Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier

Heartbreaking. I can't believe people have life experiences like Ishmael Beah. Ishmael, a 27 year-old refugee from Sierra Leone now living in New York City, left his home with his brother and some friends to practice a new rap routine in a neighboring village. He was twelve years old. He never saw his home or his parents again. Rebel forces attacked his village, killing most, and causing the rest to flee.

Without a home to return to, he and his peers managed to spend several months wandering from village to village but eventually, as they were old enough to be mistaken as soldiers themselves, they became objects of fear. Left starving and hiding in the forests, Ishmael and his group were eventually captured and forced to become soldiers.

A boy whose favorite thing was to perform rap songs for people was suddenly cutting throats and shooting anyone that moved. He became a drug addict, as higher ups encouraged the boys to swallow white capsules and sniff cocaine to "give them more energy".

Years later, he was fortunate to be chosen by his lieutenant and UNICEF workers and was enrolled in a rehabilitation unit. It took him eight months to fight the drugs out of his system and to turn into a child again. His agony and nightmares about what he had done are intense. He was only fifteen years old.

When the fighting moved from the villages into the city, Ishamel knew that he could not become a soldier again. Earlier in the year, after he had completed his rehabilitation, he traveled to New York to represent UNICEF and the youth in Sierre Leone at the UN. From this experience, he contacted one of the women he had met in New York to ask if she would be willing to allow him to stay with her if he could get out of his country. Amazingly, he managed, got to New York and has since graduated from the UN's International School and graduated from a university.

What amazes me when I read books like this, because I don't really enjoy them, is how deplorable certain areas of our world really are. We are often told of the blessings we enjoy from living where we live: freedom, prosperity, security. We worry about losing zero percent interest for credit cards and avoiding trans fat, while other people in the world literally watch their best friends get blown up. Certainly our problems and worries are real, but when put into perspective, they are molehills compared to mountains.

I'm grateful this boy got another chance. I'm horrified that most do not.

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