Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

For all wondering about how Christmas is like in Jamaica, it's warm.  There's not going to be a white Christmas here anytime soon.  But also, the people and the environment is warm.  Over the past couple of days, I've been offered rides to work as I was walking to the bus stop.  The first person, I don't think I knew and the offer was only to take me half-way, so I politely declined and opted for my regular coaster ride.  The second person was my building manager who was headed downtown and so would pass right by work.  I took up this offer and got to work that day on time, where I originally intended to sleep a little extra and get there a little late.  Yes, intentionally tried to sleep in and be late.  Still, another volunteer and I were the first ones to arrive and so, locked out, we waited for an actual employee to arrive, which wasn't until another 30 mins later.

This brings me to the next point about Jamaica holiday times, it's festive.  As in many places, people will decorate their homes, and lights will be put up all around the city.  But moreso, the city turns into party central leading up to Christmas day.  The results are that people get into work later and leave work earlier.  And while people are at work, there isn't much mood to get work done.  Christmas Eve, is supposed to be the "Grand Market" day with food, music, dancing and vendors in all the hot spots of town.  I'll check this out later today probably.  Then Christmas day itself is quieter, spent with family, friends and food.  I'm sure church is also thrown somewhere in the mix here too.  In terms of food and drink during Christmas, sorrel becomes the drink of choice.  Made from dried sorrel (a meadow plant), ginger, and other ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel, extra flavour can be added with a dose of wine or rum.  It's nice refreshing (as long as the ginger isn't too strong for me).  Overall, it's a great time to be in the city and having passed the rainy / stormy season, the weather is fantastic.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes via e-mail, phone, FB, and comments.  Appreciating it all the more when here in Jamaica.  Respec' and bless.  Hope everyone has a safe and happy holidays!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fry chicken, stew chicken, jerk chicken.  Poultry is definitely a Jamaican favourite.  But as I ponder my dinner options, I want to eat some other meat!  After the medical examination that I took in order to accept my placement here, the Dr. told me to not eat so much red meat.  While I'm here though, it's not too much of a choice. Maybe it was meant for me to be in Jamaica.

Today, I ventured into Coronation Market again but on my own this time.  At first, I was a little anxious about it, but downtown didn't seem all that bad after all.  I went through the market, bought some groceries, explored a little bit, and caught the coaster home.  There seemed to be even more of a market atmosphere as Kingstonians are getting into the home stretch of the Christmas shopping season.

On a side note, I ran into Usain Bolt at a club (no pun intended).  I knew he would party in Jamaica and I've heard stories of people seeing him all the time, but I didn't expect I'd see him.  He seemed to be enjoying himself and wasn't being bothered, so I suppose it really is a common sight here.  It's nice to see people not being obsessed with the rich or famous.

Short post for now so y'all know I'm alive.  Off to find some dinnah!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Restorative justice

For my job, I figured I would eventually get to attend and have a feel for what Annual General Meetings (AGM) or Board of Director meetings would be like.  That was what I thought about my job back in Canada.  Funny thing is that I am attending my first AGM in Jamaica.  It provided me with an interesting contrast from the day-to-day activities to the larger perspective of what the organization is about and what they've accomplished during the year, which is nothing short of amazing.  But the organization is capable of so much more too.

Today, I learned about Restorative and Community Justice, from a sensitization workshop that was put on at the Spanish Town Centre.  I just went for a normal day of work at Spanish Town, but it was a coincidence they were holding the workshop in the afternoon.  To me, from the first time I heard the words 'restorative justice' I thought it was jargon.  Didn't make any sense to me, and no one really gave me a definition.  After going through the trusty wikipedia and this sensitization, I still feel like it's jargon, but at least I have a much better understanding of what it's supposed to mean.

