POLITICS

Amanda Lindhout's saga from hostage in Somalia to best-selling author

06/12/2015 04:13 EDT | Updated 06/12/2016 05:59 EDT
Amanda Lindhout first made headlines as an unknown, aspiring journalist being held hostage in one of the world's most dangerous countries. Today, she's more likely to garner attention as a best-selling author and humanitarian activist.

The transformation from cause celebre to borderline celebrity hasn't come easily to the Alberta-born woman.

The book that's placed her name in Canada's list of best-selling titles for 65 weeks running chronicles the 15 harrowing months she spent as a captive of Somalian militants.

"A House in the Sky" offers a vivid account of physical and sexual violence, interspersed with deeply personal reflections and themes of hope.

The memoir has earned a non-fiction award in Canada and even attracted the attention of Hollywood screenwriters who are actively turning it into a movie set to star Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara.

But what proved fruitful fodder for a film script has also fuelled a personal transformation. According to Lindhout herself, the adventure-seeking former cocktail waitress and freelance journalist who travelled to Somalia in search of breaking news bore little resemblance to the emaciated hostage who emerged after being forced to convert to Islam and change her name to Amina.

More different still, she says, is the human rights crusader she is today.

"Being free is something I will never take for granted," Lindhout wrote in her book. "I'm grateful for even the smallest pleasures — a piece of fruit, a walk in the woods, the chance to hug my mom. I wake up every day feeling thankful for all that people have given me."

Lindhout spent the first several years back in Canada away from the public eye, declining requests to share her ordeal and focusing instead on finding a new direction for her life.

Her first effort came in May 2009 when she launched the Global Enrichment Foundation (GEF), a charity that promotes education for women and girls in Somalia that remains active to this day.

A year later, she fulfilled a promise she made to herself while in captivity by completing a university diploma in international development leadership.

Her public activities increased rapidly from there, with Lindhout becoming a fixture on the public speaking circuit and ultimately being recognized by the humanitarian organization founded by former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

She even returned to Somalia in 2011 as the head of a GEF project to offer relief during a severe drought in the country.

But as she acknowledged during a speech in February 2013, her new activities couldn't erase the scars she accumulated during her first trip there.

"There are still days that are really hard for me," she said. "I have pretty severe post-traumatic stress and it's something I live with every single day. I'm still afraid of the dark and I'm afraid of loud noises."

Today, Lindhout's various social media profiles paint a picture of someone nearly constantly on the move in her role as a guest speaker and activist.

She frequently touches on the topic of forgiveness — a theme she said has taken on new significance since her return to Canada.

"Forgiving is not an easy thing to do. Some days it's no more than a distant spot on the horizon. I look toward it. I point my feet in its direction," she wrote in her memoir. "Some days I get there and other days I don't. More than anything else, though, it's what has helped me move forward with my life."

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