Study Guide

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Chapter 21

By Ishmael Beah

Chapter 21

  • Ishmael tells his family all about New York City when he heads back. They're all pretty impressed.
  • Life is good for a while. Mohamed is living with Ishmael and both boys start attending school again. The other kids in class are leery about sitting next to them, but Ishmael is just excited to be learning again.
  • On May 25, 1997, everything's turned upside-down again.
  • Ishmael and his family can hear gunshots in the streets. Later, they find out that the rebel army has overthrown the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone. These guys are in control again and they've taken Freetown.
  • This is not good for lots of reasons. Rebel soldiers are roaming the streets raiding houses and killing people. Soon folks can't get any more food.
  • One day, Ishmael and Mohamed sneak out to get food and are almost killed in another gunfight when they run into rebel soldiers patrolling the streets. When they come back home safe, Ishmael's uncle is frantic.
  • This goes on for five months.
  • Before the fighting began again, Ishmael had kept contact with Laura, but now he hasn't been able to reach her by phone or letter.
  • Uncle Tommy gets sick. There's no hospitals or doctors or medicine, and one night, Ishmael's uncle dies in his arms.
  • Ishmael is panicked. He can't live like this again. He's terrified that the rebels will force him to join the army again. Or, if he refuses, they'll kill him.
  • Finally, Ishmael is able to get a call to Laura. If he is able to get to New York City, can he stay with her? Stay with her… forever?
  • She says yes, of course, and Ishmael starts to prepare to leave Freetown. He tells Mohamed to let his aunt know where he's gone once she gets over her grief about Tommy.
  • Ishmael takes a small bag and some money and makes his way to a bus station. He needs to get into Conakry, the capital of Guinea, where there's no fighting and where he thinks he can get on a plane to New York.
  • The trip is long and dangerous. There are tons of checkpoints; armed soldiers search the passengers' belongings demanding money or loot in order to stamp passports.
  • Ishmael is sickened to see his fellow countrymen benefitting from everyone's distress and fear.
  • Finally, Ishmael arrives in Conakry and heads to the Sierra Leone embassy. There, he's finally able to relax.
  • He also overhears a woman telling her children a story. It's a story he knows well from his childhood. It goes like this:
  • One day, a hunter goes out into the bush and comes across a monkey that he'd like to shoot. But before he has the chance, the monkey turns to him and says, "If you shoot me, your mother will die, and if you don't, your father will die." At the end of the story, the storyteller would always ask the children what would they do.
  • So, yeah, this is a tough question to answer. The kids in Ishmael's village could never really come up with a good answer. Who wanted their mother or their father to die? How could you ever choose?
  • But even back then Ishmael knew what he would do. He never told his mother because he wasn't sure how she would feel, but he knew that if it were him, he would shoot the monkey. That way, the monkey would never be able to make another hunter face the same terrible choice.

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