How de Body?: One Man's Terrifying Journey Through an African War

Overview

In 1998, acclaimed photojournalist Teun Voeten headed to Sierra Leone for what he thought would be a standard assignment on the child soldiers there. But the cease-fire ended just as he arrived, and the clash between the military junta and the West African peace-keeping troops forced him to hide in the bush from rebels who were intent on killing him.

How de Body? ("how are you?" in Sierra Leone's Creole English) is a dramatic account of the conflict that has been raging in the ...

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Overview

In 1998, acclaimed photojournalist Teun Voeten headed to Sierra Leone for what he thought would be a standard assignment on the child soldiers there. But the cease-fire ended just as he arrived, and the clash between the military junta and the West African peace-keeping troops forced him to hide in the bush from rebels who were intent on killing him.

How de Body? ("how are you?" in Sierra Leone's Creole English) is a dramatic account of the conflict that has been raging in the country for nearly a decade-and how Voeten nearly became a casualty of it. Accessible and conversational, it's a look into the dangerous diamond trade that fuels the conflict, the legacy of war practices such as forced amputations, the tragic use of child soldiers, and more. The book is also a tribute to the people who never make the headlines: Eddy Smith, a BBC correspondent who eventually helps Voeten escape; Alfred Kanu, a school principal who risks his life to keep his students and teachers going amidst the bullets and raids; and Padre Victor, who runs a safe haven for ex-child soldiers; among others.

Featuring Voeten's stunning black-and-white photos from his multiple trips to the conflict area, How de Body? is a crucial testament to a relatively unknown tragedy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There are few, if any, journalists I admire as much as Voeten. His narrow escape from the rebels in Sierra Leone is one of the most harrowing tales I've heard in a long time. He writes with compassion and understated dignity about a complicated civil war that has taken thousands of lives and nearly cost him his own."—Sebastian Junger

"Teun Voeten has rendered a powerful portrait of the people of Sierra Leone—their extraordinary strength and forgiveness—that leaves the reader both amazed and hopeful at the resiliency of the human spirit."—Scott Anderson, war correspondent and author of The Man Who Tried to Save the World

"Fluent, reflective, often funny, and always humane, Teun Voeten has given us close-up insights into a horrible war through the prism of his own terrifying experiences."—Andrew Cockburn, National Geographic writer and author of Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein

"Exhilarating . . . 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."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Voeten is confronted with the gigantic contradictions of Western indifference and compassion and of atrocities beyond imagination and a compelling hope, as well as a love toward strangers that helps save his life . . . The author witnesses the horrendous acts of the rebels and their leaders, now protected by the UN forces as official leaders in the negotiated peace settlements. He has written an exciting adventure that educates the West to one of the many wars about which we cannot afford to be indifferent."—Vernon Ford, Booklist

