I want my story to touch people’s lives.
I have always refused to be a victim. The most important lesson I learned during my abduction is that as a person you are capable of so much more than you ever dared to think.
I want to give people back their positivity and willpower. The familiar “kick up the backside”. Being an inspiration for change in their lives. After my abduction, I developed myself in various areas.
I am now a writer, speaker, TV maker, co-host in TV programs and coach.
On March 9, 1970, I was born in an apartment of the 10th floor in the Favrestraat in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). I spent my childhood in the” Alexanderpolder” district of Rotterdam, and went to the “Van Veldhuizen” primary school.
Like most other local boys, I played football with the Alexandria ’66, was a scout with “De Kralingsche Troep” and I boxed at the well-known Rotterdam boxing school of “Theo Huizenaar”.
In 2006 I married my wife Amina, who is from Dagestan, in Moscow. Together we have three beautiful daughters. I grew up with close family values and have an older and a younger brother and a sister.
After high school, I started studying cultural anthropology at the Radboud University in Nijmegen.
For my graduation assignment in 1994 I did field work for the first time for MSF-Holland (doctors without borders). In Northern Uganda I studied the emergence of a new community in a refugee camp where some 70,000 Sudanese people sought refuge.
After this first foreign experience I was hooked, I wanted to discover more different cultures, help people in need and cooperate with international colleagues.
In 1997 I finished my studies and started working full time for MSF Holland.
Since 1996 I have been working for MSF in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia. First as a student, then as a logistics manager, then as a project coordinator and finally as a country manager in Russia in 2002.
The intense experiences always stay with me. Although I have no medical knowledge, I gave newborn babies CPR and cleaned the wounds of caesarean sections.
In the Netherlands this is completely unheard of, but in case of an emergancy you just do what you have to do. What I found most impressive, were the encounters with rebel leaders high in the mountains of Tajikistan and during helicopter flights because rebels had blocked normal roads. But also the beauty of the endless beaches in Sierra Leone that are still on my mind to this day.
MY ABDUCTION IN 2002
You run many risks working as social worker in conflict areas, but you learn to deal with them over time and always take precautions. Nevertheless, I was abducted on on August the 12th 2002 by four armed men. This happened in the Russian state of Dagestan. An extremely fearful and confusing period followed, one in which I often feared for my life.
A HUTCH OF 1,5 BY 2M
For 607 days I was locked up in dark cellars, heavily secured bedrooms and finally the longest period in a dark underground hutch of one and a half meters by two meters with as only company the insects and mice.
I was in this hutch for fifteen months and I did not see anyone during all this time. The heavily armed Muslim rebels who guarded me wore balaclavas. I was thrown back and forth mentally between hope and despair and felt more than once that the end was near during the night time transportation in the trunk of a car. Towards another dark and uncertain place ….
Humans ultimately turn out to be incredibly capable. I was fortunate stay alive by accepting, admonishing, making contact with my guards and taking the initiative to improve my own situation. Although I would never want to go through this again, captivity has given me surprising insights. I was forcedly confronted with myself.
On April 11, 2004, I was completely unexpectedly released … And soon afterwards I wrote my book. I had to tell my story. I also wanted to share my experiences. I still do this by giving lectures and organizing workshops.
I learned the hard way that I can surprise myself, surpass myself and have much more power and influence than I ever imagined.
From August 2002 to April 2004, armed and masked Muslim rebels in Dagestan imprisoned me under appalling conditions for 607 days. My hostage situation was a long battle against uncertainty, stress, lack of clarity, loneliness, despair and lack of confidence, security and comfort.
Every day could be my last. Soon I realised I had to do everything possible to make the best out of the situation I was in by looking for a connection with my kidnappers and by constantly reflecting on my own behavior.
Working on safety, trust and possibilities instead of making it worse by negativism and hostility I challenged myself every day. I learned how to push my own boundaries. I learned what patience, discipline and perseverance really mean. But I also experienced what it is like to have no more tears left to cry. I have experienced what empathy can do between mutual relationships. It helped me survive.