When aspiring journalist Amanda Lindhout persuaded her ex boyfriend Nigel Brennan to accompany her on a trip to the Somalian city of Mogadishu, someone should have given her a slap and told her to go home. Only four days into the trip in 2008, Lindhout and Brennan, together with their translator and two drivers, were taken hostage by teenage supporters of the Hizbul Islam fundamentalist group. They were released 460 days later after a $600,000 ransom had been paid.
In 2013, Amanda published ‘A House in the Sky’, a cathartic account of her time in captivity, and the background to her story, which had begun with an abusive upbringing in Alberta, Canada. As a child, Amanda had turned to back-copies of National Geographic Magazine for escapism, and longed for the glamour of the exotic images they portrayed. As soon as she was able to save up enough money from waitressing jobs, she set off to explore the world, starting with Central and South America, then, braving trips further afield to Asia and Africa. When money ran out, she simply returned to work in smart cocktail bars and saved her tips until she could finance her next adventure.
Once the thrill of back packing alone began to wear thin, she ventured into more and more unstable countries, until being robbed at gunpoint in a crowded market in Afghanistan she finally realised the real dangers she was subjecting herself too.
The idea came to her that working as a photojournalist would finance her continued need to travel in exotic and dangerous places. In Baghdad, her naive journalistic efforts antagonized hard-core members of the press, and she found herself snubbed by them. Driven by her need for excitement she persuaded Brennan to join her in the search for a good story to sell and with no particular assignments in mind, they arrived in Mogadishu.
The story of her grueling ordeal in captivity is tough, and descends through levels of increasing degradation, as her captors failed to achieve their demands and began to loose direction. Separated from their native colleagues upon capture, the two westerners were first kept together and converted to Islam to appease their captors. But soon they too were separated. As a man, Brennan was able to build some kind of relationship with his captors, but it seems inevitable that the treatment of an unmarried woman by young desperate extremists will end violently with rape, beatings, and threats of execution.
It was Brennan’s family that eventually negotiated their ransom and release, and the two were finally released traumatised and malnourished.
In 2011 Nigel Brennan also published a book ‘The Price of Life’ detailing the experiences of his family as they try to raise money demanded by the kidnappers.
It’s a sensitively told account of a harrowing experience, but you still can’t help wondering why two inexperienced westerners were willing to venture into such a dangerous situation; some sort of tragedy was almost inevitable. That they both survived was probably some kind of miracle.