What you help a child to love can be more important than what you help him to learn. ~African proverb
Surprisingly I’ve never gotten any flack from concerned parents that my book has been too violent for their kids. I was expecting some, and even had some trepidation that there would be a mass of parents rallying around a school one day while my books were being used to feed an ever growing bonfire. But it appears parents want their kids to be exposed to the happenings in the world. And that is a good thing.
Michel Chikwanine, a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is sharing his message to an even younger audience. He’s written a graphic novel, Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War, that’s aimed towards 10 to 14 year olds. It’s a good read. Horrid truths surrounded by a message of hope and new life, it shares Chikwanine’s story when, at the age of five, he was forced to kill his best friend.
I can’t help but imagine the impact this story is having on the children in the classroom and the teachers who are reading this book. I’m sure there’s plenty of discussion afterwards, some tears, some anger, and lots of confusion. And that is also a good thing.
If you want to learn more about Chikwanine’s story click here.
If you wish to check out his book click here.
It’s been four years since I met Dave and the hair still stands up on the back of my neck when I think of our first encounter.
It all started when I took my computer to a shop for some virus purging. Nasty bugger snuck in to one of my emails and took over the computer within seconds leaving a huge smiley face on the screen. I did not smile back.
Dropping the computer off at a shop I was told it should be ready the next day, but when I arrived there after work I was told that they still needed a couple more hours to fix the mess. Okay. Now I had to kill two hours, not hard to do.
Grabbing some of my research books I walked over to Chapters for a cup of tea and some serious reading. Cozying up in one of the big arm chairs by the fireplace I got to work. Sip. Read. Sip. Read. But it was not enjoyable reading. Matter of fact I was having trouble taking it all in. I was reading Pawns of Politics: children, conflict and peace in northern Uganda and the stories of Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army and their abduction of tens of thousands of children was making me sick.
I jotted down notes, highlighted sections and learned more about this insane man. The story that a young child told of his abduction when he was seven years old made me want to find this Kony man and give him a front row seat to a firing squad. And when I read about the many girls he and his army used as sex slaves to create a new generation of soldiers I wanted to – well it’s best not to say what my mind was thinking then. I am, after all, a teacher.
Then I read that Kony is from the Acholi tribe and his first language is Luo. In my story a young girl wakes up after spending the night huddled and tied to the rest of the children who were abducted from her village and sings a song. She is trying to calm herself and reassure herself that goodness will prevail despite what has happened to her and her family and friends since the LRA invaded their village two days ago. She asks the Ugandan sun to shine on the children and not to forget them. It’s rather a pretty song.
But the song was in English and it needed to be sung in Luo. How was I going to do that? I knew Google or any other translating site would never have a language translator for an uncommon and virtually unknown language from a small region of Africa. And the possibility of finding someone in Canada who spoke Luo would be next to impossible. I thought of calling on the Multicultural Association and World Vision, the humanitarian organization I volunteer for, to see if they had any contacts. But, I reasoned with myself, it would be another long shot.
“Oh, well,” I told myself, “I’ll figure something out.”
Looking at my watch I saw I had enough time to pick up my daughter after her wrestling practice and make it to the shop. Fifteen minutes later my daughter and I were in the store waiting in line.
There were a few people ahead of us so while we waited I struck up a conversation with the man ahead of me. He was very tall, standing at least a foot over me, and his skin was very black.
Apparently his computer was hit by the same virus.
“Don’t worry,” I tried to reassure him. “Same thing happened to mine and they were able to fix it.”
“That is good,” he said. He had a lovely accent. I continued our conversation, eager to hear his sing-song voice some more.
After talking about the weather and other things strangers chat about to pass the time I finally said, “I love your accent. Where are you from?”
He said, “Uganda.”
I paused and then I said, “Where abouts in Uganda.”
He looked at me quite strangely. Not only did I appear to know where Uganda was, but I appeared to know a bit about his country’s geography.
“Oh,” he said, “up north”
“Oh,” I probed, “Are you from Gulu, then?”
“Yes,” he said, looking as perplexed as ever. “I am.”
“Then do you speak Luo?”
“Yes,” he said.
I hugged him right then and there.
And that’s how it happened. I had found someone to translate my song.
As it turned out, Dave was only in Thunder Bay for a couple of months. He was doing some contract work and would be returning back home to Montreal come spring time. If I had not been in that computer shop on that day at that time I doubt if I would have ever met up with him.
We got together a couple of times and went through the book. He told me stories about growing up in Uganda and I listened. We kept in touch for awhile but somehow we’ve lost contact with each other. But I will never forget that day, when a computer virus lead to a “chance” encounter with a very tall, very wonderful man who was from the Acholi tribe in Gulu, Uganda, and spoke Luo.
One of the interesting parts of writing my novel, Bullets, Blood and Stones: the journey of a child soldier, has been doing the research. Travelling to Uganda on two occasions, interviewing former child soldiers and going on a safari in the northern savannah has provided me with loads of material. But there are times when I have to rely on that new fangled encyclopedic source of all knowledge: the internet.
So I have googled such things as:
- How to disassemble, reassemble and load an AK-47
- How to set a land mine
- What happens to a person as they are hung, when they are shot
And my favourite:
- What does a dead body smell like after 3 days?
I chuckle at the thought of some police authority confiscating my computer and doing a history check. Just may set me up for some heavy interrogation in a room with a one way mirror.
I’ve tried out a few guns too, which makes my husband, son, and brother, who are all avid hunters, laugh. I could never kill anything in my life. But I have tried out an AK-47 in Uganda (Shh. Don’t tell. Totally illegal.) And an SKS that my son somehow got a hold of, complete with bayonet for up close combat. And I have my sights set on going to the West Edmonton Mall someday and going to their indoor shooting range to try my hands on a PSA 7.5″ AR-15 w/Holosun Red Dot.
Guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re going to write about something, you need to do the research, and if it means going out of your comfort zone, then so be it. Besides, there’s always some pretty interesting things that happen along the way. Like meeting really amazing people and elephants and monkeys. Yes monkeys. But that’s another story.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.