Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah a powerful memoir of a boy soldier from Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Not that long ago, and insanely this kind of human trafficking is still happening. Children brainwashed into fighting wars that tore up their own families.
Parts of this book were too heavy. I would read for a while then have to ruminate over the horrors Ishmael detailed to readers. His honest struggle to accept the things happening. A child at the age of 12 forced to be on the run to avoid being shot to death, starving at times, having no where to sleep then forced to fight for the government against rebels, no one should ever have to experience the trauma he went through.
Especially no one at the age of 12.
Beah frequently talks about the migraines he has and the nightmares that keep him from sleeping, and then the “void” after he kills rebel soldiers. My heart ached for him. His use of drugs and alcohol are used to numb himself, to stop feeling the migraines and nightmares which reappear when he is being rehabilitated.
I also empathized with his struggle of rehabilitation. His not knowing how to be around ‘civilians’ and respecting their space, emotions, and generosity. I also understood his frustration with being told “it’s not your fault” and how he finally learned to believe this himself.
A couple of thoughts I had while reading this:
– As an American, war is far away from us and the affects of war seem too distant to understand. What made this a hard read was to understand war in the context of it my own backyard with the merciless killing of innocents.
– As an Anabaptist Christian, I had trouble reading with the dehumanization of the rebels. “Visualize the enemy, the rebels who killed your parents, your family, and those who are responsible for everything that has happened to you”. I’m not implying that I wouldn’t be upset, hurt, and frustrated but Christ calls us to see our enemies as ourselves. The dehumanization of anyone is the first step to denying them inherent rights, including forgiveness. As well as the lose of Beah’s innocents as he is forced to ‘grow up’ and learn guerrilla fighting techniques as a 12 year old.
– How does one regain their humanity from trauma such as this? Are there ways to see the warning signs of the use of child soldiers? At what point do they become complicit in the actions? From the first time they kill someone? When they are old enough to understand the consequences of killing someone?
Get a copy of a long way gone from your local library, local bookseller, or on Amazon