Amanda Lindhout is a speaker like no other. Captivating and unforgettable, she alights on the positive and leaves the audience with a fuller understanding of the freedom we can all experience when we choose to embrace compassion. One of the most consistently-praised speakers by audiences, her powerful portrait of the strength of the human spirit has moved audiences around the world.
The issues and debates surrounding kidnapping and negotiations have been thrust into the public spotlight once again thanks in large part to the world’s most downloaded podcasts. The Peadbody award-winning Serial Podcast. Season 2 see’s the focus shift to that of the capture, confinement and release of United Stated Army Sargent Bowe Bergdahl.
Amanda sat down for an exclusive interview to discuss the podcast, the parrallels, her bestselling memoir and the upcoming screen adaptation.
*Warning – Serial Podcast Spoilers Ahead*In your book, you describe a harrowing escape attempt, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Bowe Bergdahl says he made a few escape attempts, in your opinion, how does one even process continuing on after a failed attempt at escape?
The Serial host (Sarah Koenig) made a point about it. She was saying the fact that this kid, this former soldier survived, tried to escape and never gave into his captors; all these things should really be commended. I was listening to it and I thought ‘wow, after that first escape attempts and they chained him to the bed, and like me, he lost the light and the movement of his body. He always had that desire to try again.’
I found it really brave. I liked the fact she identified that. It speaks of courage. People talk about him not being a courageous person and walking off of the base. Regardless of what you think about his decision to leave it takes a really strong person to do what he did.
In regards to my time in captivity, I went through so much anger and hate towards my captors before I came to any understanding that it was only myself I was hurting by hanging onto that so tightly. About half way through I had that big moment. For seven months I allowed myself to indulge in that hate and anger. It made me completely sick. I was completely stuck in anger. I definitely went through all of that.
It’s not that my message is any different; it’s just by then, I hadn’t reached that particular point. I wasn’t feeling really compassionate about my captors at the time when we jumped out that bathroom window in our attempt to escape.
Episode 4 featured another captured journalist David Rohde. Do you feel a connection to others who have been held hostage?
Yes, I always say when you’re kidnapped you become part of this strange little club that is all over the world. If you’ve both been through it, that common experience bonds you.
David Rohde is someone that I know. He contributed a review for my book. As he said in this episode, he has never met Bowe Bergdahl. When I listened to episode 1, all I could think about was how I want to reach out to this guy. I just felt so much compassion for him, so yes, I definitely feel that.
Colin Rutherford was just released here in Canada after 5 years in Taliban captivity had a similar experience. There is so many people who have survived kidnappings all over the world that I’ve connected with over the years. We built this sort of support network for each other. If I needed anything or had questions, David Rhode is someone I wouldn’t hesitate ever to reach out to and he’s always there.
For me when I was released from captivity, one of the first things I wanted to do was reach out to other people that had been kidnapped because I felt so alone in my experience. I was desperate to read books from people who had been through that to know how they survived. I am curious about Bowe and I wonder if he has anyone in his network.
David Rohde also describes how his captors aimed their frustration at him when their demands were not met. This mirrors your situation. Do you feel instances like this call for rapid-resolutions on the part of negotiators, or should the oft-preferred formula be maintained?
No, I think the oft-preferred formula should be maintained, most of the time. It’s difficult when you’re working with people who are violent.
The policies around this need to be standardized. In my case, the same year that I was kidnapped, lots of Canadians were kidnapped but your didn’t hear about all of them and there are rumors that the government got involved.
Where do you hope the remaining episodes of Serial Season 2 take us?
I want to know more about how he survived mentally. I want to know what it has been like for him since his release. I wonder if we learn anything about that. I want to know how he’s taking care of himself, what his family’s reaction was like. I came home and I was so worried that my family would be mad at me. I have such a great mom but my brothers told me they certainly went through a period where they were mad at me, asking themselves ‘what was she doing going to Somalia?’ I’m curious about his family, his trauma recovery, if he’s had any psychological care or is suffering from PTSD.
It’s been a little over 6 years since your release. How has your concept of freedom changed?
I don’t think it’s something that you ever grasp. After having your freedom taken away, six years later I still really appreciate and can experience what freedom feels like. Meaning I go outside and can look up at the sky and be like ‘wow.’ I probably get lost in it in a way other people can’t. But it’s not something that I think about all the time, like I used to.
