She rolls her eyes at the comparison, but Amanda Lindhout looks a whole lot like Kate Middleton — slim, pretty and poised. She commands attention, especially in the middle of a bunch of Kenyan police officers.
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Lindhout is here to lead a convoy of food aid into the southern Somalia town of Dobley. She was here early. And now they’re keeping her waiting. It’s been hours.
"I wanna go in five minutes," she says impatiently. "This has taken too long already."
Because here’s the other thing you should know about Amanda Lindhout. She’s been inside Somalia before.
In August 2008, Lindhout was working as a freelance journalist when her car was surrounded by about a dozen teenage men in Mogadishu.
"They ordered us out of the vehicle, made us lay face down on the dirt, guns pointed at the back of our heads," she says. "We were then put back into the vehicle. And then what followed was many months of moving around, actually all over south central Somalia in different houses, but always with the same group."Video: Watch a video of the former prisoner speaking out (on this page)
She was held captive for more than 15 months. Her captors abused her daily. At one point she was able to call the media, and complained of suffering from dysentery and a broken tooth. "There’s no one to take care of me here," she pleaded. "I don't want to die here."
As Lindhout sat alone in a dark room, she thought about what she would do if she ever got out. "I found that the most positive way to spend the time was really to think about programs that I could create that would one day transform Somalia into a better place — a country that would not be producing these generations of young people that grow up knowing nothing but violence," she says.
When she was released a year and a half ago, she created a foundation to help build schools for Somali refugee camps in Kenya. She raised over half a million dollars.
She says she never thought she’d return to Somalia. That would be too much. She’d run the operation from her home in Canada.
But what she never anticipated was the famine. On a trip to visit the refugee camps in Kenya, Lindhout couldn’t help but see all the malnourished children. She began to think that maybe there was something she could do for them.
And so the idea of a convoy of aid was born. And on Thursday morning, she set off for the very country she once begged to leave. "I had to do whatever I could to get food to these people and food where it was needed the most, which is inside Somalia," she says in a car speeding toward the Somali border.
When she saw the small blue Somali flag at the border, she welled up with tears. The Somali transitional government welcomed her in — along with her convoy of two large trucks. They unloaded enough food for 14,000 people.
Sameya Mohamed sat crouched on the ground and offered her thanks. "My grandchildren are starving," she told Lindhout.
"You look at the little kids here, and that's the whole reason," Lindhout said tearfully.
Feeding the hungry was the reason she came. But for Amanda, the trip had another effect. It was also about reclaiming a part of herself.
"I think it is 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."
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