Sebastian Junger
There are few, if any, journalists I admire as much as Voeten. He is the real thing.
Scott Anderson
A powerful portrait...that leaves the reader both amazed and hopeful at the resiliency of the human spirit.
Andrew Cockburn
Fluent, reflective, often funny, and always humane, ...close-up insights into a horrible war...
Publishers Weekly
The title of this harrowing journey through war-torn Sierra Leone means how are you? in pidgin English; as photojournalist Voeten shows in his dramatic but incomplete work of war reportage, Sierra Leone isn't doing well and neither is he, after a 1998 trip there. On assignment to photograph child soldiers, Voeten finds himself in the midst of a war between a military junta and West African peacekeeping troops. After nearly being killed by a gun-toting teenager, he goes into hiding for two weeks: I feel like a fox running from hounds and curse the soldiers who won't give me a moment's peace. His disappearance makes him something of a cause celebre several of his colleagues are planning to mount a search and rescue but he's eventually able to leave the country. Yet that's just the beginning of Voeten's involvement with the impoverished African nation. Despite suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he returns to Sierra Leone, and it is in recounting these times that the book weakens. Voeten doesn't delve beneath the surface of his interest in Sierra Leone; he fails to give readers even a basic history of the country or to reflect on what makes journalists willing to risk their lives to report from there. He also neglects to sufficiently describe his PTSD or how his multiple returns to Sierra Leone affect it. By not answering these questions, Voeten ends up with merely a frightening travelogue of a depressing country and one inelegantly written at that. The photos, which may be the book's highlight, were not seen by PW. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Voeten, an acclaimed photojournalist, writes about the ferocity of the eight-year civil war in Sierra Leone, a former British colony in West Africa. Once referred to as "The White Man's Grave," it is a country endowed with very hospitable people and mineral wealth gold, silver, and, in particular, diamonds, which "literally lie there waiting to be picked up." The abundance of diamonds has sown greed among the major ethnic groups and has also attracted an international consortium of criminals, arms dealers, mercenaries, and drug barons. Control of these diamonds is the cause and fuel of the war. Voeten was sent to cover the use of child soldiers by the rebels and in the process got caught in the middle of the warring factions and almost lost his life. He has covered many civil wars in other places, and references and comparisons are constantly made to other war-torn countries. Thousands of children were kidnapped by the rebels and conscripted as soldiers, bearers, and cannon fodder. Special amputation squads hacked off arms, hands, or legs to sow terror and avenge the rebels' defeat. Such mass amputations were compared to those done by Belgian colonizers in the former Congo. Throughout How De Body? ("How are you?" in pidgin English), Voeten, relief workers, missionaries, and human rights activists ruminate on the extent of savagery during the eight-year period. Voeten is also fascinated by the courage, strength, and hospitality of Sierra Leoneans. The author, however, exposes his own biases by using words such as natives, thick lips, bastards, fat, and the like in the first chapter. Overall, this is a very interesting but depressing narrative of the atrocities of a civil war characterized by greed and wealth. Recommended for public libraries and those interested in African politics and civil wars in general. Edward G. McCormack, Cox Lib. & Media Ctr., Univ. of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast, Long Beach Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 whenhe 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312282196
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/24/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 9.68 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Teun Voeten studied cultural anthropology in the Netherlands, after which he started to cover the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Rwanda, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Haiti, and Columbia. His work has been published in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, National Geographic, and Granta, and has been used by organizations such as the United Nations, the International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and Human Right Watch. He divides his time between New York and Brussels.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 Chronicle of a Failed Reportage: Sierra Leone, February/March 1998
1. At the Border 3
2. In Search of Child Soldiers 12
3. Welcome to Makeni 21
4. Friday the Thirteenth 37
5. Trouble Has Started 46
6. Eddie Will Fix It 56
7. Bandanna and Coconut 61
8. What Went Through My Head 65
9. Right Makkah to the Rescue 68
10. Between Dream and Deed 73
11. Stopover in Kalangba 76
12. Clash of Civilizations 80
13. Information and Palm Wine 84
14. Unexpected Visitors 91
15. Waiting 100
16. The Road to Freedom 106
17. The Day of Reckoning 114
Part 2 Peace and Quiet: Brussels, March/April 1998
18. Hypertrophy Plasmodium 125
19. Everything Is PTSD 127
20. News of Eddie 129
Part 3 Strictly Business: Sierra Leone, April 1999
21. By Land, Sea, or Air? 135
22. Welcome to the Nuthouse 144
23. Dem Bats Beaucoup 157
24. CO Cuthands 167
25. The Spin Doctor 176
26. Press Trips 180
Part 4 Peace in Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone, December 1999
27. Testimony of Hope 189
28. Let We Forgive 205
29. Getting Away with Murder 214
30. Cease-Beating 223
31. Tjuz Piz! 229
32. The New Water 242
Part 5 Attempts at Analysis: Brussels, Freetown, Wageningen, Antwerp, Bo, December 1999-March 2000
33. Indulging the Young Ones 257
34. Frankenstein's Monster 265
35. Weird Folks 274
36. Lois and Mambu 280
Afterword 283
Notes 289
Important Dates in the History of Sierra Leone 301
Sources 305
A Word of Thanks 307
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