I don't know Amanda. But in some (perhaps trite, self-serving) way, I feel like I do. I feel like I could have been Amanda.
Perhaps it is the similarity in age, the similarity of growing up in a small-Western Canada town, the similarity of a desire to work as a journalist, or just the shared desire to be in the world- there was just something about the look in Amanda's eyes in the pictures that flashed across my computer screen (Albeit, not often enough. The under-reporting of her story was always a mystery and tragedy to me.). I saw myself.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write for a living, but I decided not to go to journalism school when I was accepted because it meant moving to a city I didn't want to live in- I earned a degree in History and then Education, instead.
But that burning inside of me to write? It was still there. And occasionally I would see a story on the television, or hear something on the radio, and I would remember how much I had once believed my words could make a difference in the world.
I played around a bit and wrote about issues with Aboriginal youth in Saskatchewan and the need for improved post-secondary opportunities- those stories got a bit of attention- and I dreamed of writing for the disenfranchised, poor, disposed and forgotten on a larger scale. I knew I could do it and I could make a real difference.
And just when it seemed that my opportunity was on the horizon...
I moved to Toronto and I met my husband.
We set down roots and I began working as a teacher. And I was happy doing that. But those roots meant that the 'adventure' of traveling and being a voice to the voiceless were permanently put on hold and I had to turn down (always unpaid, in my case) opportunities to immerse in other cultures and write about my experiences. I accepted that because, deep down, there was a small part of me that was afraid of my dream and what might happen to me should I follow it.
So when I first heard Amanda's story in 2008, it really stirred something inside of me.
She was a year younger than I was, with that same burning desire to write and bleeding heart for humanity. But she had done what I had chosen not to do- she had put herself out there in the world in a way I had shied away from. With every news story I read (and I read them all), I saw what my future may have been.
I'm not sure that I'll ever be able to read her memoir- A House In The Sky- in its entirety. I want to, but perhaps it strikes too close to home for me, as a female whose dream of overseas journalism would have likely taken me to the exact places Amanda travelled. Perhaps my bleeding heart can't take even a small taste of the atrocities she faced in Somalia.
But her story post-Somalia- that I can read. Her gracious spirit and the humanitarian work she has thrown herself into is truly a gift to all of us. The rarity of seeing a woman who has faced so much and yet come out on the other side with such strength is not lost on me.
And so I keep Amanda's name as an alert on my newsfeed. I still read every single story that mentions her. I still think about her all the time. Yes, because she lived through my single greatest fear but much more because she shows me, time and again, the power of words, the importance of telling stories for those who can not, and the strength of the human spirit to overcome. How her story reminds me of my dreams to speak for those who cannot, and how those dreams are not (as I had once thought) gone.