Title: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
Author: Ishmael Beah.
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir, war non-fiction.
Publication Date: February 13, 2007.
Summary: This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he'd been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ "We must strive to be like the moon." An old man in Kabati repeated this sentence often to people who walked past his house on their way to the river to fetch water, to hunt, to tap palm wine; and to their farms. I remember asking my grandmother what the old man meant. She explained that the adage served to remind people to always be on their best behaviour and to be good to others. She said that people complain when there is too much sun and it gets unbearably hot, and also when it rains too much or when it is cold. But, she said, no one grumbles when the moon shines. Everyone becomes happy and appreciates the moon in their own special way. Children watch their shadows and play in its light, people gather at the square to tell stories and dance through the night. A lot of happy things happen when the moon shines. These are some of the reasons why we should want to be like the moon.
♥ When I was six, my grandfather had inserted a medicine into my skin that protected me from snakebite and enabled me to control snakes. But as soon as I started school, I began to doubt the power of the medicine. After that, I was no longer able to make snakes stop in their tracks until I went by.
♥ When I was very little, my father used to say, "If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is noting good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die."
♥ Some nights the sky wept stars that quickly floated and disappeared into the darkness before our wishes could meet them. Under these stars and sky I used to hear stories, but now it seemed as if the sky that was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening.
♥ ...When the young muscular rebel was captured, the lieutenant slit his neck with his bayonet. The rebel ran up and down the village before he fell to the ground and stopped moving. We cheered again, raising our guns in the air, shouting and whistling.
"If anyone starts any funny business, shoot him." The lieutenant eyed the prisoners. We set the thatched roofs on fire and left, taking the prisoners with us. The flames on the thatched roofs waved us off as they danced with the afternoon breeze, swaying as if in agony.
♥ When I was a child, my grandmother told me that the sky speaks to those who look and listen to it. She said, "In the sky there are always answers and explanations for everything: every pain, every suffering, joy, and confusion." That night I wanted the sky to talk to me.
♥ She was wearing her white uniform and was on her way to take on other traumatized children. It must be tough living with so many war stories. I was just living with one, mine, and it was difficult, as the nightmares about what had happened continued to torment me. Why does she do it? Why do they all do it? I thought as we went our separate ways. It was the last time I saw her. I loved her but never told her.
♥ "I am from Sierra Leone, and the problem that is affecting us children is the war that forces us to run away from our homes, lose our families, and aimlessly roam the forests. As a result, we get involved in the conflict as soldiers, carriers of loads, and in many other difficult tasks. All this is because of starvation, the loss of our families, and the need to feel safe and be part of something when all else has broken down. I joined the army really because of the loss of my family and starvation. I wanted to avenge the deaths of my family. I also had to get some food to survive, and the only way to do that was to be part of the army. It was not easy being a soldier, but we just had to do it. I have been rehabilitated now, so don't be afraid of me. I am not a soldier anymore; I am a child. We are all brothers and sisters. What I have learned from my experiences is that revenge is not good. I joined the army to avenge the deaths of my family and to survive, but I've come to learn that if I am going to take revenge, in that process I will kill another person whose family will want revenge; then revenge and revenge and revenge and revenge will never come to an end..."
♥ I was sad to leave, but I was also pleased to have met people outside of Sierra Leone. Because if I was to get killed upon my return, I knew that a memory of my existence was alive somewhere in the world.
♥ Pa Sesay, one of my friends' grandfather, had told us many stories that night, but before he began telling the last story, he repeatedly said, "This is a very important story." He then cleared his throat and began:
"There was a hunter who went into the bush to kill a monkey. He had looked for only a few minutes when he saw a monkey sitting comfortably in the branch of a low tree. The monkey didn't pay him any attention, not even when his footsteps on the dried leaves rose and fell as he neared. When he was close enough and behind a tree where he could clearly see the monkey, he raised his rifle and aimed. Just when he was about to pull the trigger, the monkey spoke: 'If you shoot me, your mother will die, and if you don't, your father will die.' The monkey resumed its position, chewing its food, and every so often scratched its head or the side of its belly.
"What would you do if you were the hunter?"
This was a story told to young people in my village once a year. The storyteller, usually an elder, would pose this unanswerable question at the end of the story in the presence of the children's parents. Every child who was present at the gathering was asked to give an answer, but no child ever did, since their mother and father were both present. The storyteller never offered an answer either. During each of these gatherings, when it was my time to respond, I always told the storyteller that I would think it over, which of course was not a good enough answer.
After such gatherings, my peers and I - all the children between the ages of six and twelve - would brainstorm several possible answers that would avoid the death of one of our parents. There was no right answer. If you spared the monkey, someone was going to die, and if you didn't, someone would also die.
That night we agreed on an answer, but it was immediately rejected. We told Pa Sesay that if any of us was the hunter, we wouldn't have gone hunting for monkeys. We told him, "There are other animals such as deer to hunt."
"That is not an acceptable answer," he said. "We are assuming that you as the hunter had already raised your gun and have to make the decision." He broke his kola nut in half and smiled before putting a piece in his mouth.
When I was seven I had an answer to this question that made sense to me. I never discussed it with anyone, though, for fear of how my mother would feel. I concluded to myself that if I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament.