House in the Sky (Lindhout)

A House in the Sky 
Amanda Lindhout (with Sara Corbett), 2013
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781451645613

The dramatic and redemptive memoir of a woman whose curiosity led her to the world’s most beautiful and remote places, its most imperiled and perilous countries, and then into fifteen months of harrowing captivity—an exquisitely written story of courage, resilience, and grace.

As a child, Amanda Lindhout escaped a violent household by paging through issues of National Geographic and imagining herself in its exotic locales. At the age of nineteen, working as a cocktail waitress in Calgary, Alberta, she began saving her tips so she could travel the globe. Aspiring to understand the world and live a significant life, she backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each adventure, went on to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan.

In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth.” On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road.

Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives “wife lessons” from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape. Moved between a series of abandoned houses in the desert, she survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark, being tortured.

Vivid and suspenseful, as artfully written as the finest novel, A House in the Sky is the searingly intimate story of an intrepid young woman and her search for compassion in the face of unimaginable adversity. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth— June 12, 1981
Where—Alberta, Canada
Education—Coady International Institute at
   St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia
Currently—lives in Sylvan Lake, Alberta

Amanda Lindhout is a Canadian humanitarian and journalist. In 2008, she and members of her entourage were kidnapped by Islamist insurgents in southern Somalia. She was released 15 months later on November 25, 2009, and has since embarked on a philanthropic career.

At the age of 24, Lindhout quit her job as a cocktail waitress to become a journalist. She used her salary from the bar she worked at to finance reporting trips to various conflict zones around the world. Lindhout began her new journalism career in Afghanistan, arriving in the capital Kabul in May 2007. She later moved on to an assignment in Bagdhad, Iraq in 2008, where she worked on a freelance basis for Iran's Press TV.

While in Iraq, Lindhout was kidnapped in Sadr City. She was released several hours later, after paying a ransom to her abductors.

Somalia abduction
On August 23, 2008, two days after having arrived in Mogadishu, Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan, a 37-year-old freelance Australian photojournalist from Brisbane, were kidnapped along with their Somali translator, Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi, their driver, Mahad Isse, and a driver from the Shamo Hotel, Marwali. They were on their way to conduct interviews at an IDP camp when they were stopped by gunmen. The abductors were teenage insurgents from the Hizbul Islam fundamentalist group.

On September 17, Al Jazeera featured footage of Lindhout and Brennan in captivity surrounded by gunmen. On October 13, 2008, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of  $2.5 million (US currency) by October 28. On February 23, 2009, the Canadian Association of Journalists urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to help secure the release of Lindhout and Khadija Abdul Qahaar, a Canadian woman who was kidnapped in November.

Elmi and the two drivers were released on January 15, 2009. The kidnappers later lowered the ransom demand to $1 million.

On June 10, 2009, CTV News received a phone call from a tearful Lindhout who seemed to be reading a statement: "My name is Amanda Lindhout and I am a Canadian citizen and I've been held hostage by gunmen in Somalia for nearly 10 months. I'm in a desperate situation. I'm being kept in a dark, windowless, room in chains without any clean drinking water and little or no food. I've been very sick for months without any medicine.... I love my country and want to live to see it again. Without food or medicine, I will die here."

On November 25, 2009, after 460 days as a hostage, Lindhout was released following a ransom payment made by her family. She was hospitalized in Nairobi for two weeks and treated for acute malnourishment.

In 2013, Lindhout published A House In The Sky, her memoir co-written with journalist Sara Corbett, recounting her experience as a hostage. She indicated in the book that her motive for traveling to Somalia in the midst of an insurgency was the dearth of competition from other journalists covering the region, as well as the possibility of documenting unique human interest stories.

Once held hostage, she alleged that she and Brennan were forcibly separated since they were not married, and that she was subsequently repeatedly tortured and raped by her teenage captors. It was also reported that Lindhout had given birth while in captivity, though she neither confirmed nor denied the allegation, only stating that she had endured grave atrocities that she would never reveal. Additionally, Lindhout asserted that she and Brennan had converted to Islam in order to both appease their abductors and make life easier for themselves.

After her release, Lindhout studied Development Leadership at the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. She has become a much sought after speaker on the topics of forgiveness, compassion, social responsibility and women's rights.

In 2009, Lindhout spoke alongside Eckhart Tolle, best-selling author of The Power of Now, in Vancouver, Canada, on the power of forgiveness.

In 2010 Lindhout addressed the United Nations Association in Ottawa, Canada, about women's rights.

In July 2010 Google Ideas had Lindhout moderate a panel of former violent extremists at the Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin, Ireland. The largest gathering of former violent extremists to ever take place, the event was organized by Google, the Council of Foreign Relations, and the Tribeca Film Festival.

Lindhout moderated a panel which included a former Somali militant with Al-Shabaab, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shepard observed the tension on stage:

The only detectable moment came during a panel moderated by Amanda Lindhout, the Canadian journalist who was held hostage in Somalia for 460 days, and Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who left Toronto to fight with Al Shabab during Ethiopia’s invasion in 2008.

Lindhout had asked Mohamed how he justified the deaths and injuries of civilians while a part of the Somali group, but instead he spoke of the political motivations as to why he went to fight with the Shabab

The Global Enrichment Foundation
In 2010, Lindhout founded the Global Enrichment Foundation in order to create more opportunities in Somalia by offering university scholarships to women. Lindhout currently serves as the organization's executive director, with Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, acting as the Fund's co-director. Aurala Warsame, a Somali researcher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, supervises the program and vetted the first applicants.

In response to why—despite her ordeal—she established the Foundation, Lindhout told the CBC's The National,

You can very easily go into anger and bitterness and revenge thoughts and resentment and 'Why me?'[...] Because I had something very, very large and very painful to forgive, and by choosing to do that, I was able to put into place my vision, which was making Somalia a better place[...] I've never questioned whether or not it was the right thing to do[...] What else to do after the experience that I had, than something like this?

In conjunction with various private university institutions across Somalia, the GEF's Somali Women's Scholarship Program (SWSP) offers higher education opportunities to women in Somalia on a contribution basis. Lindhout's foundation aims to annually send 100 women in the country to university for the next four years, and is sponsoring tertiary education for 36 women, who are expected to go one to become teachers, doctors, environmentalists and engineers, among other professions. The GEF also started the SHE WILL micro-loan initiative to financially empower widows and other Somali women.

In response to the 2011 Eastern Africa drought, the GEF put into motion its Convoy for Hope program. The initiative received a $1 million USD donation from the Chobani Yoghurt company. As part of the GEF, teachers with the Memorial Composite also raised funds to sponsor the Sankaroos women's basketball team of Abaarso School in Somalia, and a group of high school students in Alberta raised over $23,000 to support the GEF's educational work.

In 2012, Lindhout was featured as the face of jewelry company Hillberg & Berk's spring/summer 2012 'Najo Rajo' Collection of Hope. The Regina, Saskatchewan based company donated $15,000 towards the Global Enrichment Foundation's Somali Women's Scholarship Program for Amanda's participation.

Return to Africa
Lindhout's work for the Global Enrichment Foundation eventually drew her back to Somalia in 2011. Accompanied by CBC's The National, who filmed a documentary about her titled Return To Africa, Lindhout visited the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya to research a $60 million educational project for children in the camp, many of whom fled the conflict in southern Somalia. Lindhout attempted to reconcile her fear of abduction with her deep commitment to helping the asylum seekers.

Her efforts, however, were criticized by Badu Katelo, Kenya's commissioner for refugees, who suggested that the best solution to the issue was through military intervention in Somalia's conflict zones. Katelo characterized Lindhout's initiative as "small."

It's a drop in the ocean. It's not anything to rely on to bring peace to Somalia. I think if education was to bring peace in Somalia, then it should've happened a long time ago because in 1991, when refugees came here, they were all educated". Lindhout responded that "to anyone who's questioning us right now, that's fine[...] That's fair. It is an incredibly challenging environment to work in, but time will tell the story.

On August 4, 2011, Lindhout travelled back to Somalia for the first time since her captivity. Leading a large convoy carrying food aid for 14,000 people in the southern Somalia town of Dobley, she was welcomed by Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. Lindhout described the trip as also "an opportunity for me to look at that fear and maybe let it go—this fear that I have been carrying around with me for some time." Her Convoys For Hope project has continued to provided relief and expects to assist 300,000 more people.

Awards and honours
In March 2012, Lindhout accepted an invitation from former President of the United States Bill Clinton to participate on a panel at the annual Clinton Global Initiative University about her humanitarian work in the Horn of Africa with the Global Enrichment Foundation.

That same year Amanda was photographed for the book 100 Making a Difference by celebrity photographer John Russo, alongside such public figures as Sophia Loren, Prince Edward, Michelle Obama and Al Gore. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/17/2013.)

