Lethargy and a Monkey: Reflections on Ishmael Beah

Looking back on this book, I loved reading it. I have enjoyed memoirs since being given two memoirs on Jonestown Survivors freshman year of college in a Introduction to Religious Studies class. Memoirs bring me to the authors view and reflection on their situation and share me the experience of being where they saw evil, good, or simply life. Beah’s experiences in the Sierra Leonese Civil War during the 1990’s were brought to me from his eyes. While Beah was reflecting on his situation, I was able to grasp some understanding on this English-speaking country experiencing war.

One of the things that stood out most to me was the references to what I view as my culture’s items. In particular, that would be the usage of Action Movies as entertainment and almost training for young child soldiers and the use of 90’s rap and hip hop being used as a survival tool for Beah and his friends to survive in the harshness of Sierra Leone’s war. War has never been a part of my life living in the United States, yet I know of the influence of war. The glorification of war and violence, and in this case through Rambo and Commando. Both of these movies I had seen with my father as a part of seeing the “classic” 80’s action movie. These were simply entertainment to me, never were they a source of inspiration in combat. These movies are ones I enjoyed with my father being a bonding situation, not preparation for war like Beah experienced. I recall a similar occurrence last year while dealing with the Bosnian Genocide and the clothing that the individuals wore to their death. A San Francisco 49ers Jacket, Levi Jeans, and other various clothing materials I see every day in my American life. These items ground the experience in my mind and help me to visualize the conflicts. Schwarzenegger’s thick Austrian accent, Stallone’s unique drawl, the 49ers 1990’s super bowl dynasty, they all bring me back to the present and help me to relate to the situation.

Furthermore, I saw the other side of disaster: hope. Esther is that hope for me. An aide worker who gives everything she can to help bring Beah back to reality. She reminds me of the work my mother did when she was a school nurse. Regardless of the situation she was there to hear you out and bring things to help one cope or adapt. Esther brought Beah back into being a child more than he could ever expect. Her patience and stubbornness were crucial for Beah’s rehabilitation. My mother was the same way with the Nepalese and Bhutanese immigrants to Aurora, CO. She worked with them and helped them in the United States picking up on some Nepalese and learning their everyday life. She keeps poetry some of them wrote on the refrigerator, next to pictures of my siblings and me. That is hope. Hope is bringing things back and looking towards the future despite the situation. Whether a war zone in Freetown, Sierra Leone or a school in Aurora, CO, hope exists.

While in group discussion something I noticed in particular was lethargy. This subject is exhausting and taking it from the point of view of a survivor and victim is exhausting. I felt this my first time when watching and reading about Jonestown. My gut wrapped itself and the nausea was insufferable. Yet, despite this tragedy good came out of it. There is always a realization from every single tragedy and learning from it. We as a collective society in the world may never learn from a single tragedy, but each tragedy makes us all a little more informed. I am comfortable reading memoirs despite the content and the situation. I am not apathetic towards this topic, I have just learned that I need to approach my empathy with another way. I want to teach and write about how these tragedies have affected communities and how they have changed since then. Lethargy struck me in particular with Jonestown but as I lectured others and spoke them through the situation I began to feel the response I wanted to feel. I felt the accomplishment of making this tragedy learned and we would be one step closer to establishing that things like these will not happen again. This is why I often approach tragedy on a timeline to learn what allowed for this situation to happen and what has happened since. I find it a perfect way to deal with fatigue, or as I like to call it lethargy.

Lastly I want to talk about Beah’s Monkey story. It is essentially as follows: the monkey says to the hunter (Beah in the situation), “If you shoot me, your mother will die, and if you don’t, your father will die.” Beah’s experience led him answering that he would shoot the monkey to make sure no one else feels the pain. This utilitarian approach giving the good for the many is an example of supreme martyrdom. It is unselfish and it makes it so that no one is destroyed by this situation. Only one person suffers and goes on to tell the tale of the destructive and evil monkey. He chooses the informed opinion, the opinion of an individual who has seen evil. This choice makes me stress the importance of learning even more as this is seemingly not a first thought situation. This is the influence of one who’s life has been changed and shattered by a war like this.

I want to end this with a song I listened to while writing this post: Fake Happy by Paramore. I chose this song because I like to give the idea that I am not exhausted by this content and that I can speak about it forever, but it is fake. I suffer from the lethargy as much as the next person. It just takes a bit to catch up to me.

Fake Happy- Paramore