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“Maybe you’ll become an astronaut, algún día,” Amama insisted, stroking my cheek lightly with her delicate, aged fingers. Her loving eyes dug deep into mine, reflecting what once was a vibrant, youthful child but is now nothing but an exhausted and worn skeleton of who she used to be. Who she wishes to still be. Only when she smiles could one see the child in her glow again.

We were talking about my birthmark; the one on my face. My grandmother traced it with her soft fingertips, luring my eyes into hers.

“You’ll fly up in a rocket ship and be the first mujer to set foot on la luna.” Her soothing rhythmic words filled my ears, my eyes, mouth, throat, heart. She had a harp instead of lungs that produced notes too pure for ears to take in. I lay there beside her on the couch, nothing but a six-year-old girl who lived by a beautiful basque name, a language older than the pyramids, more ancient than the Colosseum, almost as antique as the stars in the sky. Basque, a near-extinct language we have to preserve, Amama says, a language we should adopt as our own secret one, she keeps telling me. My eyes listened, but my ears were too distracted by her melodious voice.

Like a red smudge from the corner of my eye down to my lip, my birthmark covers some of my right cheek. “Mancha,” I used to insist, “Stain,” as if I could just wipe it off with a wet towel. “Mancha roja.” But Amama would always correct me: “Lunar, Amaia, lunar precioso.”

“You’ll be la primera to discover the dark side of la luna, la primera who dares to do so.” she continued. Her finger became warm on my cheek, but a pleasant kind of warm. A warmth that I knew radiated from within her frail body.

Like a river that cascades down my face, my birthmark flows from the tear gland of my eye, downwards, to end up feeding my mouth like a tributary. It forms a red moon that curves down my cheekbone and that’s where all these fantasies came from; the red moon.

We were lying on the red couch she’s had for too long with peculiar stains that no one could explain. The t.v. was on but only for the sake of replacing the emptiness of the streets during the hour of la siesta. Amama would pick up the hesitation in my childish eyes. “Pero, te lo digo, Amaia, you have some sort of a connection with the moon.”

I believed her then, that I would go up into the great unknown and make her proud someday. I believed her when she said I would be able to talk with extraterrestrial beings because of the moon on my face. I still believed her when she said I would discover something phenomenal as a groundbreaking scientist someday, a scientist by the beautiful Basque name of my own, but the older I grew, the more these fantasies faded.

“Believe me, yo soy tú Amama y Amamas saben todo.”



Ever since I was little, I had trouble sleeping at night. I hated closing my eyes, afraid to sacrifice myself to the monsters that would chase me and tease me by pulling my long hair or poking me with their elongated, twisted fingers; the same monsters that came up from under my bed and out of my closet after the lights died out and my parents kissed me goodnight.

Unable to sleep, I would slip into my parent’s room, after only ten minutes of struggling with the scary beasts that conquered my imagination, hugging my blanket tightly and dragging it along the floor like a rag.

“No puedo dormir – I can’t sleep,” I would often whimper, standing at the foot of my parents’ king-size bed hoping that they’d protect me from my own thoughts and embrace me like they so often did. ∞

∞ “Mira Amaia,” Amama one day told me. It was one of those Sunday mornings where everyone would just ignore the early sunshine knocking at the door and roll over as if it would go away. It was the plague of the laziness that Sundays cast on the entire family, except for my dad, of course, whom I was convinced was the one who shooed the moon away and reminded the sun to rise in the mornings.

Amama shuffled to the breakfast table, revealing a stunning tangle of threads and leather and feathers and beads that formed something magical called un atrapasueños. Even its name sounded like something found in fairy tales.

“Esto,” she beckoned at the dreamcatcher with her eyes, “Esto es un atrapasueños.” Tempting to touch it, my fingers fiddled with the fine feathers as I continued listening to what my grandmother wanted to tell me. The circular frame was crafted with fragile fingers that were skilled at braiding and intertwining threads. The brown leather that bound the strings and wood together had small imperfections that only critics would be able to pick out.

“Y es algo mágico – And it’s something magical,” she would explain.

Aita, was at the table as well, partially ignoring us, still too early for him to interact with others. I could tell he had been up for hours, despite the fact that it was only seven thirty in the morning. He wore his flimsy glasses that clung to his large nose. The same glasses that he only ever wore when reading a good book or watching a nerve-racking soccer game on television. Glasses that I thought made him look older, but he’d claim older wasn’t the right word, but wiser. It would make him look wiser.

