The grief & joy of commitment to a noble task
23 September 2011
BY KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN
The World At My Door by Marshall Lawrence, Guardian Books, 2010, 272 pages, $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-55452-510-2. Order here. Also available as an Apple ebook
MARSHALL LAWRENCE and Helen, his wife, came to Papua New Guinea in 1968 and lived in the remote Oksapmin area of the Enga Province until they left with their four Oksapmin groomed sons in February 1993.
They had come to PNG with the Summer Institute of Linguistics to study language, translate, administer and train. Now Marshall Lawrence has written a fascinating book, The World At My Door.
When told of the book by Phil Fitzpatrick, I searched for and got in touch with Lawrence at his retirement home in Oche Bay, Canada. He mailed me a copy of The World At My Door.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. It is a great piece of writing. I had a good laugh at some scenes and was equally sad and sympathetic in other places.
The book reminds me of the film The Gods Must Be Crazy (1981) starring Nixau (Kalahari Bushman), Marius Weyers and Sandra Prinsloo. It diligently tells of how the Oksapmin people gradually experienced and accepted new ideas, just like Nixau encountered in the Gods.
On the other side, Marshall and his family were exposed to a different world with its own intrinsic and aesthetic elements that they courteously threaded into their own lives to be accepted in that society.
Marshall was called Maso in the Oksapmin language and Helen was treated as another Oksapmin woman who does the chores expected of the Oksapmians.
Soon they and their children learn to hunt, contribute to bride prices and mediate disputes about marriage, polygamy, burial of the dead and pig herding.
Another amusing part is the misinterpretation of the Bible and God on occasions by the newly-trained Oksapmin pastors, influenced by their own upbringing.
The Marshall family was soon Oksapmin by definition. The book is humorous and it is sad – carried along by the ignorance and curiosity that occur when two dynamic worlds meet.
In those early days, both Marshall and Helen lost close family members in Canada while they tried to adapt and survive on the top of that remote Oksapmin knoll surrounded by forests.
They received mail from Canada informing them of events including loved ones departing to the next world.
Devoid of the internet, the news reached them two or three months after the events had happened. This was painful and at times they wondered what the hell they were doing in that dark corner of the world when family members are supposed to be together during tough times.
However, the Oksapmin people can smell grief and unhappiness and they helped as much as possible to lift the hearts of the Lawrence family,even though they couldn’t fathom mourning in a Canadian way.
All you aspiring writers, especially highlanders, need to get a copy of this book. You will see the scenes in your mind’s eye and love every page because most of you were born and raised in those mountains.
I thought Oksapmin is in the West Sepik Province not Enga as stated. But chee, I would like the copy of this book.
Posted by: Gerald Tananu | 26 September 2011 at 12:22 PM
Posted by: Lapieh Landu | 23 September 2011 at 02:38 PM
Thank you, Sil, for this lovely book review.
There have been so many families, like the Lawrence family, who have given so much of their lives to bring the Gospel message of God's love for His people.
Yes, grief and joy, and a noble task.
Posted by: Barbara Short | 23 September 2011 at 06:31 AM