Don't Plan On It

What does this (in)famous ‘V’ Factor look like? It is the best laid plans of expats and investors going awfully awry. It’s the sum of the gecko eggs in the computer case, the centipede in the sandal and the rats in the wiring. It’s the axiom that, of a truck, some fuel and a driver, you can have any two at a time. It’s the two-day-late SMS that says, “I’m waiting. Where are you?”

It’s the always-empty service desk, police who don’t patrol, the teacher who’s later than his students, the meeting that’s always one short of quorum, but never the same one. It’s the marvelously, magically receding deadline, beckoning like the endless sunset on a westbound plane.

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Recently, I’ve come across references to a phenomenon some expats have wryly termed the ‘V’ factor. Apparently there is some magic variable Vanuatu inserts into every equation that reduces our ability to calculate a sensible output to zero.

As emblematic phrases go, the ‘V’ factor ranks somewhere between Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and those inane office posters warning you that ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.

Joseph Heller penned his famous novel in an attempt to characterise the crushing, often deadly banality of bureaucratic systems. His initially humourous tone peels away layer by layer until death, disappearance and the destruction of innocence leave the surviving characters with few illusions about humanity’s true nature.

Compared to this tour de force of gallows humour, a silly-looking poster tacked onto a corkboard seems innocuous, to say the least, little more than an ineffectual, protesting squeak from a mouse in a maze.

The ‘V’ factor isn’t so harmless. Rather than explain (Catch 22-style) Vanuatu’s unique environment, it substitutes dismissive hand-waving (often accompanied by another beer) for any serious desire to adapt to the reality of the situation. In essence, it’s a quick and easy way of exculpating oneself, of refusing to be implicated in the petty, small-world inefficiencies that define Vanuatu.

The ‘V’ factor is the final excuse of someone who wants into the show, but doesn’t want to pay for the ticket.

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