My brothers and mother were still lost in the world of dreams when Amama continued talking about el atrapasueños.

“Viene all the way from el País Vasco,” she stated, pleased to see I was already astonished by this gift.

“If you hang this above your bed, right where your head rests on your pillow, it will collect all those bad dreams of yours and only allow the good ones to get to you,” she spoke in a Latin-derived language I had learned through listening and repeating.

“De verdad?” I would more or less whisper to myself, questioning my wise grandmother’s words. My eyes drew the weblike threading in my head, tracing it with my eyes, over and over again, as if it were a labyrinth with no escape. The plastic beads matched the white thread and brown leather, adorning the gift with a glossy texture alongside the plush feathers. Gingerly, I brought it to my room, laying it on the neatly-made covers I was bound to sleep in that night. ∞

 ∞  Nightfall took its time, but when it finally arrived with its familiar pale moon and sparkly stars, I hung el atrapasueños carefully above my bed, just as Amama explained. Clad in my space-themed PJs with planets and green aliens, I got into bed all by myself, waiting for my parents to come in and switch off the lights. So they did, and as they kissed me goodnight, I closed my eyes like I did every night but this time allowed the darkness to envelop me without straining myself against it. Knowing the magic of el atrapasueños would shield me, I allowed the darkness to lull me to sleep and tuck me in. At last finding peace with what scared me most, I was finally able to sleep without my childish fears coming to life. ∞

∞ Even to this day, you can still find the same atrapasueños hung above my bed with its stunning tangle of threads and leather and feathers and beads, just the way I got it seven years ago from Amama.


El Puente

It was one of those summer nights where darkness came too late without an excuse, three hours behind the agreed schedule. The moon was still nowhere to be seen, as if this night forgot to bring it along. The black curtain that was drawn over the sky grew glistening stars, sprinkling the night with glitter that illuminated the dark space it was enclosed by. Down on the earth below, the colors grew dull and blunt as the light vanished with the disappearing sun. In no time, the street lights flickered on emitting a warm yellowness onto the stone cold floors.

The river below bathed in blurry colors that danced to the rhythm of the current, back and forth back and forth like a group of folks dancing Jauziak. Yellow dots floated on the surface, mimicking the glow of streetlights on the sidewalk above. Like fireworks, the colors blended and fused together which made the water take form and come alive as if there was a massive fish, playing in the waves. The coarse stone blocks fought back the playful waves that attempted to climb them as they stood firmly, supervising the river below.

There we were, grandmother and granddaughter, embracing each other with our interlocked arms like two penguins that cuddled for heat. Despite the livelihood of the city around us at this time of night, only the streets echoed the faraway voices of young couples at bars or coworkers inviting each other over for another glass. Before us, a sleepy bridge stretched into the grainy sky, unbothered to even acknowledge us, knowing we were anything but a threat. The suspended cables split the background in fragments like a kaleidoscope, but lacking the figurative color. We were walking across one of the countless bridges found in Bilbao, for the sake of satisfying our sense of savoring the sweet summer air. One of the countless bridges that provided passage for the civilians that needed to cross over a timid river that sliced the landscape in two.

The howling wind licked our faces, leaving droplets of dew from the damp air that lingered around our hometown all year round. With our sweaters hugging our waists, we kept embracing each other, until Amama’s voice interrupted the night’s song.

“No quiero ser vieja, Amaia, I don’t wanna be old,” she sighs. She stopped in her path, finally stilling her worn out legs after a lifetime of non-stop moving. Her eyes glistened, cuddled by her wrinkled skin on her face that stretches out when she smiles. Her mouth was pulled in an awkward grimace that made me wonder whether she was smiling or in pain.

I tried slipping my hand out of hers, but she held on firmly, unwilling to let me go, as if I would just run away or something absurd like that. I could hear the sorrow in her wasted voice as she pronounced those unsteady words that crumbled off her thin lips but penetrated my wobbly heart. The wind kept howling as we stood there, grandmother and granddaughter, but this time facing each other like opponents in a boxing ring.

Unsure how to respond, I just took in the sadness that transmitted through her tight grip, hoping it would ease some of hers. Unable to control my reaction I knew nothing better than to allow my eyes to swell up and form pools of water that blurred my vision of her sorry face. I still don’t know to this day where these tears came from, but all I knew is that I couldn’t bare to see my bright-spirited grandmother’s face intoxicated by misery, a true kind of misery.

Realizing that she’d opened up just a little too much to her naive granddaughter, her gaze apologized instantaneously, hiding her grief behind another mask. She frantically cut off the heartache flowing through our connected fingers and pulled me in for a tight hug. She blinked away a tear or two but none followed after those, settling in the back of her eyes for another day. There we were, grandmother and granddaughter, embracing each other once more on one of the countless bridges found in our hometown, suspended above the timid river that sliced the landscape in two.


Para Siempre

“Can I tell you something,” Amama will say out of nowhere while folding clothes or reading a book or even finishing a crossword puzzle. Her dainty glasses would balance on the edge of her pointy nose, praying not to fall off and shatter into millions of pieces.

“Claro,” I’ll respond.

“You know I love you, right? Te quiero más que cualquier cosa en el planeta.” She’ll pause whatever she’s doing, whether it’s the dishes that she’s cleaning or my brushing my luscious hair, she’ll just look up at me with her pleasant smile. She says it often as if it just would come to her mind and she needed to remind me, just in case I would forget.

I’ll just grin, bearing my pearly white teeth in response, once wonky, but now corrected by metal wires and cables, and let out a sigh, “Si, of course I know that, Amama.”

“Bien. Because I’ll love you para siempre.”


Native Hounds and Termite Mounds

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A Toyota Land Cruiser was the way we drove around the rutted roads, with potholes punctured into the unpaved paths that belonged to the Land of a Thousand Hills. With a V8 gasoline engine and the 32 valves, the motor hummed, gnarled, growled at the passers-bys as it consumed the road underneath it. Kilometer upon kilometer of uneven roads, terrible weather and at either dusk or dawn, our Toyota Land Cruiser persistently moved forward, confident to get to its next destination.

Riding it was like taming a wild horse, passengers always clinging onto the back of the leather-covered seats, afraid to be thrown off. Their nails dug deep into the grey coating which left scratch marks, as if we kept a vicious dog in the back. Anxious of being eaten alive by the monster of a car we had, they would always restrain their bodies and buckle down, even though we were missing a seat belt somewhere in the back. Our Toyota Land Cruiser never liked newcomers. At first sight, the bulky car would intimidate anyone in the right mind, but beneath the layers of paint and metal scrap, our Toyota was nothing but a playful cub.

Nothing but a child myself, I got along with our Toyota. I liked being tossed around in the boot, permitting myself to move with the vehicle. It gave me bruises, scars and even punched out my tooth once, but it made me feel free and wild for the first time. Like a lullaby, the constant twitching and wriggling of our Toyota would rock me to sleep as though soothing a baby.

Like a loyal companion, trustworthy dog, our Toyota Land Cruiser lived up to its name. Despite making a weird rattling noise that came somewhere below the engine, and the manual gearbox hissing violently every time my dad forced it into fourth gear, this wild beast we were all so fond of stayed intact and never disappointed us.

Once, a long time ago, our Toyota Land Cruiser had guided us to Akagera, a national park situated somewhere in Rwanda, the heart of África, right where my heart was at that point. Without a GPS, we miraculously drove the mischievous car into kilometers of unknown roads, some paved by hand, others barely even considered a road. With my dad’s foot never leaving the pedal, the car eagerly urged forward as we clung onto the beast, unfolding dusty, abused maps that were designed to lose people who settled to used them.

Every time we were confronted with an unexpected intersection, Ama would bury her long, Spanish-inherited nose, that she was always self-conscious about as a teen, into the map, studying it thoroughly. The stuffy smell of the untouched map teased our noses, tickling our senses, almost like payback for not having used it in an eternity. Impatiently, our Toyota would be jerked to a halt, but only briefly before it would fight back against my dad’s grasp. Somehow my dad would manage to keep it under control, though.

After three minutes of obnoxious yapping that came from three childish mouths in the back row, Ama would sigh, tuck the map away and hope we would somehow find our way to Mutumba Hills, our destination. Taking a wild guess, the car seemed to take hold of the steering wheel as it stuck to a random side, as though it knew exactly where to go.

