August 9, 2008  (Saturday) 
more on Friday's (8-8-08)mediation

I'm going to transcribe some of my notes about yesterday, which I think was a keypoint to all of the efforts do train mediators for the last two years beginning with Judy Friesem in 2006 and continuing into the present and hopefully the future. In the four pictures attached, the one of a group of people is the photo the Peace Committe rep. of the village asked be taken to hang up in the classroom where the mediation took place. We have two mediations scheduled at a place about 10 miles from Gitega. Pr. Elie has arranged transport.

click on photos 

mediation success mediation site Jean Marie brick kiln

Phillipe and Louise-Jeanne wil co-mediate one case and Edith and Anne-Marie will do the other one. After that we will come back to the Center in Gitega, finish packing and take a bus down to Bujumbura about 60 miles and 2 and a half hours away (mountainous driving, lots of stops) I'll probably stay at Hotel Pacific where I was last year. (Graham Greene atmosphere of decay and better days). We drove almost 45 minutes on a bumpy dirt road to get to a primary school where we were greeted by a representative of the local peace committee. The participants in the mediation arrived shortly after. All greeted us, but some refused to greet each other, and it was clear that lines had already been drawn and tensions were high.

In greeting people, I met one man who had come as an observer, Jean-Marie Vianney Hazushimana. He greeted me in Kirundi, which I don't speak but said I could understand and speak Swahili or French. He spoke both fluently and told me he had first fled Burundi to Tanzania in 1972, had com back several times but each time was forced again to flee. He said he was neither Hutu nor Tutsi, but had descended from a mwami (chief) clan the Hansa family and they were considered royalty and not tribalized. I had read about this the night before. He had a younger sister in Ottawa, Ontario, and I said I would try to contact her when I got home to say I had met him. He had a cell phone which had her number registered, so he is able to call her from Burundi. And I know that overseas it is much more convenient and cheaper to do international calls from the states. He let me record his story on film. I then went into observe one of the two mediations which had already started in the peace center office, a building still under construction.

It had walls and and a roof, dirt floor, some loosely fitted broken bricks on the floor, covering about 25% of the room. The mediators sat facing each other in the middle of the room and the disputants sat against the opposite walls. There was a good breeze coming through the open shuttered windows. The sun warmed the tiled roof but the breeze kept us cool. There were four people in the dispute. An older woman and a younger woman about 25 sat on one side and another younger woman and and older man sat on the other side. It turned out, much later to me, that the man was not a party to the case but a member of the peace committee there to maintain some order. The older woman began talking and talked and talked and talked with little intervention by the mediators. I might have done some interventions sooner, but the mediation belonged to the parties and the mediators were there to follow them.

The older woman's discourse continued for more than an hour. I could catch that she was accusing the woman across from her of having assaulted her and she had medical evidence to support those statements in the form of an x-ray, medication and doctor's statements. The woman across, laughed at the implications. At one point the older woman came before the mediators and knelt down took of her blouse (topless, I am not exaggerating) and showed her injuries to Edith. Then she got up got dressed and went back to her seat and continued to talk for another 30 minutes at least. The way the other woman was belittling those statements, I began to be concerned about all the loose bricks on the floor and the potential for another confrontation. The two observers beside myself were Prosper and Louis and I had counselled the class in the training about avoiding violence in a mediation. They are also both trained in Alternatives to Violence workshops so I felt quite certain that order would be maintained if things started to get out of hand.. It seems that this is a property dispute between the mother and the angry daughter, and the question is how to divide the adjoining parcels that each of them wants to possess.