Book Reviews
[Lindhout's] tale, exquisitely told with her co-author, Sara Corbett…is much more than a gonzo adventure tale gone awry—it's a young woman's harrowing coming-of-age story and an extraordinary narrative of forgiveness and spiritual triumph…There's no self-pity or grandiosity in these pages. The rage and self-hatred born out of bad decisions and bad luck have long since burned into a clear-hearted attempt to record the cruelties Lindhout endured…In the cleanest prose, she and Corbett allow events both horrific and absurd…to unfold on their own. Lindhout's resilience transforms the story from a litany of horrors into a humbling encounter with the human spirit.
Eliza Griswold - New York Times Book Review

Canadian journalist Lindhout gives a well-honed, harrowing account of her 459-day captivity at the hands of Somali Islamist rebels.... [S]he eventually converted to Islam (“They can’t kill us if we convert,” she told Nigel), was separated from Nigel, and was raped and tortured.... She and Nigel miraculously survived.
Publishers Weekly

[W]hen she was finally released, Lindhout responded by founding the Global Enrichment Foundation to help the people of Somalia—a fact she mentions briefly in an entirely un-self-congratulatory epilog. [A] remarkably keen-eyed, honest, and radiant memoir, written with accomplished journalist Corbett.... [T]here's less anger here than thoughtful observation and the desire that readers understand. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

With the assistance of New York Times Magazine writer Corbett, Lindhout, who was held hostage in Somalia for more than a year, chronicles her harrowing ordeal and how she found the moral strength to survive.... Her guards were young Muslim extremists, but their motive was financial...a get-rich scheme that backfired.... A vivid, gut-wrenching, beautifully written, memorable book.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Above all else, Amanda identifies herself as a traveler, an identity born out of her childhood obsession with National Geographic. Why do you think National Geographic had such a large impact on her? What led Amanda to make the leap from the legions of armchair travelers into someone whose life revolved around her journeys?

2. On page 14, Amanda discusses sneaking into an amusement park after dark, with a childhood friend. She writes, “…we allowed ourselves to relax and feel giddy, forgetting that it was dark and we were trespassing, forgetting everything that scared or haunted us…” How does this childhood memory reflect Amanda’s experience traveling to foreign countries and unknown places? Is part of the thrill of travel related to risk?

3. Amanda’s first trip, to South America, initially disappoints her because Caracas doesn’t “feel foreign”. What does this demonstrate about the different ways people travel? As she leaves Caracas and ventures into the kind of journey she’ll come to crave, what changes for her?

4. During this trip to South America, Amanda confronts the experience of venturing off the beaten path, and defines the feeling of the frontier as “a knifepoint between elation and terror” (p. 36). How will this balance come to define her travels?

5. The memory of cutting her friend Kelly’s hair will become one of the things that sustains Amanda throughout her captivity. Why do you think this memory sticks with her?

6. In Dhaka, Amanda experiences what she sees as the “beautiful” side of Islam, but also confronts the dangers inherent in being a solo female traveler in that particular place. How does this dichotomy influence her experiences in captivity?

7. On page 67, Amanda quotes Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, “All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there…” Both Nigel and Amanda understand this sentiment, and it’s partially what draws them to Somalia. What do you make of the idea that bad news would bring someone to a place?

8. Amanda’s time in captivity is spent trying to negotiate the best way to stay alive—she vacillates between trying to understand and connect with her captors, through things like converting to Islam, and resistance like trying to escape. Why do you think Amanda and Nigel have such different takes how to best manage their captivity? What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method?

9. When Amanda overhears a report of their capture on the radio, she writes of the feeling as “crushing. It was confirmation that our troubles were both real and deep” (p. 146). Why do you think this affects her so powerfully?

10. When Amanda is given an English-language Koran, it is the beginning of her “conversion” to Islam. How does Amanda’s relationship with Islam change throughout her time in captivity? As she reads the Koran and begins to understand it, and thus her captors, better, how does her awareness of her situation change?

11. Amanda reflects throughout the book on the strangeness of the relationships with her captors—even though they were imprisoning her, she attempted to feel compassion and understanding for them. Were you surprised that this was possible? Discuss Amanda’s relationships with Jamal, Ali, Adam, and the rest.

12. Nigel and Amanda’s relationship as fellow captives is at times extremely difficult. Discuss their different ways of coping. How did you feel when Nigel told Amanda to “just take this one”? Did you blame Nigel?

13. Throughout the book, and in particular during her captivity, Amanda uses mantras to calm herself. What does she find so effective about repeating simple words and phrases? Why do you think this kind of practice can be soothing?

14. On pages 220-221, Amanda writes about what being alone does to her mind, and refers to a kind of psychic energy that seemed insane before her captivity, but became more believable. What did you make of her account in your reading? Have you ever experienced this kind of psychic energy?

15. Discuss Amanda’s “house in the sky” (p. 292). How does this dream help her maintain hope, and survive?

16. Of writing notes to Nigel, Amanda says “…writing helped me to believe it. It staked some claim on the truth (p. 226)”. How does this idea relate to Amanda’s decision to write a book about her experience? How does Amanda’s relationship with writing evolve over her time in captivity (see also p. 364)?

17. How did reading A House in the Sky change your understanding of the role fundamentalist religion can play in a war-torn society? How did it change your perception of Somalia? What surprised you most in your reading?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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