Also attending this session gave me a bit of a better understanding about the essence of my organization.  At its core, the DRF provides, trains, and advocates for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and restorative justice practices.  These practices are more than providing justice alternatives outside the courts.  These practices are about resolving the divides between human relationships.  Beyond imprisonment or monetary settlements, it gives individuals and communities a chance to tackle the underlying issues giving rise to the conflicts. Where political garrisons and gangs have divided communities even on the opposite sides of a street for years, what the organization does may be able to bridge the gaps that have seemed so far and impossible to cross.  There is a lot needs to be done, but this is what I think is the ideal is for the organization, whether it's expressed or not.  It could also be useful to resolving day-to-day conflicts and arguments like what may arise from conflicts at the workplace, or what TV show to watch on a Monday night at an overcrowded TV.

Tomorrow, we take a field trip Montego Bay with work to visit the centre there. There's 18 different service centres across the island and I think part of my role will take me to visit as many of those centres as I can.  It's going to have to take place in the new year, but for now, I have something to look forward to.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Working in Jamaica

I haven't said too much about work because up until now, I was getting a feel for the place.  Spent my time talking with a lot of people in my organization and have started to ease into things.  By now, I've got a good idea of how work flows here.  Slowly.

That's not to say work doesn't get done.  Things get done, but usually at the last minute, or late.  No matter how many times I ask for something, I don't get it.  And people will be doing just enough to get things done.  Nothing more.  At first I thought it was just my organization, but it seems to happen a lot; so much that if you see something different, it's probably the exception rather than the norm.

I don't know how I would manage people or try to motivate them here.  Lucky it's not the volunteer's job here to manage or drive.  We are the support and the capacity builders.  We work within the confines of the culture without trying to force our ways upon or against it.  We may be able to influence how people operate or see the world, but it's a slow and subtle process.  It's a process which is more about helping people see how things could be done better or how to approach a problem differently, which may or may not be congruent with what we would do if we had to do it ourselves - it could be a hybrid approach or something completely different.

I talked with one of the guys at my workplace and he put it something like this: You don't need a reason to celebrate or make a day special.  Every day is special and we should live it like so.

And that's how people will operate.  If something doesn't get done right away, it's not the end of the world.  Why work so hard and take the fun out of today for the sake of tomorrow?  Who knows what may happen the next day?  To me, there is sense in this train of thought but I think work ethic as with all things in life need balance.  And that balance is personal so it may vary from person to person and could also vary from culture to culture.  I'll finish with what I think is a funny example of how things are here.  Part of my role is to facilitate the process of getting the organization's records up to date.  Another part my role is to do some financial analysis for operations, which is the more interesting part.  But today was a catch-up day.  Today, I helped them do a bank reconciliation - for May 2009.

Borrowing a friend's picture: December 5, 2010 - 20 days until Christmas

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's Christmas time

Christmas is a big deal in Jamaica.  Kingston does have a lot of cars, but apparently the traffic jams in the before and after work are especially bad around Christmas time.  This traffic was picking up when I first arrived.. in mid-October. 

It really hasn't felt like Christmas that much during this time but it's starting to now as they're puttuing up the decorations and lights.  Some of the plazas and public spaces are shaping up now.  I have yet to hear much Christmas music, which is when I really start to feel like it's that time of year again.  That being said, I'm not sure if they actually play the holiday music here, or if I'll even recognize it.  For all I know the reggae and dancehall I'm hearing right now on the bus could be Christmas carols!

The unfortunate part about this time of year is hearing how people try to make ends meet.  There's an apparent spike in crime and robberies durnig this time of year.  And I've heard it in the locals' warnings to me.  Numerous times I've heard stories telling me to really be cautious, only walk around with as much money as I need, don't stop for strangers, etc.  In a way, I guess it increases my anticipation now for Christmas to arrive. Definitely going to have to be a little extra careful where I go.

Interesting note to some, I made a visit to the Deloitte (my employer) office in Kingston, Jamaica.  We have two offices here, one in Kingston and one in Montego Bay.  It was an adventure to get there as I walked along some small neighbourhood streets that probably don't see any tourist traffic.  Yes, I walked.  To be honest, I didn't know if I'd make it, but as soon as I got there, the staff and management there were all warm and accomodating as most Jamaicans I've met have been.  I got a bit of an office tour, then made sure to taxi to the nearest bus stop for the trek home. As much as I'd like to think I can do anything, after making the walk once, I realized there's certain things that are best avoided. I'll start the little extra careful..... now.