After an hour of swatting horseflies, asking if we were there yet, and listening to rustic music from our age-old iPod (The Beach Boys and Earth, Wind & Fire on repeat) our Toyota came to a halt. I remember lifting myself up on the rim of the window with the little strength I had and peering curiously for the first time into the framed painting that replaced the window on my side of the car. A yellow-tinged tapestry was weaved together with the pale, glossy blue sky that seemed to never end. The same kind of blue that I then realized filled my dad’s eyes, a perfect match. No wonder, though, because this is where he belonged, after all.

The humming of the satisfied engine died out without a complaint, and our Toyota was finally able to rest, our little cub worn out of the four-hour car ride, ready for a nap. The exhausted pup let us unload ourselves and our heavy belongings without even a grunt. Before it could start snoring, my dad pat it proudly on the muzzle, hard as rock but as sensible as skin, to thank it. I could’ve sworn he murmured something under his breath, a few words of gratitude, speaking to the car in a harsh language it wouldn’t understand in the first place.

I tugged open the handle at my door, which responded with a simple click. I hopped off of the elevated frame with a pair of inconvenient green crocs clinging to my feet, begging not to touch the filthy soil underneath me. Like a magnet, the scenery attracted me as I tiptoed towards it, succumbing to its strong pull. Overwhelmed by all the colors and shapes, I stood there as if someone pressed mute on me, hands draped alongside my body, mouth open in awe, threatening to swallow one of those nasty horseflies. My eyes widened, wishing they could open up even wider, to take in the picturesque landscape that unfolded beyond me.

The infinite hills grew in every direction, covered in a patchy quilt of dry green puffs and dabs that ranged in every size and form possible. Leaves, trees, bushes, shrubs were braided together to form a rough rim that contrasted the unharmed blue sky, afraid of one day becoming contaminated and sick like its cousins in the cities. The innocent white clouds sailed lazily, avoiding the hills below, only to cast a passive shadow on whatever was going on beneath them, not that they bothered to care anyways.

Here and there the tallest trees poked the sleepiest, low-lying clouds to remind them not to fall asleep, to go back up where they belonged, or else they’d fall down to the earth and threaten to never wake back up again. Rivers carved through valleys, slicing through hills like a knife. A waterfall emerged from behind a mountain, cascading downwards, causing white foam to form at its feet. Even from here, it felt like I could hear the fuzzy, numbing noise of water clashing onto rocks.

Even though my feet were still planted firmly on the floor, my gaze traveled farther than I thought it would dare. Down through the slopes and basins, it flew, into the shimmering lake where it met wading elephants and hippos, and back up into the trees where it swang alongside monkeys. I felt my gaze escaping my body as if it were a spirit that could finally roam around freely without the burden of dragging a body along. It took my heart and soul along with it but didn’t get any further, for I pulled it back quickly before it might realize it wouldn’t want to ever come back again.

Peeling my eyes off the view, I spun around eagerly, ready to explore our temporary home.

“Niet te ver weg lopen, Amaia! – Don’t wander off too far!” my dad called behind me, his voice lighter than ever. His eyes were also bluer than I remembered, compared to the foggy grey eyes he wore to work every day.

“Zal ik niet! – I won’t!” I squeaked.

I skipped along the vast open area, allowing the tops of the lofty grass to nibble my fingertips as I dashed by. My stringy hair fluttered as I sprinted along, creating a brown cape that allowed me to take off. There were no fences or anything enclosing us, protecting us from the wildlife of this Sub-Saharan country; protecting us from the native hounds that would prowl around in search of their next meal, unable to distinguish a gazelle from a lost little girl, and unafraid to devour whichever. Wildflowers flourished between grassy spots and termite hills stretched to the skies, some taller than myself.

Aita once told me about the little critters that inhabited these muddy mounds. Termites. Those pesky, wood-eating bugs that know nothing better than to devour your chairs or tables… or so I thought.

He told me the distances these little fellas would travel just to chop up bits of wood to then carry them all the way back home. They didn’t eat that wood, they just chopped it up. He told me how these little guys were farmers, just like people, and how they planted and fed fungus inside these muddy chimineas they had build all by themselves. The interior was filled with hollow chambers, strategically build to allow fumes to escape out the gaping hole in the top. He told me how ramps and passageways allowed these termites to access rooms where the fungi plantations produced a sweet sugary substance they would then slurp up as a supplement.

