Do you know this anecdote about blondes (I am a natural blonde, so let’s all laugh about ourselves during this post). “How many blondes do you need to change a light bulb? Answer: 10. One holds the bulb and the others spin the ladder.”
I find this anecdote suiting perfectly with Indonesian working styles, where it takes three extra people to get something done. To sell three different products one needs six guys, as no one has a very clear overview what they are selling, no one has the right to take any decisions and you always need a friend to delegate the problems to.
In the situation where no real power is given to workers, no one cares to take the responsibility either. So each time they screw something up they can just shrug carelessly as nothing depends on them anyway. Probably it was the friend’s fault, who even more probably doesn’t know anything about the issue. So all in all, no one knows who should be answerable, but definitely not him and not concerning the matter that has just ruined the customer’s life.
The only solution then is turn to the boss, where all the fingers point, but mind you to go down that road. The Boss is a mythical creature who floats somewhere between the mundane and the divine and whose time is so precious that he can only be reached through the endless corridor of stamped, signed letters carried on a velvet pillow. The letters will linger between offices for so long that the details of the case have marred to the point they become unidentifiable. The only solution to the problem will be the predicted: Maaf iya? Tidak apa-apa iya? (Sorry, hope it’s ok).
A poor European, who mainly tries to keep promises, will perish in anguish. Especially if the poor European has promised to feed 150 people during two days but nothing goes according to the plan:
By the breakfast of an important morning exactly half of the promised sushi arrives to our environmentally-friendly event. And it arrives in fifteen plastic boxes in six plastic bags even though we especially emphasized that we need to set an example with how we are supposed to serve food*. The boys give us some vouchers and say that they hope they can use those another day. But they won’t be hungry the other day, they are hungry now!
Before lunch when the stomachs of underfed participants rattle, Marie and I go to the next restaurant to double-check if we will get what we were asking for. The ibu had met the requirements beautifully and wrapped everything in banana leaves, but once I try, it seems strangely light. “We didn’t have time to make enough, we gave half a portion for everyone,” she looks at me with such an innocent face that I even feel ashamed to be overloaded by anger. We try to imitate her guiltless face when handing over the food to 150 hungry people.
And on top of all we receive a phone call from a restaurant just before dinner saying they cannot provide us what they have promised. The boy suggests us to call the boss, but as no one has the bosses number we could instead try to send him a stamped letter.
Being totally browned-off we organize some emergency food to the participants and then do like Indonesians would do in that case. We ask our volunteers to apologize politely and if someone has a problem, to lead them down the path where no one has responsibility. Send a stamped letter, maybe. Maaf ya?
* For those non-indonesians who don’t know, at all Indonesian events they give out food boxes where each piece is wrapped in plastic and it’s all accompanied by a plastic glass with a plastic cover and a plastic straw. For those Indonesians who don’t know, at least in Estonia food at events is served on tables on reusable dishes.
** Read how it really works: http://www.letsdoitworld.org and do not get discouraged by my subjective blog posts about leading the project. The stories are intended to be entertaining, therefore I will mostly describe the conflicts instead of successful moments, which there were plenty as well. How ever it all sounds to you, I still believe this one one truly amazing project and should be carried out in all parts of the world. Hopefully, with your help.