My abduction in 2002
You face many risks as a humanitarian worker in conflict zones, but you learn to deal with them over time and always take precautions.
Nevertheless, on August 12, 2002, I was kidnapped by four armed men. With great violence, they pulled me into their car and took me to an unknown destination.
This happened in the Russian state of Dagestan. An extremely anxious and confusing period followed, a period in which I often feared for my life, for example at times when they started digging holes in the ground, herding me into the trunk of their car and leaving me alone for days without food or water.
My hostage situation was a long struggle against uncertainty, stress, lack of clarity, loneliness, despair, lack of trust, safety and comfort.
Een hok van 1,5 bij 2 meter
For 607 days I was locked in dark basements, heavily secured bedrooms and finally the longest period in a dark underground pen measuring one and a half meters by two meters with the only company; insects and mice.
I was in this pen for fifteen months and during all that time I did not see any faces. The heavily armed Muslim rebels guarding me wore balaclavas structurally. I was mentally tossed back and forth between hope and despair. Besides losing my freedom, I was also dependent on others to get me out of here. At the worst moments, I felt not only lonely, but forgotten.
Every day could be my last. Soon I realized that I had to do everything possible to make the best of this situation. I did this by connecting with my captors and constantly reflecting on my own behavior.
Working to build safety, confidence and opportunity instead of exacerbating it through negativism and hostility…. I learned to push my own limits. I learned what patience, discipline and perseverance really mean. I have also experienced what it is like to no longer have tears to cry. I have experienced what empathy can do between mutual relationships. It all helped me survive.
In the end, humans turn out to be incredibly capable. I was fortunate to stay alive by accepting, manning up, connecting with my guards and taking the initiative to improve my own situation. Although I never want to go through this again, captivity gave me surprising insights. I was forcibly confronted with myself. I learned the hard way that I can surprise myself, outdo myself and have far more power and influence than I could have ever imagined.
On April 11, 2004, I was released completely unexpectedly. It was great to be reunited with my family and friends. I am still very grateful for all the people who worked on my release, such as Prime Minister Balkenende and the Minister of Foreign Affairs; Ben Bot, my family, my colleagues from Doctors Without Borders, people from the Ministry of FA and the Dutch Embassy in Moscow.
I am also very grateful for the wonderful support of all the Dutch people I did not know. Their warmth and kindness helped me get my life back.