Each time I visit the library, I check out a wall where they have ‘popular reads’ and last week I picked up a book by Ishmael Beah titled ‘A long way gone’. When I read the back I knew it would be a heartbreaking story, but part of my heart knew it needed to know.
Ishmael grew up in country Sierra Leone and at age 12 was faced with rebels attacking his village and a life on the run. The book does go into graphic detail about both the atrocities of African jungle warfare, but also about the things he himself did, and horrifically, grew to enjoy.
There are two key things that I’ve taken away from this book. First, every single one of us is capable of turning into a complete evil being. Given the right set of circumstances, the right environment, enough ammunition and in Ishmael’s case too many drugs, we would all have done exactly the same as Ishmael. There was one incident in the book where he described his superiors lining up five prisoners. A few boy soldiers were chosen, ‘the lucky ones’ as Ishmael points out, to practice killing by slitting throats. It was made into a competition… The boy who is the first to kill his prisoner wins. Ishmael won and was honoured as his prisoner slid quickly into death.
The second thing I’ve taken from this book is that we can only possibly know our own world. We all live within the bubble of our comfort zone, and in doing so need to forgo the ability to judge others. Until you’ve walked a day as a boy soldier, you can’t possibly judge the decisions they made or the atrocities they hand crafted.
Obviously Ishamael does make it out of Sierra Leone, and his story is so unique in that it hasn’t been sensored for our western ears or narrow perspectives. It’s simply honest in the way things were for him, and so many others just like him. I can’t say it was a beautiful book, however it certainly opened my heart to both the suffering and love the world has abound. If you’re interested, checkout the website at: www.alongwaygone.com