My brother pleaded with my parents to buy him a cell phone before they felt the need to give him one. We were in high school, and he listed off all of his friends who owned one, when they used it, and why his own lack of a cell phone crippled his daily life. “Use the pay phone,” my dad would say, not looking up from his newspaper. My mother’s face would turn pink with frustration and he’d storm up to his room defeated by their unwavering belief in “not yet.” Eventually, for his sixteenth birthday, they caved. I remember him opening the box knowing what was inside; as if this gift was a requirement or a test someone could pass or fail. He won. He got his phone. Since that time, he has gone through six other phones. Each one has somehow “broken.” With each new purchase, he’d swear off the previous company. Bad service. Weird shape. Poorly made. No endurance for being thrown against the wall. In his mind, the malfunctions were never his fault, but any other tangible force he could blame.
People have a tendency to think in the way that my brother though over his multiple phones. They have problems, they get angry, and in an effort to protect themselves, they direct the blame in elsewhere. This seemed to be a frequent occurrence in Kisses in the Nederends by Epeli Hau’ofa. When something falls apart (relationships, physicial health, modes of healing) there is always an alternative medium to point a finger to and an external reason for the downfall. Hau’ofa illustrates this on a larger scale at the “International Conference on the Promotion of Understanding and Co-operation Between Modern and Traditional Sciences of Medicine.” Out of all of the doctors and dotteres in the scene, none of them gave me the impression that they were fully sincere and invested in their efforts to heal the sick. They cared about the money, the spectacle, and the opportunity of wealth in the face of disaster. All they had to do was point a figure at what was wrong, and prove that they had a better alternative.
I assume this is what happens with new technology. Companies portray their products as items no one could ever live without. Even though many people did live without these instruments for thousands of years, their urgent words get through to people—like my brother—who eventually hand over their money in hopes of a new salvation.
The atmosphere at the conference stank of selfish power, and ambition to seek a favorable reputation. No one thinks deeply enough about the battle they wish to fight against germs and disease. Instead, sickness is a new opportunity, something that had to be conquered from the outside, rather than healed from within. The Minister proclaims in his speech:
“Henceforth from today...all men and women…must pledge their lives, and those of their descendents for generations to come, and forever if necessary, to courageously, fearlessly, and steadfastly stand side by side and back to back in conducting the glorious battle against the forces of pain and perfidy” (28).
The minister talks of pain as if it is an enemy separate from the self, something he can just grab by the hand and swing into a patch of thorny bushes. The minister, and the other dotteres throughout the novel see pain as an opportunity to do something admirable, and those who are diseased and hurting believe in these simple offerings as a cure. Oilei, for example, searches all over the place for a medicine but is left with the same gas problems that he had before. Both sides of the situation (the healers and those in need of healing) seem to give into the illusion that there is an answer waiting to be found and a fortune for the person who found it.
This idea goes back to the mentality of if there is a problem; there is also someone or something to blame it on, or a medicine that can make it better. Much like my brother testing out half a dozen cell phone models, Oilei searches the town for a remedy to his gas problems. My brother found new things to complain about, and the gas came out of Oilei’s body in a different direction or made a different sound. No matter how much external attention he receives, his body still explodes. Yes, this may be due to the questionable credentials of his medical help, but I cannot help but wonder if any external element can fix a body. Oilei needs is to heal himself, work out his internal problems, and allow his body to work through the pain bestowed upon him.