Memuna Mansaray McShane is getting a little tired of talking about her missing right arm. "It's all there online," she says. "I'm not gonna say anything new or anything." And it's true: The story of how militia bullets shattered two-year-old Memuna's arm and killed her grandmother as she cradled Memuna during a 1998 attack in the Sierra Leone Civil War is well-documented.
The toddler captured international attention a year later, in 1999, when she was selected from a refugee camp at the request of Sierra Leone's then-president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to become a global symbol of the country's devastating conflict. Dubbed "Peace Girl," Memuna went on to testify before Congress and meet such leaders as then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President and First Lady Bill and Hillary Clinton — not that she remembers these experiences. Now, 19-year-old Memuna's not reluctant to share what she knows of her past, but she's more interested in her present as a freshman majoring in film and television at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Dubbed "Peace Girl," Memuna testified before Congress and met such leaders as Madeleine Albright and Bill and Hillary Clinton
Socially, though, the adjustment hasn't been easy. "It feels like everybody here is all chummy, best friends, and I feel like I'm not," she sighs. And she's mystified by how fast her fellow students are moving romantically. "It seems like everybody here is in a relationship," she observes. "I don’t get how they have boyfriends or whatever so quickly!"
Memuna hasn't been enticed by the party scene at college. During her downtime, she's more likely to be watching Netflix (she loves Once Upon a Time and Charmed) or grabbing Mexican food off campus than drinking. "I've been kind of a lame college student," she reflects, only half-joking. "I was also a lame high school student; parties are never really that fun for me." She enjoyed close friendships in high school — she and her friends would "go to movies and then dinner; that was always really fun," she says — and she's looking for the same in Savannah.
They also established that Memuna could call them by their first names, rather than "Mom" and "Dad." Her siblings don't have the same privilege: "They get in trouble if they do that," she explains, because Kevin and Kelly are the only parents that Michael and Molly have — "but also I have [other] parents, a mom and dad, [and] they're dead, [so] I just can't call [Kelly and Kevin] 'Mom' and 'Dad.'"
While Memuna's now-tattooed "little arm" is far from her only defining feature, to her frustration, it's still the most immediately noticeable. Other students haven't asked her about it, but college staff do, often. "I just want to go outside wearing a tank top or whatever without people looking at me, asking all these questions," Memuna says. "That’s why I keep wearing sweaters to dinner and stuff like that. I was gonna try to break that habit in college, but seems like it might take longer."
I keep wearing sweaters to dinner and stuff like that. I was gonna try to break that habit in college, but seems like it might take longer.