Nobody appreciates the more grotesque functions of the human body with more unadulterated joy than an eighth grade boy. I know this from experience and in working at Acts 4 Youth this semester. Not a week goes by without at least three fart jokes (usually within the first twenty minutes upon arriving). These boys would have been cracking up from the first page of Kisses in the Nederends. What they helped me realize about the book was that Oilei is not too different from an eighth grade boy.
Oilei has many of the hallmarks of a child without much of the maturity of a man. He is immature, giggles at inappropriate times, lashes out in angry rages, throws temper tantrums, clings to his wife like she’s his mother, and he is extremely susceptible to the influence of others. He is malleable. While this mutability does not mean that his identity ever changes or improves (unfortunately) it does make him vulnerable to the influence of others in his town as well as foreigners. If he was representative of his country, he would be covered in the flags of a hundred different countries.
And even after opening up his body to whoever is brave enough to take a stab at exploring his innards, Oilei is the open child. By calling him a child, I am not implying that he has the wonderful innocence that children are born with. He resembles a stinker that you can’t help but spend time with even though he could probably afford a fair bit of discipline. By the end, Oilei has not grown up, but he has learned how to love in such a way that his body is no longer tearing itself apart and the people around him are no longer exacerbating the problem.
Seeing Oilei as a child not only endeared him to me, but it made him seem vulnerable despite all of his bravado. I realized that maybe all he needed all along was love and protection. Even though he was a boxer and he had been married, he no longer can find comfort in either one of those. Oilei is an island, separate and alone. It is only after he learns to love others that his pain may cease and the story can end happily.
This story shed some perspective on the boys I met through service. A lot of them clam up and do not want any help or even interaction. If you try to tell them that they should fix a wrong answer on their homework or to tie their shoe, they take that as an insult and their pride is hurt. But maybe it’s not just pride. Maybe, like Oilei, they are working so hard to be self-sufficient that little things like zipping their fly and crossing their t’s slip through the cracks. They do not need me correcting their homework and their habits, they need someone who is going to show them love even (or even especially) when they least desire it. I only see these boys once a week, so my contribution is small and consists of no more than consistency and unconditional concern, but somewhere in their life is someone who can give them "kisses in the Nederends" and remind them that they are not alone.