It’s past eleven and Sheen is not home yet. I start to wonder why people offer their home to strangers. It is hard to imagine that is just a balanced reciprocity and that he expects that one day I will be hosting him too. Without a contract there is no security I will ever return the favour, but still there are millions of couchsurfers around the world. The Maori believe in a spirit of the things called ‘the hau’ which accompanies a gift and stays with the person that receives the gift until the act is reciprocated and the spirit can go back to the forest where it belongs.
Perhaps it is an escape from the materialist world where human relations are defined by economic transactions, an attempt to fill in the void created by a kind of alienation resulted from the ‘capitalist transformation’. A community of gift givers like in the Kula ring offering social relations to strangers, idealistically hoping for lifetime friendships.
Until the introduction of money as a mean for payment, the traditional Tiv society could not exchange goods that belonged to different economic spheres, the traders having to bargain in order to establish the terms of exchange. In the absence of a common denominator allowing goods to be measured on a common scale, the economic transactions depended on social factors. Trading depended on the ability of the individuals to cope with the dynamics of diplomacy. The introduction of money then meant the liberation of the individuals form any obligations by setting a fixed value to all things.
But is there a middle ground between suffocation and alienation?!
As I walk around the room I try to guess what Sheen is like. The room is full of boxes filled with printed papers and bags full of cloths, books, tones of DVDs, pictures, old money and even food, giving me the feeling that I am in a storage room. Flicking through Sheen’s books I get an anxious feeling. It is almost 3 am and he is not here. I try to call him but he doesn’t answer.
‘He must be on the island!’, I think. He is on the island, and he hasn’t taken his phone with him. Of course, nobody takes their phone on the island. I know that because I have been on the island myself. And why should one take a phone on the island anyway?! It would stand in contradiction with the very purpose of the trip.