When Central Alberta journalist Amanda Lindhout was abducted by Somali gangsters in 2008, traumatic events played out on two fronts.
In Africa, Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were chained, starved, and threatened with death. Lindhout also suffered sexual assaults and torture as her captors made desperate bids to extort money from her family.
In Canada, Lindhout’s low-income, divorced parents were pushed to an emotional breaking point through 15 months of arduous telephone negotiations with their daughter’s abductors.
The Islamic extremists were vowing to kill the two hostages if $1.5 million ransom wasn’t paid.
Yet Lindhout’s family was told the Canadian government doesn’t pay ransoms — and that it’s against the law in this country to even privately fundraise for ransom money.
The Alberta side of the ordeal is recounted in a heart-rending memoir, One Day Closer, published by Simon and Schuster, and written by Lindhout’s mother and the family’s chief negotiator, Lorinda Stewart.
The Red Deer native, who now lives near Nelson B.C., wrote about being holed up in a secret “war room” in Sylvan Lake, set up by RCMP working under the auspices of the Foreign Affairs department. A series of police officers were sent to this base to provide her with guidance.
Stewart implicitly trusted the Canadian government, despite its secrecy and questionable tactics. At one point, Stewart was made to ignore phone calls from the Somali negotiator, Adan — despite all of her instincts to reach out for this connection to her daughter.
Stewart’s voice is now permanently shaky from her high-anxiety ordeal.
Her darkest moment was a horrific phone call in which she heard Lindhout pleading while being tortured by her abductors.
“I had a pretty massive breakdown,” she admitted — not at that moment, when she had to remain strong, but after her emaciated daughter returned home and began divulging details about her appalling treatment.
Stewart had been carrying a lot of guilt for “blindly” trusting the Canadian government for 11 months, when it took just four months for a private security company to free the two hostages in November 2009. This route had been long advocated by Brennan’s family, but discounted by Lindhout’s.
Although she doesn’t have a blanket solution to how Canadian Foreign Affairs should change its policies, Stewart said, “it would have been so much easier to cope if they were more open and honest about what their strategies are.”
Her lack of knowledge about what the office in Nairobi was doing, for example, could have jeopardized negotiations, she added.
“I would also like to see the Canadian government be more willing to work with private security companies,” through information sharing.
Had Stewart not documented phone numbers and her dealings with Adan for her own records, she would have been unable to provide this information to the security company that finally worked out her daughter’s freedom.
In the aftermath of the abductions, Stewart developed post-traumatic stress, anxiety and physical ailments. While counselling helped to a degree, she feels her decision to push anger aside and find forgiveness did her the most good.
The whole family is now doing well, she said. Lindhout, who started a charity for Somali women and co-authored the best-selling memoir A House in the Sky, is a public speaker, and has a boyfriend in Denver.
Stewart hopes her book, which was difficult but therapeutic to write, will also help inspire people.
Stewart will be in Red Deer for a free 2 p.m. talk and book signing Nov. 4 at Chapters.