09/05/07 - sierra leone

In today's excerpt - Sierra Leone 1993 and twelve-year-old Ishmael Beah, encountering the grotesque sights of civil war for the first time as rebel troops attack near his town of Kabati, tries to think of calming things:

"As we, and others, emerged from the bushes, we saw a man run from the driver's seat [of a van] to the sidewalk, where he vomited blood. His arm was bleeding. When he stopped vomiting, he began to cry. It was the first time I had seen a grown man cry like a child, and I felt a sting in my heart. ... He got to his feet and walked toward the van. When he opened the door opposite the driver's, a woman who was leaning against it fell to the ground. Blood was coming out of her ears. People covered the eyes of their children. In the back of the van were three more dead bodies, two girls and a boy, and their blood was all over the seats and ceiling of the van. ...

"One man carried his dead son. He thought the boy was still alive. The father was covered with his son's blood, and as he ran he kept saying, 'I will get you to the hospital, my boy, and everything will be fine.' ... The last casualty we saw that evening was a woman who carried her baby on her back. Blood was running down her dress and dripping behind her, making a trail. Her child had been shot dead as she ran for her life. Luckily for her, the bullet didn't go through the baby's body. When she stopped at where we stood, she sat on the ground and removed her child. It was a girl, and her eyes were still open with an interrupted innocent smile on her face. The bullets could be seen sticking out just a little bit in the baby's body and she was swelling. The mother clung to her child and rocked her. She was in too much pain and shock to shed tears. ...

"[Later, as we waited] I closed my eyes, and the images from Kabati flashed in my mind. I tried to drive them out by evoking older memories of Kabati before the war. ... '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. ... 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 behavior 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 gets cold. But, she said, no one grumbles when the moon shines. Everyone becomes happy and appreciates the moon in their own 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."


Ishmael Beah


A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier


Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Copyright 2007 by Ishmael Beah


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