Aceh Diary: A bisa state of mind

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"Bisa" (Indonesian for "can do") is surely one of the top 5 most-used words among the Banda Acehnese. It’s hard to come across a more accommodating people; so much so that I could weep. I realize that last statement requires some explanation…

The property the IFC leased for its office/guesthouse – a large and airy Dutch-style house in the center of town – went completely under water during the tsunami, so we needed to make several repairs and buy equipment and furniture for both the office and guesthouse sections. So we hired contractors and went to all the necessary supply stores intent on settling in within a week.

We decided to try out a carpenter recommended by our landlord: “Can you redo the rotting kitchen cabinets?” we asked. “Bisa”, he responded. So he makes new cabinet doors and attaches them to the rotten frames; job complete from his perspective.

We then got a plumber, referred by a reliable source: “Can you fix the water pump which is emitting about-to-explode noises?” we asked. “Bisa”, he replied. So he has us buy a new water tank and puts in a new piping system to relieve the stress on the pump. 2-3 days pass while the new tank remains perpetually empty, and then the pump collapses, shutting off the water supply.

We went to the most well-stocked office furniture store in town: “Can you give us these particular chairs in black?” Of course, the owner said, “Bisa.” A week goes by and we get brown chairs, which we send back, choosing another style of chairs instead, in red. Ever service-oriented, he sends us the chairs in the new style in another week; and the color? Well, they’re black.

We also hired an electrician. “The power system doesn’t have enough capacity to support many PCs and office needs, and we’re getting the power company to fix it. But can you make sure, especially given this is a ‘tsunami house’ that all the power outlets/appliances are functioning properly” we asked. “Bisa” he says. Three weeks and much prodding of the power company later, the power capacity’s increased. Our glee at having more power dissipated rather quickly though, when a previously apparently functioning air conditioner in one of the bedrooms, suddenly burst into flames.

So here we were a month later, still waiting to move into our guest house, watching our security guards throw buckets of water on the burning AC (thankfully we’d managed to shut off the electricity just before their best intentions melted the power grid). My thoughts at the time, as strange as it may seem, were that a few candid and unafraid-of-disappointing ‘No’s at the other end of a service transaction, followed by a suggestion of possible alternatives, may well be music to our ears.

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