Being a soldier anywhere is hard work, but particularly in Africa. While unnamed wars still drag on, the continent is now seeing a bit of a reprieve from the last several decades of fighting seen in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia; the list goes on.
On my last trip to Congo, I was struck one morning by the sight of a child’s sleeping bag rolled up and tied to the back of a soldier’s pack. I’m certain the sleeping bag, with images of soccer balls and teddy bears, was meant for slumber parties and sleepovers instead of for this grown soldier. Perhaps he himself had grown up with bag in toe from when he was once a child soldier.
Either way, it got me to thinking about how soldiers here are used as toys and infantilized to some extent, as they do the bidding for others with little respect or compensation.
Being a soldier in Congo is rough. You often don’t get paid, half of your weapons are broken, you are away from your family and often your homeland. You partake in, and are witness to, such atrocities that would keep you up at night if you hadn’t compartmentalized it for survival’s sake.
You might have been doing this since you were a child soldier, taken from your family and forced to grow up faster than anyone should. You know no other way of life. You have no other options. You are a pawn in the game of war, like a toy soldier off to war.