[2/4] I spent 9 months as a child soldier. Being a soldier is not an easy experience. It is very tough and traumatizing, witnessing people die in front of you and the uncertainty of whether you’ll get to see tomorrow or not. Music was our solace. We had a Walkman and cassette tapes with albums like Awilo Longomba, DMX’s Ruff Ryderz, and Tupac’s All Eyez On Me. We didn’t have many Walkman players, so we had to listen and then pass them to our colleagues, sharing the music. We knew the songs word for word because that’s all we listened to every single day. There was a time when we were jailed for 20 days because we disobeyed orders, and military prison is hell. We were locked up in a dark room with no light and nobody to talk to. We slept on the cold stony floor. They only took us out for 20 minutes every day to eat and then subjected us to 2 full hours of torture. The torture methods varied each day depending on which soldier was in charge. It was tough to endure. Our friends outside tried to make it bearable by bribing the soldiers on guard with cigarettes and alcohol so that we could at least have access to music. One day you’d have dreams and hopes, and the next, you’d feel suicidal. I can’t count how many times I just wanted to take the bullet and end everything. I’m not a believer and I don’t practice any religion. I must say, music is the only thing that gave me hope at that time. Music helped me so much during those 9 months of military service, especially listening to Tupac’s All Eyez On Me album. It’s very special to me, especially after losing one of my childhood friends who was brilliant and had dreams of studying medicine at the university right after our military service. I remember it was a normal day at our base. We were chilling and playing cards when his commander called him because there was an ambush and the team needed support. He left his cards, thinking he would come back and we’d resume the game. One or two hours later, the fighting intensified, and we were called for backup. When we got there, we found his lifeless body lying down. It was devastating, losing a friend at 16. I kept his blood-stained clothes for so long. I’d look at them and smell them. It was crazy having to bury your friend so young and losing them in such a manner. I was just lucky to return home because most of my friends and colleagues were killed, while others stayed and continued as professional soldiers. Today, I’m very passionate about children’s rights, which stems from my past experience as a child soldier. I believe children should be protected. I wish a normal life for all children, especially in Africa. By a normal life, I mean a child should be a child, wake up, go to school, have proper shelter, and have access to medical care and food. Not a life where they’re homeless or have to pick up arms and become child soldiers.