Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mediation: Art or Science?

Taking the Basic Mediators Course with the Dispute Resolution Foundation, I am getting to see what the organization really does.  What are some of its principles, and how it intends to effect change in Jamaica.  At the same time, I'm learning how to become a mediator.  By the end of the course, I can go out there and say, "Stop!  I'm a mediator, let's talk!"  On second thought, I'll take things step-by-step and integrate it into the way I deal with my own problems as they arise.

I find the mediation training provides a useful mindset and structural approach to solving problems, which is a lot of common sense.  It is outlined as a very structured 7 step process.  The tricky part is the application.  Being a mediator demands one to enter the process without bias - as a completely neutral presence.  Considering the nature of cases, which could involve any number of matters including violent ones, the mediator has to remain unbiased and unemotional.  You cannot insert your own judgment or bias.  You have to be fair in your body language, tone of voice, and choice of words and boy is it much harder in practice than it seems in theory.  "You mean I have to be fair to this thief?"  "Yes sir!"  "This rapist?" Yep!"  We all have our own biases from society and how we're raised, but more than that, we then have to disconnect the bad tendencies and habits wired into our brains.  There's probably some people who just cannot be mediators.  Despite all the instructional reading or studying, the only thing that can really prepare you is the practical experience.

We did an exercise today.  There were 5 or 6 groups doing the same role play.  Among the groups, there were probably 5 or 6 different answers when the question of "what is the issue" arose.  The issue identification is the crux of the mediation process.  If the mediator cannot nail the issue(s), the case is highly likely to go nowhere.  The diversity of answers really speaks to how hard it is to do (or how bad we all were at doing it).  The key was learning to ask the right questions.  Thinking about it, I drew a parallel to auditing (or consulting, or advisory, or a whole lot of other applications).  To get the information you want, or to draw out any useful insights, you have to ask the right questions. In mediations, you have to deal on so many possible levels.  A matter that might seem simple like a tenant owing a landlord 6 months' rent, could have some other underlying issues, for example, maybe the landlord has been getting numerous complaints from other tenants or that he really can't stand the smell coming from the tenant's unit.  These are entirely different problems to tackle than rent in arrears!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Of the parishes on the island, Portland is the one that is most often cited as the favourite, or the most beautiful.  It's not a tourist hot spot, and it's not a major urban sprawl.  It's natural, unspoiled Jamaica.  That's not to say it doesn't have its tourist attractions, but the ones that are there are less crowded and less noisy.  The cruise ships don't have a place to dock, and there are few all-inclusive resorts (I'm not sure if there are any actually). All in all, I think it makes for a really nice weekend getaway.  There are probably even more isolated and quiet areas of the island, but at the same time, I don't want to feel like I'm the only person around.

Last weekend, I went to visit the parish with some of the other volunteers.  We rented a car and drove up to Frenchman's Cove and hit Reach Falls.  We also stopped by to explore anything else that was interesting in between.  This time, I remembered to take my camera to snap a few shots.  Since they are few and far between these days, enjoy!

Crossing a random hand-made bridge

How did that get there?

Laundry day


007 knows how to live

Pastor Brown's house (has been in National Geographic, issue in 1985).  Seriously wacky.

Pastor Brown

View from Frenchman's Cove Resort Villas

Bottles of sauce... and ketchup! To go with the jerk pork and chicken
I feel bad, I didn't actually get any shots of Reach Falls, probably because I don't have a waterproof camera.  But in any case, it's one of my favourite spots and a really neat and fun activity to do in Jamaica.  You climb the falls, and in the process, a guide will take you through some small caves in the waterfall.  If you can swim, you can also dive off the waterfall and swim underneath the base of the falls.  Awesome!  Except I still can't swim.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some days while I'm walking the streets of Kingston, I start thinking I really enjoy being here.  Walking to and from Crossroads everyday between the bus stop and the office, I'll pass by the usual taxi drivers and stall operators (I use the term stall pretty loosely here, some vendors have a physical stall, some have a trolley or a cart, and some just have a tarp, which they lay on the ground to display their merchandise, which could be as varied as DVD's or clothes).  I appreciate the fact that there are people who aren't outside only to get from point A to point B.  There are vendors selling, there are taxi drivers yelling, there are people just hanging out and striking up conversations.  There's something lively about it all and it's refreshing to see since it's quite the opposite from what I would experience getting to and from work in Canada, i.e. bumper to bumper traffic.

There's also the directness of Jamaicans whereby they won't usually hide what's on their minds.  In an interaction between Jamaicans, they could look aggressive like they're yelling at each other, but in the next moment, their tone could take a 180 degree turn and they'd be laughing like they were best friends.  Sometimes when I'm looking for my coaster to go home, the conductor or "'ducta" will try to physically put me into their coaster, but if you tell them where you're going and it's not where they're headed, they move on to trying to acquire their next customer like nothing happened.  It's odd, but there's no hard feelings - just business!  That same 'ducta may show a polite and considerate side by stopping the bus and clearing room for a lady to grab a seat.  One time, I wondered whether Jamaicans get high blood pressure since it seems like they release so much energy in their daily interactions.  I don't know if there is really any connection between the two, but it was just a thought.  In any case, the way everyone interacts makes the city an even more vibrant and lively place to be.

I'm not sure if it's just in my head, but it seems like after Christmas ended and the New Year began, there is less tension on the streets.  People are at ease - less guarded, and more open.  Felt like around the Christmas time, the vendors, bus drivers, and taxi drivers were all trying extra hard to earn your money.  Now, while still lively, they aren't as aggressive.  Whether it's in my head or in reality, I suppose it doesn't matter too much.  The bottom line is that now I can enjoy more of my time here and appreciate some of what I may have missed before!  But still, I learned my lessons from before and am not going to explore South of my office or walk any back alleys.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year Jamaica!

Apparently there was some event going on at the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) in Jamaica yesterday.  But I didn't know!  Instead, I ate some jerk pork at Scotchies.  Only when I went to the supermarket today to pick up some juice, did the cashier mention that the CBA usually holds some of events around this time of year.

I went today, and there was nothing except some people playing badminton.  Nah gwaaan!  I asked my taxi driver if anything else would be happening and he didn't know.  If a taxi driver doesn't know then chances are, it doesn't exist.  So since nothing real exciting happened, in honour of CNY, I took a picture of the most Chinese thing I have in my apartment now - my calendar which the supermarket gave to me a while ago.  It's from Oriental Foods which coincidentally is in Toronto, Canada.  Yes, they imported Chinese calendars from Canada.  I should have just brought some with me!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011