Like many 27-year-olds, Amanda Lindhout wanted to see the world.
But unlike the majority of her peers, she was interested in its uglier side—its danger, its violence and its hatred toward women.
The Canadian journalist was assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan, hoping to prove—despite her preconceived notions—that maybe the turmoil there wasn’t so bad. Maybe these places were evolving into more tolerant nations.
Then, testing her luck, she poked the biggest bear she could find, the African nation of Somalia—a battleground, for years, between surrounding nations and local militia groups. Their struggle became her struggle when she entered the capital city of Mogadishu on August 23, 2008.
And her struggle intensified when, two days later, she and her entourage were kidnapped by Islamist insurgents and held hostage for 15 months.
With the help of New York Times Magazine writer Sara Corbett, Ms. Lindhout penned her painful experience and ultimate victory into a memoir, “A House in the Sky,” which she will discuss on Thursday, June 26, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
“I hope the audience will be able to put their lives into perspective,” Ms. Lindhout, now 33, said last week during a telephone interview. “There’s a power behind the freedom of making the choice to forgive, and we need to remind ourselves of the strength of the human spirit.”
Her spirit, she said, was tested every single moment while she was held captive. For 460 days, Ms. Lindhout fought. But the most difficult battle was not fighting off rape or even sickness. It was not allowing her mind to give up.
“You have to go deep inside yourself and see what you’re made of,” she said. “Though my experience in captivity was so brutal, being centered in the moment was key, because there was still life in my body. I was still okay. I was still there. I was still alive.”
In her memoir, Ms. Lindhout’s weakest moments do not point to a crying, desperate woman. They depict anger—a deep hatred for all around her. It stifled her inner peace and suffocated her spirit.
She wrote, “When I was angry, I spared almost no one. I had way too much time to flay people in my mind, especially my captors.”
At times, Ms. Lindhout found herself chained up inside a dark, windowless room with a moldy foam mattress and unwashed sheets. There, she was tortured and raped by her teenage captors, who, at first, demanded a $2.5 million ransom, later lowered to $1 million.
“When I was being severely abused and was starving,” she said, “it was important for my own sanity to remember that the people who were hurting me were human beings.”
Spending hours alone, she reflected on the lives her kidnappers led. Their existences, conceived in hatred, were all these men knew. Most of them were just children. Yet, there they were, holding AK-47 assault rifles, waiting for someone to pay out Ms. Lindhout’s ransom.
She kept herself sane with soothing, meditative practices—focusing on her every breath, the inhale and the exhale. In her book, she recalls the moments after being raped and hearing a reassuring voice inside her head.
“It said, ‘See? You are okay, Amanda,’” she wrote. “‘It’s only your body that’s suffering and you are not your body. The rest of you is fine.’”
On November 25, 2009—after her family made a ransom payment—Ms. Lindhout was released to a hospital in Nairobi, where she was treated for acute malnourishment and monitored for two weeks.
Over time, Ms. Lindhout has come to terms with her abduction. And, unexpectedly, she has developed an understanding of her young kidnappers, even when she was still in their custody.
“In the end though, it helped me,” she wrote. “Because with it, I began to nurture something I’d never expected to feel in captivity—a seedling of compassion for those boys.”
This sympathy shined a light on her path to forgiveness, in the end. It is not an easy task, she said, but it is something she has chosen every day since. It has even allowed her to return to Somalia.
“It’s something that I do for myself. The choice to forgive frees me from any negative emotion that would limit my own life,” she said. “I feel angry, confused and self-pity some days, but every day I make a choice to forgive.”
And that has made all the difference.
Amanda Lindhout will kick off the Simon Says 2014 Hamptons Summer Series: Celebrating the Power, Perseverance and Resilience of Women—a collaboration between Books & Books of Westhampton Beach and Simon & Schuster publishers—on Thursday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Tickets start at $45.
The series continues on Monday, July 14, with Zhena Muzyka, author of “Life by the Cup: Ingredients for a Purpose-Filled Life of Bottomless Happiness and Limitless Success,” at 7 p.m. and author Susannah Cahalan, who will discuss her book “Brain on Fire: My Mouth of Madness” on Monday, July 21, at 7 p.m. The final speaker will be Helen Thorpe, who will speak about her latest novel, “Soldier Girls: The Untold Stories of Women at War,” on August 18 at 7 p.m. For more information, call 288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.