You could have heard a pin drop as the rapt audience at the Lacombe Memorial Centre listened intently to the riveting story of Amanda Lindhout.
For this year’s Dr. Murray Martin Speak Series event, Lindhout, author of A House in the Sky, was in Lacombe on Monday to share the story of how she was kidnapped and held ransom for 460 days in Somalia a few years back.
Lindhout began her presentation by saying she was there to share a story.
She said it was her love of stories that led her to travel and her love of sharing them that led her to become a journalist and travel to Somalia with her friend Nigel Brennan.
“I wanted to go there to tell a very specific story.”
That story was one of an internally displaced people’s camp.
Lindhout wanted to share the story of the people who were living there without food, water and safety.
On Aug. 23, 2008, her third day in Somalia, Lindhout, Brennan and the crew they had hired to go with them to the people’s camp departed.
On their way, they saw a vehicle sitting on the side of the road. Soon after, a dozen men with covered faces armed with assault rifles stepped out from behind the vehicle.
They held up Lindhout’s vehicle and forced her and the other occupants out. Lindhout said she remembers the events of that day happening as if they were in a dream.
“The next thing I knew, I was lying face-down spread-eagled with a gun pointing against the back of my head.”
What happened next is now well known.
Lindhout and Brennan were held captive for 15 months while their families tried to raise a $1.5 million ransom for each of them.
Some of the teenagers who kidnapped Lindhout had learned a bit of English by listening to BBC Radio and enjoyed practicing their broken English by telling Lindhout and Brennan stories about their lives.
In this way, Lindhout learned all of her captors were “Born into a culture of war,” she said.
She added things like guns, disease and death were part of their everyday lives while opportunities like education were only things they could dream about.
One captor who particularly enjoyed practicing his language skills even told Lindhout as much.
“I don’t like being a soldier,” Lindhout said, quoting her 16-year-old captor Hassam. “I want to learn English. I want to be a student.”
Lindhout said that was the first time she felt something akin to sadness for any of her captors because to her, wanting the opportunity to go school was such a simple thing.
Around the five-month mark of Lindhout’s captivity, an unsuccessful escape attempt changed things drastically for her.
She was separated from Brennan and put into a pitch-black room for 24 hours a day. There she was bound with heavy chains around her ankles so that she could do nothing but lie on her side.
It was during this time Lindhout began to experience a deep pressure within herself, one that she knew would even build to a breaking point or a “snap” as she called it.
Lindhout said she was terrified of what would happen when the “snap” actually occurred.
One day while one of her captors was hurting her, the snap happened.
Lindhout said she was flooded with an unexpected feeling of peace and calm. She added she felt detached from the excruciating pain her body was in and in a moment of clarity, she began to understand who the boy abusing her was.
“For one split-second, with absolute clarity, I knew him.”
Lindhout said she remembered the stories the boy had told her about his earlier life, about his aunt dying in an explosion and him watching his neighbours massacred. She said she understood her captor’s rage at the injustices put upon him, while very different from Lindhout’s, were equal to her own and it was this rage that allowed him to inflict such suffering.
She said the boy was by no means innocent, but she came to realize she had the opportunity to forgive her captors and abusers. At that point, Lindhout began to nurture “A tiny, tiny seed of compassion.”
Lindhout also began to realize no matter her restrictions, she could still choose her response to what was happening to her.
This revelation gave Lindhout something to focus on to survive her ordeal.
But she said it did not make choosing to forgive any easier.
“It was a lot of work for me to say to myself no matter what they do to me, I will make the choice to forgive.”
This experience taught Lindhout the power of forgiveness and it became apparent this is what she really wanted to share with the audience.
The power of forgiveness also led Lindhout to found the Global Enrichment Foundation in 2010.