Photojournalist Voeten examines the curious duality of life in a war zone, where he might narrowly escape death in the morning and be offered a shower and cup of coffee in the afternoon.
The author describes a journey to Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. He’s there to photograph demobilized children who were once soldiers but are now cared for by a Catholic charity trying to remold them into regular boys and girls. Ironically, most of the kids want to be fighters when they grow up. Other ironies abound in a West African country where rebels are terrorizing the people in order to oust a government that terrorizes the people. A common greeting in the street is “How de body?” It’s a local version of “How are you?” but it has acquired a nasty resonance in Sierra Leone, where many people have had one or more limbs chopped off. Despite the horrors of his subject matter, Voeten’s fresh, punchy prose rarely becomes sentimental. He is compassionate toward the people of Sierra Leone and toward his readers, who will be grateful that he provides short chapters with tangents on the bigger picture surrounding the country’s plight. His analysis of the history of amputation during wartime, for example, keeps in touch with the dreadful topic but gives them a break from the grim story at hand. Those interested in journalism will find this memoir exhilarating. From what he packs into his suitcase, to his bout with post-traumatic stress disorder, Voeten always finds a way to come back to his private concerns as a foreign correspondent looking out for a story. When the two story-streams coincide, the effect is powerful. In the thick of the tale, his audience will feel the same tension Voeten experienced when he was hiding away from rebels bent on killing all foreigners in their path.
A heroic portrayal of an overlooked, blood-soaked corner of the world.