Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ambition… and how it can lead to harm's way...

I just finished reading a book called A House In The Sky: A Memoir.  This book was written by Amanda Lindhout and, ghost writer, Sara Corbett.  It's about a young Canadian woman, Lindhout, who funded trips to exotic and dangerous countries with her earnings as a cocktail waitress.  Lindhout wanted to be a journalist, but lacked a university degree.  What she did have was drive and ambition… and either bravery or extreme foolishness drove her to go to some of the most dangerous countries in the world in search of a story and a career.

Lindhout went to Afghanistan, Iraq, and finally Somalia.  While in Iraq, Lindhout was abducted in Sadr City, but was released a few hours later when she paid a ransom.  In Somalia, she was not so lucky.  Lindhout had gone there with a former boyfriend, Nigel Brennan from Australia.  On their third day in the country, they and their driver and translators were abducted by teenaged insurgents.

Lindhout and Brennan were captives for 460 days.  During that time, they were beaten, starved, and chained.  Lindhout was repeatedly raped by one man and, on at least one occasion, was gang-raped by several men.  She was also tortured for several days and, one time about 100 days into her captivity, she was taken to a remote location, where a man with a serrated knife threatened to slit her throat.  She and her companion even "converted" to Islam in an effort to humanize themselves to their captors.

The captors were after money, of course.  They demanded $2.5 million at first, then $1.5 million.  Lindhout's and Brennan's families worked hard to raise the cash and finally, after over a year, were able to pay the ransom of approximately $600,000.  Lindhout, who had been struggling for credibility before her capture, suddenly got some street cred.  She launched a non-profit for Somali women and is now a sought after public speaker.

As I read this book and realized that the huge cash payment would basically go to fund terrorism, I couldn't help but think that Lindhout's ambition would ultimately put more people in danger.  As much empathy as I felt for her when I read her book, it occurred to me that paying ransom for people who voluntarily put themselves in harm's way is only going to fuel that industry.  On the other hand, I appreciate a sense of ambition and daring…  and I'm glad to know that Lindhout is trying to make good come from her ordeal.

I read her book last night and when I was finished, found it very hard to fall asleep.  And then once I did fade off to sleep, I had nightmares…  oddly, they had nothing to do with the violence and rape I read about in Lindhout's book.  They had more to do with frustration and dead ends.

You can click the above link to read my review of A House In The Sky on Epinions.  Here, I will just say that I'm glad my ambition was limited to just joining the Peace Corps, which could be dangerous enough.  I did know people were victims of violent crimes when I was abroad.  And I also know that Mormon missionaries also find themselves in trouble sometimes.

There's a risk in almost everything you do.  Of course, going to Somalia is a very risky endeavor under the best of circumstances.  It seems to me that Amanda Lindhout was blinded a bit by her ambition.  She is very lucky to be alive.  And now that she has that career she wanted so much, I wonder if what she went through was worth it.  She did come out of that experience with a hell of a story, but at what cost?  Was it worth the torture, gang-rapes, beatings, and physical and psychological damage she sustained?



  1. I just can't have much sympathy for someone who intentionally puts herself in harm's way. That is not ambition, it's stupidity. There's a reason the state department issues travel warnings for various countries (Somalia is currently on the list). Travel warnings are issued when the countries are dangerous for some reason, but also when the US government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff. I think a lot of people get it into their head that America is this all-powerful country that will help them if they get in trouble overseas. Sorry, but no. It just doesn't work that way especially when you're stupid enough to ignore the warnings issued for these countries.

    1. I don't disagree with you. Just a reminder, though, that neither Amanda nor Nigel are Americans.

  2. Canada issues the same travel warnings with the same caution that the Canadian government can do little or nothing to help in countries like Somalia, which is also currently on the avoid all travel list for Canada. So it's basically the same regardless of country. Sad what happened to her and I'm not so sure it was worth it myself. I can only hope she didn't contract HIV or other diseases from the attacks against her while she was there.

  3. I think ambition did lead her to those dangerous countries… I know there's a certain invincible attitude that a lot of young people have, but most people temper that with common sense and a healthy sense of fear.

    I agree with you that what she did was very foolish. She's very lucky to be alive. I don't want to say that no one should try to go to places like Somalia, though, because those who do go and survive come back with stories which do have some value to the public. On the other hand, going to dangerous countries, getting kidnapped, and paying a ransom does fuel terrorism and encourage the practice of kidnapping for ransom.

    Ultimately, these two were released because people raised money to pay their ransom. No one went in to save them-- their families hired a group to intercede on their behalf. There's been some pretty sketchy gossip about this story, including a rumor that Lindhout had a child while kidnapped. The co-author did take to Amazon to declare that Amanda didn't give birth. Given the extreme stress of the situation and her poor physical condition at the end of her confinement, I think it would have been hard for her to have a baby. But who knows?

    Apparently, she has been given awards and consorts with Bill Clinton now. Before this happened, other journalists held her in contempt and would barely give her the time of day. Now her cocktail waitressing days are behind her.

    I think I agree with you that enduring what she did was probably not worth it. She will have to live with those traumas for the rest of her life.

  4. Having once been a reporter myself, I can totally understand why journalists hold her in contempt. It's one thing to go into these places as a reporter, to tell the world the stories that need to be heard. It's quite another to go there for some sense of "adventure" and then to be rewarded for your stupidity with awards and consorts with former presidents. There should not be any kind of monetary reward for this sort of nonsense.

  5. They were also upset with her because she ended up on the news and made some comment about how the other journalists weren't taking risks in Iraq. She said most of them stayed in the Green Zone, while she was taking a chance in dangerous areas. When I told Bill that she was also abducted in Sadr City, his eyes got big because that was/is a very bad area.

  6. I'm put off by her denigration of other journalists who do not take the foolish risks she took.

    1. Well, it was a stupid and naive comment and she did point out in the book that she was wrong to say that. I gather she's grown up a lot since her days in Iraq.


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