Never had I thought that such an ugly mound of mud would be able to disguise such intricacy within.

Making sure not to stray too far from our base, I headed back to the gazebo that stood next to our car, with a thatched roof that became home to bats and birds during the breeding season. Kepa, my youngest brother, was still sound asleep, a 6-year old cozied up on a cushion in the back of the car. Unai, my second youngest brother, had already pulled out his Hot Wheels, building ramps in the dirt, right smack in the middle of the path, unbothered to move.

Hammered into the soil was a timid sign with shy letters that spelled out the name of our campsite: Mutumba Hills. It labeled the imaginary path, lined with only larger rocks on the sides to give some sense of direction. The campsite was what seemed like an elevated plateau home to chatty birds that created a soundtrack that perfectly matched the scenery.

Mutumba Hills, words that sound too good to be true. Suspended on a fancy sign above a full-star hotel golf course, it would be an embarrassment of a name, a waste of one, for sure, knowing that it would only disappoint guests of not fulfilling what beauty its title promised. Only here in Akagera does it take its rightful place, its name reflecting the breath-taking landscape and display it has set out for its guests to dream about.

Mutumba Hills, the place where I first used my pocket knife and where I first sliced my finger open with it as well. I remember bawling my eyes out, cradled by my dad’s secure arms who kept murmuring words I ignored, but I also remember proudly showing everyone the scar that stretched from one side of my palm to the other and up into my thumb. I remember joking with Aita, about how I got into a fight with a lion or wrestled with a crocodile or some bizarre tale we would trick others into believing. We would always wink and giggle at each other, knowing it was our little secret.

Mutumba Hills, where I first learned to make a fire with nothing but dried grass, twigs, and one match. The same place I deciphered the starry sky, long after my bedtime, with Aita as he told me stories of the Little and Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, the Milky Way. Where I build mansions out of leaves for the little ants, or braided grass to form flimsy rope.

Mutumba Hills, I was then convinced, was my home away from home.

The sun finally made its descent as it began to crawl behind the abundance of hills and tucked itself under the cozy blankets of tall grass and savannah trees. Taking the light with it, the sky absorbed any colors it had left as the clouds blushed pink in response. Patches of magentas and lilacs merged with rustic yellows to form a canvas prone to be stolen by a greedy artist one day. The wind prickled our goosebumps, hinting at the chilly nights upon this hill as the sun sunk lower and lower, making space for its sister, the moon.

I could see the warm yellow and orange lights echoed on the tough, abrazed skin of our Toyota Land Cruiser, never again to return to the authentic white coat it once wore. The yellows, became olives and emeralds while the oranges became magentas and mauves as they bent around the still-shiny skin of our dusty car, forming flames and streams of color, that flickered and danced on the glossy coating. From under the hood, I could hear our car humming, purring like a pleased cat near a cozy fireplace. Even though its eyes were shut, lights off, I knew it was secretly peaking at the most gorgeous sunset I had ever witnessed right there on Mutumba Hills.

A Long Way Gone – Reading Response #4


At the very end of the book, Ishmael wraps up his entire experience of being a child soldier with an underlying comparison of his life and a tale that one of his friend’s grandfather had told him and all the other kids in the village. The story goes as follows:


“‘There was a hunter who went into the bush to kill a monkey. He had looked for only a few minutes when he saw a monkey sitting comfortably in the branch of a low tree. The monkey didn’t pay him any attention, not even when his footsteps on the dried leaves rose and fell as he neared. When he was close enough and behind a tree where he could clearly see the monkey, he raised his rifle and aimed. Just when he was about to pull the trigger, the monkey spoke: ‘If you shoot me, your mother will die, and if you don’t, your father will die.’ The monkey resumed its position, chewing its food, and every so often scratched its head or the side of its belly.”


Then the storyteller would confront the kids with a question: “What would you do if you were the hunter?”


Ishmael talks about how the kids tried to be clever and come up with some sort of a way so they could avoid harming anyone as if the story were a trick question, but the storyteller would reject any of the alternative answers they would come up with. When it was his turn to respond, Ishmael said he needed to think about it, but that wasn’t a worthy answer either.


