Impossible Odds

Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm met and married in Africa, where each worked in the humanitarian aid field. Buchanan, from the Midwest, arrived deeply sympathetic to the plight of child soldiers in Africa, whose poverty and illiteracy forces them to earn a salary as cannon fodder. Still in her twenties, she secured her teaching degree and taught grade school age children, and later went to work on landmine awareness in Somalia. Landemalm came from Sweden in his late twenties to work with local NGOs and various government and clan authorities in the Horn of Africa, combating clan violence and helping to rebuild infrastructure. Sharing their passion for this work, they married on the beach in Kenya in 2009 and began life together. Two years later, Buchanan was kidnapped in public by armed Somali “land pirates” who held her and a colleague at gunpoint. She was held for ransom outdoors in the local scrub desert, where she remained for 93 days. 

In that life-threatening environment, 32-year-old Buchanan was the only female amid twenty-six gun-toting and drugged addled captors who restrained her in foul conditions. Several were child-soldiers, and one even wore the bracelet awarded to children who graduated from her landmine awareness classes. She was psychologically tormented by the few who spoke English. Forced to her knees in the dark of night for a mock execution, she was held under the repeated threat of beheading from her only translator during the ransom negotiations. 

She was driven to confront her deepest self-doubts and greatest spiritual longing. Though she was once a devout Christian, she had become distanced from any driving sense of spiritual awareness until her kidnapping found her alone, night after night, while forced to lie on a small sleeping mat under an open desert sky, with nothing to do but think.

Landemalm and Buchanan have relocated to the United States and are now living in the Charlottesville, Virginia area where they continue their humanitarian efforts to ensure a better quality of life for those in need.

>> Read "In Somalia, Surviving A Kidnapping Against 'Impossible Odds' — on NPR.

Start Date: 10/21/2013 6:30 pm
End Date: 10/21/2013 8:00 pm
Location: McGlinn Conference Center
Sponsor: Literary Festival
Contact: Sue Guay -
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