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A Long Way Gone - Introduction (Pre-reading)

Ishmael Beah: the story before the story

Marshall Kratter

on 24 August 2015

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Transcript of A Long Way Gone - Introduction (Pre-reading)

The story before the story
Ishmael was born on November 23, 1980.
In 1997, he moved to America to live with his foster mother in New York City.
He completed high school at the United National International School, then went to Oberlin College in Ohio.
Ishmael grew up in Sierra Leone, which is on the west coast of Africa.
"Unity, Freedom, Justice"
Although beautiful,
Sierra Leone
has been the home of a
brutal civil war
, which began in 1991.

RUF (Revolutionary United Front)
was a rebel army that recruited and brainwashed child soldiers to fight their war.
Ishmael's parents and two brothers were killed in the war.

Soon after their deaths, he was recruited to the RUF as a child soldier.
He was 13 years old.
When Ishmael was 11 years old, his life was changed drastically with the onslaught of a violent civil war.
The RUF glorified their do-as-we-want lifestyle to entice youth to join their cause. If that didn't work, they would force the children to join. Some accounts detail children having to murder their own parents under RUF orders.

They encouraged and forced the use of marijuana and methamphetamines to influence and and sway the youth's opinions and beliefs.
The RUF were known for cutting off the limbs of those not in support. The slogan of the government at the time was, "people have the power in their hands," referring to their right to vote. The RUF cut arms and hands off to prevent voting. Contrary to belief though, they wouldn't dismember limbs as disciplinary action because it rendered people useless (they needed soldiers and miners).
Diamonds were a double edged sword. On one hand, finding and selling a diamond could assure a person's freedom and way out of Sierra Leone. On the other hand, and more likely, was that miners would become slaves working to find diamonds for the RUF.
Diamonds that are sold, traded, or purchased that help fund the efforts of violent army's activities (knowingly or unknowingly).
Ishmael is currently an advocate and speaker for humanitarians, specifically for children.
He's collaborated with dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, and General Kofi Annan. He's also a member of Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Division Committee.
Ishmael fought as a child soldier with the RUF for two years before being removed by UNICEF.
UNICEF (United National International Children's Emergency Fund) is an agency of the UN established in 1946 to help governments improve health and education of children and their mothers.
When UNICEF removed Ishmael from the war, he was placed in a rehabilitation home in Freetown.
A Long Way Gone recounts the horrors and implications of children who are on the front lines of a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone's Music
There are four genres of music that are most prevalent in Sierra Leone:
Known as MARINGA, it was most popular in the 1950's and 1960's.
Called "music of West Africa" uses percussion fuzed with jazz music.
Combination of funk and soul that began in the 1970's.
Influences such as rap, reggae, dancehall and R&B are impacting the music of Sierra Leone.
Sooliman E. Rogie
was a politically aware musician from Sierra Leone.
Music About Sierra Leone
The Importance of Music
Shine On:
Conflict Diamonds:
Lupe Fiasco
Blood Diamonds:
Diamonds From Sierra Leone:

Kanye West and Jay-Z
Why did I only choose to include rap songs?
Who or what group of people does rap music affect and influence most?
Pay attention to how music and sound as it is used in
A Long Way Gone
Who is affected by it and in what ways?
Ishmael, our author, was part of this army of young soldiers
Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone and is the home to almost 1 million people, who speak a language called Krio.
"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"
"Because there is a war."
"Did you witness some of the fighting?"
"Everyone in the country did."
"You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"
"Yes, all the time."
I smile a little.
"You should tell us about it
"Yes, sometime."
Let's open the book...
"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"
"Because there is a war."
"Did you witness some of the fighting?"
"Everyone in the country did."
"You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"
"Yes, all the time."
Full transcript