Its Bullet Proof Loneliness.

Im just a face in the crowd.

Im just a face in the crowd

“I closed my eyes and fired the gun, but I didn’t hit her. So I shot again.  I had to bury her and put dirt on top of her.” The commander said, ” You’ll have to do this many more times, and you’ll have to learn not to cry.”

0_21_101305_child_soldier

Tomorrow’s getting harder, make no mistake

Luck ain’t even lucky, gotta make your own

graves, Its MY life….

Ever tried to imagine the life of a child fighter ?

Even I had not.But I read somewhere, that in order to understand the life of a child fighter, this is what you had to imagine.

“Imagine not being able to dream. Imagine that you grew up expecting to die, grew up expecting not to live past 20”

My post starts with the quote of  a small girl, Angela, just 12.

This is what she told the Human Rights when she was told to shoot a friend when she joined Colombia’s FARC guerrillas.Scary isn’t it?Trust me, it got scarier as i continued reading.Some children are kidnapped from their schools or their beds, some are recruited after seeing their parents slaughtered, and some just choose to join the militias as their best hope for survival in war-torn countries from Colombia, all over Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Once recruited, many are brainwashed, trained, given drugs and then sent into battle with orders to kill.They can be frighteningly cold and effective.The children’s vulnerability is what makes them attractive to the men leading militias. They are easy to manipulate and will do the unspeakable without question, partly because their morals and value systems are not yet fully formed.

This is the story of Ishmael Beah, who was a child fighter in Sierra Leone. It begins in 1993, in his small, close-knit village.

“We must strive to be like the moon, an old man in Kabati repeated this sentence often, I remember asking my grandmother what the old man meant. She said that people complain when there is too much sun. But she said, no one grumbles when the moon shines. The moon was kind of struggling to stay alive even though these clouds were trying to cover it.You know, my journey was like that, too.”

“My life before the war was very simple but very happy,” he said. “Very peaceful, beautiful, and the people are incredibly kind and nice. I didn’t fear anything. Anything! Nothing at all. A lot, a lot of trust among people; perhaps way more than we should.”

In other parts of his country a civil war was raging and spreading. Still, it seemed far away to the young Ishmael who was most interested in American hip-hop.

“Our community and my father, they would be like, ‘What is going on with these kids,’ you know? Cause we started dressing like that,” he said. “You know sometimes we would talk to each other like, ‘Yo, peace out, son. I’m out.’ And people would be like, ‘What? Like, are you serious?'”

When he was just 12 years old he and his friends left home to perform in a talent contest in a town just miles away. “You know, we had no idea that actually we were leaving home and never to return again, and that things were going to change very quickly,” Ishmael said.

When he and his friends were just 16 miles from home, they found out their village was attacked.
“First of all, we couldn’t believe it because that kind of place we had grown up, we didn’t think anyone would be capable of doing some of the things we had heard people were doing to each other,” he said.

