"A Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah, Chapters 1–5

Conscripted by the army at the age of 13, Ishmael Beah was forced to fight in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war. In this memoir, Beah shines a light on the experiences of child soldiers.

Here are links to our lists for the book: Chapters 1–5, Chapters 6–10, Chapters 11–15, Chapters 16–21

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. refugee
    an exile who flees for safety
    Some people felt sorry for them and offered them places to stay, but most of the refugees refused, because they said the war would eventually reach our town.
  2. plague
    annoy continually or chronically
    Apart from their fatigue and malnourishment, it was evident they had seen something that plagued their minds, something that we would refuse to accept if they told us all of it.
  3. capacity
    capability to perform or produce
    My imagination at ten years old didn't have the capacity to grasp what had taken away the happiness of the refugees.
  4. indication
    something that serves to suggest
    Fathers had come running from their workplaces, only to stand in front of their empty houses with no indication of where their families had gone.
  5. intensify
    increase in extent
    And as the gunfire intensified, people gave up looking for their loved ones and ran out of town.
  6. laden
    filled with a great quantity
    “How is that father of yours treating you these days?” she asked in a sweet voice that was laden with worry.
  7. evade
    avoid or try to avoid fulfilling, answering, or performing
    “Why are you going to Mattru Jong, if not for school? And why do you look so skinny?” she continued asking, but we evaded her questions.
  8. chaotic
    completely unordered and unpredictable and confusing
    They said the attack had been too sudden, too chaotic; that everyone had fled in different directions in total confusion.
  9. anxious
    causing or fraught with or showing anxiety
    For more than three hours, we stayed at the wharf, anxiously waiting and expecting either to see our families or to talk to someone who had seen them.
  10. wail
    a cry of sorrow and grief
    Their whispers, the cries of little children seeking lost parents and tired of walking, and the wails of hungry babies replaced the evening songs of crickets and birds.
  11. console
    give moral or emotional strength to
    The only thing that consoled him, for a few seconds at least, was when the woman who had embraced him, and now cried with him, told him that at least he would have the chance to bury them.
  12. casualty
    someone injured or killed in an accident
    The last casualty that we saw that evening was a woman who carried her baby on her back.
  13. coup
    a sudden and decisive change of government by force
    His half brother Sir Albert Margai succeeded him until 1967, when Siaka Stevens, the All People’s Congress (APC) Party leader, won the election, which was followed by a military coup.
  14. deploy
    place troops or weapons in battle formation
    Government troops were deployed in Mattru Jong, and they erected checkpoints at the wharf and other strategic locations all over town.
  15. stammer
    speak haltingly
    “I heard that the soldiers are already on their way to get the rebels out of the mining areas,” Gibrilla stammered.
  16. evoke
    call forth, as an emotion, feeling, or response
    I closed my eyes, and the images from Kabati flashed in my mind. I tried to drive them out by evoking older memories of Kabati before the war.
  17. resonate
    produce a deep, clear sound
    The echoes resonated in the village, causing birds to fly off and return curiously chattering.
  18. strive
    exert much effort or energy
    "We must strive to be like the moon."
  19. adage
    a condensed but memorable saying embodying an important fact
    She explained that the adage served to remind people to always be on their best behavior and to be good to others.
  20. embedded
    inserted as an integral part of a surrounding whole
    Whenever I get a chance to observe the moon now, I still see those same images I saw when I was six, and it pleases me to know that that part of my childhood is still embedded in me.
  21. shudder
    an involuntary vibration, as if from illness or fear
    A shudder racked my body, and I tried to think about my new life in New York City, where I had been for over a month.
  22. adjoin
    lie adjacent to another or share a boundary
    As soon as we left the coffee farm, we unexpectedly ran into another armed group at a soccer field adjoining the ruins of what had once been a village.
  23. anticipated
    expected hopefully
    We were in Mattru Jong longer than we had anticipated.
  24. miserable
    very unhappy
    When people received the message from the miserable messenger, they went into hiding in the forest that very night.
  25. subsequent
    following in time or order
    But Khalilou’s family had asked us to stay behind and follow them with the rest of their property if things didn’t improve in the subsequent days, so we stayed put.
  26. vain
    unproductive of success
    Mothers were screaming the names of their lost children, and the lost children cried in vain.
  27. adjacent
    having a common boundary or edge
    In order to get to the escape route, we had to cross a wet and muddy swamp that was adjacent to a tiny hill.
  28. intervention
    care provided to improve a situation
    This way they could stay longer, as military intervention would be delayed.
  29. scarred
    deeply affected or marked by mental or physical pain
    This not only meant that you were scarred for life but that you could never escape from them
  30. militant
    engaged in war
    escaping with the carving of the rebels’ initials was asking for death, as soldiers would kill you without any questions and militant civilians would do the same.
  31. barren
    providing no shelter or sustenance
    On our way through the quiet and almost barren town, which now seemed unfamiliar, we saw rotten pots of food that had been left behind.
  32. pestle
    a hand tool for grinding and mixing substances in a mortar
    They were escorting a group of young women who carried cooking pots, bags of rice, mortars and pestles.
  33. clench
    squeeze together tightly
    He breathed heavily, clenching his fists.
  34. waft
    be driven or carried along, as by the air
    We high-fived each other as we approached the village market, and our stomachs growled as the smell of palm oil wafted from cooking huts.
  35. parched
    dried out by heat or excessive exposure to sunlight
    Our lips became parched and our joints weakened and ached.
  36. ravage
    make a pillaging or destructive raid on, as in wartime
    The one cassava farm that we ravaged didn’t last long.
  37. scabbard
    a sheath for a sword or dagger or bayonet
    The younger rebel raised my head with his bayonet, still in its scabbard.
  38. interrogate
    pose a series of questions to
    All the captives stood at gunpoint watching as the rebels proceeded to interrogate the old man.
  39. involuntarily
    against your will
    I was so certain at this point that my voice involuntarily left me: “Junior, Talloi, Kaloko, Gibrilla, Khalilou. Is that you?”
  40. ponder
    reflect deeply on a subject
    Everyone seemed to be in a different world or seemed to be pondering something.

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