In September 2011 Judith Tebbutt and her husband David set out on an adventurous holiday to Kenya. After a joyous week on safari in the Masai Mara, they flew on to a beach resort forty kilometres south of Somalia and there tragedy struck them. ‘A long walk home’ is Judith’s account of the events that unfolded when she was snatched by Somali pirates and held for months before her release was negotiated.
We were all I think a little bit nervous of what this book was going to be like given the horrific experience it was based on, but it proved an interesting read. Judith Tebbutt tells the story in a very clear and at times dispassionate way. There was a general feeling in the group that we didn’t find the writing emotionally engaging but this may well have been because in order to survive and not lose her essential self Tebbutt used techniques that she had learnt through her career as a psychiatric social worker. She carefully ‘put away’ thoughts that were liable to destabilise her, and concentrated on trying to build relationships with her kidnappers. She demonstrates the resources that can be found within when crises occur.
The book also brings out how cultural differences change approaches to life. When Tebbutt learns that her husband was killed during her abduction she is devastated but her captors really don’t understand – they shrug off her despair with ‘You can get another husband’. Tebbutt is essentially seen as a commodity to be exchanged for cash – as her captivity goes on the investment the pirates have made in her looks as though it is not going to return the dividend they had hoped for. When release finally comes she clearly articulates the fear as she is transported and handed over – who can she actually trust?
There was some frustration that we didn’t get details of the negotiations and Tebbutt’s debriefing although she explains that she is not allowed to know this information. An addition that we would have liked would be her son Ollie’s story told in parallel.