Looking back at the same story, Ishmael finally was able to decide whether or not to shoot the monkey. He came to the conclusion that “if I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament.”


This final part of the book shows just how much of an effect the war has had on Ishmael’s life. After having fought first hand on the field and having experienced inhumane things no one should ever have to experience, Ishmael has decided that he would rather put his family and himself in danger or at risk, just to save the lives of many other hunters who would’ve confronted the same situation. Ishmael would prefer suffering once, himself, rather than having a lot more victims suffer the same consequence.

A Long Way Gone – Reading Response #2


9780374105235_custom-987fac9f97e0a3802dcf801b18a625d7074242c4-s6-c30Recalling traces of his ripped past, Ishmael can only strike up memories that took place during the war, those before seem to have vanished from his head. Many of those imprinted memories morph together to form nightmares that penetrate his sanity constantly.


During the time he served as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, he quickly adapted to the severe demands that came from the Lieutenant and became tough through practice and exposure. After two years of nonstop fighting, Ishmael became what he had once feared as a little boy.


“My nickname was ‘Green Snake’ because I would situate myself in the most advantageous and sneaky position and would take out a whole village from under the tiniest shrub without being noticed. The Lieutenant gave me the name. He said, ‘You don’t look dangerous, but you are, and you blend with nature like a green snake, deceptive and deadly when you want to be.’ I was happy with my name, and on every raid, I made sure I did as my name required.” (pg. 144)


This quote shows us how the Lieutenant had awarded Ishmael with a nickname which tightened their bond a little more and indicated that Ishmael was a worthy soldier, and finally was recognized by someone who seemed to care. The Lieutenant kind of became his father figure, as his true father illy-supported his shattered family and was the reason for the brutal divorce with Ishmael and Junior’s beloved mother and younger brother, as well.


As the Lieutenant would compliment him for his agility as a boy and tactful thinking, Ishmael had accepted his fate and done everything he could to not let his “father” down in disappointment. He had to make sure he “did as (his) name required,” every time he went on a raid with other boys. I noticed that even though Ishmael was afraid to admit it, he liked the fact that he had established a mutual friendship with the Lieutenant, finally feeling like he belonged in some place. He made Ishmael feel invincible, as if he could run away from death, and gave him the perseverance he needed to survive until the end. I wonder if the Lieutenant realized how much it must’ve hurt Ishmael when he “let go” of him and allowed UNICEFF to take him away from the newly founded “home” he was integrated into.


A Long Way Gone – Reading Response #3


As I progressively read through this book, I truly begin to realize how much harm and suffering memories of wartime can bring to an individual, especially to one of such young age. Ishmael lost everyone: first his family, his divorced parents, and brothers, then his close friends and now even those who fought alongside him including the Lieutenant. Having been situated in a rehabilitation center, he must feel like an alien, vulnerable and alone, apart from some other boys who’ve been through a similar storyline. Having been torn apart so many times before, he faces trust issues and isolates himself from others who just want to help.


This tough stage of his childhood during wartime has set up a concrete barrier, impossible to trespass beyond the dreadful phase of battle and bloodshed. Trying to fish for memories before those is hopeless, for the only way to get a glimpse of life before the war is to travel back to the nightmarish past he’s afraid of to this day.


“That night, as I sat on the verandah listening to some of the boys discuss the volleyball game I had missed, I tried to think about my childhood days, but it was impossible, as I began getting flashbacks of the first time I slit a man’s throat. The scene kept surfacing in my memory like lightning on a dark rainy night, and each time it happened, I heard a sharp cry in my head that made my spine hurt.” (pg 161)


This quote above made me realize how lucky many of us are to not have witnessed horrifying events like these as a kid, events that prohibit us to look back at our childhood and associate it with comfort and happiness.I’m aware that this is something that happens still to this day to hundreds of helpless children and I wish I could do something about it.  I can’t even start to imagine how sensitive and paranoid I would’ve turned out to be if that ever occurred in my life. I feel like no matter how much rehabilitation someone is exposed to, they will never fully recover, as the era of war has already sucked the life out of them.


