of his local Timorese community were there and even the women had a drink. He had to teach them how to drink as they were knocking back wine as if it was orange juice. The next day he got a phone call from three of them saying they had to go to the hospital because they were very sick. He had to convince them that they didn’t need the hospital, they were just nursing their first ever hangover!

Christmas day was a bit more of a western affair. We did one dive in the morning where I finished the last dive of an Open Water Course, so my student was qualified on Christmas Day. Then we took our guests to join Tony and his friends on the beach where they had set up a great shaded structure and a big BBQ. Chilling out on a white sandy beach in the tropics on Christmas Day can’t be bad.

New Year I spent in Bali, in the cooler climate of Ubud with friends. On the 2nd I treated myself to a half day spa, a chakra massage where they dribble hot oil all over you, a very strange experience. This was followed by a body scrub and a flower bath. The nicest thing about the place was the setting; each room had a huge open window which overlooked lush greenery. As you relax in your bath surrounded by frangipanis, you feel the cool breeze from the window and watch geckos running along the sill.