The younger woman begins talking in a derogatory manner, both angry and amused, laughing occasionally. Anne Marie, the other mediator starts making some interventions. She has been recording a lot of what both have been saying. Edith gives a signal to Anne. I'm not sure of the context.... The women manipulate their Kangas during the mediation, and it almost looks like they have changed their appearance by doing this. During a short break, Anne Marie gives me some of the background of the case which I've already described above. I'm way behind on this one. The combative daughter is quite disturbed by the mother's leaving the father in the first place many years ago. Anne Marie thinks this daughter needs counselling. The three woman are barefoot, they wear Kangas over their clothing. Kangas are two pieces of square, colorful material that can form wrap around skirts, capes, and slings for carrying a baby on the back. They can be worn in different styles to include covering the head. I initially thought the mediation was between the older woman and the man. But it turns out that the older woman was a widow, and the two younger women were her daughters. Obviously she had had a falling out with the one who had assaulted her. The older woman had divorced her husband years ago, and he had later taken a succession of three wives. I doubt that he was married to all three at once as this is a fairly catholic area.

Eventually Edith, the lead mediator began reflecting back to the woman the crux of what she had been saying. Not ready for an hour rebuttal, I decided to go to the other mediation to find out how it was going. When I got there, they were in caucus (talking to each side separately). On of the mediation observers, Josias, a Quaker pastor from Kibinda, told me, "George, this one is very difficult. A widow and her two young boys are in conflict with her brother in law , the brother of her deceased husband. By custom, the brother-in-law is supposed to dispose of land to benefit the widow and himself. It seems that the widow took it upon herself to sell off the piece of the land that the brother-in-law wanted to keep for himself.

Back in mediation: The widow is sitting with her two boys, about 11 and 12 The brother in law is sitting with his family. There are a number of spectators on the far side of the room. The disputants are against the walls on both sides of the co-mediators. There are a number of people in the room apparently from the extended families on both sides. It looks like a trial with spectators. One of the borother in law's relatives walks out followed by his wife. Capitaline, a mediator/observer goes out with them. The older boy now speaks. the brother in law shakes his head asserting he is not in accord with what the boy is saying. Now the widow speaks. I had to leave to take a phone call from Bujumbura, and there seemed to be a lot of action while I was outside. When I come back in Louise-Jeanne is making of summary that no one seems to agree with. OK, they can correct and clarify. It's part of the process. Who are all the spectators? Relatives? Does this become a face saving exercise with so many spectators? I don't know, but the disputants apparently agreed to the spectators being in there.

The widow makes another impassioned speech which the brother in law sems to dismiss. Louise-Jeanne does some more summarizing that seems to strike more chords in a positive way. The older son now speaks again and the brother in law, his uncle, replies. The older son gets up to sit with the spectators, family members, but is sent back to sit with his mother and brother. The buyer of the land the mother had sold is in the room. He apparently said that he would back out of the deal if the parties would be willing to start over from the beginning in the traditional way. I think he will still get some land and the brother in law will save face. There is a bargain struck, and all the family members stand up and applaud. I'm sitting as an observer but am near the brother in law and reach over to congratulate him. Louise-Jeanne summarizes again to make sure everything is clear.

The peace committee leader then makes a speech to the room, tells the young boys that he hopes they will remember this day, and that problems can be resolved. It must have really been bothering the extended families as so many were here. Everyone made the sign of the cross and sang a beautiful and unusual hymn in that it had no beat, no hand clapping at all. It was a very haunting melody. I wonder if Marie will recognize it as something from the old liturgy. I was allowed to record this part of the process and it was a truly wondrous event. I've never seen anything like this in ten years of mediating. The peace committee person also wanted me to take a picture of the event that it could be hung in that room as a reminder to the community. We went from there to the other mediation which was dismissing, because we were out of time and had to get back to town for the bus ride to Bujumbura. The other mediation had almost settled, and parties agreed to come back next Tuesday when we would be up there again for the regional conference. Hopefully it will then be finalized. We had a boistrous ride back to Gitega, amazed that both cases had come together in the last minutes before our scheduled departure. To me it was like days when I was a cross country and track coach and the athletes had trained hard and performed well.

Those rides home are great but the euphoria wears off quickly and you know that the next weeks will bring other cases that may not finish so well, but after a day like this one, your hopes will always be high and you will look forward to the next. George .


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