“The scene kept surfacing in my memory like lightning on a dark rainy night, and each time it happened, I heard a sharp cry in my head that made my spine hurt.” The simile in the quote also allows the reading to merely understand what it must be like to have your memories attack you instead of sooth you. The comparison gives us an image of how drastic and shocking it is to have permanent memories, that should only be permitted to be projected in fake Hollywood war movies and not in real life occasions, come alive as a reminder of one’s childhood.

A Long Way Gone – Reading Response











“A Long Way Gone” is a compilation of memoirs written by Ishmael Beah that portrays his childhood that was exchanged for life-threatening wars he fought in as a child soldier in the African country, Sierra Leonne. Haven taken out his family and friends along the way, Ishmael had fled from the rebels for what seemed like forever, hoping to someday find a safe haven, but his fear turned into anger as he sought revenge and agreed on fighting back with force. Scarred by all the blood he had spilled and pain he had inflicted on others, Ishmael’s rehabilitation process is sluggish and the hope of restoring his childhood is close to impossible.


When Ishmael was first recruited by the soldiers to become a fighter, he was nothing but a 13-year-old boy without a choice. Having joined the team, Ishmael bravely set foot into something he’d certainly regret in the future.

“‘It seems that all of you have two things in common,’ the soldier said after he had finished testing all of us. ‘You are afraid of looking a man in the eye and afraid of holding a gun. Your hands tremble as if the gun is pointed at your head.’ He walked up and down the line for a bit and continued: ‘This gun’ – he held the AK-47 high up – ‘will soon belong to you, so you better learn not to be afraid of it.'”

In this quote, the Lieutenant is lecturing the boys on their first most important lesson; the gun is theirs and they must create a brother-like bond with it to survive and must learn not to be afraid of it. Inflicting demeaning words towards their fragile mentalities, the Lieutenant declared how weak they were and was straight to the point, brutal, almost. I was surprised when the Lieutenant just handed over the AK-47s as if he were giving out treats to the boys because these lethal weapons aren’t toys, yet he seemed to dismiss that idea. I am disturbed by the fact that the children were obviously frightened by these mechanical, monstrous weapons, but that the soldiers still treated them like trained men, expecting them to just buff up and get the hang of things before their time came to fight.

I wonder if the boys really knew at that point that they had to prepare for the worst. They couldn’t have even imagined what suffering they were about to go through. It also bothered me how the Lieutenant knew what these boys were about to witness, yet he acted like they would just be able to shrug it all off as if they could be trained to become immune to this appalling war. Despite all the drugs they took in and marijuana they smoked, I knew that the memories of the Warfield would never leave their side, haunting them like an evil spirit for the rest of their lives.


I’ll never begin to understand what Ishmael really went through during this awful time period, but what I can take away from this is that their childhoods were snatched from them, blindly, without them even having noticed.

My glossy, stickerless guitar


My glossy, stickerless guitar

sits in the corner of my room,

begging to be picked up

every now and then.


Last summer I fell in love with this

urban-tinged instrument.

With its slick strings, waiting patiently to be

touched, picked, plucked by my

agile fingers, naive to the unknown chords.


Its melodious vibrations,

sympathetic strums,

acoustic, rusty aftertaste,

take me back to my childhood

When my dad lulled us to sleep,

humming songs I still adore to this day.


My guitar,

hollow like one’s chest, empty, but with

strings like a tongue, allowing it to speak

a language all can hear

but only some can understand.


Lines engraved into fingertips,

printed, stamped as evidence of having played for

hours off end.


Pure notes, rich with passion

produced by memorized patterns.


A false note, repeat; again.

G, C, Em, D…

practice, practice, practice…


My glossy, stickerless guitar,

still sitting there in my room.

Knobs polished white,

strings tightened against its frame.

So serene yet with such potential…




How Bizarre



We were strolling down my neighborhood, hand-in-hand, silhouettes traced against the grainy stone beneath my purple Converse and his blue Vans. His jeans were far too hot to wear, yet he wore them all the time. The same ones with the torn up knees, from when he fell off his skateboard. The skateboard he held firmly in his other hand.

The sun was now almost gone, the moon tucking him under the covers, after a long day of shining bright. Street lights replaced the warm glow with a cold glare, making the night seem a lot colder than it really was. We kept walking, exchanging giggles and smiles. Oh, how I had missed him.

