Walk in the shoes of a pi­rate sur­vivor

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - A Long Walk Home by Ju­dith Teb­butt (Faber)

month of cap­tiv­ity, when their son Ol­lie, who was co-or­di­nat­ing ran­som ne­go­ti­a­tions, told her on the phone that David had been mur­dered, shot dead as she was dragged away. Ju­dith re­alised that her fate now de­pended on their 25-year-old son.

In one of the most mov­ing mo­ments, she de­scribes how, sit­ting alone in the small, hot, filthy shed that was her prison, she ex­pe­ri­enced the black­est de­spair. For the first time she aban­doned hope – but then “felt the gen­tle pres­sure of a clasp on my hand, and in my head I heard David’s voice, true as life, as clear as my dreams: ‘You’re go­ing to do this. I know you will. You’re much stronger than me.’” She said: “I had felt a pres­ence, strongly, un­de­ni­ably” which told her “not to give up, no way, but fight on”.

There can be no doubt that Teb­butt’s ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with peo­ple with se­vere psy­chi­atric prob­lems (even to the point of be­ing un­der threat of vi­o­lence) gave her the men­tal pow­ers to sur­vive her ter­ri­ble or­deal. Each day (un­til she be­came too weak) she paced her cell, count­ing the steps, imag­in­ing that she was walk­ing home. This small, slight woman, whose life had been blighted by heart prob­lems and deaf­ness, dis­cov­ered a phys­i­cal tough­ness that seems mirac­u­lous.

De­spite her in­ner rage, she still made the ef­fort to ad­dress her cap­tors as hu­man be­ings, iden­ti­fy­ing those who were more sym­pa­thetic, and grad­u­ally learn­ing key So­mali phrases to com­mu­ni­cate. Half-starved, eaten alive by in­sects, un­washed, hud­dling on a wooden bed in pun­ish­ing heat, Ju­dith knew she had to be “reg­i­mented, re­solved and cold” in or­der to sur­vive.

There were mo­ments of kind­ness.

She was given an ex­er­cise book and later a ra­dio on which she could pick up the BBC World Ser­vice. A So­mali woman called Amina, who cooked for the pi­rates, gave her a change of clothes, once brought her samoosas, and of­fered a bot­tle of Sprite on Ju­dith’s birth­day.

At first she thought some­one would feel suf­fi­cient guilt to help her es­cape, but then Ju­dith re­alised that the whole com­mu­nity saw kid­nap­ping and piracy as their meal ticket.

A real fear was that she would be snatched by a ri­val pi­rate group, in­tent on that ran­som.

On March 21 last year the end of Ju­dith’s phys­i­cal suf­fer­ing came, al­though she will bear the men­tal scars for the rest of her life.

The ac­count of her res­cue reads like the film script this as­ton­ish­ing story should surely be­come.

Ever res­o­lute and ma­ture, Ol­lie had co-or­di­nated her re­lease with a pri­vate se­cu­rity firm, but all de­tails about the sum in­volved and how the res­cue was ar­ranged must, she says, re­main se­cret.

Nev­er­the­less, Ju­dith’s ac­count of the af­ter­math of her res­cue, her hor­ror at see­ing her ema­ci­ated re­flec­tion, her re­union with her son and the ag­o­nis­ing re­turn home alone to David’s clothes and pos­ses­sions – all is vivid and de­tailed enough to place you firmly in the shoes of this ex­tra­or­di­nary woman.

In search of some sort of clo­sure, she has made her­self re­live her or­deal – and per­ma­nent agony of grief for her hus­band – to write a book which is a pas­sion­ate af­fir­ma­tion of life. – Daily Mail

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