While his village was under attack, Ishmael still tried to go home. When he did, he witnessed horrific images.
“We encountered people running,” he said. “We saw men carrying their dead children in their arms. I saw a man cry for the first time in my life, so this really disturbed me quite a bit. So we decided that, you know, we can’t go back home anymore and decided to wait. Hopefully to see our families would come through but they didn’t come. Maybe they went another way.”
His country was at war and there was no safe haven. So Ishmael and his friends wandered from village to village scrounging for food and water. Weeks stretched into months. And after a year he received some unbelievable news: He finally found out that his family was in the next village. But when he went to find them, he encountered more violence.
“We started hearing gunshots,” Ishmael said. “Pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow. And then we started seeing smoke and we looked around where my family had been. I went in there and there were only like heaps of ashes all over the place, and I know that they had been burned and everything. The pain of knowing what had just happened was so severe that I wished I’d actually been in the village to die with them.”
No longer was there reason to run.
“My friends were actually dragging me along because I’d lost hope,” he said.
Sierra Leone’s civil war started in 1991 with a military coup. As the war escalated, rebels and government soldiers accused each other of vicious brutality against civilians. Differentiating between the good guys and the bad guys was difficult.
Ishmael came upon a village that was being protected by men he thought were the good guys: Government soldiers. There was food, soccer games, places to sleep. It seemed like a happy place, Ishmael said. But the happiness didn’t last long. The army needed soldiers and the recruitment was brutally simple.
“One day they just said, you know if you’re in this village, you’re gonna have to fight, otherwise you can leave,” he said. “That may seem like a choice to someone who doesn’t know the situation. Some people tried to leave, but they were shot.”
Ishmael and his band of brothers were nothing but boys. Their tools for survival were guns and narcotics.
“First, you know, you get your own weapon and everything and the magazines and the bullets, and then they give you drugs,” he said.
They would take cocaine, marijuana and sometimes cocaine mixed with gun powder, known as brown brown. The kids would watch “Rambo,” then head to the killing fields.
“I was descending into this hell so quickly and I just started shooting and that’s what I did for over two years basically,” Ishmael said. “Whoever the commander said, ‘This guy is the enemy,’ there were no questions asked. There was no second guessing because when you ask a question and you say ‘Why,’ they’ll shoot you right away.”
“We had come to believe whatever our commanders were saying about how these other guys didn’t deserve to live, that we were doing the right thing and this group was the only thing that was slightly organized, and so they become like a surrogate family in a weird way,” he said.

His father figure was the lieutenant, who liked Shakespeare. Sometimes Ishmael would talk to him about the play he loved as a child, “Julius Caesar.”

“Well, I did that as a kid, too,” Ishmael said. “I used to recite it in the town square. You know, my dad was very proud of me to do that.”

The bond between Ishmael and his commander may have helped save his life when U.N. workers appeared at the compound. Their mission was to rescue children forced into warfare. They spoke to Ishmael’s commander.

“The lieutenant went around and selected a few of us and said: ‘This man will take you and give you another life,'” Ishmael said. “And they took our weapons from us and we actually felt that we were being pulled from family again.”

Ishmael and other child soldiers were brought to the safety of a rehabilitation center in the capital, Freetown. First there was detoxification to remove the drugs, and then deprogramming.

“Once the drugs wore out, then the memories started kicking in so quickly, you know, what you had been pressed to do was actually so bad, but now you had the consciousness to know that,” he said. “But the people at the center were really absolutely kind to us. And so as time when on, I think this really kind of started making some of us really stop and think, and say these people are genuinely only seeing us as children and nothing more.”

The layers of war and violence slowly shed. Ishmael’s light had not been extinguished. And nearly a year later, Ishmael was selected to speak at the United Nations on behalf of the thousands of child soldiers all over the world.

“So here I was on a plane,” he said. “I’d never been on a plane before. And then we get off the plane and there’s this little things falling. So then I’m like, well, I’ve seen this film about Christmas before with this ‘snow.’ Maybe it’s Christmas here all the time, you know? So I’m trying to find an association with what is going on, what I’ve seen. But everything was so shocking.”

Part of the shock was he was dressed in summer-weight clothing and that caught the eye of New Yorker Laura Simms, who was working at the U.N. conference. On impulse, she gave him her coat. And her dedication to Ishmael continued after the conference ended and he was returned to Sierra Leone, where civil war was still raging.

“And I thought, my God, ‘What if like I had been in the Holocaust 60 years before and somebody had flown me out to speak in New York with a group of kids, put me in a hotel with three meals a day, and then flew me back,” she said.

Which is why Simms decided to get Ishmael out of Sierra Leone and adopt the 16-year-old.
College followed and now, his best-selling book and newfound acclaim.
“I have no idea why I survived,” Ishmael said. “It was either pure luck or God was looking out for me.”
Through it all, he was able to maintain his heart. That, he attributes to his upbringing.
“I was so happy as a kid, I had joy inside me that didn’t completely get wiped out even through the madness,” he said.
Somehow, the child inside the man did not die.

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~ by varun686 on June 11, 2009.

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