When Ishmael first hears that there's a war in his home country of Sierra Leone it seems like it's all happening somewhere else.
Refugees would pass through town sometimes and Ishmael knew they had been attacked. He could also tell they had seen things that they didn't want to talk about. But war wouldn't come to him, would it?
But in January of 1993, when Ishmael is 12 years old, war does finally come to his hometown of Mogbwemo.
One morning, Ishmael leaves home with his older brother, Junior, and his friend, Talloi, who are both 13 years old. The boys are planning to walk to Mattru Jong, a village about 16 miles away, to compete in their friend's talent show.
They're going to rap and dance on stage because all three of them love American hip hop music. They first heard it while visiting the place Ishmael's father worked as a miner (where a bunch of Americans also worked) and got hooked right away.
About 10 miles into their walk, the boys stop at Ishmael's grandmother's house for lunch. She wants them to stay the night, but they decide to keep going. Why waste time when you could be getting ready for epic rap battles?
In Mattru Jong, the boys stay the night and wake up the next morning pretty psyched about the upcoming talent show. It's just a normal day until…
Ishmael's friend comes home from school early with some news—Ishmael's hometown has been attacked by a group of rebels.
It had been mass chaos. People were running everywhere looking for their families and they finally gave up and ran from the gunmen.
People from that town and others start wandering through Mattru Jong; Ishmael and his friends are anxiously looking for their families.
When they don't find them, the three boys decide to head back to Mogbwemo to meet up with their parents and siblings.
Ishmael thinks about his parents. His mother and father aren't married anymore, but he still sees both of them. He thinks about what they would have been doing during the attacks, how they would have been so worried looking for each other and his little brother.
This is not giving us a good feeling.
The next day, the three boys head back towards Mogbwemo. They see people screaming the names of their family members and little children crying out for their moms and dads.
In Ishmael's grandmother's village, the homes are all deserted. Junior starts to wonder if going back to Mogbwemo is such a great idea. We're starting to agree with him.
The boys see a man who's been wounded driving a van. Inside is his entire family—they've all been killed.
At the end of the day, Ishmael sees a woman walking with a baby strapped to her back. The baby has been shot and is bleeding, but the bullet hasn't gone all the way through, so the woman is still alive. Ishmael watches the woman take the baby off her back and cradle her in her arms.
It's then that the boys decide going back to Mogbwemo would be a huge mistake. There's nothing for them there. Their families couldn't possibly be waiting for them.
Ishmael stops here to give a little background on Sierra Leone.
He tells us that the country gained independence from the British in 1961, but by 1968 the All People's Congress (APC) had taken over and declared Sierra Leone a one-party state.
Lately, when Ishmael heard adults talking about the war, they said it was a rebellion against the corrupt government.
But what kind of rebellion shoots innocent babies?
Back in Mattru Jong, the boys try to get information about the war and their families. None of them think the conflict will last long. A few months, maybe? It has to end soon.
Ishmael remembers a saying that his grandmother taught him. "We must strive to be like the moon." After all, everyone loves the moon. It's so calm and peaceful.
After hearing that, Ishmael would study the moon every night.
Even today, when he looks at the moon, he's happy to know he still has some nice memories from his childhood.