she risked everything to be kind
September 2, 2013 4:49 PM   Subscribe

12 Minutes of Freedom in 460 Days of Captivity
"When I describe what happened to me on Aug. 23, 2008, I say that I was taken. On an empty stretch of road outside of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, out of the back seat of a four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi by a dozen or so men whose faces were swaddled in checkered scarves. Each one of them carried an AK-47."

Behind the Cover Story: Sara Corbett on Collaborating With Amanda Lindhout to Tell a Harrowing Tale
posted by andoatnp (12 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Amanda Lindhout's Global Enrichment Foundation.
posted by andoatnp at 4:50 PM on September 2, 2013

I read this the other day and it tore my heart out.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:22 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Surely there has to be some other way to deal with these things than just leaving the families to raise the money. That seems really wrong to me - private citizens should not be helpless and forced to negotiate as individuals with kidnappers. I mean, what if they hadn't been able to raise the money?
posted by Frowner at 5:45 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I heard Amanda interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi a few months back. She sounded strong. I cannot imagine how someone makes it through that kind of experience. I hope the rest of her life is good.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:54 PM on September 2, 2013

Tangentially related, but this is crazy:

This American Life - 502: This Call May Be Recorded... To Save Your Life

A journalist named Meron Estefanos gets a disturbing tip. She's given a phone number that supposedly belongs to a group of refugees being held hostage in the Sinai desert. She dials the number, and soon dozens of strangers are begging her to rescue them. How can she ignore them?
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:07 PM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Frowner: Surely there has to be some other way to deal with these things than just leaving the families to raise the money. That seems really wrong to me - private citizens should not be helpless and forced to negotiate as individuals with kidnappers. I mean, what if they hadn't been able to raise the money?

I can understand where you are coming from, but I also think there should be a list of places where you are theoretically allowed to go (in that the government will not forcibly stop you from going) but you are officially on your own if anything happens to you. Somalia would pretty much top that list, but it would have other entries (Iran, North Korea, tourists in Afghanistan or Iraq, etc.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:38 PM on September 2, 2013

Oh, and I should clarify; I don't think we should do that because we don't have the money to help them or because I'm heartless, it's because people going to these places cause a lot of problems, both for us and the countries they go to. These guys ended up causing $1 million to be funneled to what was at best a criminal organization and was probably also a terror group. Because of that, Somalia will be further destabilized, and crime increased.

Between that, and the people who fool around at the borders of hostile countries and cause international incidents, I'm not terribly sympathetic toward this sort of thing. I wish people would keep in mind that when you do this, you are not risking only your own life - you have the potential to harm others as well.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:04 PM on September 2, 2013

Mitrovarr - have you by any chance listened to the "This American Life" episode that Golden Eternity linked to? It is absolutely devastating and involves the systematic kidnapping of very poor non-Americans - Eritreans trying to enter Israel through Egypt and being grabbed and kept in the Sinai peninsula.

I mention it because it's not only Americans "fooling around" in dangerous countries who end up in this situation and who -inadvertantly- feed this awful cycle. The family of just one Eritrean TAL profiled raised on the order of $60,000 by taking on predatory loans and tapping a global network of religious connections, expatriate family members, and so on. When people are desperate to get their family members back, they will find cash, and they will pay it regardless of the negative consequences for society as a whole. That's just how it is.

In addition, Amanda Lindhout may not have had strong bona fides as a journalist, but should it be the case that no aid workers, no journalists, no visitors, or anyone else not accompanied by a military squadron should not travel to any of the countries on your list? That seems both unworkable and ultimately as destructive to the social fabric as the money the criminals gain from the kidnapping.

I say that not to be difficult but because the TAL episode really drove home to me that these kinds of kidnappings are the kind of nightmarish and knotty ethical dilemma that a single person/a single family cannot resolve on their own. It's a tragedy of the commons, almost - the family of each individual kidnapping victim will choose to pay (because how could they not?), they will be taken for everything they have, and that money will only go to further the cycle. I'm not saying the government should simply turn over the ransom for every kidnapping victim - I honestly don't know what should happen. But having them simply stand aside and let the kidnappers, families, and private security firms hash it out seems like the worst of all possible worlds.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:14 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look, I have sympathy toward the people who live in these countries, or have serious reasons to travel through them. Part of the reason I dislike this sort of thing is because rich westerners getting themselves captured helps perpetuate these groups. It makes it a hell of a lot more profitable.

