Monday, November 29, 2010

Hand-carried stuff...

My friends have asked me from time to time to bring them things from the States that they can't get locally.  They don't impose; they always ask politely and insist on paying the costs.  It took me awhile to understand the economics.

For instance, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis costs $20-$30 for the English edition of all 7 books in a collection.  In Portuguese for my friends in Sao Tome, it costs $220 or more for the same small collection.  It has to come from Portugal by air freight or be hand-carried, because there's no book store in the country.

We're so used to finding what we want and buying online.  My friends in Sao Tome can't go online and buy because nobody ships to Sao Tome.  Nobody in Sao Tome has a credit card either; nobody there accepts credit cards except the two big tourist hotels, as far as I've been able to find.  Even the car rental places  expect cash.

If I buy a box of books for the school (8 bibles the principal asked for), it costs $40 to mail it to him, and it takes weeks to get there, and it's not very reliable.

Tennis shoes, dry-erase markers, ballpoint pens, small electrical components.... I've hand-carried a few laptop computers for friends.  Usually young men trying to make the next step up in their education.  Their folks save up for it, and then run into the difficulty of actually buying one.  Local purchase, if what they want is available, will cost twice or more what the European price might be.  Even more if compared to the U.S. prices.  It's a tough problem.  And it changes the way the local economy works.

I usually carry as many books as will fit in my backpack; I buy them at the mall in Lisbon (and don't look at the price), and give them as gifts to my scholarship kids or to the elementary school.  They use the bibles in the classroom.  Encyclopedic texts on science, biology, math, etc., are a big deal.  Bible stories, too.  :)