The blue lights were bright, but her eyes were blinding. Like a cat, she prowled through the night, her silver-gray eyes cutting through the dark like headlights. She led me down two streets, up another and guided me to the right. All in the same neighborhood.

I hadn’t seen her in years, even though we face timed very often. But being here, in person, was a whole different feeling. The eerie lights illuminated her hazel locks that rippled and twisted in the gentle breeze. She was shorter than I remembered. Or maybe I just grew. Our pace was steady, like our heartbeats, as we walked to the field of grass she’s mentioned a few times too often. That’s all she talked about, honestly. She said she needed to show me something here.

She gave my hand a quick squeeze as she came to a halt by my side. But I’m just glad we’re here together again. Oh, how I had missed her.

I felt his heat radiate from his body and transfer into mine, like a warm blanket on a chilly night, as he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. We’ve been best friends since kindergarten, and have never wanted to be more than that. I wonder if it’s different now.

Carefully I untangled myself from his soothing grasp and pulled him onto the infinite field of grass.

Her delicate fingers tugged on mine, gesturing me to follow her path.

I’ve known her my whole life and she was always the one to guide the way. She taught me what adventure really was. What “to dare” meant. To risk. To trust. Freedom, oh she made me fall in love with it. Without her, I wouldn’t know what it is to be alive.

Two whole years I’ve been waiting to be reunited. I’ve been dreaming of bringing him here. Showing him my little hideout I’ve used as a refuge all these years.

We ran, cheeks chilled by the autumn wind. The grass around us whistled and rustled creating a pleasant harmony, humming until it numbed our eyes. The familiar scent of pine. Refreshing like a cup of bittersweet tea. Almost there.

I had dropped my skateboard behind me, wondering if I’ll ever go back again. We trespassed the boundaries of the sidewalk, into the unexplored field. A field so large it could easily swallow us whole, leaving no trace but our footprints behind, hidden by the shrubs. We sliced through the darkest night. She held my hand. I held hers.

Almost there, just a few more meters. I subtly slowed my pace as I turned around to face him, still walking backward, placing every step with ease. I reached out for his hands and held on to them firmly, still guiding him with me. Like two dancers, we seemed to swirl around each other in the pitch dark. A few more steps.

She seemed confident. When was she not? But I knew something was about to happen.

And that’s when it did. She spread out her arms and twirled as if she was a serene tornado. From everywhere, millions of tiny light bulbs sparked and drifted into the air. Billions of mini hot-air balloons rose up and up. Swarms of what looked like stars, cuddled us, brushing across our arms and faces.

Not knowing what to do, I just stood there, watching her.

Her eyes were now warm like caramel, enlighted by the clouds of fireflies filling the air. Her hair looked like rivers of gold, flowing down the side of her face, neck, shoulders. And her smile. Oh, her smile. Twinkled with pride. With joy. It flashed happiness and admitted the painful ache of how much she had missed me. Begging me to never let go.

This was what she was dying to show me, and now I know why.

For a second I thought I caught a glimpse of curiosity in her eyes. Like a trick of the light, it flickered on suddenly and went out just as fast. Might’ve just been my imagination. But if it wasn’t, I knew she had more to show me. I wonder if she’ll show me the world some day.



How bizarre the night had been. Peculiar. Like a cliche dream, but deep inside I knew it was all true and that this would just be the first of many nights with him by my side.

Lost in Memory by His Side


Every night I dream

Of seeing him someday.


I miss him.

The words taste bitter on my lips

An ache that’ll never

Slip away from my heart.


The past stuck in a loop,

On repeat, as I’m

Lost in memory.


He’s taller now,

Brown locks, frizzy on his head

Now and then

Rustled by the pristine air.


His eyes just a little deeper than mine, with

Depths I’m willing to dive into head-first.

Pools of hazel-brown

Sprinkled with emerald green leaves.


His warm touch

Around my shoulder,

Sparking a wave of goosebumps

Down my body, to my toes.


His smile,

Oh, his smile…

Blinds me with affection.

I’ll always remember him the same.

A smile like my dad’s

Reconnecting the lines of our past.


How I wish for time to fly by, for once.

So I can break free

From these stiff chains

And discover the world by his side,

To guide each other to the stars,

Make our dreams come true.


But despite the temporary distance,

He’ll never leave my mind, for

Every night I dream

Of seeing him someday again.