As far as aid workers, journalists, etc. not traveling through these countries - they should consider their chance to make things worse (ransom, being used as a terror victim, or being used as a political pawn) and weigh it against the positive impact they hope to make. Those with high risk and low contribution (tourists, wannabe journalists, etc.) honestly should stay out until the place is stabilized. They're not going to help in any proportion to their ability to be used as targets.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:07 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also think there should be a list of places where you are theoretically allowed to go (in that the government will not forcibly stop you from going) but you are officially on your own if anything happens to you.

Well, you're allowed to go practically anywhere, of course, barring a country's own restrictions on foreigners. But Somalia has officially been a no-go zone for twenty years:

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Somalia. This replaces the Travel Warning dated December 26, 2012, to update information on security concerns.

There is no U.S. Embassy or other formal U.S. diplomatic presence in Somalia. Consequently, the U.S. government is not in a position to assist or effectively provide services to U.S. citizens in Somalia. In light of this and continuous security threats, the U.S. government recommends that you avoid all travel to Somalia.

The security situation inside Somalia remains unstable and dangerous.... [etc.]

If anything, the equivalent warning from the government of Canada is even more blunt.

Surely there has to be some other way

Essentially what you're saying is that there should be someone to subsidize or underwrite a captive's ransom. The economic effect here would be disastrous: it would make kidnapping of random Westerners much more lucrative. This is largely part of the problem with Somali (and regional) piracy -- the shipping companies generally negotiate for some weeks or months and pay a substantial ransom. This doesn't just provide an incentive, it allows kidnappers and pirates to buy better equipment and build more secure hideouts for themselves. It's basically the dictionary definition of moral hazard.

seems like the worst of all possible worlds

I really don't see an upside to government intervention here that isn't of the Seal Team Six variety -- and even that has its own knock-on effects as it might make hostages more likely to be killed.

Yeah, I don't see any way to prevent people from ever having negative things happen to them, and I don't think it's a lovely solution except in comfort-of-our-own-homes terms to say nobody should go there until it's better off and there's rule of law and so forth. The beatings shall continue until morale improves, as they say.

Basically no matter where you squeeze the bell curve, you're always going to have a tail end of people in a situation -- be it Mogadishu, Kabul, or wherever -- who are least prepared, least financially equipped to provide themselves with appropriate guides and guards, and most vulnerable to kidnapping. And they will be targets. The metaphor here is the outdoorsman joke about not needing to outrun a bear, just outrun the other guy.

Anyway, what I liked about this story was the flashes of insight into the ordinary lives or social conditions of Somalis, such as the woman who tried to help them, or the people who were running, she realized, from the danger they implicitly represented. I recently watched a well-produced drama about some Westerners caught up in the 2004 tsunami, and not only did the story transmogrify a Spanish family into a rather transatlantic Anglo family, it was astonishingly blind to the effects of the disaster on local Thais. The fact of the matter is that there are minorities, migrants, and other vulnerable peoples who experience lower-level versions of this story every single day. But for Westerners, it isn't a fact of daily life, so it becomes the unthinkable. That's the real tragedy.
posted by dhartung at 1:21 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking as an aid worker who's spent time in the last few years in Somalia, Chad, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a score of slightly more savoury places: any person, male or female, who goes to these places without serious security protocols in place (which in Somalia means you don't leave a compound without TFG forces in the car ahead of you, at a minimum), should basically expect whatever they get.

What they should have absolutely zero expectation of is any kind of ransom - payment of which perpetuates the problem (not, at least wholly, as some are implying, the presence of the person in the first place).

She talks condescendingly about how "What happened was planned, to the extent anything like this can be planned," after detailing the extent of her own security plans being a fixer and 2 armed guards, hired by her own self. There's a reason why easy targets are the most frequently targeted. I'd wager their plans were more detailed than hers, "stupid" Somalis that they were.

People like this make the whole situation worse, as has been pointed out above, and make it more difficult for those of us trying to take reasonable precautions to actually bring positive change to places like this and the people who live there.

One can only hope that now that they have a story to tell, they won't have a reason to be back (or, perhaps more to the point, they have a reason not to be back). Inshallah.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:06 AM on September 3, 2013

allkindsoftime, I see your point, but Lindhout didn't call her kidnappers stupid at any point and seems to have been genuinely interested in their lives and those around her. I thought that by the line you quote, she meant that a kidnapping is a violent and unpredictable event that can't be totally planned, not that she felt the men were incapable of planning.

This was a well-written and haunting piece, especially after reading the other recent FPP about women travelling alone and comment like this one by EmpressCallipygos.

I hope Lindhout's work now is more useful than the journalism she was trying to do, which never seems to have got off the ground and which I do think was ill-considered.
posted by daisyk at 6:16 AM on September 3, 2013

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