Lorinda Stewart was working at a bakery in Balfour in 2009 when she got a terrifying phone call.
Her daughter, Amanda Lindhout, had been kidnapped in Somalia along with her friend, Australian photographer Nigel Brennan.
Lindhout later chronicled the ensuing 460 days of her gruelling captivity in A House in the Sky published in 2014. It’s a harrowing read: she was repeatedly beaten, tortured, starved and sexually assaulted.
Now her mother has written a book, One Day Closer, about her part in that experience, and she will be signing copies of it at Indigo Books in the Chahko Mika Mall on Saturday.
Lindhout had gone to Somalia planning to report on the civil war there. She was already accustomed to travelling in difficult places but had little experience as a journalist.
In response to the kidnapping, her mother moved back to her home province of Alberta and worked tirelessly with the Canadian government and the RCMP and eventually a private security company to get her daughter released. This included frequent phone calls with a Somalian kidnapper-negotiator, sometimes with Lindhout screaming to her mother that they were going to kill her.
Stewart, in a phone interview with the Star last week, said her book is not a retelling of her daughter’s story.
“She has written a book about her experience and I have had an opportunity to do the same. She wrote her own story, and a lot of what was happening here in Canada was completely different, although there are points where the books overlap.”
In Canada, while her daughter was lying beaten, starving and sick in dark rooms overrun with rats, Stewart worked night and day to find her way through the politics and policies of the RCMP and the government in kidnapping cases.
She spent most of a year living in a secret location with RCMP negotiators rotating in and out, training her in what to say and what not to say to the kidnappers on the phone.
The kidnappers demanded $1.5 million in ransom, but the Canadian government has a policy against paying ransoms to kidnappers. After a year the RCMP realized that the only way to get Lindhout free was to pay a ransom. So they stopped negotiations.
“I wish they would have let us go sooner, because we would have had Amanda home sooner,” Stewart said. “Most of the time I worked with them I had very little knowledge of what they were doing. Their strategies were top secret.
“So it was blind faith. But I do see they worked very hard within the confines of the law, tried quite a few different strategies, which did not work because ultimately the kidnappers wanted a ransom.”
She and Brennan’s family hired a private security company and started raising ransom money. But everything had to be done in secret, because Lindhout’s captors were very Internet savvy.
“We had to fundraise a ransom and we had to do that without the media knowing we are doing that, which was no small feat. The reason was that the kidnappers watch the media to know what the family is doing.”
Stewart, raised in poverty in rural Alberta and still with very few resources, collaborated with the Brennan family and raised $1.2 million. Lindhout was freed in November 2009, four months after the security company was hired.
Part of her book, Stewart said, is about the healing process.
“It is ongoing. The aftermath is not something that just goes away with a doctor’s appointment. A lot of PTSD, a lot of anxiety.”
Since her release, Lindhout has returned to Somalia and started the Global Enrichment Fund to help rape survivors. These days she is on a book tour with her mother.
Stewart said she wrote One Day Closer to “inspire people that against all odds, if you don’t give up, you can make the impossible happen.”
She said the book is also about how to deal with anger and hatred, her own, particularly this year when she faced one of the kidnappers in a Canadian courtroom. Ali Omar Ader, lured to Canada by the RCMP, was on trial for the hostage taking. The judge will rule on the case in January.
“In order for me to find peace I have learned to keep doing a practice of forgiveness,” Stewart said. “It is not for him, it is for me. It is for me to have peace. I think often people think forgiveness means they decided what the person did was OK. But that is not it at all.”
How does she practise forgiveness?
“I thought a lot about the kidnappers, most of whom were young boys who had not known one day in their entire lives without trauma that war brings, and they are a product of that. It does not excuse what they did, but it just gives me an understanding of who they are.
“And knowing that about these kids I feel compassion toward them.”
Stewart said the title of the book, One Day Closer comes from a poster she put on her wall during the captivity: “Today is one day closer to Amanda coming home.”
“When Amanda was released she told me that the exact same words were her mantra. Today is one day closer to my freedom.”
These parallel mantras are one indication of the extraordinary bond between this mother and daughter that is apparent in House in the Sky and in media interviews with both.
Stewart has moved back to the West Kootenay and is currently living in Krestova.