Boom . . . I woke up and looked out the window. It seemed like a nice day but that soon melted away. There was an explosion, gunshots, more explosions, more gunshots. I knew the sound. I’d heard it before. Living in Africa you get used to these things. But never this loud, this close, and this long.
I ran out and found my mom. She was trying to keep herself busy.
“Stay away from the windows!” she said.
“Just do it.”
I just knew from that tone I should stay away from everything.
Pacing back and forth in the long hallway in the middle of our house, I felt caged in. I was in fifth grade. I can’t handle this. What was happening? More gunshots and explosions echoed off the hills. My mom hung up the phone and came into the hall.
“Where is Dad?” I asked.
“On the roof with Ann,” she replied. “They are trying to find out what is going on and to see where the firing is coming from.”
My dad was the Regional Security Officer for the US Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa. Ann Wright was the Charge d’Affairs.
The phone was ringing off the hook. All our friends and neighbors from all over the city were panicking. What is going on? What should we do? Mom tried to help them as best she could. I kept pacing the hall.
My brother came out from his room. My mom told him to stay calm and stay away from the windows. We sat there in a windowless hall for a couple of hours. Mom tried to entertain us with a game of “Clue.” It lasted about five minutes. Who could think of Miss Scarlet or Professor Plum at a time like this?
Every now and then my dad would come in and use the phone to call Washington.
At about ten AM he said, “We are moving to the other building on the compound.”
We got dressed and went downstairs. The gunshots were louder than ever.
“We are going to have to run,” he commanded.
“One . . . two . . . three . . .”
Off we ran. My dad had my little brother. We ran across the parking lot, down the stairs, past the pool, took a right, and went into the new building.
Safe . . . for now.
We went into the first apartment. There were two young children that lived there. Their mom and dad were officers at the embassy. They were so young they didn’t even know something was wrong. I wished I could be like them.
Lunch was spaghetti—two pieces and I was full. I sat on the couch and watched CNN. It was about us. The update on the Sierra Leone crisis. The government was overthrown. Rebel military was in power. People were driven from their homes, looted, murdered. Fires were being set. Parts of the city were burning. What about my friends? What about my teachers?
Just then I heard a deep, low, loud BOOM. I panicked and broke out in tears. Who wouldn’t? A bomb went off. The air shook. I knew it was close. My dad sprinted in and brought us all into a tiny hall. We just sat there, my mom, the other adults, the kids.
“The rebels have blown out the gate to our compound,” he said. He locked, double-locked and triple-locked us in. He went back out the door and down the stairs. I prayed I would see him again.
Twenty minutes later my dad came back and told us we were OK now. He had given them our car and money. . . I don’t know any more than that. He went right to the phone to talk to the State Department people in Washington.
The memories were foggy after that. We were locked in waiting for help. There was a thunderstorm that night. I thought the thunder was more bombing. When would it end and how would we get out?
There were seven US Army Special Forces up in the jungle outside of Freetown working on an assignment. The next day they made it to our compound in their humvee and set up camp on top of my three-story building. They had enough weaponry there to support a small army. They knew how scared I was and showed me all the stuff they had to keep us safe. I felt better with them around. We were allowed to go back to our house to change our clothes.
I walked quickly toward my house to get out of any harm and noticed some- thing that looked shiny not fifty feet away. I ran over to see what it was. Approaching it my mind was racing. What on earth could it be? (After a few days of intense pressure your mind starts to wander.) The moment I saw it I felt like my heart had stopped beating. I closed my eyes and pictured it lying there for a moment. The top was flattened but I still knew what it was. A bullet head. The little devil was lying there like it ruled the world. That same bullet could have been responsible for the instant death of anyone. My dad, mom, brother, friend, or even myself. I slowly bent down, picked it up, and walked over to the compound wall. Looking at it I slowly aimed and refired it into the air. Over the wall. Out of my life forever. On the other side of the wall I heard the slight “fink” as it hit the tin roof of our next-door neighbor’s house. For some reason I felt good about myself. I felt a sudden change. I fully understood the true hate in the world today.