Debating Forgiveness with Amanda Lindhout!

EO New Delhi welcomed renowned philanthropist and bestselling author, Amanda Lindhout for a soul-stirring interactive session. Lindhout made the news across the world when in 2008, she and Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan were kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Somalia.

After her release from 15 month long captivity, Lindhout embarked on a philanthropic career and in 2013. Her book on the ordeal, A House in the Sky: A Memoir, made the New York Times Bestsellers’ list.

Lindhout began her talk by reminiscing about her childhood in Canada, her fascination with travel, her time working as a waitress right after high school and travelling to nearly 50 countries in the years that followed soon after. She took to freelance journalism, which was when she planned her fated trip to Somalia with her then boyfriend Brennan.

Even though Somalia was a country in strife, Lindhout found more than usual goodness and generosity in its people. When a woman who had not eaten for the last 2 days offered her food, it changed Amanda’s world-view forever. “The world is not the same place that we see in TV or read in books… A country with the most problems is sometimes home to very good people.

On 23rd August 2008, Lindhout and Brennan were kidnapped by a dozen armed militia, while they were on their way to a refugee camp. Their kidnappers, mainly troubled teenaged boys toting AK 47 assault rifles, demanded a 3 million dollar ransom for their release. Since their families were unable to raise the amount, the two were held captive for an excruciating 15 months until the money was paid. As hostages, they were moved from one place to another.

Initially Lindhout and Brennan were treated fairly and kept together, until they tried an escape. After their failed attempt, new rules were imposed  upon them and they were separated. During these months Amanda experienced hunger, extra-ordinary physical pain and her faith in human decency was lost. “I was 22 years old, in chains, in a pitch dark room, on the floor thinking, how could it be happening to me”, Amanda said in a thick voice.

One day when a young boy was beating her, she suddenly realized that his pain was equal to hers. “They made me suffer because of their own suffering”. It was in that moment she experienced forgiveness. She quoted the Bible “For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

Though forgiving her captors wasn’t easy, she chose prayer and gratitude over hatred and bitterness, and focused on small kindnesses. “I looked for any moment that I can be happy for like if any captor greeted me or if I was allowed to use washroom for one more minute…I searched for beauty everyday” said Amanda.

On Nov 25, 2009 after 460 days of captivity Amanda and Nigel were released after their families successfully raised funds and paid the ransom. She was hospitalised and treated for acute malnourishment. Following her release, Lindhout received a lot of media attention, which she mostly tried to avoid. After she released her memoir, she began talking to the media more freely. “Forgiveness doesn’t comes easy to me, it’s a process. Every single morning I make choice to forgive, some days I get there some days I don’t…” she said.

In 2010 Linda founded Global Enrichment Foundation to create more opportunities in Somalia by offering university scholarships to women. She shared images of Somalis being helped by her foundation. “I had a second chance in life, I want to make my life matter on this planet… The country where I lost my freedom is also a country where I found my life’s purpose… ” said Amanda.

She ended her speech with this quote from Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Q&A Excerpts

When asked about Nigel:

He wasn’t treated as terribly as I was but he couldn’t help me. We were released together but we went separate ways… We’ve been friends, a couple and hostages. After all that happened, we found it really hard to connect and we haven’t talked in years. I wish him luck.”

When asked to explain the quote from the Bible and why she thought a country with most problems has the most kind people:

It’s because people struggle everyday to survive. Though I am not very religious, that quote always stuck with me and when I was in captivity I really got its meaning. You can think ‘how do I implement it’ or you can go home and live normal daily lives. It’s an everyday decision for me and I make that choice everyday”.

When asked whether forgiveness came easily to her after all her experiences:

It wasn’t easy and it still isn’t. Some days I get there and some days I don’t”.

When asked if Nigel was a help to her in captivity:

It was a gift to not be alone. In first two months we spent times together. After we were separated I could hear his cough or voice and that gave comfort. It felt good knowing that someone was with me”.

When asked about Justice and Forgiveness in Somalia:

Somalia hasn’t had any law for years. Their justice isn’t like what we think of justice. I received a Facebook message from one of my captors and he congratulated me for the work I was doing for Somalis… They know I have chosen compassion over revenge and that is the best justice I can ask for”.