Think about your childhood for a minute. What comes to mind? Swing sets, sandboxes and popsicles? For most children, their experiences, the ones they remember anyway, are about their favorite toy at Christmas, or their tee-ball team winning a trophy; all the good memories. Maybe some kids remember the harder memories if something tragic happened to them, such as a parent dying, or breaking a leg or even abuse from family. Now imagine a childhood with memories consisting of machetes, AK-47s and grenades. These images, as awful as we may think they are, is a reality that Ishmael Beah lives with everyday of his life.
In our lives, a little scrape on our knees when we were little was the end of the world to us. Breaking a bone, well hey, that’s a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us for a new toy if you don’t scream too much at the hospital. Having the little bumps and bruises makes us who we are today, right? That’s what our parents would tell us when we are growing up, “The hard things in life bring you to be a better person in the end.” Sound familiar?
When your parents tell you that, they probably aren’t thinking that you may possibly be living on your own and killing people by age 13. In their minds, you will grow up to be a doctor or lawyer; not a child soldier, surviving by killing others, and whose security blanket is an AK-47.
Can you begin to imagine where you would be today if you lived as a soldier in a war by age 11? Being constantly on the run, hiding in bushes, eating maybe one piece of fruit a day and taking a bath if no one was around to shoot you? How many people could say that they would be able to survive something of that magnitude at such a young age?
The things that children are seeing today are so unreal for most to think about. The reality is that there are so many children around the world, who witness things that most people will never see, even in movies or TV, in their lifetimes.
It’s easy for an adult to decide to decide to partake in war, not thinking about the consequences for others, especially children. Children are chosen to become soldiers, and basically brainwashed into believing they are killing people for the betterment of their environment. In Ishmael Beah’s last remaining years living in Sierra Leone, he was addicted to drugs, lived for violence and thrived on the fact that tomorrow; he would be able to kill more people.
In his memoirs, Beah never spoke about the true reason he was fighting. At 11-years-old, you aren’t aware of the reasons the war was occurring. All he alluded to was that the rebels were coming, and when they did, you did not want to be there.
After everything he had been through, seeing people beheaded, houses burnt down until there was nothing left salvageable, people shot in the head right next to him and even watching the house his family was supposed to be in, burn down. Having never seen it coming, he lived his life day to day and survived the greatest tragedies a child could possibly endure. Today, he is 27-years-old, a graduate from Oberlin College and lives in New York City.
If everything that happened to Beah happened to you, where do you think you would be today? It’s an interesting concept, but it definitely puts your life into perspective. Why worry about the small things, when much bigger instances could happen tomorrow, and you would never see it coming.