Jefe…Another Four Letter Word
I knew coming into our role as missionaries here that because I’m a)white, b)a man and c)American I’d automatically be considered someone that local people (mainly Haitians) would try to befriend in order to try to get more for themselves and their family. I had read enough books, blogs and stories about how Americans are often considered the “great white hope” of the disadvantaged and poor throughout the world (and most of that is our own fault due to our past “hand-out ministries”). And with my initial role as the principal of the Makarios School, I automatically arrived in a supervisory capacity, which just escalated that mentality. Even though I had some great Dominican and Haitian staff work alongside me at the school as the principal, I have still grown to abhor one word here – “jefe” – the Spanish word for boss.
It was fun at first to have that word attached to me . It was a new word for me. And during our first few weeks of staff training (and first few weeks here) the Dominican and Haitian staff would call me that. So initially it brought a little silly grin to my face as they’d label my name tag with “Jefe Pat.” But over time that word has grown tainted to the point that I just can’t stand to hear it.
Ever since we moved in to our rental house there has been a team of workers (all Haitian except one that I can tell) renovating a large apartment complex across the street. They are actually really hard workers, who use only manual tools to get their work done. And working in the hot sun with little food, it’s no wonder that each of them is super thin yet remarkably strong. We have never really had any serious issues with any of them. They have greeted us fairly kindly for the most part, especially when we are together as a family.
But there have been times, especially when I’m alone, that one or two of them would come over with a sly smile on their face and say “Hola Jefe.” Or in their broken English… “Jefe, I work for you. You pay me.” Really? Ummm…seriously? It gets annoying. Especially because I’m not looking for workers. I don’t prompt them with any leading questions that would elude that I need work done. And if I did need work done, I’m not just going to hire someone like that off the street.
But I can’t blame them. They are hungry. And their families are hungry. And so they are constantly on the lookout for opportunities for work. But sometimes, it just comes across as though we are bait for them to reel in. That sounds harsh I know, because many of them really would work hard for us, but it’s the mentality of “Oh, there’s a white guy, let’s go see if we can work and get some of that money he has.” So they come asking. And it probably wouldn’t bother me as much if they weren’t so persistent.
I learned this during our cultural training that when Dominicans and Haitians are told no, that only means no at that particular moment, not no forever. So they keep asking, poking, prodding with their “Jefe…”, hoping that you’ll see them and one day they’ll hear, “Okay, I need…”.
I’m continuing to pray through this, and that when I hear that word, it’s not something that makes me cringe, but that rather it would be an open door for me to start a conversation that would take us back to focusing on our one and only true jefe who provides, loves and cares for us…Jesus Christ.