Ten years ago, Canadian Amanda Lindhout built a house in the sky.
Living in complete darkness for months, her ankles shackled by heavy, rusty chains, forcing her body into a stress position, unable to sit up straight or lie on her back, the house she constructed in her mind became a safe space – a space to relive past experiences, to imagine having dinner with old friends or to dream about her future.
On Aug. 23, 2008, Ms. Lindhout was visiting Somalia as a freelance journalist on what she believed was going to be a seven-day work trip. She was on her way to report on a camp for people displaced by the conflict in the country, when her vehicle was ambushed by a dozen men armed with Kalashnikovs.
The men turned out to be mostly teenagers, who kidnapped Ms. Lindhout and an Australian colleague to extort ransom money.
What ensued was an ordeal and suffering too difficult to imagine for the average person. Ms. Lindhout was held captive for 460 days. For ten and a half months, the kidnappers held her, tied-up, in a blacked-out room, punishing her for a failed escape attempt.
Ms. Lindhout, the keynote speaker at this year’s Power of the Purse event on March 22, says whether she liked it or not, she had to become a survival expert.
“What I am able to share with people is much bigger than me and what I went through,” she says. “Because I was really forced to go on a journey with myself, because it was about moment to moment survival, I had to learn to find these ways into myself, to find in me that resilience that we all have in us.”
For the best-selling author, who described the circumstances of her survival in the memoir “A House in the Sky,” the story did not end with her release on Nov. 25, 2009.
Hearing that so many strangers had contributed to the ransom that was ultimately paid to secure her freedom, she says, “that was just the message that I needed at that time when I was thinking that humanity was so dark.”
That did not mean that transitioning back to everyday life was easy. In fact, it was just the beginning of a new struggle battling the severe effects of post-traumatic stress.
“The first initial year after I was coming home was scary, really scary. I was suicidal all the time. I really didn’t know what was happening to my brain and to my body,” Ms. Lindhout says.
When one of her kidnappers was arrested and she had to face him in court, it was just one incident in a series of events “where the resilience that I found in myself in captivity had to be renewed and strengthened on a daily basis.”
Ms. Lindhout realized, “I don’t really have a choice. Life has given me the opportunity to do that. That is what I share with other people.”
Nine years later, she says, she is an incredibly optimistic and positive person.
Even though her own experience was extreme, Ms. Lindhout believes it can also be life-changing for other people.
“Everybody goes through things that are really challenging,” she says. “I am a living example of what is possible and that anything can really be transformed.”
Given that she survived the terrible events of her captivity and is now able to teach something about dealing with pain, Ms. Lindhout says is just an example of how others can bring the same awareness to their different experience of pain. She has learned that pain and joy can live side by side.
The Power of the Purse luncheon raises funds for the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, a charity that provides help and a safe shelter for women and their children who are victims of domestic abuse.
The purpose of the luncheon is also what motivates Ms. Lindhout to speak at the event. In her hometown, she gives occasional presentations for women who live in the local shelter on how to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of violence.
“It is something that I have also struggled with and learnt something about,” she says. “This support of the Crisis Centre is part of why I wanted to do this.”
Scotiabank’s 5th Power of the Purse Luncheon for the benefit of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre takes place on Friday, March 22 from 12 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.