Locked away in glass cabinets or opened only by the owners of the various supermarkets in Dili, is obviously one of the most valuable items in East Timor, the elusive pen.
It will cost you fifty cents to buy a pen, which doesn’t seem like too much, but when you’re the sole ‘pen supplier’ of your office, it can start to add up pretty quickly. It’s not like home. Don’t expect to find a lost pen lying on your desk or a cup filled with pens or even a stationary cupboard when you are in desperate need of a writing instrument, because pens verge on extinction here.
Pens in East Timor live in top pockets of shirts or in the front pouches of bags. Purposely placed and concealed which makes stealing or borrowing them near impossible. You’ll only see them when they show their nibbly heads at important occasions like staff meetings or when letters need signing. Leave them alone, even for a short toilet break, at your own peril because you’ll never set your eyes on them again.When I first arrived in East Timor my workmates were in the process of finalising a budget for a new project. For every training and workshop they planned, at the forefront of their needs, were pens. Pens for the students, pens for the teachers, extra pens for people who forgot their pens and whiteboard pens. I thought it was a waste. Surely we could re-use the pens from the first workshop for the second etc… Save money to buy more important things! I was wrong and luckily they were polite to me but paid absolutely no attention to what I said and bought plenty of pens. It’s simple: if you want someone to write something down, you need to give them a pen.
Calendar Year Diaries
On par with pens, are calendar year diaries. Keep your eye out for any NGO that produces and sells calendar diaries around Christmas time. If you are lucky and find one, get in quick and buy, buy, buy, regardless of the price because these babies won’t stay around for long. If you don’t get one, well, don’t expect to see any in the shops until at least halfway through the year. I always wondered why all of my workmates used old diaries.Picture this:
“Okay everyone, let’s schedule another meeting for 2 June 2012 at 3pm”
All staff members’ pull out their 2007 diaries and turn to a random page and make note of the meeting.
When the meeting time comes, surprise, no one remembers! People often complain about these things happening: locals running late for meetings, forgetting about things, not even turning up to something you had planned etc… Yep, it happens. East Timorese view time differently to Westerners and who’s to say that we’ve got it right and they’ve got it wrong. I for one, am a BIG fan of East Timor’s two hour lunch break and their countless public holiday’s! But like the pens, if you want a well attended meeting, buy everyone a current diary. Better still, cover all bases and give them a diary with a built in pen!