CALGARY – A Canadian woman who was held hostage for more than 15 months in lawless Somalia says that while she can’t forgive the horrors she endured, she understands her captors have never known a life without war.
Amanda Lindhout spoke publicly for the first time Sunday night at a dinner in her honour held by Alberta’s Somali community.
She spoke warmly about the people she met before she was snatched off the side of the road outside the capital of Mogadishu in August 2008, and expressed compassion for the Somali youth who have grown up as both the victims and perpetrators of violence.
“It’s obvious that decades of war are producing generations who have never known anything but conflict,” she told the crowded community hall in Calgary.
“Despite my own suffering and without condoning what was done to me, I feel those inflicting the violence, while certainly not innocent, are deeply wounded and war-traumatized individuals.”
Seated at a table with four friends and her mother and father, Lindhout looked poised in a black blazer and green scarf but declined to speak with assembled media.
Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were abducted together while working as freelance journalists.
Their parents first turned to the Canadian and Australian governments for help, but after the pair had been captive for 340 days, the families joined together to hire a private hostage negotiation group.
Last November, Brennan and Lindhout were freed for a ransom that has been reported at anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.
Lindhout has not spoken publicly about her ordeal beyond a statement before Christmas that thanked those who helped her.
The journalist revealed little more on Sunday about the more than 15 months she spent in captivity. Lindhout paid tribute to a Somali woman whom she said risked her life in an attempt to free her.
“Her courage is a stunning example of one human being’s instinct to protect another. She did not know me, yet she called me her sister,” she said.
“And while she was ultimately not able to save me, she did touch my life in a profound way that I will never forget.”
Lindhout remained composed throughout her speech, but wept as she watched a video put together by the Somali community thanking her for her bravery.
Several other speakers said that most of those who live in the country are without a voice and that atrocities will continue unless people follow Lindhout’s path in trying to tell their stories.
“Though Amanda has gone through an unbearable situation, she has gathered the strength to be here with us tonight,” said Mudhir Mohamed. “So in our eyes she’s a hero.”
The journalist was greeted with a standing ovation and given gifts and flowers.
Lindhout said she often thinks of those who continue to suffer in Somalia.
Simple things such as seeing the sky and feeling the sun on her face are filled with a new joy, she said.
“My wish for Somalia is to experience freedom. To become free from poverty, free from hunger, and free from the violence which imprisons its people,” she said.
“I hold a vision of peace for Somalia.”