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07/26/2013

How one woman survived the hell of Somali pirates

JudithTebbutt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judith Tebbutt, was held hostage in Adabo, Somalia for six months. AP Photo

 

Listen to this incredible tale of how one woman’s mental strength helped her survive being kidnapped and held hostage by Somali pirates who murdered her husband. 

Judith Tebbutt, 58, an Englishwoman went on a safari holiday to Kenya with her husband David in September 2011. After a week in a game reserve the couple headed for the Kiwayu Beach Resort, which is on a small island only 40 kilometres from Somalia’s lawless coastline.

The night they arrived, six Somali gunmen broke into their room. She was dragged down the beach, into a boat and out to sea. David was shot in the head and died.  

It was her skills as a mental health social worker that held her in good stead for six months as she was kept captive in a dark room and fed potatoes and rice.

Speaking to the BBC World Service she said: “Even though I despised these people, I knew that if I was going to be in their company for any length of time, I needed to try and build a rapport with them, build a connection.”

So she smiled at her captors and learned a few Somali phrases. She kept in shape by doing Pilates. Her efforts made a difference – Tebbutt was given a radio. 

Sadly, she found out about her husband's death from her son when her captors allowed her a short phone call home. 

“All the pirates were in the room. I looked at every one of them and said 'You killed my husband!' and 'You killed my husband,' she told the BBC. "One by one, they just filtered out. I was left with the leader man, and I said 'It was you. You killed my husband!' and it was like this face off. I thought 'I'm just going to look at you until you turn your face away.' I just felt such hatred."

She soldiered on, determined to survive. Part of that was keeping her identity and that meant refusing to wear the full length veil worn by most Somali women when the pirates ordered her to do so. 

“That's really important, not to lose your own identity. However cruel they are to you, however they degrade you, you must remind yourself of who you are, all the time. I was still Jude, and I wanted to come out as Jude. I wanted to find a life for Jude again."

She even had the presence of mind to collect evidence about her kidnappers by writing in a notebook their descriptions.

Tebbutt was released in March 2012 and has written a book entitled Six Months in Captivity, which she says, was done to help other hostage victims.

“I just really want to tell people 'Do not give up hope, you haven't been forgotten', she told the British broadcaster. “You may think that you're languishing but there'll be someone somewhere trying to work towards your release." 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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