Today Kelly and I made our final day trip to Savusavu. I had to get quotes for a toilet and shower addition to the Kioa Women’s Guest House and a quote for finishing the water tank in the middle of the village. It takes a bit of patience to get quotes in Fiji, and it has taken me several tries to master this complex art form. Therefore as a guide to new volunteers I have standardized the process into five easy steps.
Step one is to take the material list to the hardware store counter and explain what you need. It is better if your material list is typed and has plenty of write in space. Otherwise the clerk will transpose all the material descriptions, quantities, and units to their own quote sheets wasting valuable time and opening the door for numerous transposing errors. The initial response from the clerks upon first scanning the material list is that it will take all day to fill out the quote. This is where step two comes into play, negotiating.
Everything in Fiji is negotiable. It seems strange that negotiating the timetable for filling out a material list would be important, but when you have only a few hours between incoming and outgoing busses every minute counts. I usually start the negotiations at half an hour. The clerk typically laughs this off as ludicrous and makes a valiant effort describing how busy he is. I act upset and say I will be back in 45 minutes to pick up the quote as I have a very important meeting with the District Officer in one hour.
Step three is repeating this initial contact with two other hardware stores. All projects funded by the government or NGOs typically require three quotes and fortunately there is a strange plethora of hardware stores in each Fijian town.
Step four is returning to check on the progress of the quote about an hour later. During this step I soften up a bit and ask if there are any questions with the material list. I may talk about the weather or the condition of the road to Buca Bay. Most of the time the clerk has at least begun working on the list and says he will be done with it in a half hour. I leave to check on the remaining quotes and then circle back to the first store.
The third and final trip to the hardware counter is step five. If the quote isn’t at least half way finished I begin eyebrow intimidation techniques. This involves standing very close to the counter looking over his progress making rapid movements with my eyebrows. Almost always this is very effective in speeding up the process. I could write complete essay on the theory behind eyebrow communication in Fiji, but in the spirit of brevity I will just say it is very important in all negotiations, especially with bus drivers.
Upon receiving the list I make sure the totals match up and thank the clerk for their assistance, and then leave to retrieve the remaining quotes. In total, the process typically takes about two hours and can be exhausting. Time must always be scheduled in at the conclusion of the process for a cold beer and hamburger to reflect on the day’s triumph and your mastery of quote procurement in Fiji.