It’s probably not a very popular opinion to express, but back in 2008 when I learned that Amanda had been kidnapped while working as a freelance journalist in Somalia, my first thought was, “That poor girl – but what did she think would happen?”
Amanda didn’t deserve to be kidnapped, tortured, and raped – no one in the world does – but I couldn’t help but feel her naivety had led her into an impossible situation, one that would cause suffering to the people who would have to bail her out.
But after reading Amanda’s memoir, A House in the Sky, and seeing her speak in Sylvan Lake recently, my opinion of the woman has changed, even if my opinion about the situation she put herself in hasn’t.
First, a brief synopsis of the book (spoilers: she’s alive and well, living in Canada and writing books):
Working as an amateur freelance journalist in war zones in the Middle East, Amanda Lindhout decides to go where few other journalists dream: war-torn, poverty-stricken Somalia. Enlisting the help of her photographer ex-boyfriend Nigel Brennan, Lindhout travels to Somalia and is kidnapped two days after her arrival. For 460 days, Lindhout and Brennan endure starvation, squalid conditions, and brutality at the hands of their kidnappers, who have asked for a ransom that their governments won’t pay – and that their families can’t.
I only knew about what happened to Amanda from what I read in the news during her imprisonment – and the media didn’t look too favorably on an amateur writer who got herself kidnapped because of her own naivety.
But her memoir served to humanize her to me: no longer was she simply “that stupid girl who got herself kidnapped;” through reading about her troubled childhood and her grand adventures backpacking across the world, Amanda became more than a news story or cautionary tale to me. She became a person – one who was flawed, yes, but also one with unfulfilled dreams; one with a deep love of travel; one with a desire to help others through sharing their stories.
I could relate to this girl.
The story of her captivity was horrifying, to say the least, but through her eyes, I got to see the humanity in her captors, even as they held her for ransom, even as they did unspeakable things to harm her.
It made the vast world feel a little closer, in a way. It brought the suffering of people living in poverty a little closer to home. And it made me see what the human spirit can overcome.
Hearing Amanda speak in Sylvan Lake last week with a wonderful group of women reinforced the message she shared in her book: only through forgiveness can you truly go on.
In her talk, Amanda shared that every day, she chooses to forgive her captors for harming her – and herself for the mistakes she made that led her to that situation. Some days, she said, it’s harder to forgive than it is on other days, but because she won’t let her anger win out over compassion, she’s been able to find a sense of peace in – and even appreciation for – her ordeal.
She’s been able to turn her personal tragedy into a terrific triumph, using her new-found fame to bring awareness to the problems plaguing women and children in Somalia. Her charity, the Global Enrichment Foundation, has brought educational opportunities, food, and business grants to thousands of Somalians living in poverty and war.
Amanda Lindhout may be naive, but she has done what very few people could. She’s chosen to forgive where forgiveness could never be expected.
And as I go through my days, often frustrated, often angry at myself and others, I try to remember what I learned from “that stupid girl who got herself kidnapped:”
Only through forgiveness can you truly go on.