In my book at the end, I talked about counting the days of freedom and you almost compare them to the days in captivity. And then at a certain point, six years later you’re just living your life and free again only your life is enriched by these strange gifts you’ve gotten out of having your freedom taken away. You can experience the world as a free person because you’ve lived without freedom. For me, that translates into everything like the connection to the sky, the way I appreciate travel, time with my family, all of these things. I appreciate freedom in a way that most people can’t, because I lost it.How has your message on the speaking platform evolved since you started sharing your story?
I feel like my story is evolving all the time. As a speaker, my story changes all the time because I am changing. My healing process and my recovery are ever evolving. For example, what I’ve learned about recovery and PTSD over the last couple of years, I’ve really spent time learning and educating myself about it has definitely influenced the way I speak and the kind of audiences that I can speak to.
Some of the jobs I’ve had specifically for psychologists or psychiatrists where I talk about PTSD. I was not talking about that 4 years ago, I didn’t have the education to talk about it. But through years of working with psychologists and learning about this condition that I have, I’m very uniquely qualified to speak about it and I like that. It’s not that every talk I do has a PTSD component to it, but my recovery, my mindset about recovery, my optimism about recovery, changes all the time too. I become more confident in it. Years ago it was like, ‘maybe it’ll take my whole life to really feel good’, but now it’s six years later and I have so many days that I just do feel really good.
Your memoir ‘A House in the Sky’ has been on the bestseller list in Canada for just under 100 weeks or almost 2 years, what do you think resonates so strongly with your audience?People are always looking to be inspired. I think that my story, albeit a dark one, ultimately speaks to the strength of the human spirit. Which is something that resides in all of us. People look for books like this, because they’re interested in my story but also because they’re looking to be reminded of that innate strength that lives inside of all of us. Everyday I get messages from women and men who have read A House in the Sky and afterwards, not just thinking about what happened to me, but what’s happening in their own lives. It’s really interesting; especially people who have survived something traumatic really gravitate towards the book. I think that it leaves people feeling so uplifted that it’s the kind of book that when you finish it you tell all your friends about it. That’s how a book has a life of 100 weeks, it’s out there because of word of mouth. Because people like it and they tell other people about it and what they like about it is the inspiring part of it. They see the world a little differently afterwards.
In 2014 it was announced your memoir was optioned as a major motion picture with Annapurna Picture (the studio behind Zero Dark Thirty, American Hustle and Joy). How do you think your story treatment will differ from the book and how do you feel about your story of survival being shared in such a huge distribution medium like a film?
I think it’s going to translate to the screen beautifully. I actually think it’s a story that will work so well to be told as a film. The first 1/3 of the book is all these great travels and the production company wants to show that. I think that’s exciting and it will have resonance with young women. There have been some deviations from the book, but everything has been ok with me. It’s small things; they need to pace it for a 90 minute movie, but as we know it’s a 300+ page book.
It must be hard to prepare yourself for that sort of attention.
It’s a hard question to answer, I haven’t lived it, I don’t know. I’m excited about it. I’m excited because of the team that are working on it, they are the best of the best of the best. They care and they are compassionate people. My story will be known around the world and to an audience that a book will never reach. I just hope that it has the same impact that the book had in that people are really touched and inspired. This movie will be quality and tasteful and I hope it will leave people thinking the same kind of things they left after reading the book. The strength of the human spirit, ‘I can get through anything’. Or ‘wow there is good in the world’, even in the midst of darkness. A movie is going to reach people like a book never will.
I feel like it’s in such good hands. The screenplay, having Sara Corbett (A House in the Sky‘s Co-Author) involved made me feel so relaxed about it. Because she knows me, she knows my family; she knows every nuance of this story. If you just gave this book to a scriptwriter and said ‘go’, they don’t know me, they don’t know my mum, they don’t know our story. But they would make a story off of the book. But Sara actually knows the story and she wrote the screenplay so it’s going to be amazing.
What do you want audiences at your talks to take away with them?
People leave and they are reminded of the life changing freedom that comes with the choice to let go of anger in your life. When people hear my story, they hear that I make the choice everyday to let go of my anger for my own self, so I can enjoy my life, after everything that happened to me. I think that it puts people’s own slights into perspective, as well as people that do have something that they feel is really really big, that they haven’t been able to let go of. They have a, I actually don’t use the word role model, but sometimes you just need to see someone who has done it and it just inspires you to know that you can do it too. I find a lot of women who have gone through abuse, that’s a natural audience for me, they feel a connection. You need to see someone who has done it and think ‘I can do that too’. People leave reminded of the importance of forgiveness and it’s quite life changing for many.